Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Deck the Malls with Guns and the Gory

Fellow bloggers Hugh Hewitt and Glenn Reynolds have had a good deal to say about the mess in Colorado at Ted Haggard's old church in Colorado Springs and at the missionary training center. Here is what they said.

Posted by: Hugh Hewitt at 5:54 PM

Here is a story on some of the victims of yesterday's shootings in Colorado. Pray for the Works family, and for the families of the missionaries murdered in Arvada.

The Demver Post
has an account of what happened yesterday at Colorado Springs' New Life Church:

Bourbonnais yelled at the gunman to draw his attention, he said.

"First, I called him 'Coward' then I called him 'S---head' " Bourbonnais said. "I probably shouldn't have been saying that in church."

That's when the shooter pointed one of his guns at Bourbonnais and fired, he said.

Bourbonnais ducked behind a hollow, decorative pillar and was hit in the arm by a bullet and fragments of the pillar.

At about that moment, a female guard with a drawn handgun turned a corner and walked toward the gunman and yelled "Surrender!" Bourbonnais said.

The gunman pointed a handgun at the woman and fired three shots, Bourbonnais said. She returned fire and just kept walking toward the gunman pressing off round after round.

The female guard fired off about a dozen shots.

After the gunman went down, Bourbonnais asked the woman, who has only been identified as a volunteer security guard with the church, how she remained so calm and focused.

Bourbonnais said she replied:

"I was asking the Holy Spirit to guide me the entire time."

Read the whole thing. Had their not been armed guards on the church campus, the death toll would be exponentially higher.


COLORADO SHOOTING UPDATE: The "security guard" who stopped the shooter was actually a volunteer parishioner who used her own gun, not a rent-a-cop. Much more from David Hardy, who notes that press coverage tends to obscure this point. Meanwhile, it's more evidence that people don't stop killers, people with guns do.

Plus, was this a "hate crime" by a man who "hated Christians?".

UPDATE: More here:

Assam worked as a police officer in downtown Minneapolis during the 1990s and is licensed to carry a weapon. She attends one of the morning services and then volunteers as a guard during another service.

Boyd said Assam was the one who suggested the church beef up its security Sunday following the Arvada shooting, which it did. The pastor credited the security plan and the extra security for preventing further bloodshed.

Boyd said there are 15 to 20 security people at the church. All are volunteers but the only ones armed are those who are licensed to carry weapons.

The security guards are members of the church who are screened and not "mercenaries that we hire to walk around our campus to provide security," Boyd said.

Still more here:

Jeanne Assam, a church member who volunteers as a security guard, shot and killed Murray, who was found with a rifle and two handguns, police said. The pastor called her "a real hero."

"When the shots were fired, she rushed toward the scene and encountered the attacker there in a hallway. He never got more than 50 feet inside our building," he said. "There could have been a great loss of life yesterday, and she probably saved over 100 lives."

Boyd said the gunman had a lot of ammunition and estimated that 40 rounds had been fired inside the church, leaving what looked like a "war scene."

Compare this to Virginia Tech.

posted at 10:42 PM by Glenn Reynolds


I actually have to disagree with several of the remarks made in these posts. First of all, this morning it was made clear on the news that the gunman in the Colorado shootings killed himself. He died of his own gun-shot wounds according to this morning's report. The security guard may well have shot him, but she was not the cause of death. But that is just a matter of fact.

The comment by Glenn Reynolds (above) which I certainly do want to discuss is the comment that "people don't stop killers, people with guns do." This I suppose is meant as a justification for having guns in church, and more guns in society in the hands of law abiding citizens, in order to deal with the sickos who can get guns anyway. Never mind that there have been plenty of times in living memory that people without guns have stopped and disarmed people with guns, and in plenty of others where less than lethal force stopped the disaster.

First, I doubt any of us would dispute the notion that much of our society is frankly not well, indeed more unwell today than at any time I can remember in my lifetime. Between the mall shooting in Nebraska and the Colorado shootings it must seem like open season on innocent people, including Christians. Let me be clear however--- THE SOURCE OF THIS PROBLEM IS NOT THE LACK OF GUNS IN THE HANDS OF GOOD PEOPLE. The source of the problem is the sickness in our society, as it becomes less and less Christian, and thereby less and less human or humane. And all of us who have failed to share the love of Christ with mentally ill people, and get them the psychiatric help they need must accept some responsibility for what happens as our society goes south.

