Kingdom (and weapon) Confusion

A fairly common observation (and sometime criticism) is that two-kingdom teaching is simply a reiteration of Anabaptist notions about the separation of church and state. Because 2k is ambivalent if not in denial about the kingdom work supplied by the magistrate, the modern version of two-kingdom theology supposedly stands closer to sixteenth-century Anabaptists (who rejected ecclesiastical establishments) than to the magisterial reformers (who looked to the state to uphold the true religion).

Here is one reason why 2k is not Anabaptist, and it comes from the unlikely source of Alan Jacobs’ Christmas-day reflection on gun control:

I’m a Christian, and as such I am enjoined to pray and hope for the coming reign of the Prince of Peace. Christians might disagree about how and when that Kingdom is going to come about, but we must pray for it and seek it without all our hearts. We should look forward always to the the reign of shalom, as laid out in Isaiah 65. It is not, then, intrinsically desirable that we should be armed; it is, rather, intrinsically desirable that we should all live in the Kingdom of God where no weapons are needed because we live in mutual love and have our needs provided by the Lord.

Maybe that doesn’t even need to be said; maybe nobody really thinks an armed society is ipso facto a better society, even though some folks can sound that way at times. If so, then please just take this post as a reminder that if it is, or becomes, necessary for Americans to be regularly and publicly armed, that’s a sign of the tragic brokenness of a world populated by fallen people.

Aside from the fairly obvious point that Jacobs is blurring lines between society and God’s people with his invocation of “we” in connection with the kingdom of God, he fails to recognize that the peaceable kingdom for which he longs is evident every Lord’s Day when believers gather at the Lord’s Table and only need the spiritual discipline of fencing the table — not guns — for communion. Also troubling is the implicit logic that fewer guns in society is an indication of the arrival of God’s kingdom. (Readers may want to keep in mind that some neo-Calvinists invoke shalom the way Jacobs does as an indication of the arrival of God’s kingdom.) That kind of logic is what leads the hip urbano-Calvinists to regard more artists and chefs and fewer police and soldiers as evidence of the coming kingdom. In fact, the signs of Christ’s kingdom are more ministers, more church members, more congregations (disciplined, of course), and more fruit of the Spirit.

But with careful distinctions between the kingdoms and the sorts of weapons used in each, two-kingdom proponents can see the problems that come with police enforcing the true religion (as Anabaptists did) while rejecting pacifist and non-violent social norms (as the magisterial reformers did). The church doesn’t need guns. It enforces God’s law and proclaims the good news through spiritual means. But until Christ’s return and the ultimate sorting out of the wheat and the tares, society will need guns. Rules for owning, manufacturing, and selling guns will come not from God’s word (which is silent about such matters) but the shifting sands of human reflection.

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44 thoughts on “Kingdom (and weapon) Confusion

  1. “But until Christ’s return and the ultimate sorting out of the wheat and the tares, society will need guns. Rules for owning, manufacturing, and selling guns will come not from God’s word (which is silent about such matters) but the shifting sands of human reflection.”

    Amen. If we love our neighbors, we will want to protect them. When the enemies of peace and freedom have guns, we need to have them, too. And better ones than they have, if possible.

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  2. Darryl, I have a few questions. I think you would agree that things like racial segregation in churches was a violation of proper church governance and Scripture. It’s also very unlikely that a 2K-er who wanted desegregated churches would nevertheless support racial segregation in the larger society. Is this because their view of “racial segregation in society” is based on something other than Scripture? One of Bill Cavanaugh’s books “Torture and Eucharist” talks about members of the church in Chile going missing or being tortured by their fellow parishioners. I suppose your answer might be similar to the Catholic Church in that case, which was 1) excommunicate the torturers and 2) try to stop torture in the larger society. But would you only base #2 on natural law and not, say, the kind of reflections that Cavanaugh provides, namely that the church’s silence had handed over the bodies of Christians to the state in a way that violated what they did on Sunday?

