To “carry” or not to “carry”— is that the question?

pistolFirst, I want to acknowledge that I love to hunt, and love to shoot guns as much or more than anyone else, Christian or not. My leisure time almost always centers on rifles, shooting, and hunting. If I didn’t love ministry so much, I would certainly spend my life as a hunting guide. I am content to hunt or join others who intend to hunt.

Second, I am probably the worst example ever to advocate pacifism. Before my second career as a minister, I worked 29 years for the Air Force designing weapon systems. I estimate that somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 people have died by the weapon systems that I helped design. And yes, I still value my contribution to the security of my country and to the security of our allies.

So, as someone who loves guns and who spent an entire career designing weapon systems that kill people, I believe that of all people, I have a responsibility to ask myself and others about the theology of those who “carry” or consider using a weapon, concealed or not. In particular, I find it extremely interesting that I keep running into stateside ministers who carry a concealed pistol. And I confess that I have tended to support their choice to carry a concealed weapon.

Some ministers point to the obvious insecurity of our society. For instance, drug addicts recently tried to steal the air-conditioner condenser coil at my office, stole my own deer rifle out of my garaged truck, and stole a new nail gun off my back deck. In the USA, my city is rated as the third most dangerous city with a population under 200,000. So I find myself honestly asking if I should join the ranks of ministers who “carry.”

But since I am a missionary, I also keep asking myself about missionary martyrs, “What if missionary Jim Elliot had carried a pistol?” How might that “turn of tables” have affected history and the Kingdom of God? Was his death possibly a part of God’s plan? What if the Apostle Stephen had carried a sword? Was his death possibly a part of God’s plan? What if the Apostle Paul had carried a sword when he was arrested and flogged? Or for that matter, what if Jesus had carried a sword? Was His comment, “All who draw a sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52), meant merely for Peter in that instant, or is it meant as a broader theology that applies to me? How does Matthew 5:39 apply to me, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” For Christians like me who have designed weapons that kill people, these are hard words to hear. So of all people, I think I have the right to ask myself, and you, to reflect on what these words possibly mean.

The Apostle Paul fled over the Damascus wall at night, presumably to escape being murdered. But does that mean that I should carry a pistol for my personal security, or the security of my family? As far as I can tell, the New Testament never calls me to seek personal safety at the expense of others. Since Jesus never told the Roman centurion (Matthew 8: 5-13) to get out of the business of killing, I hope that my previous career is honorable to Him. I find plenty of Old Testament examples of killing. Interestingly, I find no New Testament examples of killing to obtain personal safety. I ponder why.

As a New Testament Christian and especially as a missionary, maybe I should stop focusing on the law (that is, trying to determine the right or wrong in preserving my personal safely) and instead focus on how He is calling me to live. As a lifestyle, I am repeatedly called to put absolute trust in Him. Presumably that trust includes a trust that He will protect me until such time that He calls me “home.” So I ask myself, “If I buy a pistol for protection, who am I trusting?” That is, what is my deeper motive and what is driving that motive?

This I know for sure about motives—I am called to absolute dependency on God. Both the Old Testament and New Testament repeatedly address that deeper motive.

I enjoy the book of Joshua—it recounts epic battles. In the midst of those battles, however, God says, “Do not be afraid” (Joshua 10: 8). God throws the enemy into confusion and even kills them with giant hailstones, “Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel” (Joshua 10:14). Instead of relying on his army, Joshua depended on God to control the battle. From Joshua, I learn two things: First, God controls my life and safety, not ISIS, not immigrants, not the president, not the military weapon systems that I helped design, and not even the local drug addict who recently stole my deer rifle. Second, God tells me, “Do not be afraid.” So I am challenged to trust God, and to reject fear. Presumably, trusting God empowers me to reject fear. These principles are not simply Old Testament laws, they indicate deeper motives that drive a New Testament lifestyle. Perhaps I can trust Him just as Jim Elliot trusted Him.

So, should I obtain a pistol to protect my family? If my deeper motives are to trust God and to reject fear, maybe I should ask a different question. Dare I ask, “Can I trust God to protect my family in a better way than I can protect them, myself? Am I depending on Him absolutely, or am I wanting to buy a pistol because I fear? Once again, my motives look like a primary issue. Is fear driving my motives toward self-dependency or is dependency on God my motive? These are hard questions for me to ask. My childhood heroes were John Wayne and Audie Murphy. Considering the crime rate in my city, this kind of faith is much more difficult than carrying a pistol. This kind of faith seems radical, even distasteful. Frankly, I’d find it easier to carry a pistol.

Mark 4:23-27, relates the well-known story of Jesus calming the sea. Jesus slept through the storm because He had complete faith in God’s power over His safety. Jesus slept peacefully even while the disciples expressed terror. And Jesus scolded them, not for failing to requisition a boat with higher walls, but for failing to have faith that God would protect them.

In Luke 8:36, Jairus came with a request for Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead. Jesus said, “Fear not, only believe.”

And in Matt. 28:17 Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Somehow I always thought that God had given Satan authority over earth. But Jesus now says that all authority on earth has been given to Him. Since He now has all authority “on earth,” can I trust His power right now even when crime or death come my way? Honestly, to carry a pistol seems like an easier choice, and for me, a cheaper type of faith.

My government leaders tell me that terrorists want to kill me. My police tell me that drug dealers are willing to kill me to steal my possessions. Some believe that anarchists and foreign leaders are about to tumble our government and interrupt our supply of food, water, and energy. But Jesus challenges me to look deeper to identify my personal motives. In practical terms that drive motives and behavior, I ask myself, what does “Fear not, only believe” mean?

Perhaps “to carry or not to carry” is not really the most appropriate question after all.

For those wanting to read more about this subject, we recommend John Howard Yoder’s What Would You Do? available at https://www.amazon.com/What-Would-John-Howard-Yoder/dp/0836136039/.

2 thoughts on “To “carry” or not to “carry”— is that the question?

  1. Here is something else to consider:
    Some individuals assume that to avoid carrying a weapon means that they would permit acts of violence. I think that is erroneous reasoning. Many possible responses exist to almost every threat. Carrying a gun and meeting the violence with violent force merely represent one of many possible responses. A few other possibilities include looking for a way out of the violence, including engaging in argument, bartering, and physically getting into the pathway of the violence, i.e., martyrdom of myself to prevent violence toward others. Thus, non-violence does NOT mean passivity or omitting to respond to violence, but includes direct intervention into the path of the violence, both verbally and through every possible means including martyrdom. The first option (carrying a weapon) merely supports a violent response, but many other options also exist.

    Some people have asked me, “What would I do if…(and then they insert the description of a violent act).” I think that when Jesus said, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matt 5:39), He affirmed the value of the perpetrator. When Jim Elliot and his friends refused to use the guns at their side, they affirmed the value of their offenders. What would I do if…? I hope that I can use my brain as led by The Spirit to intervene and maybe even lead the offender to Jesus. But I also accept the possibility of martyrdom. Regardless, resisting the evil of others does not demand that I respond with violence as the norm.

    • When being attacked by someone intending harm, I admit that I respond emotionally with a desire to strike back. I fear that response since I do not see it in Jesus or see it as a New Testament value. Jesus keeps referring to the Old Testament law (“You have heard an eye for an eye, …”), but He keeps asking me to go beyond the law to something better.
      I especially fear my initial carnal response since I admit to enough carnality that includes a potential for violence. That is, I have totally lost my temper twice in my life, and fear what I’d do if I had a gun at that time. I might be filled with The Spirit, but I admit that I am not fully sanctified.
      Some scriptures seem to include several layers of meanings, and Matt 5:39 may be one of them. It certainly would indicate how I should respond to a back-handed slap, and I believe that it also refers to more. But regardless how we interpret 5:39, the hole of scripture addresses loving others including our enemy. The whole of scripture indicates that all humans have value, including those who would perpetrate a violent act against us. I cannot “carry” in part because I cannot trust my own carnality, but even more because I value the perpetrator, and trust The Spirit to personally guide me into a better response than violence.

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