What deeply troubles me about this situation is the response of some Christians which amounts to--- 'praise God for more killing, as long as it stops sick people from killing us good folks'. Let's analyze this for a minute. Here are things we do not know:

1) the killing of this sick young man will stop killings of this sort, or at least make those sorts of people hesitate. Wrong. Less availability of 'weapons of mass destruction' could help with that, by which I mean much stricter gun control laws on guns capable of rattling off a huge number of rounds in very little time without much reloading, could help. But as long as we continue to have the loose gun control laws we have for such weapons, we will continue to have these sorts of problems. And sadly, even with much stricter gun control laws, we would still have some of these sorts of problems when it comes to criminals. This much I know. I have lived in countries with much stricter gun control laws, and it certainly helps in regard to this problem, though it does not prevent them altogether.

2) we absolutely do not know what was going to happen next, if the young man had not taken his own life.

3) we do not know what would have happened if the woman security guard had wounded and disabled the young man, and the young man had not taken his life. We do not know.

In my view the braver person was the unarmed young man who distracted the shooter, not the security guard who had lethal force in her hand.

These recent incidents should have led us to say-- "well society is getting sicker, and accordingly it makes sense that we would do all we can to prevent weapons of mayhem from getting into the hands of the mentally ill." Instead, what we are saying is-- "well it's time for good people to start packing more weapons".

One of the problems with that whole scenario is that more people seem to die in America from accidental shootings than from intentional ones. More people apparently die from careless firing of fire arms than careful ones. Just yesterday I read the report of a wedding in which the bridegroom and bride were being given a multiple gun salute right after the vows were said. One of the guns misfired and killed the bridegroom on his wedding day!!! Yikes. And this may not have even been an example of carelessness! Guns are not always reliable, and people are often even less competent and reliable.

What happens with guns in our society is simply a mirror of the larger malaise in society. For example, if you have a culture now heavily in the fear mode, you are going to continue to have tragedies involving weapons. When you are afraid, it is 'shoot first, ask questions later', and behind all of this is the attitude that my life is more important than the life of the other person, especially the maniac with the gun. I disagree with this whole premise. Every person is a person of sacred worth, and every person is someone for whom Jesus died. Period.

What about the argument that a person who kills an innocent person intentionally, does not deserve to live, and has forfeited his right to life? I understand this attitude, especially in the light of tragedies such as that at Virginia Tech. My question is--- who gets to decide this question? Do I get to decide that this person's life is forfeit? Does a law enforcement official get to decide that issue? Does a private security guard get to decide this? I think this is the sort of ethical question we need to discuss. I don't think we should simply assume an answer to the question, especially if the answer is-- 'because of this ugly sin, this person doesn't have a right to life or deserve to live anymore'.

I entirely understand the lesser of several evils arguments. A good case can be made that it was a lesser evil to take out the sick gunman than to let him continue on his rampage. This makes very good sense, but we need to understand what it implies. It implies we know for a fact that he would and could have gone on killing, or at least we know this with reasonable certainty. To know something like this for a fact requires either omniscience or clairvoyance-- take your pick. I don't have either one.

What would I have tried to do, had I been in the situation? No one knows what one will do under extreme pressure and danger in advance of it happening. I would hope I would have been brave like the young man who tried to distract the killer. Were it possible, I would like to think that I would have tried to get behind the young man and tackle him and bring him to the ground, so he could be handled by the authorities. I would not have tried to take the law into my own hands, and act like Rambo-- a type of character we glorify far too much in violent films and video games. As a security guard I would hope I would have tried to disarm the young man before trying to kill him. But again, I do not know what I would have done 'in extremis'.

The more important question is not what would I do but 'what would Jesus do, or have done?' And here I think there can be little doubt. He would not have attempted to kill the sick young man. He would have been prepared to sacrifice his own life if need be to stop the disaster.

This is exactly what the cross is in part all about. It is an attempt to bring 'peace on earth, good will to men (and women)' by self-sacrifice, not by the taking of other people's lives. By peace is meant, not just internal feelings of peace, but peace between human beings, and between human beings and God. This implies and requires the cessation of hostilities. There is a reason why the prophet spoke of beating swords into plowshares and the lion lying down with the lamb in the messianic age. And here is where I say, that Christians are supposed to live in such a way that the world gets a glimpse of the messianic values and age-- a glimpse like we got in the Amish tragedy in the killing of the school children, when the Amish responded as they did.

