Recently, David French wrote about the not-controversial-enough subject of Christians and self-defense. He has a piece from 25 January 2013, which really is just a slightly revised reposting of his original article on 27 July 2012.
What’s significant about his article is just how insignificant it is. Or, they are. Or, whatever. Don’t take that the wrong way. By insignificant I do not mean he fails to make an argument that needs to be looked at. I do not mean what he says doesn’t deserve a response.
By insignificant I mean there is absolutely nothing new here. And that’s significant.
. . . he spent a semi-thorough 5 paragraphs on the Old Testament, but only three pithy sentences on the New Testament. How is that a Christian argument?
Where is the reflection that David has taken the time to review the extensive amount of counter arguments and interpretations of the passages and concepts he brought up. Where is the evidence that he’s had discussions about these points with Christians from pacifist or non-violent legacies? Are we really to believe the passages he focused on have never been discussed by non-violent folks?
I will grant this (though, let it be known, I am not saying David French is necessarily doing the same thing here): there are some, from the justified violence side of town, who teach that there a passages that pacifists avoid and don’t talk about. Apparently we are incapable of dealing with these texts that ultimately condemn our beliefs. Now, they do this either unknowingly (they have simply never encountered our writings or discussions of these passages), or knowingly, which means they are lying and misleading their congregation.
I know all too well one particular case, but cannot say if the pastor was misleading his audience knowingly or unknowingly. We know pastors can sometimes get talking and end up saying a little bit much, even if they don’t believe it. During a midweek Bible Study session he gave a teaching called, How Can Peace Loving Christians Carry Guns and Go To War? (Sermon Audio link) During the teaching he denigrated and insulted pacifism and pacifists. And toward the end he said,
Let’s look at some New Testament passages that look favorably on the bearing of arms, and soldiering as such. Not a major push . . . It’s certainly not condemning in the sense that the pacifists say that it is. I don’t hear them ever talk about the verses that we’re going to look at, because they’re pretty convincing as far as I can tell.
He said it: “I don’t hear them ever talk about the verses that we’re going to look at.”
What were those passages? First, he talked about John the Baptists in Luke iii.14, when the Roman soldiers talk to him while he was baptizing at the Jordan. Second, Jesus telling his apostles to buy swords. And third, Paul talking about Christians using a soldier as a metaphor or illustration. (I guess a fourth, which he included as an aside, is “the argument from silence,” pointing out that no passage in all of Scripture explicitly tells us not to take up arms or go to war.)
Straight to the point: of course we talk about these passages. They’ve been written about and discussed from the pacifist perspective for centuries. Last year I even reviewed a book about Early Church discussions of war, military, self-defense, etc. (The Early Church on Killing) where these particular points were covered. I’m not the only pacifist in this town; did he not talk to anyone? Did he not do a Google search? Was Amazon.com no help at all?
Hopefully I didn’t digress too long there. But the point I’m making circles right back to what David French failed to do: if he tried to find pacifist discussions of those passages he mentioned, then at the very least he did not show it. But it’s sadly all too typical.
But there is a second major point that Mr. French lays out so clearly. In his original article, what he referenced in the second article as “the Christian argument for self defense,” he spent a semi-thorough 5 paragraphs on the Old Testament, but only three pithy sentences on the New Testament. How is that a Christian argument? Where is the reflection of the extensive teachings and example of Jesus? Where is exegesis of John’s Apocalypse? What happened to the words of Peter, James, Paul, Luke? He spent more time with John Locke than he did Jesus of Nazareth. How is that a Christian argument?
But that again is sadly typical. One of the most important aspects of Anabaptism that I quickly latched onto was that Jesus was the center of it all. Jesus is at the core of the faith, and his life, teachings, death, resurrection, ascension, and mission for the Church are the focus for Christians. We start with Jesus. We’re Christians; why would we start anywhere else?
Folks on the side of a justified (or even mandated) Christian use of violence need to engage the writings and teachings and sermons of pacifists. Otherwise they’ll be on the outskirts of relevance. Our relationship to violence is an incredibly important issue. And instead of a positive, reflective, exegetical reading and presentation of the teachings of Jesus and Scripture to understand that relationship to violence and how we as Christians must deal act in the world, folks like Mr. French simply present the same old monologue. We’re simply supposed to read it, understand that we were wrong, and make sure we’re ready to hurt somebody we consider a threat to our well being.
Don’t be ready to love, to speak truth, to speak and act like Jesus told us to. No. No. No. We need to put on our WWJLD? bracelets–What Would John Locke Do?–and feel justified when we “destroy” people.
I still have no idea what the guy from Lost has to do with any of this. I know he was a man of faith, but he really wasn’t a Christian on and off the island.