Christians and the Second Amendment

Recent events have Americans once again debating (more like shouting at each other) the relative merits of private firearms vs. gun control in our country.  As usual, the rhetoric is extreme, emotions are high, and friendships are strained over the disagreement.  There are legitimate discussions to be had over various policy alternatives, and I have opinions aplenty on many of the issues myself.  I’m not going to discuss those on this blog.  Contrary to popular opinion in some quarters, I happen not to consider the United States to be a Christian nation, and while I still think we’d be better off following the example of Christ, I believe that issues such as firearms policy are ultimately secular issues to be decided on secular grounds in a secular state.

Among my Evangelical Christian brethren, however, my position is not normal.  Many would even say it’s immoral.  Prominent Christian leaders, as well as a good many of my own friends, are speaking out vociferously in support of gun rights and the Second Amendment.  It is these, and their faith foundation, to whom I speak.  To put it plainly:  The Second Amendment is the law of the land, but it is antithetical to the law of Christ.  Let’s take a look at some of the major justifications Christians I know use to support the second amendment.

Self/home defense.  I’m starting with the right of self defense because I think it’s actually the one with the least clear opposition in scripture.  It’s plain that Jesus didn’t approve of violent self-defense (Matt. 26:52 is about as direct as it gets) and took a fairly dim view of bearing arms (Luke 22:36-37, in which Jesus says his disciples carrying swords will identify him as “numbered with the transgressors”).  However, there’s plenty of armed conflict and defense in the Old Testament that Christians still point to, and this isn’t the place I intend to engage that particular issue.

Some Christians will point out that a consistent pro-life perspective (which can be Biblical) argues for defense of the innocent.  I think that’s probably true.  I myself have acknowledged that I can’t completely rule out the use of force, even deadly force, in defense of the innocent.  I would, however, suggest that defense of innocent third parties, of oneself, and of property are distinct issues, and probably need to be considered separately with regard to morality.  “Turn the other cheek” (Matt 5:39) makes sense if it’s me turning my own cheek; less so if I’m turning somebody else’s cheek, it seems.  And “Give to him who asks” (Matt 5:42) does not include a sub-clause of “unless he tries to take it by force.”  While I’m not prepared to leave my house unlocked and open to all comers, I think it’s valid to consider that no inanimate object, however prized or valuable, is worth a human life.  Ultimately, in this area, I think the question is “whom do we trust?”  “Some trust in chariots and some in horses (still others in AR-15s or Glock-9s), but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7 with my own twist).  In this vein, it seems to me that many Christians have set their hopes on things of this earth when they arm up.

There’s a corollary form of home defense that deserves special mention, and that is the so-called “Christian Survivalist.”  I’ve got good friends who have stockpiled food, water, weapons, and ammo against a dissolution of societal order such as might happen after a cataclysmic natural disaster or attack by a foreign power.  These friends are prepared, if society completely falls apart, to hole up in their own personal bunker and fight off any marauders who might approach their castle.  Without addressing the pragmatics of the issue (you’re really going to hold off an essentially indefinite wave of desperate survivors?  Really?), it seems to me that this mentality runs so counter to the “minister to the least of these” ethos of Jesus as to be heretical.  Whatever we do in periods of chaos and disaster, I can imagine no response more antithetical to the way of Jesus than to wall ourselves off and kill anyone who tries to take our stash.  If such disaster ever does befall us, we Christians should be the ones out front ministering to the hurting, not the ones cowering in private fortresses.

It’s a fundamental, Constitutional right.  Another common issue raised by my Christian friends has to do with the fact that the right to keep and bear arms, whatever its purpose, is a right enshrined in our Constitution through the original amendments of the Bill of Rights.  And this is true.  That matters from a legal perspective, but not really from a Christian one, other than the basic point that it is the law of the land and should be obeyed.  Although some of the framers of the U.S. Constitution were Christians, there is nothing about that document nor the government it established that is divinely inspired.  Changing an American law is not remotely equivalent to changing a point of doctrine in the faith.  The very fact that the right to bear arms appears as an amendment (that is, a change) to the Constitution should be evidence enough that unlike a sacred text, the framers fully intended the Constitution to be changeable, and provided a mechanism for doing so.  Far too many Christians treat (parts of) the Constitution as sacred text.  This is blasphemy and must be stopped.

The right to overthrow an oppressive government.  I don’t think there’s any reasonable doubt that the original founders of this country intended an armed populace to be a buffer against government overreach.  They said as much in the Declaration of Independence:  “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [that is, the preservation of Life, Liberty, & Pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”  Less than a decade before, the United States had finished a war of independence, and though they developed foreign supply lines during the war, there’s no question they’d never have gotten started if the colonists hadn’t had arms of their own with which to oppose the British.  Like it or not, the concept of armed resistance to government is an authentic part of American history.

