Tuesday, December 11, 2007

a bit outrageous

Okay, I have the sense that what I'm about to say is probably a bit far out on the outrageous end, even for me. So consider yourself warned. If you don't want to be freaked out, you may want to stop reading now.

still here? Okay then

I'm confused about something. I've been confused about this for some time now, but a recent case provides a focal point for my confusion.

On Sunday, a heavily armed man named Matthew Murray entered a "Christian" church in Colorado and started shooting people. A church security officer named Jeanne Assam stopped him from probably killing many more people by shooting him several times and killing him.

Now I think that what Ms. Assam did was rather sensible. It makes sense to me for somoene to use deadly force to stop someone from killing lots of ... relatively innocent people.

But what really confuses me is how Ms. Assam, and the church, and the wider culture of people who call themselves Christians, can hold both of these things true at the same time:

1. "I am a Christian"
2. "Using deadly violence against my enemy is necessary, and even laudable"

I mean for me, this reflects on part of the reason I can't be a Christian. I mean on the one hand, I find the idea of non-violence very very appealing. On the other hand, I can't even manage to be consistently kind to those I love the most, much less to my enemies.

But apparently all these people mean something altogether different by "Christian" than "follower of Jesus".

It strikes me as absolutely ludicrous to attempt to extrapolate from the words and actions of Jesus that it's a good idea to shoot and kill someone who is attempting to kill you.

I mean by his actions--every time Jesus was *ever* physically attacked, he ... ran away. Well, except the last time. That time he simply accepted the violence, loving the perps.

And by his words--it seems to me he's astoundingly explicit on this point.

Matthew 5: Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it.

You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies.

Luke 6: To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

Am I missing something? What do all these folks *mean* when they call themselves "Christians"?


Jeff said...


I see what you are saying, and it is a struggle. If I were that security guard would I have acted different? And how sad is it that church's, schools, and daycares need security. But I think that is the answer, well an answer. The church, just like anything else, is made up of imperfect people, in a imperfect world, which results in imperfect actions.

I think one think Christians need to overcome is the "now I must be and act perfect because I am a Christian" thoughts. I don't think that is the point.

I have a friend that was killed in a church shooting several years ago, and out of my own selfishness I wish they had security.

The comparison to Jesus is interesting, because while he preaches peace, he is also confrontational. If he was at that church do you think he would have stopped the shooter, or let him (or her) continue?

Joe said...

Benjamin, you'll be pleased to know that I was awake last night trying to think this through.

It seems to me that there are few circumstances where violence is justified - and preventing a madman from killing people is one of those.

So, whilst you make a good point about the oxymoron that this case shows, the truth is that you can't really love an enemy if he has already killed you.

That said, it is somewhat telling of society that so often these cases end with gunfire and death. One wonders whether there is any possibility of restraint methods without guns and/or whether churches are doing enough to reduce the use of guns in society.

Benjamin Ady said...

Jeff, Joe,

Thankyou for your comments.

Jeff--great question. Joe has a brilliant idea for a wristband which reads IDKWJWDSWTFAIGTDN, which is his take on WWJD. It's something like "I don't know what Jesus would do so what the fuck am I going to do now?"

Having said that, I think it's just bloody obvious that the Jesus we get to know from the canonical gospels would in no way shape or form have carried a gun or shot the shooter at new life, nor allowed any of his followers to do so. So how would he have responded? Well ... I mean this may seem a bit radical, but it sure *looks* like Jesus response to violent attack was *only* ever either to run away, or to submit to the violence.

Yes, he is confrontational. But only ever with words. *never* with physical violence. Okay, well, one time-but that one time was *not* in response to physical violence.


I'm very pleased to know you were awake trying to think this through. Way to go!

You think you can't love an enemy who has killed you? Isn't that sort of really central to the christian story, that you *can* do that?

Yeah--of course reducing guns would reduce the violence. My uncle Jack makes a fascinating observation. it's a lot easier for a crowd of unarmed people to confront and overcome an attacker who is armed with something less than a gun--say a knife or a sword even--than to do so when the attacker has a gun.

The funny thing is, since New Life is at one level a center of evangelical right wing christian politics in the U.S., they would beyond doubt be promoting "gun rights", and aligning themselves with the NRA and so forth. So in a sense they helped create the problem they encountered.

Joe said...

Well, I guess that is a good point ;)

For me, the main point is that I will not sit around and watch innocents get massacred. Not in Rwanda, not in Gaza, not on the inner city streets, not anywhere. If my pacifism means that I do not confront the violence - and risk my own life in the process - then it is completely worthless.

If this church is involved in the NRA, then that is another (albeit a serious) issue. But I will not fiddle and allow the men of violence take down places of peace - be they mosques, temples, libraries, museums or anything else.

If you are asking whether I would take down someone who was killing racists in a supremacist church if the only method was killing with a gun, then yes I would no matter how obnoxious I found the racist theology or the supremacists.

Having said that, I don't accept that there are many circumstances where killing with a gun is the only method. Indeed, I support the British police who only carry guns in exceptional circumstances.

Thom Stark said...

Hi there. I am a Christian who believes that following Jesus entails a commitment to nonviolence. I've posted an open letter I wrote to Pastor Brady Boyd on my website, here. You might be interested to know that there are many Christians who strongly oppose the actions taken by New Life Church. Of course, we are a minority.