Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26: 50-52 NIV)
Yesterday was a bad day in our country. A deranged man wielding multiple firearms entered a building on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Oregon and killed at least 9 people before being killed himself in a shootout with local police. Events like these have been all too common in the United States, as highlighted by President Obama in his statement on the incident yesterday afternoon. My condolences and prayers go out to those injured, killed and their families.
And, no, this isn’t going to be a gun control post either. I’ve said my bit about that in other posts, and despite the fact that people keep dying from gun violence in the US, nobody is going to do anything about it, so there.
Instead, I want to tackle another angle of this story that’s being widely reported in the media this morning. According to the father of one of the survivors, this suspect asked the victims to identify themselves as Christians before he shot them. A similar account by another student was given to a local newspaper.
I want to come at this from a couple of angles, because it’s igniting a firestorm here in an atmosphere where people are already playing up the “religious persecution” theme. There are two interesting takeaways here: First, we should probably stop pretending that all of this violence and anger in the world is caused by doltish, baboon type religious people. This is clearly not the case, nor has it ever been. However, it’s also interesting to note that lack of outrage on social media forums about this. Had accounts suggested the gunman had targeted gay people, African-Americans, or women the outrage over this would have already started, and would go on for weeks. However, last night my social media accounts were full of people saying “we can’t jump to conclusions on that. We have to wait and see.” Selective outrage is another sign of the times we live in.
However, these people make a good point because the second thing I want to look at is the fact that the potential targeting of Christians IS NOT the defining characteristic of this crime. This individual stepped on that campus with four firearms, five extra clips of ammunition, and body armor. He came to kill people, and he knew he would be engaged in a firefight with police, period. It is foolishness to think that had there not been any Christians there that nobody would have died. This man’s acts were the product of a deranged and polluted mind, not some overarching war on religion in general and Christianity in particular. Some folks in particular circles will try to spin it as such, but it is not the case.
But that’s not the most important thing I have to say this morning. I want to talk about something else I’ve seen on social media this morning. I’ve seen a few posts saying that the solution to these incidents isn’t to ban guns, but instead to start arming Christians. This suggestion is absolutely appalling to me as a Jesus Follower. To think that followers of a man who willingly gave himself up to be executed for others should be arming ourselves in a fit of fear is unthinkable and goes against the explicit teachings of Christ himself. Let’s hit the highlights here:
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5: 11-12 (NRSV)
“You have heard it was said ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you. do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;” Matthew 5: 38-39 (NRSV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSV)
These passages are from the Sermon on the Mount, the most direct teachings of Christ that we have. Other writers in the New Testament echo the theme:
Paul–“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12: 17-21 (NRSV)
Peter–“Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9 (NRSV)
Now surely many a Christian will say “But Brandon, these verses do not address the issue of self defense.” Actually Jesus’ saying of “turn the other cheek” does, but if you’re less convinced by this, look at the story I cited at the beginning of the post. When the Temple soldiers come to arrest Jesus, one of his companions takes out a sword to fight, cutting off the ear of one of the soldiers. This event is related variously in all 4 Gospels. The writer of John names the companion as Peter himself, and the victim of the attack as Malchus, the servant of the High Priest. Matthew relates these words of Christ after the incident:
Put your sword back into it’s place, for all who take the sword shall perish by the sword.
That seems pretty unambiguous.
At this point some others will surely ask, “Does Christ really expect us to die for our faith?”
That’s a silly question.
“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.” Matthew 24: 9 (NRSV)
“The cup that I drink you will drink; and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” Mark: 10: 39 (NRSV)
“But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” John 15:21 (NRSV)
“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.'” John 21: 18-19 (NRSV)
It seems that Jesus not only suggested that we should be ready to die for our faith, but that we should expect it. According to tradition, all of the disciples were martyred save John. Peter is held to have said that it was an honor to die for his faith. In Philippians, Paul remarks that his imprisonment helped spread the Gospel because even the Roman soldiers knew that he was in prison for Christ. (Philippians 1: 12-13.) Many, MANY more people have given their lives for Christ over the last 2000 years or so. One of them, Dietrich Bonhoeffer even wrote “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.”
That hardly seems like a call to take up arms. In fact, I would dare say that rather than have us take up guns, Jesus calls us to take a bullet for others:
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13 NRSV)
So my fellow Christians, I implore you, do not give in to the fear that is being peddled to you by social media and various elements of the radical right. To do so only reinforces people’s rhetoric against us and against Christ, becoming a huge stumbling block to His ultimate message of peace, and yes, of sacrifice.
Instead, let us be examples of what Christ truly calls us to be: servants of others including those who hate us or wish us harm. A Christian who does this is truly set apart and an example of Christ in the world. A Christian who gives into fear mongering is being manipulated and just joins the rest of the world around us.
I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!