December 29th, 2019 was a day that the membership of West Freeway Church of Christ in Texas will likely never forget. A man who they had fed several times and shown the love of Christ to in the past came into church that day dressed in a long black trench coat and a fake beard. The church security team was put on alert and they positioned themselves close to the man, just in case. During the service, he got up and went to the back of the church to talk to one of the security personnel and then opened fire with a shotgun he had hidden under his coat.
He killed two members of the congregation before one of the security team persons, Jack Wilson, pulled a firearm and shot the man, ending the rampage. It was a horrific ordeal that left the church and the nation stunned. Not long after, on January 13th, 2019, The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbot placed The Medal of Courage around Jack Wilson’s neck. Speaking to a small crowd, the Governor said,
“Only God knows who is alive today because of Jack Wilson. What we do know is that so many lives were saved because of Jack Wilson’s quick action, his calmness under pressure, and, above all else, his courage and his willingness to risk his own life to save the lives of others.”
Speaking about what happened during the incident, Jack would say,
“The events at West Freeway Church of Christ put me in a position that I would hope no one would have to be in, but evil exists and I had to take out an active shooter in church. I am very sad about the loss of two dear friends and brothers in Christ, but evil does exist in this world and I and other members are not going to allow evil to succeed.”
Later on, after receiving The Medal of Courage he said,
“I feel more as a protector than I do a hero. I feel very honored that God allowed me to have that capability to do what needed to be done at that particular time… I don’t feel like I killed an individual. I feel like I killed evil. That’s how I’m approaching it and that’s how I’m processing [it].”
So why am I talking about a mass shooting? How should Christian men respond to these types of situations? Am I saying that all Christian men should be carrying guns every day? No. Am I saying that Christian men should embrace a life that may lead them toward violence? Maybe. Am I saying that as a man of Christ you should be prepared to do what Christ would call us to do in terms of loving people enough to sacrifice our own comfort, innocence, and bloodless hands? Absolutely! As a man, you have been called to love your neighbors, protecting others should be something we not only think about but something we actively prepare to do.
In Mathew 22: 37-40, Jesus is talking to a Pharisee who has asked Him which is the greatest commandment of the law, and he said,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Mathew 22:37-40
Christ calls us to lay down our lives in love for others. To allow a moral evil, like the one present when a person is seeking to commit murder, rape, abduction, or the like; is to put aside the love you have for the victim of that sin. David French, in his article for the National Review, called The Biblical and Natural Right of Self Defense says,
“While the New Testament certainly removes from the individual Christian any justification for vengeance (leaving vengeance to God’s agent, the state) – lex talionis (eye for an eye) was always a rule of proportionate justice, not self-defense. In fact, Jesus’s disciples carried swords, and Jesus even said in some contexts the unarmed should arm themselves (Luke 22:36). The sword’s use was only specifically forbidden when Peter used violence to block Christ’s specific purpose to lay down his life.”
We have been called to be prepared for Christ’s sake. In 1st Corinthians 16:13, it says,
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” Corinthians 16:13
Be watchful; in other words, be prepared and ready to respond in the way Christ would have you to respond. If we are to truly love the helpless, the weak, and our neighbor; as we love ourselves then we must protect them in whatever way we can. Now I hear your questions and statements already.
Just because we are called to “love our neighbors” as ourselves does that mean we must protect them by killing?
That seems extreme I hear some of you saying. People die as martyrs. Sacrificing themselves for the faith, have you thought of that?
You know, the next verse in Corinthians 16, the 14th verse says, “And whatever you do, do it with kindness and love.” Does killing someone seem kind or loving to you?!
Let me address these concerns. When we are talking about the possibility of killing someone, we don’t take this action lightly. Nothing about this act is a good thing, beyond your love for those you are attempting to protect. If there is literally any other way to address the situation, that way should be taken; period! Is it extreme? Of course, it’s extreme, that’s why it’s sad and harmful, even for the person who is forced to do it.
What about being a martyr? Shouldn’t Christians welcome the ability to stand up for the faith in death? It is honorable to die for the faith, but that is a calling from Christ that an individual must make for themselves in a prayerful moment or beforehand during a time of crisis. When it is known that this possibility exists you can prepare for that action. If you are able to understand the nature of the world you inhabit and you are willing to die to further the causes of Christ, and that Christ has specifically called you to this end.
What about that 14th verse in Chapter 16 of Corinthians, “And whatever you do, do it with kindness and love”? Doesn’t that speak directly against what you are saying?
Not at all. Within the call to action in kindness and love is the understanding that giving a response to aberrant behavior is not unloving or unkind. An alternate understanding might be that we are giving justice and in that continuing to show love to the victims of evil. Proverbs 21:15 even tells us, “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”
Also, in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explained, “’Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment — even to death. If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged.’ Capital punishment may or may not be good public policy, but we ought not oppose it because we are supposed to “love” everybody. Failing to punish a dangerous criminal is not behaving with love toward the rest of our neighbors.”
Coming back to the idea of being a martyr, we must also understand our role as a man of Christ and the consideration that our death would impact others around us. We must not search out or condone our own death when doing so would bring others further from or outside of an understanding of Christ’s saving grace. If allowing myself to die would give my family the cause to fall further from an understanding of the love of Christ, then I must do all I can to maintain my life and the life of those I am within reach of to help them in their pursuit of Christ.
David French lays out the self-defense argument nicely in the same article. He says,
“…the morality of self-defense is not only presumed, the act of self-defense is permitted and even mandated by key Biblical figures. This principle flows of course from a moral law that reveres human life. It should be protected, not merely avenged. Nehemiah, when he was rebuilding Jerusalem in the face of hatred (not in wartime, but when tribal neighbors were seeking to carry out vigilante attacks on Jews) instructed his people: “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:14).”
As the men of Christ, we have a responsibility to live into the role Christ has cast for us in whatever way we are able. Some of us might see carrying a gun for defense as a moral blight. I have often thought about King David when looking at the possibility of having to take a life. David was seen as a man after God’s own heart, but he is also seen as the warrior king. In fact, he was not even allowed to build God’s temple because he had shed too much blood. 1 Chronicles 22:8 says,
“But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.” 1 Chronicles 22:8
David was following God’s commands throughout his military campaigns. Even when we look at his battle with Goliath where David clearly took a life (in a rather gruesome way); he was also following the commands of God in doing so. Were the deaths at David’s hands insignificant then? No, they weren’t or he would have been worthy to construct the temple. So, while he was not committing sin to slay his enemies, God felt that those deaths were a stain on David in some non-sinful way. This makes sense because any time a life is lost it’s no small thing, to us or to God. This is one of the burdens of being a man.
In times of great peril, we are often called into dishonoring ourselves with blood.
While this is not sin, it is still a blight upon your soul and mind. You would literally never be the same person. The mental, spiritual, and even physical burdens that this ordeal places upon a person are great indeed. God realizes this. I believe this is why David was told that he was not the one who was going to build the temple. Let’s remember, however, that David’s son Solomon, was given the honor of building the temple. His father sacrificed his own honor, taking on the blight and stench of death, and in the end, his son was able to gain great honor for God by being the one to build it.
David was the warrior King so that Solomon might rule in relative wealth and prominence. As men, we are at times called to follow in the footsteps of David and kill so that others might live. There is pain, heartache, sorrow, and depression in taking on this burden, but that is the mantle we are called to take up. The possibility of dishonoring ourselves for the sake of others is real and should be taken seriously. Did Christ not do this for us, take on shame and sin in our stead? As Christ has done, we should do likewise.
D. Michl Lowe