Cherry Picking Amendments

I am no fan of the National Rifle Association. Having grown up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I have no first hand knowledge with weapons — either for self-defense or sport. My own politics tell me that if I am going to support the Second Amendment (and my right to bear arms), I should also be opposed to standing militias. Which I am. Hey now. The way I read the politics of England and British America is that the right to bear arms was part of a citizens militia where ordinary people would fight the battles of the nation — and so they needed guns. If I’m going to fight as an ordinary citizen today, I need either a rocket launcher or a drone. Conceal and carry that.

But I am intrigued by John Piper’s remarks about Jerry Falwell’s remarks on Christians carrying guns and how Piper is being picked up by some evangelical academics. This was a line that caught my attention since it has the ring of 2k to it:

the overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world — religious and non-religious — “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3)…. exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.

I agree.

But then I had to wonder about some of Piper’s recent reflections about race in the United States and all the attention that he received for descrying the real bigotry that exists in this society. Did Piper adopt a spirituality of the church mindset then? Did he call for Christians to act like strangers and aliens or did he aid and abet progressive policy reforms that would make the United States a safer and more equitable place? Here is something the Minneapolis pastor wrote a year ago:

Jesus said that anger is motivationally equivalent to murder (Matthew 5:21–22). But he did not say the outcomes are equivalent. After murder somebody is dead, but not necessarily after anger. According to Romans 13:1–7, God put government in place not to remove the anger, but to keep it from becoming murder. He put the gospel of Christ in place to transform anger into love. This double divine work of government and gospel is also true in regard to lust leading to rape, greed leading to stealing, fear leading to perjury, intrigue leading to treason, and racial prejudice leading to racial injustice.

Laws don’t save souls. But they do save lives and livelihoods. And that matters for those of us who want to reach people with the heart-transforming gospel. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that is pretty important, also.”

I wouldn’t but I could well imagine someone making the same point about citizen Christians owning and carrying guns. “Guns don’t save souls. But they do save lives and livelihoods.”

So I am once again left wondering about the selective appropriation of both the spirituality of the church and our nation’s Bill of Rights. Why single out gun owners but not also call American Christians to put no trust in Fourteenth Amendment (which is backed up by officials — some of them Christians — with guns)? Here are a few other places where Piper’s embrace of civil rights and repudiation of gun rights seems off:

Few messages are more needed among American Christians today than 1 Peter 4:12: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Fiery trials are not strange. And the trials in view are hostilities from unbelievers, as the next verse shows: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” These trials are normal. That may not be American experience, but it is biblical truth.

Peter’s aim for Christians as “sojourners and exiles” on the earth is not that we put our hope in the self-protecting rights of the second amendment, but in the revelation of Jesus Christ in glory (1 Peter 1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1). His aim is that we suffer well and show that our treasure is in heaven, not in self-preservation.

For Piper that’s a reason for Christians not to have guns, but would he have said that to African-Americans — “you need to suffer more” — who sought and seek equality under the law?

Or let me ask, would Piper say the same as this about civil rights legislation?

I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with concealed weapons will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us. They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s in our pocket.

I don’t think Piper actually puts his hope in the nation’s laws. But has he warned his fans and appropriators about the proximate or relative good of improved race relations in the United States compared to the real hope that animates believers?

And if Piper would not even call the police for the defense of his family from an assailant, why would Piper support laws to protect African-Americans from oppressors?

There is, as I have tried to show, a pervasive thrust in the New Testament pushing us toward blessing and doing good to those who hate, curse, and abuse us (Luke 6:27–28). And there is no direct dealing with the situation of using lethal force to save family and friend, except in regards to police and military. This is remarkable when you think about it, since I cannot help but think this precise situation presented itself, since we read that Saul drug men and women bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1–2).

2) Our primary aim in life is to show that Christ is more precious than life. So when presented with this threat to my wife or daughter or friend, my heart should incline toward doing good in a way that would accomplish this great aim. There are hundreds of variables in every crisis that might affect how that happens.

Maybe the problem is that of being the holy pontiff of Minneapolis. Sometimes pastors think they need to comment on everything. Often, even those with a curia behind them, can’t keep up with everything they say. If only every pastor and theologian had a Denzinger.

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We're Not Supposed to Notice

Boniface explains the confusion that many Protestants experience when reading older papal claims and try to parse infallibility:

It seems to me that there are certain dogmas or declarations of the Catholic Church that some in the Magisterium wish they could forget about. I’m thinking of declarations like those found in Unam Sanctam (1302), the Syllabus of Errors, the Council of Florence, etc. These declarations on issues such as the reality and eternality of hell, the necessity of membership in the Church for salvation, the permanent invalidity of Jewish ceremonial law, the condemnation of secular political concepts and many other such un-ecumenical positions stand out to them as embarrassing monuments of a bygone era. I think many in the Church would like to get rid of these declarations, if they could – and I am speaking not only of liberals, but of mainstream, even certain “conservative” members of the hierarchy. These teachings are like antiquated family heirlooms that one can’t get rid of but effectively hides by stuffing them in the attic.

Obviously and thankfully, these declarations cannot be gotten rid of. They can be ignored and wished away, but they will not go away. Definitive, infallible ex cathedra statements remain for all time and are irreformable of their very nature. No matter how much any bishop or cardinal would like to contradict or get rid of these dogmatic heirlooms, they cannot.

Yet, though these declarations will not go away, there is a way that the hierarchy has found to get around this problem. I have noticed that, in areas where the modern hierarchy takes vastly different positions than the traditional Church, novel positions are not given to the faithful by means of encyclicals or dogmatic statements, but are found throughout lower-level pronouncements, such as speeches, letters, addresses, bishops’ statements etc. By repeating these novel positions again and again in very low-level pronouncements, the faithful get accustomed to hearing certain novelties “from the Church” and over time come to accept them as “Church teaching.”

A classic example is the death penalty. Granted, JPII called for a lesser application of the death penalty in Evangelium Vitae; but besides this, most of the very strong words offered against the death penalty have come from bishop’s committees, papal speeches, statements and letters and articles in publications like L’Osservatore Romano and on Zenit. Many of these statements condemn capital punishment absolutely, in contradiction to Church teaching and tradition. The Catechism, the official teaching of the Church, of course says that capital punishment is licit and that the state cannot be denied the right to wield it. That is the official teaching and it cannot be altered. But, at every level lower than official teaching, capital punishment is condemned absolutely, and with such frequency that many orthodox Catholics no longer know that capital punishment is allowable. They have heard the voices of the popes and the bishops (in low-level pronouncements) condemn it so much that this erroneous position has effectively become “the Church’s teaching,” leading to a situation where something other than Church teaching takes the practical place of Church teaching while allowing the contrary and official position to remain in place.

Thus the strategy for “changing” Church teaching seems to be this: If you want to teach something contrary to what the Church has always taught, just do it at low enough levels of authority and eventually people will start to accept your low-level declarations as “Church teaching” if they are trumpeted about long enough.

Did the faculty of Auburn Seminary take over the Vatican? It’s not the letter of infallible statements but the spirit?

If only Denzinger were alive. He could fix this.