The question is-- how much are we called to emulate this approach? The call to discipleship does not say-- take up your weapons and follow me. Indeed, Jesus ridicules such an approach at the last supper in Luke's account. The call to discipleship says 'take up your cross and follow me'. As Bonhoeffer said in 'The Cost of Discipleship'-- when Christ calls you, he calls you to come and die. I would hope my response would be the same as Brother Elliott in the movie 'the End of the Spear'. The young man in Colorado was no more brutal than the Waodani Indians Elliott had to deal with.

Ours is a sick society. And until we realize that more guns are not the answer to the problem, we have not owned up to the sickness, nor what really makes for a cure. Jesus came to spread God's love and grace-- 'as far as the curse is found'. At a minimum, this should make us think hard as Christians how we ought to respond when senseless violence is done to us. It was Jesus who prayed from the cross about his very crucifiers-- 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.' If this can be said about soldiers crucifying Jesus, why exactly can it not be said about a sick young man shooting ordinary innocent people in a church? The soldiers at least were apparently in their right minds and carrying out what they saw as lawful capital punishment as agents of the state. Clearly, this young man was not in his right mind, and had no right to take arms into his hands. Think on these things.


JohnO said...

To the remark that she "saved over 100 lives" - did not God already save these lives? What is the harm in their death then?

Why, as a true and faithful Christian, should anyone ever be afraid of death? If anything we should be afraid for the death of the perpetrator - because after that, he has no forgiveness. Whereas we've already received ours. Shouldn't we be willing, as Jesus was willing, to regard our own life as worth sacrificing for another??

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dr. Witherington for a Christian response. I am dismayed that the Church has returned evil for evil, when its primary task is to overcome evil with good.
We have valued survival over faithfulness, and the consequence is that we have successfully survived faithlessly. To our shame. May we purge this worldly thinking from our minds.
Blogger Thom Stark has written a letter to the leadership of New Life Church which he also posted on his blog. I highly recommend it (see here).


Leslie said...

What deeply troubles me about this situation is the response of some Christians which amounts to--- 'praise God for more killing, as long as it stops sick people from killing us good folks'.

This is a good point, and I think these kinds of responses only cause further trouble for Christians when it comes to theodicy. When people hear some Christians who say "I thank God that I'm alive" and yet hear of others who were killed, it must be confusing. It must be even more confusing to hear of someone outside praying for the gunman to have peace, and then hear someone else who is thanking the Holy Spirit for giving her calm while attacking the man. As a Christian, this is confusing enough for me - it must be even more frustrating for the outsider. I'd love to hear your take on this issue, Dr. Witherington.

It implies we know for a fact that he would and could have gone on killing, or at least we know this with reasonable certainty. To know something like this for a fact requires either omniscience or clairvoyance-- take your pick.

I agree with the first statement here, but not totally with the second. I suppose it depends on your criteria for "reasonable certainty." Personally, I think we can be reasonably certain that this poor fellow was going to do a lot more damage given the chance. I do agree though that I'd much prefer someone take him down in a way that does not require his death.

It is very true that our society is becoming more and more troubled. When the hope and respect of God leaves, such seems inevitable. Perhaps we will get humbled enough to change before it goes too far.

Sean said...

Bravo! The Christian response to violence and brutality should always look like the cross...self-sacrificial love to the extreme.

I know this is a bit off topic, but it has been bothering me for a little while now since I read Misquoting Truth by Timothy Paul Jones. He mentions that Jesus' statement (which I love), "Father forgive them..." is not authentic. I checked my Critical Commentary on the Greek Testament and it seemed to confirm this. Do you have any insight here...honestly I was a bit surprised when I saw you quote this beautiful (though inauthentic?) saying of Jesus.

John said...

This much I know. I have lived in countries with much stricter gun control laws, and it certainly helps in regard to this problem, though it does not prevent them altogether.

Statistics and sources, please. This is a big assertion. You need to back it up.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi John:

I have lived in the U.K. for various years of my life, and so my experience is largely from England and Scotland. I have read the statistics taken over long periods of time and they seem very clear on this. I do not have them ready to hand, but we have blogged on this point last year, and someone did kindly provide the data-- a Mennonite if memory serves. It really isn't disputable.

