Did He Mean It?

As I am sure we all know, there was a tragic shooting in an elementary school up in Connecticut. This is not the first shooting in this country either — not at all. It seems like every week or so that there is a major shooting in the United States. Not all of them make national news, but they always make it to the local news. I have heard many different reactions to these tragedies, but I feel that I must address the typical reaction that I see from Christians, especially conservative ones.

I know this particular approach well because it is the view of my father. He feels that all of life’s evils can be solved by violence. He says we should bomb the Middle East, bomb China, reinforce Israel, and increase private ownership of guns. To put some icing on the cake, he also works for the Department of Homeland Security/Transportation Security Administration.

In addition to my father, a classmate of mine, who sits behind me in English, often talks about guns with another classmate of mine. He feels that all of these massacres could just be stopped if people carried guns. His logic is that if someone starts shooting, everyone else can just fire back and kill him. I am sure that we can all agree how flawed this logic is, but it nevertheless makes sense to him.

My father and classmate have a very little in common except for one thing — they both see themselves as Christians. Their logic, however, seems to directly contradict that of Jesus, yet they see themselves as Christians. I find this very problematic, yet it is a very common sentiment. Very many people in this country own guns, join the military, vote for war, and support groups like the National Rifle Association while still seeing themselves as Christian. There was even a church in Texas that was giving shooting lessons to “defend” against Mexican immigrants!

Can an authentic Christian believe in such things? Can an authentic Christian desire for more guns, warfare, and violence? I very strongly say, no; I very strongly feel that such people are not really following Christ. Jesus said and did many things in the three years he preached, and nonviolence was a big part of it:

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matt. 5:7)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matt. 5:9)

You have head that is was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (Matt. 5:38-39)

Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matt. 26:52)

This is only from one gospel and a few select passages at that, but I think it is enough to get the point across.

We are Christians, which means that we follow Christ. We do not follow Augustine who made up the “Just War” Theory; we do not follow the Old Testament kings and their genocidal campaigns; and we do not follow modern day politicians or theologians. As Christians, and as Anabaptists, our foundation is the Gospel. Sure, the other parts of Scripture and history are great and helpful, but they do not overrule our faith in Christ.

If we are going to follow Jesus, we must ask: did he mean it? Did he mean it when he said to love our enemies? Did he mean it when he said to lay down our swords? Did he mean it when he said that only the sinless can cast stones? Did Jesus mean it?

Kevin Daugherty

Comments (8)

  1. Kriss

    It depends on one’s interpretation. Your father and your classmate identify as Christians too, and if you asked them, they likely have a basis for their beliefs in the Bible or in the words of Jesus as well. They may be focusing on different verses or they may be interpreting verses differently.

    It is hard to know, 2000 years from the time, what Jesus said, and what he meant. There are some who believe Jesus was a zealot and advocated a violent uprising against Rome. In the Gospel of Thomas, a young boy Jesus curses another boy who shrivels up and dies. The Gospel of Thomas didn’t make it into the Bible. Does that mean it is less accurate than Matthew? Who can say?

    Even in Matthew, there is the quote from Jesus saying he came not to bring peace, but a sword. I suppose the modern equivalent of that is a gun.

  2. Tim B

    I believe Jesus meant it. I also believe that if someone, somewhere is currently and actively shooting people, the only response to stop him is to meet his measure of force. I don’t think Christians should seek violence. I think we can and should separate seeking war and using violence to put a stop to violence. Had Adam Lanza continued shooting should the police have waited patiently outside, guns on their hips, while children inside are shot? Yesterday in Pennsylvania a gunman killed three people and would have likely continued killing until the police met him with an equal amount of violence and ended his life. In Oregon, a concealed carry owner brandished his weapon to a shooter before the shooter took his own life. No one else was killed. If people are behaving logically, we can meet them with some semblance of reason. If people are behaving illogically and killing others, then what choice is left? I live in Oregon, I don’t even question if my friends and neighbors own guns, they all do. In fact, most people I know have their concealed carry. I do not dread violence here. Whether that is because so many are armed or because people who own guns typically aren’t criminals, I don’t know.

  3. Robert

    I believe Jesus meant it as well. One of the classical arguments by those who wish to employ non-violence has been the distinction made between force and violence. For example, when an unarmed person comes into my home and tries to assault my daughter and I force that person out the door I am employing force. When that person comes into the house and I stab them and then force them out the door, I am employing violence, trying to hurt them more than is necessary to stop their actions. Now, if someone is shooting others who are innocent, this becomes increasingly more complicated. The fact that almost all of the shooters in these cases have been alienated kids who were treated like shit by their families or other students tells us something about potential solutions. We might incorporate stricter anti-bullying policies in our schools, education about autism for all parents, easy acess to developmental therapy and support networks for kids among many other things.

