Is violent force ever justified?

December 8, 2015

By now I suppose everyone has heard about the speech that Jerry Falwell Jr. gave to students last week at Liberty University. Here’s the oft-quoted excerpt:

I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.

He volunteered that he was carrying a gun, and he encouraged his students to do the same, reminding them that the university offered a free course on responsible gun ownership. He later qualified his remarks to say that “those Muslims” referred specifically to the terrorists who murdered the innocent in Paris and San Bernardino.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not Liberty’s campus, or any public space, would be safer if every qualified citizen carried a concealed weapon (the power of sin infects everyone, remember, not just Islamic terrorists), I’ve seen a predictable overreaction to his comments on social media this week from many Christians, including this post by progressive United Methodist blogger Zack Hunt. His blog post appeared on the United Methodist-affiliated website Ministry Matters.

Among other things, he writes:

Sadly, we live in a strange place and time where it seems that publicly assenting to the right dogma is some sort of sanctified Get Out Of Living Like Jesus Card™. This is why Jerry Falwell Jr. can carry a gun into sacred space and call for the death of his enemies even though Jesus unequivocally declared “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also,” and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

So, in principle, what is Hunt saying? That even if we have it within our power to use violent force to stop terrorists from murdering people, as terrorists did in Paris and San Bernardino, we aren’t permitted to do so? Because of what Jesus “unequivocally” said?

Really?

Needless to say, I utterly reject that interpretation of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, as has most of the church for most of Christian history. I believe Jesus is speaking against personal vengeance. Protecting innocent children, for example, from being slaughtered hardly qualifies!

Of course it’s all academic for people like Hunt to hold these convictions. He pays taxes. Whether he wants to be or not, he’s protected, to some extent, by institutions and individuals who do not—thank God—share his convictions: law enforcement, the armed services, and the intelligence communities, for instance.

Is he against them, too? I’m not. I believe strongly that violence is sometimes necessary and justified. I believe it’s our Christian duty, at times, to resort to violence—in the interest of the very “stranger” whom Jesus commands us to love.

Again, I’m not making a political statement about gun control. I’m talking about the principle of whether violent force is sometimes justifiable. Hunt says it isn’t. I say it is.

2 Responses to “Is violent force ever justified?”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    I heartily agree. Many years back when I was in ninth grade (MANY years back!) my Dad offered to teach me how to box (he was an ace at it when in high school himself), but I rebuffed the offer based on my misguided view of “resist not evil.” Since then I have “seen the light” that, as you say, it is a matter of seeking revenge, not of “protecting the innocent”–including YOURSELF as one possible “innocent” under attack!

    • brentwhite Says:

      Many Christians who are pacifists will take a few verses of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, universalize them into a statement against violence under any conditions, and ignore the rest of the Bible, not least of which Jesus’ words about hell and judgment, Romans 13, and Revelation.


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