What is interesting is that in a more pagan country like Canada, which nonetheless has a less Rambo heritage, being part of the Commonwealth, there is less violence even with somewhat similar gun control laws. I put this down to the greater civility and humane-ness bred into that culture, whereas what we are seeing in America is the coarsening of the culture in many ways (shock jocks and increasingly ugly politics are just two bad examples of this phenomenon).


Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for the very thought-provoking post.

I have to confess, I have had a difficult time over the years getting fired up (no pun intended) over the issue of gun control. I do not own a gun and never will, but I am not overly concerned about my neighbor owning one, which many have.

It may be the case that I should care more about this, but I am just not there.

Neverthless, I completely agree with you that the lack of genuine and decisive Christian response has been quite disappointing. It is very difficult for a society that is unwell, as you say, to look to the church for healing, when we simply sound like everyone else.

Dustin Smith said...

Taking into account the "honor/shame" culture that BW3 recently exposed me to in my Matthew class, we can see how Jesus wants us to "turn the other cheek, and to love your enemies."

All of which get hit head-on when we put American patriotism before our obedience to Messiah Jesus. Rightly did he say that you cannot serve two masters.

Acts 7:60 has Stephen living out the cross by nonviolence and responding for Jesus to "not hold this against them." This verse IS textually solid.

Dustin Smith

Jeff said...

In Britain and Australia where citizen’s rights to own firearms have been abolished or severely curtailed, the murder rate has gone up rapidly. More frightening, "hot burglary" has gone up by a factor of 4-8x! A hot burglary is one committed while the homeowners are present. A friend of mine was in Scotland when a group of young 18-22 year olds — about a dozen — kicked in the front windows of a shop, ran in and vandalized it, shouting obscenities and threats to the owner and customers. The owner picked up a rolling pin to protect himself. He was arrested for using an offensive weapon. The youths were not charged and, in fact, were recruited by the police to give evidence against the owner. In England, that same week. a man saw a group of youths around the same age knock his eight year old daughter off her bike. They stole it and laughed at her as she cried on the ground. The dad ran out to confront the youths and they beat him to death in front of her. When two of them were caught it was found that they had been arrested for theft, attempted murder, possession of weapons, etc. more than 20 times EACH… and had never spent a day in jail.

Welcome to Europe: life in the fetal position.

In Virginia, those who have been thoroughly checked out and who possess a valid Concealed Pistol Permit may carry those weapons on college campuses…but NOT at Virginia Tech. They proudly announced that they wouldn’t allow guns on their campus. They fought a law proposed in Richmond that would have kept colleges from denying permit holders their right to carry. They put out a press release — just months ago — that by keeping the permit holders weaponless they would have a safe campus, free of guns.

It was free of guns — at least guns in the hands of the good guys. When the shooter saw the good guys coming with guns, he ended the slaughter and his own life. I cannot help but wonder how many students could have been alive today had Virginia Tech not gone the European weenie route.

I believe the same thing happened at New Life Church. The shooter was confronted by a good guy (gal) with a gun, and he took his own life.

Stricter gun-control laws will not stop these things from happening. But as the events at New Life church show, laws that allow law-abiding citizens to carry guns will stop these things from getting out of hand. said...

No no no no no...

I am personally non-resistant: I believe Jesus has forbidden violence to His followers and calls us to be willing to suffer and die for him rather than protect ourselves to the harm of others. I hope that if I am in a similar situation I will have the courage to act to protect others even at the cost of my death and so follow in the path of Jesus.

So far so good - the world does need to hear the uniquely Christian response to violence and you are right if you criticize other Christians for not understanding or displaying it. Where you go wrong is in attempting to show that it makes sense.

Glenn Reynolds is exactly right in his analysis of the event and the recent upsurge in shootings confirms such an analysis. Mass killers are choosing venues that present lots of helpless targets (gun free malls, universities, and churches). It is also clear that such killers are acting on the hope of obtaining notoriety - read the writings left by the various killers for evidence. Stopping such killers with minimal casualties is very likely to reduce the copycat nature of the crime and the only method of stopping armed assailants with any decent probability of success is to be armed yourself.

