On December 9th the president of Liberty University, Jerry Fallwell Jr., made some remarks in a convocation that has started a conversation amongst many Christians. If you have yet to hear it (it’s not very long. Only two and a half minutes) you can listen to it here.
Before I begin this post, I want to say that I am about to step into controversial territory. That being said, I want to make sure I tread lightly and choose my words carefully. I want to state up front that I know there are varying views and opinions within the Christian community in regards to the subject of guns, violence, and how they relate to Christianity. While I do believe that we in America can at times be too concerned about “political correctness,” I am concerned about being sympathetic to my Christian brothers and sisters who do not see eye to eye with me on this issue.
I want to proceed in humility and not arrogance. I want to saturate my writing with love and not condemnation. I hope to write this with the purpose of edifying and building up the Christian community. I want to begin a dialogue and encourage everyone to rethink the topic at hand, so with that being stated up front, let’s begin.
I hope that before you begin reading you have taken the couple of minutes required to watch the video that will be the subject of this post. Honestly at this point it is hard for me to know where to begin. I suppose the first thing I want to do is say something to those of you who are sympathetic toward, or even rally around, the comments that were made by Mr. Fallwell. It is not something too difficult for me to understand. I understand the deep seated desire for “justice.” I understand the engrained response within us that wants to attack the “bad guy.” I grew up hearing often from my own father the right of the American people to bear arms. I grew up hearing that there should be no hesitation to “put down” any person who intrudes into our home. I grew up hearing the mantra, “You only aim to shoot, and you only shoot to kill.” It is nothing personal, it’s business. You threaten my loved ones, I will end you. It is cold, it is calculated, and it is “just.”
I say all this simply because I want all who read this to know I am not ignorant or misunderstanding of such people. I did not grow up in a way that saw guns in a poor light. Honestly I grew up seeing guns as a good thing when in the hands of good people. They were borderline glorified. Their purpose was protection and never meaningless destruction. Actually, I wrote a paper in the eighth grade about why all Americans should never have their guns taken from them. Eighth grade Curtis, even high school Curtis, would have cheered at Mr. Fallwell’s remarks. I am sure of this. Yet last week as his words reached my ears I felt sick and I felt grieved. What changed?
Now I do not for one moment believe that the hurt, fear, or anger we feel over such violent acts are an incorrect response. However, it is my conviction that the way in which we respond to such feelings is a matter of the upmost importance. For with such situations we are given two options: embody the kingdom of God or embody the kingdom of this world. Here is honestly where my change was. It has nothing to do with guns themselves and everything to do with the person of Jesus. I began to see Jesus, Christianity, and the good news He brought, in a different light. I have come under the conviction that those who follow Christ are called to a life that embodies the God who did not retaliate against His enemies, but rather hung on wood for them.
I’m going to be transparent here. Many of the people who read these words will feel the need to dismiss them. For to take serious what I am about to put forth will require a large shift in the way that we think and carry out our lives. However, no one is worthy of Christ who does not deny themelves, take up their cross, and follow Him. (Luke 9:23) Jesus commands us to carry our cross and follow Him in the same lifestyle he did. He does not command us to take up the sword and follow in the patterns of this world. Jesus gives a stern rebuke to Peter’s reaction to protect the one he loves by way of violence. “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword.” (Matthew 26:52).
Jesus gives a grave warning here. Those who operate by way of the sword surely will die by it. I am afraid that Jerry Fallwell Jr. is embodying the way of the world far more than he is the kingdom of God, and as the president of the largest Christian university in the United states, is pulling more and more students to abandon the ways of the kingdom of God for the ways of the “ruler of this world.” (John 12:31) No doubt some of you are getting uncomfortable at this point, looking for ways around this. Looking to hold tight to your way of doing things. The way that makes sense to you. The system that keeps a nice and tidy box of “good guys” and “bad guys.” A place where the lines are nicely drawn and you stand on the right side of it. A place where you know you hold the right to take life and enact “justice.” In this place you are free to no longer look at the enemy as one whom is deeply loved by God, but something less than human. It is a nice world for sure. However, I do not believe it to be the world Jesus or the New Testament paints.
I have not yet begun to exhaust the list of passages that pressed me into a corner and made me admit defeat on this issue. I could squirm under them all I wanted, but at the end of it I could not come out intellectually honest and take the stance that the Christian has violence in their arsenal against evil. We join the evil by doing so. My concept of justice had become an idol. It was quickly being attacked and I was in agony. I responded desperately and was afraid, just like anyone would whenever an idol is being threatened or exposed. I became close-minded and gripped on to what I had convinced myself of, what felt “right” to me.
What if the Christian community, like Jesus, abandoned the notion that an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is justice. What if we followed our Lord when He says that we should not retaliate in the same way against an evildoer, but find another way to deal with injustice? A way that embodies a calvary like love? (Matthew 5:38–39)
If God were to administer “justice” the way that Americans have come to, there would be nothing left of this broken race known as humanity. God is one who is not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9) and takes no delight in punishing the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23–24). I don’t know about you, but I believe many American Christians would take delight in “ending those Muslims,” as Mr. Fallwell put it.
I could continue to write chapters on the problems I have found with the retributive model of dealing with evil. But that is not what I hope to do here. I want the person reading this to think long and hard about the Christ-like response to injustice. I want you to search it out for yourselves. Read the gospels, read the new testament, pray, do the honest evaluation of your heart and see where it is out of line with the God revealed on Calvary.
Think about if the kingdom you follow looks like this world. When Jesus was questioned by Pilot, He said that His kingdom wasn’t like (or of) this world. And He said that if it were like the world’s then His servants would fight. However His kingdom doesn’t have its origin here (John 18:36). Think about Jesus’ words when He says,
“You have heard that it was said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)
Jesus says that those who love their enemies are sons of their Father in heaven! He says that God’s love falls like the rain. It doesn’t pick and choose! He says the gentle will inherit the earth, the merciful are blessed, and the peacemakers are sons of God! (Matthew 5:3–10) Think about Paul’s words in Romans when he says,
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
For in so doing
you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” (Romans 12:17–21)
Our God is not one of retribution and bloodshed. Our God is one who would rather die than give a people what they deserve and we are called to embody the same way of life. Do not repay evil for evil and overcome evil with good says Paul. Yet Jerry says, “If more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.”
“Good people” and “bad people.” Those categories are so black and white, yet we are told that if something has flesh and blood it is not the real enemy, rather the spiritual forces of evil are (Ephesians 6:12). Mr. Fallwell has the wrong enemy in his sights when he says, “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” or when he says, “If some of those people in that community center had had what I’ve got in my back pocket right now, then…” before being cut off by applause.
I plead with you, please put down your sword before it creates a vicious cycle that finds it way back to you and ends up killing you. Do not repay evil for evil. Overcome evil with good. Love your enemy and be a child of your Father in heaven, be a part of the kingdom of God, and take up your cross. Do not go with the grain that is fine with repeating the scapegoating of Cain (Gen. 4:1–16) or Caiaphas (John 11:49–50). Jesus died as the ultimate scapegoat. He came to end such things. He came to declare the heart of God when He says to the very ones who violently attacked Him, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Let us all humbly consider which approach to such heart breaking circumstances looks more like the crucified Lord of Glory. That of the slaughtered lamb or that of Jerry Fallwell Jr.’s.
Father please step in and show us how to be peacemakers and your children, for we are hopelessly bent on our own destruction. Help us to see your heart for our enemy and to do our task within the kingdom while allowing you to do yours when it comes to injustice. Help us to carry our cross and put down our swords.
Image by Søren Niedziella via flickr