Est. May 2008

12 March, 2013

Polycarp And Gun Control

Over at HuffPo’s Religion section, Dr. David J. Dunn (PhD) pens an article wherein he flatly states:
Is "packing heat" consistent with a Christian witness? I think the most exemplary witnesses of the church -- the martyrs -- would say, "No."
He goes on through seven paragraphs detailing the end of the life of Polycarp, talks about Polycarp’s faith, calls the church a ‘the school of martyrdom’ and ‘our gladiatorial gymnasium, [where] every day we train to die’, says he can’t see Polycarp ‘with a gun in his hands’, and finishes with:
If we believe God's will should be done, then I do not think we have any business carrying weapons. After all, Polycarp would not have been a martyr if he had died in a shootout with the Roman military. Killing is never a good witness, and if being a Christian means learning to be a martyr, then a follower of Jesus should always be more prepared to die than kill.
The good doctor used, IMO, a not altogether ‘exemplary witness’ when he chose Polycarp.  You see, people want to carry defensive weapons in order to protect their lives against threats of bodily injury or death primarily at the hands of other citizens – not against actions of government agents.  Chances are, if you’re accosted on the street by someone flashing a badge, you’re more likely to ‘go along quietly’ with them than if you’re accosted by somebody in a hoodie with a ski-mask over their face who’s brandishing a pistol or knife.

Polycarp also died for his faith, not for a half-dozen coins in his purse or for his cloak or sandals.  This is an important distinction, as we see in the book of Luke.  In Luke 22, there’s the often-quoted passage regarding selling a cloak and purchasing a sword; look at the entire section (verses 35-38):
And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” And He said to them, But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” (emphasis mine)
Why ‘now’ did they have to arm themselves?  Because later in that very chapter (verses 47-53) He was taken from them and could no longer directly protect them from harm as he had previously.  And obviously, Jesus was talking about self-defense from people other than the authorities; in Luke 21, He warns them that:
Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. (verses 10-19; see also Matthew 10:16-22; Mark 13:9-13)
So, obviously, they weren’t to physically defend themselves against being taken by the authorities; physical self-defense against others, however, was another matter.

As for the idea of taking up the cross daily – which the good doctor mentions – does include the possibility of physical death, in reading the specific verses (And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23), And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’ (Mark 8:34)) it’s difficult (at least for me) to think Jesus was talking about daily dying a physical death – in fact, my interpretation (one shared by real theologians) is that Jesus was talking about dying to self: killing the old, sinful ‘man’ (to use Paul’s phraseology), as is evident in the words ‘he must deny himself’.  

And lastly, the good doctor admits:
I do not know how far "turning the other cheek" should go, practically speaking.
Practically speaking, ‘turning the other cheek’ is (in context) a reaction to the humiliation one would receive from a slap on the cheek – it hardly qualifies as a proper reaction to someone trying to kill you (after all, the person slapping your cheek would have to hit pretty hard to do lasting physical damage, let alone death).

And, in my experience, when someone brings up ‘turn the other cheek’ they’re advocating what I’ve called ‘doormat-Christianity’ – that Christians, no matter what the threat, should never, ever try to physically defend themselves for any reason.

And try as I might, I don’t find that anywhere in Scripture.

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