gun

Should Christians Carry Guns?

Recently, I considered buying a handgun. The consideration came after a series of violent crimes grabbed the headlines in my area. The crime spree led to a number of conversations with neighbors, friends and family members. Most of my conversation partners argued that owning and carrying a handgun provides a very real protection against threats to life and property, and I must agree. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean Christians should pack heat.

The debate over firearms is usually conducted using a mixture of social, logical, and anecdotal arguments. What’s often missing from the debate is a biblically based approach to the question. As I considered buying a handgun, I have to admit that I put the witness of Scripture lower on my list than I should have. Before getting to what Jesus thought of my idea, I considered “facts” such as:

  • We live in a dangerous world, even though danger is not always evident.
  • I love my family and I want to protect them from danger and the evil that gives rise to much of it.
  • In the case of an imminent threat, the police would likely arrive too late to prevent harm to me, my family, or other innocent persons.
  • I know how to care for and use a handgun, and I am rather comfortable doing so.
  • Many people, including faithful Christians, own and carry a handgun, and this has normalized the practice to an extent.
  • Owning a gun could lead to an accidental shooting.

gun

 

All of that is nice and we could use these and similar facts to establish a pros and cons list that might aid the decision-making process. But not one of these is unique to Christians. We have to ask, What does God think of all this? And how should a Christian approach this issue in a faithful and thoughtful way?

The Christians I know who consider Scripture and still make the argument for owning a gun typically lean on a notion of using a firearm as a means to resist wickedness, to protect innocent persons, and to maintain order in the face of evil and chaos. While these may be worthy ideals, I don’t see a lot of (any?) scriptural evidence for the use of violence, especially lethal violence, by those who strive to participate in God’s kingdom.

My concern is that we too often equate God’s agenda with our own agenda and then we make decisions like owning a gun based on our personal values instead of a keen Christian ethic. If my value is to stay alive and protect what and whom I love, it’s not too difficult to project that value onto God and make weapon ownership a God-given right, if not command. The only problem is that these are not God’s values, at least not as I read Scripture.

When I read Scripture, I read of people killing and being killed. Sometimes God commands killing and other times he commands not killing. But the overall sweep of the Bible and the specific teachings of Jesus lead me to conclude that violence is not the way to go and that I, as a Christian, should not own a firearm for the purposes of self defense (recreational shooting might be another issue). What God is up to in the world is not bringing all things under his authority at the barrel of a gun – if this were the case, Jesus would have chosen some way other than the cross. Neither does God always prioritize the welfare and safety of you, your family, and the other people you love – after all, look at the tragic lives of Jesus, Paul, Peter, Stephen, and the martyrs who followed them.

While not owning a gun may square with Scripture, the choice is not for the faint of heart. Doing so means giving up my right and my ability to defend others and myself. This choice could result in harm to me, my family, or other innocent persons. So what does it take to make this kind of choice?

  1. It takes courage. Our culture admires the courage of the war hero, the action hero, and the everyday hero, all of whom step up to resist and to overwhelm that which is wrong. Heroes win. However, the archetype of Christian courage is not the sharpshooter hero, but the martyr. The martyr has the courage to suffer at the hands of evildoers, and in doing so to be a witness to the otherworldly ways in which we pilgrims are called to live.
  2. It takes imagination. “Kill before you get killed” is pretty simple math. As Christians, we are called to something higher. We are called to pray and join God in working to address many of the issues that lead to violence – issues such as poverty, mental illness, family dysfunction, and drug dependency. Most of all, we are called to join God in rescuing sinners from darkness and welcoming them into God’s family (not gunning them down before they hurt us).
  3. It takes faith. You’ve seen the bumper sticker that reads, “Protected by Smith & Wesson.” Some trust in chariots and some in horses and some in guns, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Trusting in God to protect (and to still be good when he doesn’t protect) takes faith.

What about you? Do you own a gun? Why or why not? How has Scripture informed your decision? What would you add to conversation?

About Chad Hall

Chad Hall is the Director of Coaching for Western Seminary and also serves as a leadership coach for ministry and corporate clients through his role as Partner with Coach Approach Ministries and iNTERNAL iMPACT.

23 thoughts on “Should Christians Carry Guns?

  1. Chad Hall,

    First, Chad, let me say I enjoy your writing quite a bit, and so even though I am going to disagree with you here, I do so very respectfully and with admiration for you.

