When Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. exhorted the audience at the school’s convocation to (legally) carry concealed weapons, it was his careless allusion to the religion of the shooters at San Bernardino that seemed to generate the most controversy: “I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in, and killed them.” Even as the criticism from fellow Christians started to come in, Falwell stepped back from that remark. But he told the Washington Post that “That’s the only thing I would clarify… If I had to say what I said again, I’d say exactly the same thing.”
I’ve got friends and readers who — even as they rejected Falwell’s comments about “those Muslims” — resolutely affirmed his call for ordinary Christians to take advantage of Virginia’s gun laws, carry concealed weapons, and prepare themselves to take other lives. To their minds, it’s unfortunate but necessary that people — even followers of the Prince of Peace — may wield deadly weapons in order to defend themselves and others.
If that’s how you feel, please read John Piper’s post this morning at the Desiring God blog:
My main concern in this article is with the appeal to students that stirs them up to have the mindset: Let’s all get guns and teach them a lesson if they come here. The concern is the forging of a disposition in Christians to use lethal force, not as policemen or soldiers, but as ordinary Christians in relation to harmful adversaries.
The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever use force in self-defense, or the defense of one’s family or friends. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question. The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.
John Piper and I probably disagree as often as we agree, but I’m hugely grateful that he would write this piece. All the more so because he issued this statement in his capacity as chancellor of a Christian college and seminary, while most leaders in Christian higher ed (though not all) have stayed disappointingly silent in the wake of Falwell’s comments.
Lengthy as it is (there’s a seven-fold response just to the hypothetical of defending a loved one), please do read the whole essay. Here I’ll just pull out a couple of Piper’s arguments as a preview:
First, what of the argument that God ordains (e.g., in Romans 13) the use of “the sword” to protect the innocent from the wicked? Consequently, as I tried to acknowledge in my original response to Falwell, “there are ambiguities in the way Christian mercy and civic justice intersect.” But Piper argues that “neither can be absorbed into the other. Any exaltation, or Christianization, of the sword that silences Romans 12:19–20 has lost its way.”
But in a democracy whose constitution has been amended so as to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” shouldn’t citizens (including Christians) be prepared to defend themselves, say, against a mass shooting? By no means, says Piper:
…any claim that in a democracy the citizens are the government, and therefore may assume the role of the sword-bearing ruler in Romans 13, is elevating political extrapolation over biblical revelation. When Paul says, “The ruler does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4), he does not mean that Christians citizens should all carry swords so the enemy doesn’t get any bright ideas.
Indeed, the main theme emerging from Piper’s exegesis of Romans and 1 Peter is that Christians need to remember that their highest citizenship is not in this world: “Peter’s aim for Christians as ‘sojourners and exiles’ on the earth is not that we put our hope in the self-protecting rights of the second amendment, but in the revelation of Jesus Christ in glory (1 Peter 1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1). His aim is that we suffer well and show that our treasure is in heaven, not in self-preservation.”
Again, there’s nothing simple about living as “exiles on this earth with our citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20), while at the same time being called to serve in the structures of society (1 Peter 2:13).” But:
I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with concealed weapons will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us. They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s in our pocket.
We can have a debate about what it means for Christians to live as citizens of any state that, in some way, is ordained to uphold some earthly approximation of peace and justice via violence — with dissent from any such use of “the sword” being an important part of our collective response — but I don’t know how you can read Scripture so as to arrive at any conclusion other than Piper’s:
…the overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world — religious and non-religious — “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3)…. exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.