The source of the problem (violence, mental illness, etc) is not the unavailability of guns as you point out. Yet it is clear that armed citizens can (and have) greatly reduced the scope of such tragedies. On what rational basis can you ask a non-Christian to forgo such protection? Your points 1-3 are worse however. I won't engage point one except to note that stricter gun control (short of confiscation) would have no effect on the most recent shootings. Point 2 (again, talking rationally to people in a non-Christian context) is nonsensical. The killer was on his second attack, had already demonstrated a willingness to kill, and came prepared (volume of ammo) to do a great deal of it. I cannot conceive of any (rational) basis for asking people to wait and see what would happen! And point 3 is similarly silly. The ability to wound (and disable) someone without killing them is mythical - Assam fired multiple shots and didn't kill the man. You could argue that if she did the best she could to follow such a strategy the results would be the same. At any rate any experienced handgun user would laugh at you if you suggested wounding shots (see Sowell's recent column noting NYPD gunshots at a range of 6 feet missed better than half the time. Someone wielding a pistol is going for a hit, not picking which body part to damage).

You get back on track when you get back to the theology. The Church at large has lost sight of the implications of the Gospel and the Cross for our (Christians') relationship to violence. And it would be a witness to the reality of our faith to demonstrate self sacrificial love (imagine if every adult believer at New Life headed for the shooter asking him to shoot them first!) You weaken all that so terribly when you try to make rational arguments to society at large that are irrational and strike the non-religious ear as suicidal at best and evil at worst (eg: you shouldn't use deadly force because you don't know for sure what the gunmen would have done.)

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks for your posts one and all. Just one clarification. My posts on this blog are for Christians, those who claim to follow the Gospel. They are not for the general public, and I do not expect the general public to follow them, or even find them compelling as an argument.

You have to first accept the Gospel's presuppositions before you even begin down such a road. And even then, it is a hard road to follow-- the road to Golgotha, and to many, even many thinking American Christians, it will seem like suicide or stupidity. I am sure the Zealots thought the same thing of Jesus when he went willingly to the cross, like a lamb led to slaughter (see Is. 53).

What I do believe is that which stops the cycle of violence ultimately is not more violence. It is love, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice as exhibited on the cross.



Ben Witherington said...

A brief story from the dark days of apartheid from my friend the good Methodist Bishop, Peter Storey.

Peter and Desmond Tutu were leaders in protesting apartheid using absolutely non-violent methods, and I might add, doing so successfully in various incidents. Part of this was Peter's son refused to serve in the military precisely because of the issues of racism involved, and he paid a severe price when he went to jail.

But there came a day outside of Jo'burg when the apartheid police carted Peter and Desmond off into the woods and were going to shoot them both. At the point when guns were raised either Peter or Desmond yelled (I forget which one)-- "Are you Christians?" When the reply came back a resounding "Yes". Then the counter response from the bishops was-- "then you can't be doing this! You can't if you are followers of Jesus."

The police lowered their weapons-- and these two heroes have lived to tell a truly remarkable tale. Blessed are those who are brave enough to really try the experiment of following exactly what Jesus said and did in such matters.


Ben W.

John Umland said...

I support dying so that others may live, that is indeed Jesus's example. But even if Jesus took a few bullets from Murray, Murray would have had plenty more for more people who were not willing and not necessarily believers either. return fire prevented any further opportunities for Murray. Waiting for a blind corner to tackle Murray with a chance of success gives him more time to shoot and kill others. i attempt a brief syllogism-like argument at
i don't think this is a situation one can ask what would Jesus do, because he's probably pull a Neo from the Matrix and stop the bullets in mid-flight. no one knows what someone with unlimited power would do. the options are unlimited. one option he did have is to enable a trained police officer who had been in prayer and fasting for 3 days to expect an attack and be hyper-aware to be the vehicle of his judgement and mercy with a greater than 30% hit rate.
God is good

Ben Witherington said...

Sorry jpu, but this is unconvincing to me. In the first place, as I have already pointed out, the female security guard did not take Murray out. So the logic of what you are saying, and the supposed divine leading for such an action is questionable at best. Go back and read the story above about Peter Storey. You and I do not know what the effect would have been on talking to the sick young man, and asking him about Jesus. At least at one time, he thought something of Jesus. And once more with feeling-- what spared their being more victims in that situation was Murray commited suicide.

In regard to the question about 'Father forgive them' not being authentic. I would dispute this, for example on the basis of the very different social settings in which we find this same teaching to Peter in Mat. 18, and in the sayings about loving enemies and non-resistance in Mt. 5-7.


Rev. Spike said...

As a pastor I have seriously mixed feelings about this episode, primarily because of the message that it sends. Do we want people to look at this and say, "Christians aren't wimps"?