    That being said, I’m not a particular fan of this line of reasoning. I believe that you create a false dichotomy of sorts. While it may be difficult to make the argument that Jesus or other admirable Biblical characters would have been “packing heat”, I do think there is a clear case to be made for the use of weapons. For example, “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” A shepherd’s job was to protect his flock. As the pastor/shepherd of my household, I believe that is my job as well. Unfortunately in our day and age, the use of a rod would not do the average home owner much good because of the nature of violence and danger we “could” face.

    Secondly, to use “some trust in chariots” as the basis for a biblical denial of gun ownership seems a bit of a stretch too. The ownership of a weapon for protection does not mean one’s ultimate faith and trust isn’t in God. Not to mention, the author of that line was who? David. Who had a large army, mighty men, carried a sword at times, and is famous for slaying goliath. So while David may have been expressing a heart of trust in God, its unrealistic to think that meant he felt compelled to have no weapons, chariots, or horses himself simply because of that.

    Also, and I tread carefully here, but some make the case that in extreme circumstances even Jesus too was not opposed to weapons or “righteous violence”, if you will allow the term. For example, thought Jesus is known by many as being passive, he fashioned a whip himself and drove a massive crowd away at the Temple. This I think is significant. That means he had time to consider all possible courses of action as he sat and made a whip, and in the end decided that the situation he was in called for the use of what many would consider a weapon. And in a crowd like that during passover, what are the odds that nobody actually felt the whip? Speculation, yes, so I do tread carefully, but worth considering.

    Finally let me add this. In the last few years we have (my family) been the recipients of specific threats to our family and safety because of a disgruntled and unhealthy ex-congregant. He has made specific and in writing threats to come to our home, commit acts of violence, kill our dog, and kidnap my children. He has even been to my driveway to intimidate or possibly even scope and snoop. While I understand your desire to trust God and be as Christlike as possible, I assure you, when threats of that nature come to your family, you might think differently. Words such as “It is better that he had a millstone tied to his neck and thrown to the bottom of the sea” come to mind quite easily. This was the situation that cased me, at the advice of law enforcement as well, and authority that is God-ordained, to purchase multiple fire arms to protect our family. Frankly, I feel that any man who wouldn’t do whatever he had to to protect his family from a threat like that is failing as a shepherd.

    My thoughts. Again, I respect you greatly and your opinion. I just think these are situations best left up to individuals to consider as situations warrant, and that to say that not owning weapons is the more biblical stance is unhelpful and misleading to many, not to mention may not be biblically accurate at all.

    Grace and Peace,
    Jeff Hensley

    1. Hi Jeff,
      Thanks for your thoughtful and respectful comments. This kind of article is intended to provoke thought and discussion, and it’s good to have discussion partners like you contributing to the conversation.
      In response to the very good points you raise…
      The use of weapons is certainly clear in scripture — used by the godly and the evil. My stance is that weapons represent a good way to operate in this world and that the choice to not use weapons is an intentional decision to inhabit the kingdom of heaven now (even though it might very well be a costly decision). The costliness of it means it is also a complicated decision and I certainly respect those who come to a different conclusion than I do. Again, thanks for provoking thought and adding to the conversation.
      Chad

      1. I’m a big “kingdom” guy, for sure, so I appreciate your heart in that. I am curious, however, how far the choice to “inhabit the kingdom of heaven now” might reach? For example, would that be justifiable basis to not give immunizations (hot button now I know, but work with me) to my children? Or to seek medical help? Granted, it might be again a very costly decision? I guess I just don’t see how someone purchasing and owning a firearm for the purpose of protecting his family, which he is charged with shepherding, would be considered at odds with kingdom living…

        1. Those are good questions. I think the key thing for me with guns is that I believe violence is not a kingdom practice — in the kingdom we don’t kill other people. Healthcare (and immunizations) seems in line with the kingdom (or at least not in opposition), IMO. I see how some would believe healthcare and immunizations demonstrate a lack of faith, but I disagree (like lots of people disagree with me regarding guns!).
          On the shepherding responsibility, I think of early martyrs who suffered and died with their family and children because as kingdom inhabitants they were unwilling to offer a simple incense offering to the emperor. Owning and using a gun in self-defense is not exactly the same thing, but I find them similar. Again, I can see how others would see it differently.

          1. Relating “Kingdom Practice” to how we operate now can only go so far. The reason for an absence of self-defense in the final Kingdom is due to there being to violence. Some believe that humans won’t be given into marriage in the Kingdom, so then should we abstain from marriage and sex in this life too?
            Also, early Christian martyrs died for their faith, not acts of passivity due to violence or aggression. They specifically died as a testimony of faithfulness to Christ. Self-defense against unjust aggressors does not equate to martyrdom. One is a public proclamation of faith in Christ, the other is not.