    I’m guessing at some point in that line of thought you’d be like “that’s not the church’s job” but maybe not. I’m just as skeptical as you about the statism and domination that’s implicit in transformationalist projects and language, but that’s not the same as letting the logic of the Kingdom affect speaking with one voice. You say that “the church doesn’t need guns” but would you let elders distribute the Eucharist while strapped with AR-15s? Why or why not?

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  3. Jeremy,

    I could imagine someone opposing segregation in the church but not doing so in society (because society is not the same as the church, and because the reforms of society might bring more harm than reform promises). It would be a tough call for what society should look like and I’d listen to most arguments that were not based on some kind of immanentize the eschaton logic.

    Elders carrying guns would only be necessary in a time of war or some kind of emergency. That would also be a reason to call off the service.

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  4. See, here’s one thing I don’t understand about 2k yet:

    Agreed, “rules for owning, manufacturing, and selling guns will come not from God’s word,” but what’s to prevent 2k Christians from coming to different conclusions on what Jesus meant by love+pray for your enemies? Could a 2k person, from there and elsewhere in the Scriptures, deduce the good and necessary consequence to be that killing in self-defense is sin?

    And what’s to prevent a 2k pastor from preaching a sermon that prohibits killing in self-defense?

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  5. Philip,

    Pacifism is not a hallmark of 2k Theology, as one of the foremost 2kers, David Van Drunen clearly delineates in his article for Themelios (the link is now dead, but you can download the .pdf at The Gospel Coalition’s website – vol. 34-3) “Bearing the Sword in the State, Turning the Cheek in the Church: A Reformed Two-Kingdom Interpretation of Matthew 5:38-42”. The issue of self-defense (or related matters) would be, for most 2k advocates a matter of conscience. And since 2kers typically are strong defenders of the Spirituality of the Church, and the matter of personal weapon ownership is not dealt with anywhere in scripture, none of them would be too happy to hear an anti-gun sermon from their pastor. On the same side, they would probably be equally upset to hear a pro-gun sermon.

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  6. Millions of Christians have used guns and killed in self-defense of themselves and others. There’s not a thing wrong with that.

    What would be a sin, in my mind, is to let your neighbor suffer grave danger and do nothing about it.

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  7. Society may need guns, but believers in Christ never do. There is no record in the NT of believers defending themselves against those who wished them harm. The disciples did not retaliate against those who flogged them.

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  8. Thanks, Jed. The article was instructive and I agreed with much of what was said.

    Sure, Scripture doesn’t talk about personal weapon ownership, but even Van Drunen agrees that Matt. 5 speaks about violent retribution and self-defense. So, it seems that THAT issue isn’t just a matter of conscience, and therefore should be preached toward.

    I’m against the police enforcing true religion AND I affirm society’s God-given right to execute murderers, BUT I’m wondering, is 2k theology a party big enough to allow for someone to take Van Drunen’s position a step further, where we understand Jesus to say that not only is it sin to kill your enemy when he’s threatening you because you’re a Christian, but it is sin to kill your enemy when he’s threatening your regardless of his motive?

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  9. Maybe it’s because I worship in a church with a lot of military membership or because I have family with CHG licenses (this is Texas after all), either way I pity the person who walks into our service looking to administer violence. I gotta say there seems to be both an instinctual(may be distinguishable in regards to individual temperament and gender-both temperament and role) and even an vocational reinforcement(training) that would seem to be at odds with a necessary biblical injuction against self-defense or protection of others. There does seem to be a biblical distinction (love of neighbor, advocation for other’s needs and dignity-regarding others as better than yourselves, a friend lays down his life for another) that would seem to point to a more pronounced justification of protection of others but a laying down of your own rights(turn the other cheek) that could have application with certain levels of violence that doesn’t necessarily imperil other’s safety or jeopardize their security upon your refusal to retaliate in defense of yourself.