Years ago, a Baptist pastor by the name of J. Frank Norris shot and killed a man in his office in what he called self defense. His justification was that the visitor went for something his inside coat pocket during an argument. The "assailant" turned out to be "armed" with papers from his lawyer.

On one hand, you have the Exodus passage exonerating one from blood-guilt if you kill in self defense. On the other hand, Jesus didn't have a security detail.

As a pastor/father, it is one thing to allow myself to suffer harm, but what am I to do when others suffer at the hands of evil men. For years, I was a strict pacifist until I ran into an ethical brick wall called The Holocaust. Should the lives of others be snuffed out meaninglessly if I can stop it? Yet at the same time, when this young man was killed/killed himself he was most likely sending himself into eternity without Christ. A similar thought has crossed my mind in the war in Iraq/Afghanistan. Every Muslim that we gun down spends an eternity in Hell. Is that the cost of freedom?

So, what would I do? I honestly don't know, all I can say is that I hope to God I would do the right thing. But in this case, I am most concerned about the message that this sends.

Lastly, I fear that this congregation is under assault from the Enemy, or perhaps they are experiencing the inevitable entropy associated with the Mega-Church movement. Perhaps only time will tell. Either way, we should be praying for them and the families involved in this terrible event.

Unknown said...

I know every one of them, especially Phil and Tiff that were killed. Crazy.

Leslie said...

How does this non-violence stuff connect with Jesus' actions in Mark 11 with the "cleansing of the temple"? Perhaps Jesus did not physically injure anyone (at least, I don't think that he did) but his actions still did not seem to be "peaceable" as we might think of the term.

Unknown said...

Oh My. Ok, now I have read more of your blog post. They were my freaking friends that were killed, so sorry if this is too emotional, but BW, pull your head in. Before I was saved i was part of the criminal underworld. Getting a gun is a piece of cake. In Australia where we made guns illegal and started a gun buyback, it is now EASIER to buy a gun on the black-market than ever before. And the citizens are now unarmed.

Enough of this Liberal Nanny state BS! How can you consider yourself an American if you're against the right to arms. Sick!

The lives of many were saved because this person was carrying a gun in Church.

Disarming the state only makes the criminals more powerful. More feared. If this kid knew someone was going to also pull out a gun and stick it between his eyes, he would never have taken a gun to the base and killed my friends.

Perhaps it's nice to live in this Liberal, socialist nanny state ideology, but this is the real world. WAKE UP!

Ben Witherington said...

Israel, perhaps you have not notice, but the Supreme Court has taken up the issue of what 'the right to bear arms' actually meant in the Constitution. It appears to me it meant the right to a local militia in the colonies, but time will tell on the exegesis of this matter.

I am not questioning that our Constitution allows for weapons in some setting to be held by some persons, in particular governing officials or their employees (i.e. the army, the National Guard, the police). The issue is whether private citizens have such an inherent right in the Constitution.

This has nothing to do with socialism so lets keep the pejorative language to a minimum. It also has absolutely nothing to do with being a sissy. Is a person with a gun braver than a person without one if they confront an assailant? I think not.

We have actually had this sort of discussion before on this blog, so you may want to read previous posts. My concern is that Christians act on Christian first principles-- period.

As for the cleansing of the temple-- it wasn't. It was a prophetic sign act which involved property not any kind of assault on human beings, much like the withering of the fig tree. It's function was not to effectively cleanse the temple but to depict its impending destruction.

In other words, we need to drop the word 'cleansing' from our whole evaluation of the act. What it does show is that Jesus is not opposed to the use of force in some cases. Whether he would approve of the use of lethal force against humans is an entirely different matter, and it seems clear to me the answer to the latter is no.


Sean said...

Leslie, you said,

"How does this non-violence stuff connect with Jesus' actions in Mark 11 with the "cleansing of the temple"?"

Jesus was performing a prophetic demonstration on the order of the demonstrations of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Says Bart Ehrman in Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (pg 213) "In view of Jesus' overarching message of the coming destruction when the Son of Man arrives, perhaps then it is best to see Jesus' action in the Temple as a kind of prophetic gesture, an enacted parable, in which he demonstrated on a small scale what was soon to happen in a big way on the coming day of judgment. The Temple was going to be destroyed."

Taking Jesus' symbolic, enacted demonstration of prophetic judgment as normative for us or as an excuse to overturn his clear teachings on nonviolence is patently wrong.

see our discussion on this very question

Cody Thomas said...