    2. You said it right Jeff; There are people who apparently would allow innocent people to get killed by criminals because their against owning a gun. Every clergy man should own a gun to protect his flock( worshiper’s at his church) There are more people who hate Christians and would’nt think twice to go to a church and start shooting people. It happening now and will only get worse God commands you clergy man to protect the innonce. I thank you for your comment Jeff Hensley.

  2. I see your argument but totally disagree. I have a permit to carry and do so on a regular basis. I am also part of a guardian program at the school where I teach and part of my job is to protect my students in the event that a shooter comes on campus. I also carry at church with the full knowledge and support of my pastor and church elders.

    I did examine scripture on this topic and came to a totally different conclusion than you did. Men of God from Abraham to Peter carried weapons – not always using them correctly, but often doing good with them. Jesus Christ did not rebuke those of the disciples that carried a sword.

    Protection of myself and others from evil is valid and certainly does NOT mean I’m not trusting God. I carry a gun in much the same way that I wear a seatbelt. My faith has not failed when I buckle up, nor has it failed when I carry a gun. In all things I trust my Father, and my desire is to submit myself and all I own to His control – and that includes the gun I carry! I certainly do NOT trust my gun to keep me safe any more than I trust my seatbelt, or my job to provide for me, or my retirement to take care of me when I am old. All things are in God’s hands and trusting Him does NOT mean that I should then be passive about my security, my income, or my driving habits.

    Your argument fails in that if it were consistent there would be clear commands against carrying weapons, men of God throughout scripture should have modeled a non-violent lifestyle and not carried weapons, and Christians would not be able to consistently serve in the police or armed forces. You have simply rehashed the old argument for pacifist interpretation of scripture which I simply do not find convincing.

    1. Hi Robert,
      Thanks for commenting. It’s good to have someone on the other side of the issue participate in the conversation. I can see how protecting one’s family through the ownership and willingness to use a weapon could be seen as an act of responsibility. I wouldn’t put it the same category as the other things you mentioned (seat belt, et al,) only because the use of a weapon involves harming another in order to protect/provide for self and loved ones. The use of a seat belt does not result in the death of another.
      it seems that we approach scripture differently. While I believe all of scripture to be inspired and without fault or failure, I understand that Christ has ushered in a new reality that was hinted at but not fully possible before his life, death, and resurrection. My willingness to suffer is one way I participate in this new reality/kingdom.
      Again, thanks for joining in and adding to the conversation.
      Blessings,
      Chad

  3. Thank you so much for this post! A book that I have found helpful on this topic is Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence, by Preston Sprinkle. I mention it here in case any of your readers want to explore this topic further. God bless!

    1. Hi Dwight,
      Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll be sure to check that out. We live in such a violent-prone world that it’s often hard to believe there could be a case for nonviolence.
      Best,
      Chad

      1. Thanks! Another more prophetic/poetic book is Farewell to Mars, by evangelical pastor Brian Zahnd, although Sprinkle’s is the stronger of the two from a biblical exegetical standpoint, many readers agree. Blessings!

  4. I have wrestled with these issues for years. Never from a position of trying to justify. Justifying that which is contrary to the nature of God is abhorrent to me at a very deep level. I want to know truth. With all due respect, I find your article weak. Your presuppositions are flawed to the point that even if you felt it acceptable to carry, I would advise you not to. I do not have the time to deconstruct it all, so I will throw out a couple of things that might give occasion to thought processes that reveal what I am speaking of.

    Your last three points are not exclusive to those who choose to carry (carry a weapon for self defense). Nor does the choice to not carry indicate those qualities are present.

    1. The choice to carry or not carry is often driven by fear.
    2. Imagination is sorely lacking in all walks of life. Based on keen observation, I would suspect the ratio of imaginative people (in the context you used it) is higher in the carrying community than the rest of society.
    3. You can carry or not carry with faith. There’s a couple hours worth of discussion on this point alone.

    But more than all this, I wish to honor you for your desire to honor the King of Kings with how you live your life! Blessings as you pursue that!

  5. Thanks, Chad. You wrote what is for me such a timely post as I am right now in the process of that very decision. I’m not sure I come down in the same place as you, for the following reasons:

    1. Both the Bible and the English language make a distinction between “violence” (aggressive, attack posture, etc) and “defense” (passive posture).

    2. It’s one thing to be willing to face a martyr’s death, but what does that have to do with defending yourself against someone who breaks into your home to attack you and your family?