    To really make a dent in these problems, the best solution is not to start arming teachers! While I admit that such a thing might have some effect on lessening the amount of dead children in these incidents, it still would not be dealing with the real underlying causes in the first place.

  4. Tim B

    The fact that almost all of the shooters in these cases have been alienated kids who were treated like shit by their families or other students tells us something about potential solutions.

    I really think it has a lot to do with the fact that all of these kids are on psych meds.

    it still would not be dealing with the real underlying causes in the first place.

    What are those underlying issues? Can we agree on what they are? If so, can we agree on a solution?

    The Gospel of Thomas didn’t make it into the Bible. Does that mean it is less accurate than Matthew? Who can say?

    We can say. And we did say. Christians came together and judged which among the books were deemed credible. The Gospel of Peter was highly respected by some, but was left out. The Gospel of Mary was often read but left out. All of these ‘other gospels’ proved to be too problematic to include in a definitive Christian gathering of writings.

    Christians came together and said “These are the works that seem credible and legit to us. Let’s put them together so we can all draw from the same source.”

  5. KevinD (Post author)

    Don’t blame the psych meds Tim. As a psych major and as the son of a nurse who specializes in medication, meds do far more good than bad.

  6. Tim B

    So, Kevin, the fact that all these young men were on Pysch meds is not a topic of discussion? Their role or lack thereof is off the table as a topic of discussion?

    If we’re going to be honest, let’s look at who is doing the bulk of these mass killings:

    Under 25.
    Mentally fragile.
    On psych meds.

    And how:

    These five threads remain common. Sure, there is some deviation. In New York before Christmas an old guy killed some fireman. Otherwise, the same threads.

    And why not meds? We know, you know, they change behavior. If they didn’t you wouldn’t prescribe them. When I watch a commercial for anti-depressants why the disclaimer that says “May increase thoughts of suicide?” I have no doubt that a lot of these meds do many people a world of good. But I don’t even question whether they play a part in these killings. Of course they do.

    Liberals blame guns, as if a gun has the ability to convince a person to murder other people. The NRA blames video games, as if murder didn’t exist before video games (nor is there any notable link between games and violence). Conservatives blame culture, which may be closer to the truth but is far from pinning down an actual cause. Parents blame bullying, which hits close to home and reveals that maybe we need instill better values in our children.

    Me? I blame hopelessness.

  7. KevinD (Post author)

    Drugs do affect behavior, but it is probably the illness itself that caused the problem. It would be more accurate to say that the drugs failed rather than caused the problem. However, you are taking a coincidence and making an illogical jump to evidence. What would be needed is a review of violent behavior in general and see if these surveys would show a correlation. Then, one has to begin testing each possible variable. Scientifically speaking, we cannot just easily blame an external factor as the cause of such things. The blame on guns, drugs, etc. is really just another way of scapegoating in times of distress, which is typical human behavior.

  8. Tim B

    It would be more accurate to say that the drugs failed rather than caused the problem.

    Why is this off the table with you? Millions of children are on strong behavioral drugs, school shootings are committed by those on the drugs, yet you brush it off so easily? I’m baffled. I’m not saying the drugs are the cause or the sole cause, but it deserves a conversation. We need to ask ourselves, is medicating millions of children for years on end really what’s best for us? Are drugs that are intended to cause shifts in behavior, even if that behavior is increased thoughts of suicide, not up for grabs in the talk? Billions of dollars per year are spent on these medications for our children, are we sure that drugs are the best way to handle ADHD, depression, and stress? If so, what does that say about any sort of dependence? If Mommy needs three glasses of wine to handle the children, that’s okay? If God created us in such a way that millions of people can’t handle their own lives without strong behavioral drugs, what does that say? There’s no doubt that there are people who need these things. I’ve met some crazy people who scream at the walls and hear voices. They need drugs because they’ll go insane if they don’t have them. But because a boy of 11 won’t sit still for seven hours in a classroom we dope him up? Then we wonder why he starts acting crazy? What does acid do to someone who takes it daily for a decade? Or Meth? Or even marijuana or alcohol? It totally destroys those people. Yet we’re to think these legal drugs don’t have any consequences after years of daily use?

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