Thank you, Dr. Witherington, for your post. I, too, take a very pacifist stance, not because I am a "sissy" socialist, but because I am a follower of Jesus who gave up all of his own rights to life so that we may live.

Somedays I am tired of hearing people "reason" a situation like this through "be realistic" arguments and alleged statistics of what could have happened. Just because it was a "lesser evil," as some say (even though I don't believe it was), it doesn't make the choice a right, or non-sinful, one. Even if the body count changes, it does NOT make it a RIGHT choice. When I look at Jesus' example, I don't see someone who lived life on pure realism and the statistically "greater good". I see Jesus as the one who told us a bunch of crazy "ideals" about life and how to live in humanity. These ideals are what most would say could never be lived out in real life. However, Jesus COMMANDED us to do them and expects us to live up to them. Sounds like Jesus was an idealist too...except He expects the ideals to be lived out in reality!

And, even more, thank you for saying that the American Christian community at large should take responsibility for this incident for not being active in spreading the love of Jesus to all, especially those who suffer from mental illness. Mental illness has a horrible stigma attached to it, and we Christians have let that shape our view of mentally ill people. We have put the mentally ill in leper communities to fend for themselves. How dare us.

Again, thank you, Dr. Witherington, for being an idealist and following after the ideals for love and peace that Jesus taught!

Jeff said...

Ben said:

"the female security guard did not take Murray out..."

No, but her actions likely caused him to take himself out, thus saving many, many lives.

Marine Chaplain said...


I appreciate much of what you have to say in regard to this. However, what I detect in your post and the comments of your readers is a tendency to soften the language regarding the murderer (mentally ill), while using this tragic event to be critical of gun-owners (The Rambos). Even going so far as to throw in your opinion that the consitution was refering to militias and not individuals--an opinion shared by much of the left but not established law.

While I agree with you that Christians should not rejoice over the death of a murderer, I don't think we should also feel guilty for wanting the means to protect the ones we love--even with deadly force. Tragic as this whole thing is, it IS better that this guy died before he killed more people. Which even here you seem to run circles around. If past behavior is any kind of clue for future behavior, then this guy was not going to stop until he was stopped. Ever try reasoning with a rabid dog?

Marine Chaplain said...


Has this guy been labeled mentally ill? Have you ever been around the truly mentally ill? It requires a whole lot more than "sharing the love of Jesus." Try it sometime.

If my sons or daughters ever come under gun fire while worshiping Jesus, I hope that there is at least one Jesus loving, gun toting security guard to give them a chance to come home. Put yourself in the shoes of guy whose two teen daughters are dead.

Seems like some Wesleyans reject fatalism for everything else but defending the lives of the innocent.

Broady said...

Jeff as an Aussie - I really have no idea what you are talking about! Do you have any stat's to back up your claim? Gun related violence is rare in the extreme and I certainly see no evidence of a climate of fear and home invasion....

Pascalian Awakenings said...


I'm truly sorry for your loss. I pray the peace of Christ comfort you at this painful time.


Simon said...

No, but her actions likely caused him to take himself out, thus saving many, many lives.

The possible additional murders were people already saved. The murderer was the one to be saved, and here is the heartbreak.

danny said...

To say that the security guard did not take Murray out is completely incorrect. To say that the security guard did not kill Murray would be the correct statement.

Surely you can see the difference, Dr Witherington? Murray was laying on the ground after being shot by the security guard. He wasn't laying there because he was tired of walking or decided to give up the fight. She shot him (multiple times?) and he decided to kill himself as he lay there bleeding.

I'm not weighing in on the pacificism discussion here. I just have a hard time allowing such a comment to pass without question. If you were to claim that Murray killed himself without any help from the security guard, well, you'd have to be clairvoyant.

Ben Witherington said...

This is a good healthy discussion.
Danny, with respect, Murray could just as easily have taken the security guard advancing toward him out, as shooting himself. He chose the latter. So no, the security guard did not do more than disable this man. She did not stop him from shooting the one more person he chose to shoot--- himself.

To the Marine Chaplain, thank you for your comments I don't think you have grasped the nettle here. I am not talking about what law enforcement should do. I am talking about what Christian individuals as individuals should and should not do, in this case as private citizens.

I do understand the logic of 'lets prevent more violence by dealing with this person in this way'. Unfortunately if past behavior warranted this sort of killing, then of course change of behavior, even giving one's life to Christ makes no difference in this matter. When you kill someone, it is forever. I don't think that even recent past behavior is always a clear indicator of future conduct. But I do understand the logic of your position in a lesser of two evils situation.

