In Light of Tragic Events
As I write this it is Monday December 30th, 2019. In the last 48 hours there have been attacks on two different religious groups in vastly different regions of the USA. The first happened on Saturday night in Harlem. In that incident a man stormed the home of a Rabbi and assaulted 5 people with a machete. The second incident had a man walk into a worship service in White Settlement Texas and shoot two men before being neutralized by a member of the church’s security team. In the first event there was no reasonable defense against the evil of the man attacking them. In the second event a firearm was used in defense of the innocent lives.
I am writing this in defense of the use of lethal force to neutralize someone intent on hurting those at the most vulnerable of times.
What I Mean by Innocent
Some of my theologically Reformed friends are reading this and thinking to themselves that I have slipped a cog, maybe two. Yes, I know that there are no truly innocent people. That all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But the Bible does speak of the innocent and the defenseless. In fact, Proverbs teach us that God hates the hands that shed innocent blood and hearts that devise evil plans.
So, I want to make it clear, I have not slipped any theological cogs. Everyone still needs to hear the Gospel. All people everywhere need to repent and believe. But, and this is not an equivocation, there are moments in time where we are dealing with the innocent and they deserve to be defended. Whether we are talking about injustice or those bent on taking lives, we should always be in the mindset of defending the innocent.
In Defense of Average Firearms Owners
Any time there is an episode of gun violence that manages to be picked-up by the mainstream media, the political vultures will immediately circle the metaphorical scene. In some cases, they will show up at the scene to express their views. These vultures come from both perspectives, Leftist and Rightist.
There will be much chest pounding and waxing eloquent about the horrors of the tragedy. Leftists will blame the over-proliferation of firearms in our society. The Rightists will explain how all the laws in the world didn’t stop the evil from slaughtering the innocent.
The one thing missing in all this is genuine compassion for the hurting souls of the survivors. Even the family members of the perpetrator of the violence are left grieving. Or worse still, they are often the targets of derision and suspicion.
All firearms owners come under suspicion and the focus becomes taking the weapons out of their hands. Conversely, they become pawns in the hands of the political Right. Sound bite savvy politicos rush in pleading with gun-owners to vote for them or risk losing their “God given rights…”
However, most firearms owners sit back quietly not wanting the attention. Mostly, we just want to be left alone. We have no desire to get enmeshed or embroiled in the debate hot off the back of a tragic event. Moreover, for the most part, we want nothing to do with debate between the two-factions that are arguing over the semantics of the Second Amendment. Gun violence and self-defense during gun violence are not Second Amendment issues. For the Christians in the firearms ownership club, we often want to be left to weep for the mourning.
In Defense of Carrying to Worship
After all that being said, we must deal with reality now. Places like malls, schools and centers of worship are soft targets. The idea that once traditionally safe places are still safe is just willful blindness. I previously wrote about the mindset behind enduring persecution. I made it clear that in the case of being persecuted, even to the point of death, for preaching the Gospel, we are not to resist such violence.
However, does that apply to the sanctuary during corporate worship? I would argue that it does not. But, am I merely concluding this based on conjecture? I suppose so to some degree. Yet, I draw most of my justification from the Second Great Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
In a now infamous article at Desiring God, John Piper was explicit in condemning the idea of Christians owning and carrying firearms for personal defense. He made it clear that his view is that all violence that comes our way is a matter of persecution or fiery troubles. Piper took it a step further than I could even imagine and made it clear that even raising a hand to defend his spouse from a rapist was to fail to trust God. I want to be clear, I love John Piper as a fellow Christian. But his commentary is a sign of misapplying the Word and showing himself to be a coward.
If we truly understand the Second Great Commandment and grasp the depth of loving neighbor as self, it will move us in a specific direction. Towards our closest neighbors in ever widening concentric spheres. Apart from our immediate family, no neighbor is closer to us in those spheres than the people we are worshiping God alongside.
This means carrying a firearm in defense of others.
In Defense of the Innocents Amongst Us
I do not care how much faith you have in God, you know that there are unconverted people in your congregation. While we may be completely sold out to the truth of God’s Omnipotence and Sovereignty, we know that bad things happen. While those bad things happen for a reason, that does not dismiss us from taking responsibility to act in the moment.
As you look around the sanctuary of your local church on a Sunday morning you are looking at saved and lost people. Some of the folks you see may be too young to understand their need of Christ. God may be drawing some of them at that very moment. Even the ones that you see that are prepared to meet Christ in an instant are still deserving of protection.