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  10. Defending yourself is one thing. And debatable (if you are gone, who’s going to defend your neighbors?)

    But the neighbor? Can you stand there and watch innocent people be killed?

    Did not Jesus instruct the disciples to sell their cloaks and buy swords?

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  11. Philip,

    I must confess that I find it somewhat odd that your questions over 2k Theology center on the issue of whether or not a Christian may kill or not. I would rather somewhat redirect the question to whether or not 2k theology is biblically justifiable. For those of us who are 2kers and belong to Reformed churches, our confessional teaching (which summarizes Scripture), the Westminster Larger Catechism teaches:

    Q. 134. Which is the sixth commandment?
    A. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

    Q. 135. What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
    A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.

    Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
    A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.

    As WLC makes clear, Christians might be called upon in the most extreme situations to defend the lives of others by means of lethal force. But, only in the most extreme cases where necessity demands this – a dilemma that most Christians will doubtfully face. But, why is this a make or break issue with regards to 2k for you? It seems to focus on a rather extreme question that for most of us (thankfully) will only exist as a hypothetical.

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  12. We don’t seek vengeance as Christians, but if a man with a gun was threatening the people in our church service, we would be relieved if the police came and killed him before he could do any damage, Would we be any less relieved if a Deacon in our church killed him before he could do any damage? It’s not just theory for me as we have a former Marine/current Federal agent in our church who is usually armed. There is a difference between vengeance and defense of those in our care. Self-defense (or not) should probably be left to each believer’s conscience.

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  13. Richard, I’m no gunnie, and Jed will attest I’m no fan of so-called Reformed resistence theory, but when you say that no believer in Christ has any use for weapons, I scratch my head. If we have a dual citizenship then there are times we are in need of worldly weapons and times when we are not. Sure, it may not always be easy to sort out any given situation and with which citizenship it aligns, but is that difficulty really relieved by having our heavenly citizenship swallow up our earthly one?

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  14. Jed,

    Thanks again for your helpful response and pointing me to WLC.

    Killing people is definitely not a make or break it issue for 2k and I. My odd questions and interest in extreme scenarios are me trying to figure out what are the limits of 2k as a system, so i can be properly oriented to the middle. So much of what I’m hearing in 2k resonates with my understanding of Scriptures and theology, but every once in a while I do hear some strange and disruptive things that I’m trying to sound out.

    It seems to me that this issue is best left up to conscience, when taken beyond what the confessions say.

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  15. Has anyone been to a megachurch service where the two Secret service looking dudes barely concealing their weapons are inconspicuously adorning the sides of the stage?

    They’re there to fence something, just not the Table.

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  16. Philip, first you’re reading Aljazera, then going to megachurches, and now commenting at OL. I’m worried about you.

    But I am serious about canceling services if Christians’ lives are in danger.

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  17. Darryl,

    Are you saying that 2k says that as citizens of the kingdom of heaven we don’t need guns, but as citizens of the civil kingdom it is ok for us to use guns to defend ourselves?

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  18. Don, first, we are not citizens of the created world. Citizenship has to do with government (like a polis or city). Your referring to citizenship of creation suggests an emphasis on the created order that may explain your confusion about 2k. If we are looking at governing structures (i.e., church and state), 2k may make a lot more sense.

    In which case, citizens (including Christians) observe the gun laws of a given polity. If some Christians believe that carrying weapons is wrong, it is a matter of conscience and Christian liberty. But the church herself does not rely on police, soldiers, or even artists, film makers, or legislators to carry out her ends.

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  19. Darryl,

    But government has to do with kingdoms. Van Drunen describes the one kingdom as the “entire creation” or “common kingdom”, so, in effect, if we are citizens subject to the government over the entire creation, aren’t we also citizens of the entire creation as separate from the “redemptive kingdom?”

