When Christians talk of self-defense and their reaction to violence in general, they frequently speak of turning the other cheek. While I would not attempt to dissuade someone from that point of view I have always been against that type of pacifism in the face of violence – particularly in the case of deadly violence. In the extreme example of self-defense against someone who wants to kill you – people who advocate turning the other cheek advocate throwing away God’s gift of life or worse yet not defending those you love when their lives are threatened. That I could not do, after all Christ Himself said:
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:14
Also, according to the Old Testament people are allowed to defend against thieves.
“If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed” Exodus 22:2
Trying to steal the rest of your life – or the lives of your loved ones – is certainly stealing from my point of view.
For those of you who will say we should turn the other cheek and depend upon the police or government, to defend us from deadly threats or criminal activity – would you bet your life on it? Is paying someone else to defend you and yours somehow more honorable and Christian? Even if the police just happen to be in the area at the critical moment, the courts have determined that government has no duty to defend any particular citizen. Please read that sentence again! This may seem hard to believe, but it is from an appellate court decision in the case of Warren v. District of Columbia circa 1981. A group of women were attacked in their home and called the police for help. The police failed to respond and for the next 14 hours these women were under the direct control of the brutal intruders. The women later sued, but the court found in favor of the government under the fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen. Most people have no idea that this is the case. You cannot depend upon the government to protect you. If you don’t believe me look up the case for yourself.
Why, you may ask, would I want to write about this? It may seem far removed from our church today. However, there have been a number of cases lately where churches have been the target of violent and deadly attacks. In just about all of them the people there were probably under the assumption that they were immune from these attacks. A few recent examples of these attacks are the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee where two congregants were killed in July of 2008, The New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado where another two were killed in December of 2007 (this church had armed guards so they were prepared for something to happen), thus only two members were killed. The First Congregational Church in Neosho, Missouri where three were killed in August of 2007, the shooting at The Ministry of Jesus Christ Church in North Baton Rouge, Louisiana in May of 2006 where fie were killed, and the shooting at the Living Church of God in Brookfield, Wisconsin where seven were killed in March of 2005. I could go on but I think my point has been made.
Whatever the reason for the attacks our course is clear: we, as Christians, must defend ourselves and our church against such attacks by whatever means available. This has been how some of these shootings were stopped. In one case the shooter was subdued by members of the congregation, in another the shooter was killed by a member of the congregation who was serving as a guard. In the others the shooter killed himself or just left the church when he was “done” with the shooting. Which outcome would you prefer to see? The shooter subdued or killed by the congregation or to be allowed to shoot until he is “done?” I prefer one of the first two options.
Am I advocating armed guards at our church? I am not, I just want people to know that it can happen and we can and should be prepared to defend ourselves – to throw the good book at our attacker! After all, when protecting one’s family or neighbors, a Christian is unselfishly risking his or her life for the sake of others. How can that be a bad thing?
Let us look at turning the other cheek, as Jesus says: “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:39
Yet even Jesus did not do this in the literal sense! When he was struck in the face by one of the officials while being questioned by the high priest he does not turn the other cheek. Instead he says:
“If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” John 18:23
We can see too from his actions that Jesus himself was not completely non-violent. After all, he did go after the moneychangers in the temple with a whip!
“In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” John 2:14-15
If someone came after you with a whip and overturned your tables and generally made a wreck of the area, would you say that was non-violence? No you’d probably call the police and want him taken away! Was Jesus turning the other cheek in this case? I think not. He saw a wrong and righted it through violent means. Also, prior to his crucifixion, Jesus revealed to his disciples the hostility they faced in the future and gave them the following advice:
“But now, whoever has a purse, let him take it, and likewise a wallet. Whoever has none, let him sell his cloak, and buy a sword.” “The disciples said, ‘See, Lord, here are two swords.’ ‘That is enough,’ he replied.” Luke 22:36 & 38
He asked if they had weapons. When they said they did he did not rebuke them, but instead said they had enough. To me this is proof that they were allowed to defend themselves if needed.
Later, when Jesus is betrayed by Judas at the Garden, Peter draws his sword and asks,
“Lord, should we strike with our swords?” Luke 22:49
He apparently does not wait for an answer and strikes Malchus, the servant of the high priest and cuts off his ear. This does not make Jesus happy and he says:
“Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” John 18:11
And [a parallel verse] from Mathew:
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Mathew 26:52-54
Note that Jesus does not rebuke Peter for trying to defend Him. He rebukes him for trying to change what must happen, the pre-ordained future that God has laid out for Jesus. Despite the appearance of their being outnumbered by the others, Jesus says He could call in more than 12 legions (a legion is 1,000) of angels. This would easily overpower the group of people there to assist in and/or view the arrest of Jesus. In Mathew’s version He does say that those who draw the sword will die by the sword, but is that an admonition against all use of weapons to defend oneself? The people coming to arrest Jesus were not threatening His life at that point, so Peter really had no justification for violence against them.
This being said, it is clear to me that defending Christianity using violence is not allowed. If your religion is being attacked or you are being attacked for your religion, you are not allowed to use force. In fact, I believe that this is the true meaning of turning the other cheek. True Christians do not attack people who attack their faith. They turn the other cheek – they take the abuse of their faith. For example, Stephen does not fight back or even try to escape when he was stoned for his testimony about Jesus.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Acts 7:59-60
And Jesus says that Christians will be persecuted to the end.
“All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Mathew 10:22
Of course it is a personal decision to defend yourself or others. However, in a fallen world like ours, we all need to think about these things ahead of time so that we have an idea what course we may take if we are ever put into the position of having to choose. It’s too late to do much thinking at that point, that is the time for action. – Tim P.