A Case for Christians Carrying Concealed

That’s a lot of Cs.

Having recently obtained a permit to carry concealed, I often think about the consequences of actually having to draw a firearm and pull the trigger.  For a Christian, what is legal (and the legality of firing a gun that will likely kill another person has nearly as many gray areas as there are possible dangerous situations) is not always right–and sometimes vice-versa.  I suppose the following could be taken as an exercise in self-justification.  Nevertheless, besides the legality of carrying concealed weapons (firearms, specifically)–which vary from place to place, and the law of the particular jurisdiction ought to be obeyed: can Christians in good conscience carry a firearm which, if it is used for protection, will possibly or even likely result in the death of another human being?

The lines of disagreement are probably set out in advance.  I would guess that those who are opposed to the death penalty or to war (“just” or not), or who identify themselves as pacifists, are unlikely to grant the premises from which I am working, and so also the conclusions.  These lines have been drawn since the Reformation (at least), and are summed up in Augsburg Confession XVI:

Of Civil Affairs they teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry a wife, to be given in marriage.

They condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these civil offices to Christians.

So if you’re an Anabaptist or one of their heirs, you’re probably not going to grant the first premise about the good of secular government and its protective abilities, let alone the later premises of an individual’s love for his neighbor.

But the state of the facts for Christians is that we have, on the one hand, the command not to murder and, on the other, we have the principle that the government has been given the sword to defend citizens against evil and punish the evildoer (Romans 13:4, particularly).  But Romans 13 is not an isolated treatise on the role of government; it belongs within the wider context of “love each other” (13:8), which begins in 12:1 and goes to, at least, 14:23.  The love of God for people is exercised through the governing authorities; that is, God protects His creation and His creatures by means of the ruler(s) of a given nation.  Obviously, a particular ruler may not rule according to God’s will, and may in fact be the agent of wrongdoing.  Even so, the intention of God for government remains.  The abuse does not nullify the use.

There is also no room for the individual to exercise revenge.  “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” God says (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).

The Gospel forbids private redress [in order that no one should interfere with the office of the magistrate], and Christ inculcates this so frequently with the design that the apostles should not think that they ought to seize the governments from those who held otherwise…Therefore private redress is prohibited not by advice, but by a command, Matt. 5:39Rom. 12:19. Public redress, which is made through the office of the magistrate, is not advised against, but is commanded, and is a work of God, according to Paul, Rom. 13:1 sqq. Now the different kinds of public redress are legal decisions, capital punishment, wars, military service. It is manifest how incorrectly many writers have judged concerning these matters [some teachers have taught such pernicious errors that nearly all princes, lords, knights, servants regarded their proper estate as secular, ungodly, and damnable, etc. Nor can it be fully expressed in words what an unspeakable peril and damage has resulted from this to souls and consciences], because they were in the error that the Gospel is an external, new, and monastic form of government, and did not see that the Gospel brings eternal righteousness to hearts [teaches how a person is redeemed, before God and in his conscience, from sin, hell, and the devil], while it outwardly approves the civil state. [Apology of the Augsburg Confession XVI:59-60]

But defense of  those under your care (according to your vocation) is not, in itself, vengeance.  It could certainly become that (see Taken).  Instead, self-defense, broadly construed as protection of your family (and perhaps, in particular circumstances, as defense of those who are being attacked in, let’s say, a movie theater or school), falls under the principle of love your neighbor.  Your neighbor is whoever is in need of your help at a particular moment.  If you are in a position to render aid to someone, you should do so.

Here is the reason why you should do this: In such a case you would be entering entirely into the service and work of others, which would be of advantage neither to yourself nor your property or honor, but only to your neighbor and to others. You would be doing it not with the purpose of avenging yourself or returning evil for evil, but for the good of your neighbor and for the maintenance of the safety and peace of others. For yourself, you would abide by the gospel and govern yourself according to Christ’s word [Matt. 5:39–40], gladly turning the other cheek and letting the cloak go with the coat when the matter concerned you and your cause.

In this way the two propositions are brought into harmony with one another: at one and the same time you satisfy God’s kingdom inwardly and the kingdom of the world outwardly. You suffer evil and injustice, and yet at the same time you punish evil and injustice; you do not resist evil, and yet at the same time, you do resist it. In the one case, you consider yourself and what is yours; in the other, you consider your neighbor and what is his. In what concerns you and yours, you govern yourself by the gospel and suffer injustice toward yourself as a true Christian; in what concerns the person or property of others, you govern yourself according to love and tolerate no injustice toward your neighbor. The gospel does not forbid this; in fact, in other places it actually commands it. [Luther, AE 45:95-96]

For myself as a Christian, for the sake of property, for the sake of money or anything else like that, I ought to be willing to let it go, and I see no way to use violent force to prevent the taking of those things.  But I do not live only for myself; I am a husband and a father.  I have a wife and children.  I would be forsaking my God-given vocation if I allowed someone to come into my house and violate my family or if I allowed a person to accost my family on the street.  In that case, it is necessary to choose which love and which neighbor I will honor.  God forbid that it should come to this, but I will choose to defend those whom God has given to me, and not the one He has not given to me.  Murder is murder, and fear of what might happen is not provocation enough to pull a trigger.  But if it comes down to it, my particular vocation as husband and father demands that I love my wife and children as my closest “neighbors” and not fail to do what God has given me at that moment–not in order to murder someone else, but to defend my family.