The young father with a wife and 5 children has a responsibility to them. A retired grandfather may not have the financial and physical burdens that others have, but he too deserves protection.
The young single mom with 3 children, doing her best to raise her children “in the fear and admonition of the Lord” is indispensable. Not only to her children, but to her congregation. She may not have much time to minister to others. But her needs are ministry to those who have the “free time” to minister to her.
No matter where you look during corporate worship, you are seeing fellow Image Bearers who are worthy of defending. I insist that we think on this. It is the role of men, especially, to interpose themselves between those who would do violence and the intended recipients of evil actions. To sit idly by while others around you are stripped of their inherit value as the Imago Dei, is wickedness.
What I am not Saying
I am not insisting that every able-bodied man carry a gun to worship. Neither am I saying that a woman can’t. I believe that there is a place for everyone in this conversation. However, it is important that we have the conversation.
I am blessed to be in a congregation that has men and women from the medical world. These fine doctors and nurses are well-equipped to step in and render aid in the case of severe trauma or another medical event. Likewise, I am also blessed that there are highly-trained men in my congregation. Men who know how to execute when the substances hit the proverbial spinning blades.
What I know about these individuals is that they do not cherish the thought of ending anyone’s life. But make no mistake, when push comes to shove, they will not hesitate to put themselves between an aggressor and the innocent. They will lay down their own lives in defense of those who are not able to do the same.
If you personally have deeply seated convictions against doing violence, I do not consider you to be unconverted. That is between you and God. Nor would I want you to impose your convictions on me. Simply put, I believe you would much rather trust me to be there in defense of your children during the worst moments you could imagine, over-and-above waiting for help to arrive. A Christian who sees the inherit dignity in every Image Bearer is always a better choice in these moments than someone operating from cold drive.
What You can do in Defense of Innocents
If your church does not have an actual security team, gently plead with he elders to establish one. In recent years there have been arguments made that it’s too costly with insurance and risk of liability. I believe that his argument is no longer tenable for the average local body. The odds that a homicidal maniac will enter your church on a Sunday morning are slim, but still…
Furthermore, if you are qualified to, and can legally carry a weapon, do so. Volunteer to be part of the ground-floor of that team. If you are not comfortable carrying a firearm, help build the team anyway. Volunteer in other ways. If you do carry a firearm, make sure you are trained in how to use it. Don’t just go to one class and then forget about what you learned. Learn how to draw and shoot. Learn about tactics and muzzle control. Practice these things often.
Perhaps you can help establish emergency action plans. Are you medically trained? Do you know trauma aid? Can you volunteer in that area? A trauma team is equally vital. More importantly, your skills are more widely applicable to all scenarios than the guy who is well trained with a firearm. If you are capable of dressing a massive wound or know CPR, I want you behind me as I move toward the threat.
Maybe your gifting is in design and construction. Can you help your local church install security doors or retrofit certain rooms to be safe rooms? Maybe God has blessed you with means and wealth to contribute to all these options. Are you a gifted counselor? In the event of any tragic event your congregation faces, your brothers and sisters are going to need you.
Whatever needs doing, be available to do something.
In the end it is not sin to stop evil. In fact, it is sin to fail to intervene in evil when it is in your power to do so. To the one who knows to do good and fails to, and all that.
Not everyone is going to have the training or the emotional ability to make hard lifesaving decisions when literally under-fire. But, and this is key, we must all be prepared to respond in the proper way to any tragedy.
I want to quote my beloved friend George Alvarado now. What he said is key to approaching this issue biblically:
“While it is justified to defend ourselves against an active shooter, as Christians, if we are more prepared and trained to use a firearm than to make disciples of all nations, than we have the wrong order of affections. We should be more ready and able to preach the gospel than to pull a trigger…”
The refrain of the Scriptures point-out our need for a Savior. A Savior that comes to interpose Himself between us and the Just Wrath of The Father. As we look at our fellow Image Bearers and see evil coming for them, we should interpose ourselves between them and that evil in defense of them. I will not misquote our Lord here, but in many senses, we are called to lay down our lives for the good of those around us.
That will look incredibly different for each of us. However, if we want to see an end to these evil acts, there is one sure answer and George nailed it. Preach the Gospel!
Soli Deo Gloria!