One of the most difficult aspects of Christianity—one with which Christians in every era have struggled (including myself)—is its wholesale rejection of violence in any and every form. Within the teachings of Jesus lies such an ethic of nonviolence and non-retaliation that it runs counter to the very grain of human nature and logic. It is an ethic that does not render evil for evil; it turns the other cheek. It’s an ethic that loves enemies until death and tells Peter to put away his sword. And, well, that simply doesn’t square with our natural instincts for self-protection/preservation.
But here is where the beauty of the Christian faith shines: Once a person says, “I am crucified with Christ,” and names Jesus as “Lord,” the paradigm completely changes. What may be permissible in the eyes of the State may be wrong for the Christian. Take the Second Amendment for example. Within the scope of Jesus’ teaching, we can find no place for answering violence with violence. Many have attempted to dilute this by means of appealing to self-defence (claiming that self-defence is not violence), but that’s just the problem. Jesus never defended himself; when he was reviled, he didn’t revile back. Nor did he prevent the martyrdom of the Apostles. On the contrary, Jesus stated that he was sending them out as sheep among wolves. He basically promised them they would die! Stephen didn’t take up a sword when being stoned, and neither did Paul and the other of the earliest followers take up arms to defend themselves or one another. This is one of the gut punches of the Gospel: laying down the sword, and really laying it down for the sake of Christ. Can I truly say I am loving my enemy when I’m putting a bullet in his head??
Yes, I honestly grapple with the scenario of an intruder breaking into my home to kill me and my family, and with the question of what would I do. To some there’s no question at all – they would shoot to protect themselves and their families. Yet, the real question to ask is, “What would following Christ look like in that moment?” Of course, my natural instincts say, “Fire away! Load with lead and aim for the head!” But that’s not what Jesus did when he died, and that’s not what the early Christians did when being fed to the lions in the Circus Maximus or burned as human candles in Nero’s Pleasure Garden. We must all face the fact that someone is going to suffer because of *our* convictions, no matter where we stand on the issues. People make their choices, and others will feel the impact of those choices in some form or degree – whether we are pacifists or we happen to side with those who opt for war or their gun “rights.” As Christians, however, we should want to side with Jesus no matter what the cost, and teach our families what it means to be one of his disciples. This means not holding one’s life precious to oneself, but rather entrusting our existence to the one who gave his life for us, and following after his pattern. Far from being a cakewalk, this is a very courageous, daring, and yes, dangerous way to live. But it *is* the way of Christ. In short, as we discuss these matters, we have to carefully articulate what “You shall not kill” and “Do not repay evil for evil,” and other such statements of nonviolence mean. Sadly, American culture (and even Americanized Christianity) is in such a state that these questions and considerations have difficulty even being articulated, because we have lost the ethical framework in which they can be accommodated. Christian ethics are quickly tossed out to sea and drowned in the bloody waters of fearmongering and war propaganda with a firm, religio-political strangle hold.
Finally, let me say that many professing believers speak concerning this issue more as Americans than they do as Christians, and like James Spinti said, that’s the idolatry—dare *I* say apostasy-- of it all. Christians are foreigners in a foreign land, a culture within a culture, and we must act, speak, and think like it. Just to the extent that Christians allow their attitudes and actions to be contoured by anything or anyone other than Jesus, it represents a misalignment with the Christian faith. In short, just because it is in the American Bill of Rights doesn’t mean it is Christ/ian. “Religious liberty,” an Americanized version of “freedom,” and the wielding of our American “rights” have, in my estimation, done great harm to the Christian faith in America, to where it is no longer intelligible to itself. Instead of being a prophetic voice in our culture, Christians have capitulated to the spirit of the age and have relied on politics and the “arm of flesh” to carry/legislate their moral agendas. American Christians nowadays, especially right-wing, conservative Evangelicals, are guilty of a kind of nationalistic, civil religion which blends God and country, and basically (and blindly) underwrites the American war agenda so long as our leaders tip their hats to Israel. Allegiance to Jesus has become equated with certain political parties and convictions, to the point that if some were asked “What denomination are you?” they would answer, “Republican.” All this to say, it is not Jesus. It represents a departure from His teachings, and is nothing short of idolatry. The second we appeal to Caesar to justify our convictions is the second we reject Christ’s kingship.