    Secondly, Van Drunen says that the commands of the sermon on the mount are given only to those who are already citizens of heaven. He also says that Jesus intended his words to be put into practice in the world. One of Jesus’ commands in the sermon is “Do not resist evil.” Calvin’s explanation of that passage is:

    The best interpreter of this passage that we can have is Paul, who enjoins us rather to “overcome evil by good” than contend with evil-doers. He afterwards extends the law of patience so far, that we are not to only bear patiently the injuries we have received, but to prepare for bearing fresh injuries.

    If Van Drunen is right about putting the commands of Jesus into practice in the world and Calvin is right that we are to patiently bear the injuries we receive, then the government of the kingdom of redemption should trump the government of the common kingdom regarding our response to the use of weapons to defend us from the evil-doer. If we as individuals take on the responsibility of the state in bearing the sword, it would seem that we are trespassing the law of God and the state.

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  20. If hostility is directed at Christians for being Christians, then we should rejoice to suffer for Jesus’ sake, and forswear all “flesh and blood” weaponry.

    If, on the other hand, a person or even a church is concerned for its 6th commandment duties to God and man, relative to threats from average kooks and punks–who don’t really care about the Christian profession of their potential victims, but only their perceived vulnerability–

    then Jesus’ own words would seem applicable: “He said to them, “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one….” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” Lk.22:36-38.

    Jesus point at the time was that his impending physical absence thrusts his people, in certain respects, back upon ordinary prudence and non-miraculous means of self-preservation, unless he sees fit to intervene from a distance. But, such implements are not intended to be the ordinary equipage of ministers. 2 swords for 12 apostles and all their hangers-on? Not an impressive armory, however Jesus said, “It is enough,” and with his divine protection being our principal aid, no church need be an armed fortress.

    But if a church has an off-duty policeman in her congregation, who (in accordance with his oath to the state) carries his concealed firearm to church with him, and sits unobtrusively with a view of all the business of the gathering–this is not contrary to the gospel. If there be another means employed to achieve a similar form of ordinary protection, this also cannot be contrary to the gospel. Otherwise, we have turned Jesus’ words against himself.

    Let us be more than willing to resist to the shedding of our own blood, Heb.12:4, rather than shed a drop of theirs who hate our Lord or us, Jn.15:18. But, not every assault on our persons is just cause of surrendering our bodies to the vicious or the mad.

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  21. Don, the church may trump the state in your sniffing around for gotchas, but what if the church confesses this:

    2. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion. (WCF 23.2)

    Does this mean Calvin was wrong?

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  22. I have a fellow elder in my Reformed denomination who justifies carrying concealed even in places where the law prohibits such as school areas on the grounds that he sees himself as Nehemiah, with a strapped-on sword. God help us. I had to bite down on my tongue when I heard this.

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  23. Darryl,

    Not gotchas — just trying to hold you to consistency. I was careful to distinguish between the role of the individual versus the state. The state’s role is to bear the sword, and interestingly, it appears that Christ as redeemer seems to have something to say to God who is ruler over creation about who has that responsibility. Or maybe in fact it is true that God really is One.

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  24. Don, consistency, schmonsistency. It’s overrated and you’d know that if you read the Bible, especially the part where Paul says the wisdom of the world is folly in the light of the gospel (and vice versa). When it comes to guns and the state, the inconsistency is that the church does not rule the way the state does. The church’s aim is forgiveness and repentance, the state’s is justice. If the church administered justice, who could take communion?

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  25. Hmmm, the neo-cal’s want religious, self-conscious consistency and the evanjellyfish want ‘authenticity’, both end up flattening out life and promote a piety, that beside being unbiblical, would make us dullards.

    Erik,

    The CHG’s I know tend to be more circumspect about gun laws and potential use of deadly force than any non-participant I’ve run across. Still, there are yahoo’s in every endeavor I suppose.

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  26. You say that “the church doesn’t need guns” but would you let elders distribute the Eucharist while strapped with AR-15s? Why or why not?