This is just a beginning of thinking things through, not from the legal perspective but from the Christian perspective.  Thoughtful comments welcome.

Timotheos 

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10 thoughts on “A Case for Christians Carrying Concealed

  1. What role does Luke 22:36 play into this? The commentaries I’ve checked seem a bit confused by Jesus’ instruction for the one who doesn’t have a sword to purchase one, but wouldn’t it be exactly for self defense? Clearly, as things play out in Gethsemane, it is not to be used to try and protect God. Jesus rebukes Peter for doing so, reminding him that there are legions of angels on call if that were necessary. But a sword is good for little else other than defense. It’s not a can opener. It’s not a method of punishment, like a rod or whip. It’s a tool for maiming and killing.

  2. This is a well-thought out, prayerfully-written argument I can respect. It lacks the vigilante attitude that is so prevalent in American society. For you, the gun truly is a last resort, and a choice that is made regretfully.

  3. I’ve come to the same conclusion and carry for the same reasons – but add to it defense of self for those God has given you. In other words, keeping myself alive is of utmost importance for my wife and children. If my life is taken the harm done to my family is great. Not only are there financial ramifications there is also the emotional, psychological and spiritual damage to consider. I defend my life not that I might live or to avoid pain, etc. I defend my children’s dad and my wife’s husband.

  4. I wrote a post “Was Jesus a Pacifist?” here:

    http://thenewagesite.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/test-post/

    (My first post on that blog).

    Now some disclaimers. I am not a traditional Christian. So I am sure there are some things I wrote on that post you might not agree with. I am ok with that. But there might be some things of value to you in it.

    My basic premise is that if Jesus really said and literally meant “do not resist an evil person” as seen in Matthew 5:38 then he was clearly a hypocrite because he resisted and used violence at least once as depicted in his attack on the moneychangers in the Temple. My contention is that either he did not say that exactly, or he did not mean that as a hard and fast rule in every case. There is certainly great value in “turning the other cheek” in many circumstances, but one of those circumstances is not when you have a violent criminal or sociopath attacking you or your loved ones with deadly physical violence.

    Therefore I have a concealed carry license in Texas and I hope I can use it if I really ever need to (a lot of people think they could shoot and kill another person, but that may be a lot harder than you imagine – read the book “On Killing” by Dave Grossman some time).

    regards,

    lwk

    • Thanks for your comment. I certainly have no illusions about the difficulty (emotional, physical, moral) of taking someone else’s life. But I do think you’re right about Matthew 5. Jesus isn’t giving case law, nor is He covering every possible circumstance that might arise. Otherwise, besides His use of violence in the Temple, He also calls the Pharisees “fool,” with exactly the same term He says not to call your brother. Also, He is put under oath by the chief priest, and that is when He answers the question put to Him. He is interpreting the true intention of the Law of God, without covering every possible situation. Thanks for the comment.

      • ” I certainly have no illusions about the difficulty (emotional, physical, moral) of taking someone else’s life.”

        I have a lot of illusions about it. That is to say, I don’t honestly know what would happen. I say that because I know from real experience what it is like to have someone in my sights. Fortunately that is all that happened. I have no idea if I could really pull the trigger. In some circumstance I hope I could. But I am honest enough with myself to know that there is some equation involved that I fully don’t understand. That is why I recommended that book, “On Killing.” It is a mystery to me and I think a positive mystery about human nature.

        I sympathize with your questioning. I have been very pro-gun all my life, but there are still mysteries about using them that I question.

        regards,

        lwk

  5. Brother Tim,

    The defense of owning a firearm by Christians all over the world is one that makes me puzzled and sad. When it comes to these kinds of controversial issues, I have a default position and that is to ask what Jesus had to say. In this case, I cannot find the ambiguity that you and others seem to have found in his Sermon on the Mount. To say that Jesus wasn’t “covering every possible circumstance that might arise” leads to open interpretation of everything that he said, which leads to exactly this kind of debate, as well as every kind of moral decay.

    To suggest that Jesus was a hypocrite because he “resisted and used violence” in the temple is to twist the truth of that scenario to one’s own ends and to forget the vast difference between being Jesus and being anyone else.

    As for the “sword being good for little else other than defense”, that is true. However, the one who offered that comment failed to mention that the disciples would be travelling through countryside where the need for defense against wild animals was real.