    3. To use a weapon to defend oneself is not tantamount to trusting in the weapon nor mutually exclusive to trusting in God. I’m sure the same king of Israel who trusted in God and not in chariots equipped himself with the best chariots available.

    1. Hi Gary,
      Thanks for the thoughtful response. I can see how/why you’d come down in a different place. I’ll mention (in response to #2) that I think the death of a person who is committed to nonviolence (because of a commitment to Christ’s peaceable kingdom) is a testimony to that person’s willingness to suffer and die for Christ. So willingly not defending against an attack is to die a martyr’s death, IMO. Again, I can see how others would see that differently. Thanks for engaging the conversation.
      Best,
      Chad

  6. Perhaps I am in a unique position to discuss this, as I am a Christian, a pastor, and I also own and operate a firearms and self-defense training company. I’ve written a 4 part blog about Christianity and self-defense here if you’re interested: http://biblicalframework.com/self-defense-and-christianity-part-1/

    I also try my best to recognize that there is a strong difference between actively seeking another person’s harm and seeking my own protection. I talk about this on ABF a bit, but on our website (http://activeselfprotection.com) and FB page (http://www.facebook.com/activeselfprotection) I talk about spiritual fitness and the spiritual ramifications of self-defense as well.

    An often under-appreciated aspect of self-defense is the cost of not defending yourself or those who you love. Just food for thought.

  7. Thank you for your well-considered thoughts, Chad. This is a topic of keen interest to me, having gone through my own arduous stance-deciding process as someone who is both a long-time martial artist and a career theologian. I’m curious to know how far your position of non-violence for the sake of the Kingdom extends. You have decided not to carry a gun; have you also removed all active resistance to threat from your internal menu of options? If not, where did you decide to draw the line and what reasoning supports your balance there?

    In my own study and seeking, I came to the conclusion that it would be a greater evil for me to stand by and do nothing to protect those in my care than to commit violence against an attacker. I appreciate your point that a death for the sake of the Kingdom/Kingdom values is a martyrdom (literally, a witness), whether that is explicitly stated by the aggressor or not. However, I have an ethically difficult time with allowing the death or harm of an innocent (that I might or could have prevented) for the sake of witness. Would I be making the choice of martyrdom for someone else? If the violence stopped short of death, what would then be my witness to the one who was harmed?

    In other words, I am at peace with the thought of laying down my life for the gospel or for a friend; but I am intensely uncomfortable at the thought of laying down the life of an innocent or unwilling other.

    Please take my questions and comments in the genuinely collegial spirit in which I write them. This is a topic that is near to my heart, and I have wrestled long and hard to find my balance here. I know that each of us must decide for ourselves where to draw the line, but I also pray that we may never have the need to do so.

    1. Hi Christy,
      Thanks for joining (and adding to) the conversation. I appreciate your spirit and logic on this matter. Your comments demonstrate — to me and to other readers — that this kind of issue is not a cut-and-dry matter that is easy to discern and simple to decide. I believe when we wrestle with these kinds of issues our faith grows — even if/when we come down in different places.
      Like you, I am also pretty uncomfortable with the idea of laying down the life of an innocent. There is a real values clash for me when imagining such a circumstance. I guess where I eventually land on something like that is to trust that death is not final, that death need not be feared or held to be the last word, and that God will be sufficient for me, the innocent, and the one who would do violence.
      Again, thanks for your comments.
      Best,
      Chad

  8. I’d have to agree after reading the article and the comments that this is not a simple subject with which to deal. I’d also agree with those who would say that the Bible is not specific about prohibiting or requiring carrying a weapon.

    It is interesting to me to note John 18:1-11, in particular verses 10-11. There, after Peter cuts off Malchus’ ear (and I’m thinking that was not the part of the body for which Peter was aiming), Jesus simply tells him to put his sword in its sheath. He doesn’t tell him to throw it down or to stop carrying it. He simply says, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (HCSB). I have never really known quite what to make of that situation and quite honestly whether or not Peter continued to carry a sword. Later on in his life in 1 Peter he encourages the believers to submit to governing authorities who we know historically were persecuting believers.

    This is really an interesting topic to consider. All that being said, I am of the opinion that carrying a weapon is a matter of liberty. Thanks for the article and the many thoughtful responses.

  9. I graduated from Western in 2004 with an MAET. I am a veteran and an NRA certified instructor for pistol, rifle, and shotgun. And I have a license to carry concealed. At Western, my thesis touched on this topic tangentially, and as my advisers and I discovered, it is very difficult to divorce oneself from our experiences when trying to study the implications and the very permissibleness of violence for the Christian.