    In a conflict area the Chaplin’s assistants would of course be armed.

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  27. Dr. Hart posted on December 28, 2012 at 3:58 pm: “Elders carrying guns would only be necessary in a time of war or some kind of emergency. That would also be a reason to call off the service.”

    Maybe where you live, Dr. Hart, things are more peaceful.

    We have people carrying concealed weapons in church. Our local sheriff strongly encourages that, and our former sheriff conducted training seminars for pastors for dealing with attacks on churches. The Christian school my adopted daughter attends has people with concealed weapons and an emergency protocol for dealing with potential attacks.

    Such things happen.

    Maybe your response will be that because I live outside a large Army installation where terrorist attacks are a very real possibility, and we **ARE** at war in Afghanistan with fathers and mothers of local schoolchildren deployed to combat, we’re a special case. We are, in fact, a very real potential target.

    But I think crazy people live in lots of places far away from Army installations, and churches need to consider worst-case scenarios.

    This is a matter of Christian prudence, not biblical command. The Second Amendment is not in the Bible (obviously the Bible needs no amendments) and I’m not saying Christians are required to carry guns in church. But it might be an awfully good idea to think about it.

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  28. DTM,

    I am not in any way against gun ownership, but one struggle I have is that the Christians are called to “not love their lives even unto death” – and that the call to physical suffering for the sake of Christ is a reality some Christians are in fact called to.

    That doesn’t mean that I think we should be careless with our lives, as historical examples in the pre-Constantinian church clearly demonstrate – targets of martyrdom did at times flee to protect their lives and further serve the church. However, when push came to shove, and they were subject to capital punishment for the sake of Christ, they submitted.

    How do you square carrying concealed in the church with NT calls to suffer and witness? This isn’t to argue that there is never a case where carrying concealed wouldn’t be wise or prudent, it is to ask whether preserving our own lives with violence is in keeping with the ethical standards held out to the Christian in the NT.

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  29. I’ve always greatly admired the ethos of Andy Griffith on this topic. He didn’t carry a gun as sheriff of Mayberry. Barney had a gun but wasn’t allowed to keep a bullet in it. Hopefully we can be peacemakers in most situations and not have to resort to violence. If not, maybe we’ll get to go meet Jesus.

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  30. Jed Paschall: I am not in any way against gun ownership, but one struggle I have is that the Christians are called to “not love their lives even unto death” – and that the call to physical suffering for the sake of Christ is a reality some Christians are in fact called to.

    That doesn’t mean that I think we should be careless with our lives, as historical examples in the pre-Constantinian church clearly demonstrate – targets of martyrdom did at times flee to protect their lives and further serve the church. However, when push came to shove, and they were subject to capital punishment for the sake of Christ, they submitted.

    How do you square carrying concealed in the church with NT calls to suffer and witness? This isn’t to argue that there is never a case where carrying concealed wouldn’t be wise or prudent, it is to ask whether preserving our own lives with violence is in keeping with the ethical standards held out to the Christian in the NT.

    RS: There is a distinction between suffering as a Christian and suffering from wanton evil just because you are there. If people beat you up because you are telling them about Christ, that is suffering for Christ. But if you are a victim of violence because you are where you are, that is simply wanton violence. When we defend ourselves and others against criminals and criminal activity, we are loving our neighbor and we are being on the side of true peace.

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  31. Richard,

    I understand what you are saying here, and I think that we are called to self defense. In a home invasion, I see no problem with the homeowner protecting themselves with lethal force if needed. But in a case when Christians are being targeted because of their faith, say in a church service, what then.

    I can respect the concealed and carry argument, I am just not sure if we have warrant in the NT to protect the church by force. Its a tough issue, and I am not settled on it either way.

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  32. Jed Paschall: Richard, I understand what you are saying here, and I think that we are called to self defense. In a home invasion, I see no problem with the homeowner protecting themselves with lethal force if needed. But in a case when Christians are being targeted because of their faith, say in a church service, what then.