But it’s not part of authentic Christian behavior.  In a passage that conservatives used to quote regularly (during the era of the Vietnam war & draft), Romans 13:1-7 is pretty blunt that rebelling against an established government is unacceptable to God.  Verse 2 is direct:  “… whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (quote from NIV)  And lest anyone say that v. 4 & 5 qualify this command in that God only demands submission to just governments, take a little look back at Roman history.  The Roman colonial power of the first century was far more oppressive in matters of law, human rights, taxation, and other areas, than the British ever were; both were far more oppressive than the various “socialist takeovers” that figure in the vivid imagination of the American Right.  To stockpile arms against the possible need to overthrow the American government may be a very American thing to do, but it’s baldly anti-Christian and as such, merits the harshest condemnation.

Of course there is an important caveat to submission to government, and that’s best exemplified by Peter and John in Acts 4:19 and Acts 5:29.  When a governing authority commands us to do something that is explicitly contrary to God’s command (in this case Peter and John were being ordered not to preach about Jesus), we of course must disobey — and then accept the consequences.  Sometimes submission to authority means taking the punishment that authority metes out — even if unjust.  But it never means violent rebellion.

Basic freedom.  Finally, many protest that they simply want their guns, and enjoy their guns, and should have freedom to enjoy them.  I get it.  I like to shoot too, and though I’m no Olympic marksman I’m not half bad.  But when it comes to asserting our freedom in anything that is not in itself a matter of faith, it seems to me we need to take a step back.  ‘“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.’ So says the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 10:23.  More to the point, 1 Cor. 8:1-12 goes into some depth on the notion that we ought not allow the exercise of our freedom to be a stumbling block for others.  I do not suggest (nor does Paul) that we should necessarily avoid anything simply because it upsets someone else.  But our faith does not support liberty for liberty’s sake.  The freedom offered in Christ is exemplified in Christ-like service and humility, not in the arrogant assertion of our own desires.

So:  defense, Constitutionality, limitation of government, and freedom.  Each of these is a valid, secular, American notion with regard to the question of firearms in the nation.  Grounded on these principles, legitimate secular debate is not only reasonable but necessary.  But however American these tenets may be, they are not Christian — in fact in many ways they’re anti-Christian.  We do violence to the cause of our faith when we fail to see the difference.

13 thoughts on “Christians and the Second Amendment”

  1. Bob

    You’re a bit shaky on your American history. The bill of rights which contains the second amendmentIs a part of the constitution they just separated those amendments out to condense them so that they’re ultimately clear. Also you’re forgetting the first amendment which protects freedom of religion, which is undoubtedly a Christian principal. No this document isn’t divinely inspired but there are many Christian principles in it that have been thought through from the standpoint of what is moral and ethical which is what God also asks us to do. So you can’t just throw out the baby with the bathwater there are times when it is necessary to use a weapon to protect life, not for revenge or an evil-based rebellion but to protect innocent life, which can be threatened not only by marauders and criminals but by a tyrannical government, hence the value of the declaration of independence. Also, since first Corinthians 13 says that “love always protects” it is moral, just, and loving to use any means necessary to protect life. Of course one has a take great care and responsibility with decisions like these, and you’re right that doesn’t mean stockpiling and killing off your hungry neighbor that’s not Christian obviously. I think this discussion deserves a lot more merit than can be given to it in this forum, but Christians should think these issues through with a desire to please God, to love their neighbor and do all that is necessary to live peaceably so far as it depends on us.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      So let’s take a look at your objections Bob, which with due respect suggest you failed to actually read what I wrote:

      1) I didn’t suggest that the amendments are, by reason of being amendments, lesser than the original Constitutional text … I said that the right to keep and bear arms is, in fact, Constitutional. Nor do I deny that some principles in American law are potentially consistent with Christianity — freedom of religion can indeed be argued to be a Christian principle, though in point of fact many Christians seem to forget that it means freedom for other religions as well.

      2) Regarding there being “many Christian principles” in the Constitution as amended, I challenge you to list “many.” There is plenty in the Constitution that is at least not in opposition to Christian principles, but I challenge you to find a Biblical basis for _anything_ else in the Bill of Rights. MAYBE the protection against taking property without just compensation at the end of Amendment 5, but even that is a stretch. The Constitution as amended provides for justice, but not in any way explicitly or uniquely Biblical justice.

      3) Protection of innocent life: Please go back and read my post, the second paragraph under “Self/Home Defense” completely agrees with what you said. What are you objecting to?