    Violence and the threat of violence has been a reality in my life and not merely an academic discussion. I cannot remove the affect of that experience any more than the author of this piece can conjure up experiences he has never had. Within the last few months, and even before, my life has been threatened personally by those with the means to take it.

    Many of the theological points I would make have already been debated in this post. But here is my bottom line. I have the right to risk sacrificing myself. I do not have the right to sacrifice others.

    Guns are serious business. But in reality, if you can truly follow five safety rules, your car is more dangerous to yourself and others than any firearm. Should I then stop driving?

  10. Chad, thank you for the article, as it has given me good insight, and helped me to collect my thoughts on a subject that is not definitive in Scripture. Firstly, I have to ask, “Does my action glorify God?”. Secondly, I have to think about this question in light of myself – as I cannot control the actions of others. I have five points (although no flora-acronym) that has served to help me answer the question above. So, generally from Scripture, here are my thoughts:

    1. Does my willing submission to persecution because of the Gospel bring glory to God ? Yes, it makes me like Christ who laid down his life for the Gospel.

    2. Does my refusal to defend those in trouble – like my family – (even by means of firing a gun) because of my position in the Kingdom of Christ, bring glory to God? No, it makes me a coward.

    3. Does my act of defending those who are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel (even by means of firing a gun) bring glory to God? Yes, it shows that I love the body of Christ to which I belong.

    4. Does my act of personal defense for reasons outside of persecution for the Gospel – like being robbed or mugged – (even by means of firing a gun) bring glory to God? Yes, because our God is a God of order not lawlessness, and we are made in His image.

    5. Does my decision not to brandish my weapon to defend myself against those who would do me harm, for reasons outside of the Gospel – like being robbed or mugged – bring glory to God? Yes, as I am a citizen of the Kingdom in which the Prince of Peace reigns.

    So, those are my thoughts, and thank you (and all) for the posting.

    Sean

  11. Chad I want to point one thing out about Christians owning guns. Chicago Illinois has the highest murder rate by gun crimes in the U.S. Politicians and preachers always spoke about guns being bad and Illinois wouldn’t allow citizens to to carry guns and some counties you weren’t even allowed to have a gun. The only people who had guns were gangs and criminals, these people will always have gun reguardless of laws. To come to the point this year Chicago gun murder crimes has dropped significantly to a 56 year low. This year Illinois passed the conceal carry law that’s why gun crime has gone down. Now us Christian’s can carry guns to protect our families and innocent people.To me the real murders are politicians and clergyman that didn’t allow Christians to carry guns but only let criminals carry them and they will always have guns illegally.

  12. So we can trust God with our life, but not our family members? It’s not up to us to decide who lives and who doesn’t, it’s up to God. Did the early Christians use force to defend other Christians such as, women, the elderly and younger people? We are to fight evil with prayer and the word of God, not physical weapons. Why not create a Christian army and go around the world defending those that can’t defend themselves? Is that what God has called us to do? No! Jesus said we must preach the gospel. We are not like those in the world that are lost, without hope. We are the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are soldiers of Jesus, but we don’t kill, we bring life in the name of Jesus to those that are dead in their sins. Where in the bible does it say we can carry guns and shoot people in self defense for any reason? The apostles had two swords and we assume they were to be used to defend against thieves, but they were to be used against wild animals, not people. Jesus said not to resist evil and give up your property. To use guns is to live in fear. We are not suppose to live in fear. It is a dreadful thing to fall in the hands of a living God. We have many examples of God protecting His own. God hasn’t changed. When Paul was persecuting the Church, the Church never fought back. We twist scripture to justify many things. Are we so arrogant that we think we will always be in a position to protect our family members? We don’t know what can happen in the future. We must trust God and not our ability to use a gun. Anything done without faith is sin. I can say so much more about this, but I will leave here.

    1. John you apparently don’t know the scriptures here is a couple about what Jesus said. Jesus did not prohibit his disciples from having lethal weapons but made sure a couple of them carry them.Luke22:36&38. Luke11:21&22 Jesus assumed that the man had the right to defend his family. There are 400 scriptures that speak of the sword. ( the sword was considered the gun we have today) the bible clearly states that you should protect your family, other people and your house from evil people that would kill you. The pastors should protect his people when they are in his house( the church) the bible says if he doesn’t he will burn in hell with the intruder that was there to kill Christians. Their blood are on your hands even if you did nothing to protect them according to what Jesus said. The only thing I can say to you John is you better heed to what the bible says.

Comments are closed.