    I can respect the concealed and carry argument, I am just not sure if we have warrant in the NT to protect the church by force. Its a tough issue, and I am not settled on it either way.

    RS: One question, however, is whether most who attack those in the church building are attacking them because they are at church as a church or whether they are attacking them because they think they are weak and without means to defend themselves. Some might attack those attending a worship service because they think the people are totally passive and an easy mark.

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  33. Jed,

    I understand going through the process of asking oneself the question and the attending circumstances and context of gun ownership and usage. Mentally-ill and/or drug-addled generally doesn’t discriminate between victims on religious grounds, at least in the American context, but rather, ease of opportunity. Even the most recent shootings from movie theaters, to elementary schools, to cafeterias, to school bus hijackings, has largely been based on lack of resistance and opportunity. Which begs the question of; can the mentally-ill be held responsible for their actions(they all point to pre-meditation and maximization of both casualty, self-preservation, and ease of target) and further argues against the idea that people in an american church context are rightly risking being martyred, but instead are merely giving opportunity to being victimized. Now, state mandated or state supported or even state tolerance of violence against the church would seem to be a more apt consideration of martyrdom. I’m willing to abide resisting the criminal, even on the Lord’s day should it be necessary. Now, could it be done just as easily with paid security on church grounds on sunday? Probably, and a better option. I’m not a big fan of the untrained and/or unexperienced being put to the test in a crowded, panicked room. Every circumstance brings it’s own set of difficulties and even the trained put in an unexpected and unplanned context are stressed to deliver and execute well.

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  34. sean,

    I think you are being balanced here. To me, it is important to remember that as much as we can, we should be aware of the cultural conditioning (both good and bad) that we bring with us in the church. The US definitely has a vibrant gun culture, and a very keen sense of self-defense which has been nurtured in our culture from it’s inception. I think there has been very real cultural and political benefits to an armed populace.

    However, in the church we are also called to turn the cheek, and I think that it is all too easy due to cultural conditioning to pass this command off and point to say, the general equity of the 6th Commandment is operative here, and eliminate the threat. I am simply saying, among conservative Christians, we need to be honest that we are bringing a fairly robust cultural response in favor of self-defense into our ethical reasoning on the topic; and the most favorable ethical response on this matter might (or might not) be obscured by our preconceptions on the matter.

    To DTM’s point, I think the likelihood of a gun-wielding loony shooting up a church because of underlying psychoses is a far more likely scenario than terrorists attacking a place of Christian worship (even though this is a conceivable threat). If a church feels that there is a compelling threat to the lives of the members, then, they should develop an emergency action plan in writing. Maybe it does include selected individuals carrying concealed – but I would hope it also includes use of less than lethal force. This should comprise an overall risk management plan for the church, but I don’t think an fly-by the seat of your pants approach is right either. The church, as a spiritual institution should have the right to know who is carrying during their services, and should have discretionary powers to insist only designated members carry – especially when the implications of firearm use can be so drastic in the event of an emergency, or an accident because of careless use an.d/or misuse of a firearm.

    I am not arguing no weapons in church ever, but I am arguing that a clear need must justify the potential for lethal force. Additionally, the church should be at least as stringent as law enforcement officials who have strict protocols for appropriate use of force all the way up to deadly force.

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  35. Jed – “a vibrant gun culture”

    Erik – Indeed. Even our President is an avid skeet shooter when he is not community organizing, enjoying some delicious aragula, or dreaming up ways to revolutionize the social fabric of the nation…

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  36. You guys can stop worrying about this because when we tighten up our gun laws criminals and the insane will no longer be able to get guns. Also, socialized medicaine will guarantee you better health care at lower cost. Liberals guarantee me that these things are true.

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  37. Erik,

    liberals guarantee me these things are true.

    If that is the case I have some oceanfront property just East of Yuma if you are interested.

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