      If you re-read my post and have actual faith-based objections to what I’ve raised, I’d genuinely like to discuss them, but please don’t attack positions I haven’t taken … that gets us nowhere.

      1. Bob

        I read your post very well. You said the fact that there are amendments means the Constitution was meant to be changed. That’s wrong.

        You also are making distinctions between secular and Christian principles, there are no such distinctions in scripture. Justice is justice and it is a Christian principle. So is freedom. The Bill of Rights is either good or bad, right or wrong, based on justice and righteousness as deduced from scripture. Love either protects the innocent or it is not love.

        Romans 13 tells us that the government is instituted by God to protect our welfare, reward the good and punish the wicked. It says we are to submit to governing authorities. The Constitution/Bill of Rights is the law of our land, and the highest governing authority—our president—says to hold on to your 2nd amendment rights—to stand up for all our rights under the constitution and not back down. Therefore submitting to the constitution is indeed biblical. What Peter did with a sword at that time under that government was clearly not God’s will, that’s why Jesus rebuked him. That has nothing to do with the 2nd amendment.

        There are many more dynamics in the Bible than you are addressing here, and they are not as simplistic as you’ve stated. But that’s all I have time to discuss on this. I do thank you for at least getting a discussion going—that’s a good thing!

        1. Dan Martin Post Author

          “You said the fact that there are amendments means the Constitution was meant to be changed. That’s wrong.”

          Respectfully, you’re incorrect there. Article V of the US Contitution, verbatim:

          “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

          The framers, having provided a mechanism for amending the Constitution, clearly envisioned that mechanism being used.

  2. Bob

    I meant to add regarding Constitutional amendments:

    Amendments to the Constitution do not in essence change it, they either underscore what is already there, as in the Bill of Rights, or they add to it based on the principles found in it. They don’t take anything away from it. Only corrupt governments do that. Therefore, removing anything found in the Constitution is unconstitutional.

  3. Bob

    The caveat on Romans 13 is, you don’t submit to authorities who ask you to disobey God in any way. When you have no freedom of religion, that is a violation of God’s commands regarding gathering together, the nature and order of worship, the teaching of doctrine, and violations of God’s attributes of lordship, control and presence with his people. The American revolution was indeed justified on many counts.

    The apostle Paul said to the governing authorities who told him not to speak about Jesus, to decide whether it is right to obey them rather than God—and then said, “we can’t help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” That’s the same apostle who wrote Rm 13. So there are exceptions, and Christians would do well to understand them, because in the last days, they will come for us, and we must be prepared to know how to handle each and every situation that arises. Not all situations would require the use of force. That takes wisdom and discretion. May God give me more… Above all, we should remember that it is in his hands.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      You’re right except for one part … when you do NOT submit to authorities because they’re commanding you to violate God’s laws, as a Christian you’re still required to submit to the consequences they mete out. That’s the very reason the early Christians went to the lions, the cross, and the flame by the thousands. Nothing in Paul’s command remotely permits, let alone commands, us to resist in force.

  4. Bob

    If the passages don’t say we can’t use force then neither can we say we can’t use force. Nothing can be added or taken away from scripture. Then it becomes discretionary based on differing factors. Our constitution makes it possible to use force if necessary. We are not commanded to be martyrs, yet suffering for Christ may be necessary. But even Jesus told first century Christians to flee to the mountains due to his prophecy of the 70AD temple sacking. Another words, protect yourselves any way you can, and that’s all they could do. The Jews of that day didn’t listen to Jesus exhortation and so they were slaughtered. The Christians who fled to the mountains survived. Survival is a good thing!

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      There is plenty in Scripture — very much including the words of Jesus himself — forbidding the use of force to the believer in the vast majority of circumstances. But I think you’re running ahead of yourself just a tad here … the question was the meaning of Romans 13. How you can reconcile the commands to submit to authority, and the obvious fact that when the apostles Peter, Paul & the rest refused to submit they did so exclusively in a non-violent manner, is more than I can see. The false gospel of American self-first independence has well and truly infiltrated the church, to disastrous consequence. And survival *at the expense of another’s life* does NOT happen to be a feature of New Testament Christians. Sorry, that’s the prince of this world talking, not the Prince of Peace.

  5. Bob

    I thoroughly disagree. Pacifism is not a biblical doctrine, and therefore cannot be applied as a rule. The Old testament is a history of God telling his people to wipe out the bad guys, so God is not a pacifist. Not talking about revenge, I’m talking about defending the innocent.

    No matter what you believe, if you just stood there and watched your wife and kids, or whoever get slaughtered and the only means to prevent it was to kill the perpetrators and you didn’t, then I’d say you are a heartless, gutless coward, and their blood would be on your hands.

    I’m no longer interested in this discussion.

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