    The true hypocrisy comes when we are willing to fudge the words of Christ in order to defend our love of guns. Don’t get me wrong. I love the feel of a pistol in my hands. I love the thought of using it to defend myself or my family against any intruder. If I were faced with that scenario and a gun were at hand, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it. However, that doesn’t make it right and I can find no case for it in the words of Jesus.

    You said that the lines were drawn a long time ago. That is true, and I crossed that line just a few years ago (after owning a pistol of my own), when I made the decision to use the words of Christ as my primary compass.

    You said at the end of your commentary that this is just “a beginning of thinking things through”. In the first paragraph you state that you have already obtained a “permit to carry concealed”. I presume, perhaps wrongly, that that means you already have a weapon to conceal, which means you either acted rashly, or that you are much farther into the “thinking things through” process than the beginning. I pray that you will go back to the beginning and re-think things through.

    In Christ,

    Chris

    • “I cannot find the ambiguity that you and others seem to have found in his Sermon on the Mount. To say that Jesus wasn’t “covering every possible circumstance that might arise” leads to open interpretation of everything that he said, which leads to exactly this kind of debate, as well as every kind of moral decay.”

      Did you read my comments earlier? It is fairly obvious that Jesus does not intend to cover every possible circumstance by reading what He or Paul say elsewhere. If Jesus is angry, is He a hypocrite? I don’t believe so, and neither did the previous commenter. If Jesus calls the Pharisees “fools” (using precisely the same word He said would put people in danger of hell), is He a hypocrite? No. Just because an interpretation supposedly opens the possibility of “open interpretation of everything he says” (which is impossible to avoid), does not mean it’s incorrect. Jesus calls people “fool,” Jesus answers under oath, Jesus does not allow the religious leaders to use His Father’s house however they want; He drives them out. How do you interpret those words and actions of Jesus in light of Matthew 5? How many eyes and limbs do you have left?

  6. Without force of arms we would all be subject to eradicated by any given Worldly driven initiative. God’s people have employed weapons of war through history, although clearly not for the intend of murder, but rather government and/or God sanctioned efforts to both offense and defense. The key element is in offense or defense of God’s plan, not the offense or defense of our own personal plan. Big distinction. So, could I use a firearm “offensively for the purpose of defense” since firearms are offense-based implements? Yes. I’m also military trained with the discipline to think and know when is appropriate and when not. With disciplined training and disciplined Biblical ethics I also know when not to use one.

  7. For me the central question on this issue is not whether there is a proper, and even loving use, of lethal force according to one’s office. This seems to be consistent with the interpretation of the Church. Rather, the question seems to be, if and when threats and suffering are tied to the gospel and one’s confession of the faith are Christians to willing surrender all things and suffer violence, including death (Luther speaks this way in Sermons on Matthew 1530-1532; LW 21). Here I think Luther, and it seems to me he is in agreement with Scripture, shifts from the kind of justification of violence related to our stations in life to a willingness and call to suffering violence for the sake of Jesus Christ.

    Luther further refines this thinking on the Christian response to injustice in his Disputation on Matthew in 1539, as he makes a distinction between matters that concern the First Table of the law and matters concerning the Second. In short First Table matters, involving our confession of faith in the Triune God and the gospel, may require literal abandonment of all earthly things, where the natural law and its attendant duties find a limit in the Christian law, which is suffering and the cross.

    What I’m really getting at is when suffering, injustice, and death is clearly on account of Christ, and our confession and faith, is this a moment when right hand realities reign and our earthly offices are set aside? In the sanctuary, gathered with those we might have no connection with if God had not knit us into His body, we speak back to God that what is most sure and true – we confess. During the Divine Service we behold and participate in, by eyes of faith, the mysteries of God. If we would suffer injustice and violence (e.g. an attack of some kind) during worship should a CCW member draw down or stand fast and suffer? When Heaven and Earth are joined in the mass, is our faithful witness of this reality made to our fellow believers, including our own earthly family, and before the world by resisting evil with violence or not resisting? I think also of situations like the college students lined up and asked if they were Christians; affirmative responses were met with a bullet. How about the church in Charleston, SC, when confronted with unspeakable evil, bore injustice and held forth the light of God’s forgiveness in their response? I continue to wrestle with these questions because I think in some ways our American relationship with guns and individual rights offers a possible blind spot.

    Ultimately, I think I come down on a clear mandate to oppose evil in one’s station, as it is expressed in matters of duty related to the second table and in the ordinary course of life. However, I find myself recognizing that there are extraordinary situations, not devised by our own pious intentions or desires, but to which a Christian may be led by God, which would require a sacrifice and joyful abandonment of all things. I know I am way late to the party on this comment, but I think this will be a question more Christians and more congregations face while our American culture continues to degrade.

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