Resisting the Pull for Armed Defense
Article by Michael Gonzalez
Yesterday it happened again. Another shooting of innocent victims. Violence upon violence. This time and certainly not the first, in a church. A gunman entered West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas and killed two members. With no hesitation and in the middle of service. The gunman was subsequently gunned down in response by security personnel.
Our country is sick-ridden with violence, with gun violence. I’m sick of it. We’re all sick of it. The trauma continues. The cloud of fear is thickened. Thoughts and prayers abound. My soul cries out for the victims of violence. All of them.
How long, oh Lord? How long shall death be exalted in our land?
Grieve friends. Weep and mourn. There is no “hidden purpose” in these acts of violence. No purpose in evil. God is not using violence to shape our character or to teach us a lesson. Evil has no purpose. We must oppose it, full stop.
Guns in Church?
As I scrolled down my social media timeline my heart ached. First, because someone would have the audacity to take the life of one who bears God’s image. Have we fully reckoned with what must take place inside of a person in order to take the life of another? Violence is a sure sign that powers and principalities are at work in the world. There is no redemptive violence. Any celebration of violence of the life who inflicts violence on others is at best an entrenching in the cycle of death. Who can deliver from this cycle of death?
Second, my heart aches because so many followers of Jesus are advocating that the church should use guns to protect itself in response. Christians are afraid of death. Count me in that number. We worship the One who destroyed the one who holds the power of death. We follow the One who tells us not to fear those who can “only kill the body”. But the fear of death is incessant. Being free from the fear of violence won’t come by memorizing fighter verses and hearing Easter sermons about Jesus conquering the grave through his own death. Or so it would seem.
Resist the Pull
If Jesus is Lord, we are commanded to renounce violence as a way of resisting evil. We renounce the violence of evil men (it’s always men right?) and we renounce the cycle that so easily ensnares our sanctified minds. Fear of death corrodes our ability to imagine a faithful response beyond full participation in the cycle of violence. Death, and the fear of it, are signs that God’s good world is not as it should be. We are not as we should be.
Jesus entered our world of violence and lived into a story that contradicted the lie that death is in charge. Jesus saw reality the way God saw it; he could see something deeper than our collective human experience and conviction about death. He proclaimed this message and invited us to live into it. Therefore, we must resist the pull to live into a false narrative of retribution and heroic violence. We must resist the story death proclaims by grieving its widespread acceptance and condemning it as vanity. We resist death by taking up arms of communal prayer, self sacrifice, lament, and gospel hope, but never with weapons of worldly means. Churches that use guns for self protection acquiesce to the spirit of this age.
If we begin to accept armed protection as a legitimate means we deny the One we claim to follow. By accepting armed protection, we move into a false narrative that says self protection, even at the expense of taking life, is compatible, justifiable, and reasonable with enemy love. We deny the very story that has changed the world, and we live as if the new has not come and as if the old is not already passing away.
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash