Christian ethics at the National Review and The Dish

Marta Layton

March 6, 2013

I wrote short a short, light-hearted dialogue recently that encapsulates my thoughts on the matter (http://ctcasberg.tumblr.com/post/42507215738/of-little-faith). I'm a Marine veteran, but I consider myself a pacifist these days. I've yet to see a convincing "pro-defense" argument that takes into account God's sovereignty and unconditional love.

I have seen many try to justify worldly principles (violence, retribution) with Biblical references, however.

Jason Summers
March 6, 2013


Clearly this is a difficult question.

To your discussion: it is interesting that some of the church fathers would have argued (contra French's reading of the Gospels) that, for a Christian, self-defense cannot be justified, but participation in violence at the level of the state---the just war, presumably to defend the defenseless---is, in fact, a moral imperative.

I suspect the same reasoning can apply to defense of self versus defense of others in the context of policing such that shooting someone to protect others (e.g., when acting in one's capacity as a guard or police officer) is imperative ethically, but shooting the same person to save yourself is untenable.

Sullivan's reading of scripture seems to miss important context, as you note, but French has a somewhat selective reading too---one, I think, that reads the Gospels too much in the frame of one's individual rights.


Marta L.
March 6, 2013

Thank you for your thoughts (and your service), Chris. I think you get at the heart of this issue when you appeal to things like God's sovereignty and unconditional love. The difficulty is that we are called to love everyone, the person being threatened by violence and not just the person threatening it. I consider myself a pacifist, practically if not always philosophically, but I definitely wrestle with how I would respond violently if someone else was being threatened. (Interestingly, this seems to be the much harder question than self-defense. I'm willing to die rather than kill, but it's much harder to stand by and watch someone else suffer.)

At a minimum, I think it's really important to wrestle with this issue and think long and hard about whether we're relying too much on non-Biblical ideals when it comes to whether we're prepared to use a gun. I think I could disagree in good conscience with a brother in Christ who thought loving his neighbor meant being ready to shoot to protect him, if necessary. I'd have a much harder time saying that if I thought he was letting his fear and need for security and retribution drive him.

Marta L.
March 6, 2013

This is a really important point, Jason. I do agree that both men are doing a selective reading. Doing a holistic reading of Scripture, taking stock of both the parts friendly to our views and those that challenge us is always crucial - and on this particular issue it's particularly important, because the issue is quite literally life and death and because our society is so polarized. I actually meant to point out Sullivan's shortcomings here, but it's hard to due a complicated question like this justice in a short space and I don't think I was able to emphasize that as much as I'd like.

Do you have any particular church fathers in mind? I know I would like to read more about what they said on this topic, and I may not be the only one.

Jason Summers
March 6, 2013

Yes, I was correct: both Ambrose and Augustine. There is a good discussion of both in the book St. Augustine and the Theory of Just War by John Mark Mattox.

March 8, 2013

Must we carry a weapon and be prepared to use it? My personal philosophy is no: http://timfall.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/killing-kindergartners-and-why-i-still-dont-carry-a-concealed-weapon/

Then again, I think in terms of "must", the answer for every Christian is no. After all, we are free in Christ to take whatever course we like on the matter. And that also includes carrying a firearm, for freedom works both ways.

Good discussion you've got going here, Marta.


Chris Jefferies
March 13, 2013

Thanks Marta, you've raised interesting issues and got a good discussion going.

I love the way you cover both extremes without judging the people who hold them.

Carol Kuniholm
March 13, 2013

I find the witness of the early church challenging on this. Tertullian said “Christ, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier."

Clement of Alexandria said: “If you enroll as one of God’s people, heaven is your country and God your lawgiver. And what are His laws? You shall not kill, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. To him that strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.”

St Basil the Great wrote “Nothing is so characteristically Christian as being a peacemaker.”

Your questions are good ones- statistically, yes, guns in a home present a greater risk than armed intruders.

I'm reminded, in thinking about your questions, of the verse "Some trust in horses and some in chariots, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."

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