I also am deeply saddened for the loss of anyone's life in this matter, including the shooter.

We could debate until we are blue in the face whether Americans as private citizens ought to carry guns. You are quite right that it is legal-- which is not the issue. The issue is whether it is ethical for Christians to use them to take another person's life. This is where the debate needs to be focused, not on what is legal, or what a police man or security guard ought to do.

In my view Christians should not use guns against other human beings. I am a person who is totally pro life-- this means no abortions, no capital punishment, no war, and no guns for killing humans. I don't have a problem with people hunting animals for food. That's even Biblical, but using lethal weapons to kill others of God's children--- nope.


Ben W.

Cody Thomas said...

marine chaplain,

Yes, there are members of my family that are mentally ill...immediate family. My father works for a mental health agency. Please don't debate me on the mentally ill subject. And my point still stands that the Christian community has done a HORRIBLE job of trying to care for the mentally ill and treat them as human beings whom Jesus loves!

I will admit that I'm not a father and I don't know what it's like to lose a child, especially like that. However, that father's emotions of anger, sadness and vengeance, mixed with his feelings that he has been wronged can NOT determine what we should do in a situation. I know that is probably the hardest idea to swallow, but it's true. Our ideas that we want vengeance or something shouldn't happen to us can not cloud our judgment to live as Christ.

Please understand that I know these truths are not easy AT ALL to follow. I will even admit that I doubt I could easily live up to what I am saying if I were in his shoes. However, that doesn't make it right just because I might not be able to live up to that.

Pastor Nancy said...

Thank you so much for putting words to much of what I have been feeling in regards to this issue.

Unknown said...

Just one question. What's the difference between having an armed security guard present and calling the police? Presumably, we would all call the police if we were in that situation. And I think the police would do the same thing this woman did. Identify herself, tell him to surrender, and then shoot when shot at.

I understand your position that Christians should be pacifists (no police officers or military personal) but if we're calling the police in this situation aren't we asking them to do precisely what we don't think should be done?

I'm close to your total pro-life position, but I'm having a difficult time reconciling asking others to do that which I would not do myself.

C.P.O. said...

Yeah, I don't know. I guess I agree with the spirit of the post, but would add that even Bonhoeffer ended up opting for the lesser of two evils. I have a hard time arguing against shooting a person who is intent on hurting others, despite my sympathy for pacifism.

Link648099 said...

Dr. Witherington,

Concerning Romans 13:4 (For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.)

How do you respond? Do the ideas behind that chapter change when the one placed in authority is a Christian?

John Umland said...

Hello Ben
I know my 2nd post was long. If you decide against posting it could you send it back to me? I didn't keep a copy. Thanks
God is good

Ben Witherington said...

Dear Friends:

I quite agree that there isn't much difference between calling the police and having a security guard on hand to act. I'm not objecting to security guards. I have spoken at length about Rom. 13.4 before on this blog, and of course Paul is talking about pagan governmental officials-- not Christians. Christians could not serve in such positions because it involved pagan worship, and treating the Emperor as divine, or nearly so.

Furthermore, the weapon in question there is not the broad sword. The Greek is clear that we are talking about the dagger carried by the tax police and other officials for protection in crowds etc. In other words, the issue here, even in the case of the pagan official is not offensive weapons used to wage war etc.Certainly the issue here is not the sort of weapon Murray had.

The issue I am raising is just this-- can Christians in good conscience participate in violence. Many Christians of course will say yes. They will not interpret 'thou shalt not murder' in a way that prohibits such activity, nor will they interpret the Sermon on the Mount the way I and many other pacifists do.

I respect these other opinions, but I am quite convinced they are wrong. Before Constantine Christians simply refused to serve in the military, refused to co-operate with violence, and were often killed because of it. They saw this as a matter of ethical principle. So do I.

It is the job of Christians to provide the world with a window on the future eschatological kingdom, or heaven if you like. We are meant to be a preview of coming attractions, as the prophets foretold about peace on earth and goodwill to all humans. Call us the loyal opposition to the majority, in any given age. This in turn means that the ethics applicable to general persons in the culture are not the same as the ethics required of Christians who signed on to follow Jesus.

Ben W.

John Umland said...

I'm sorry, I forgot to leave my email.
Would you please address the issue of protecting the weak from the violent without violence? thank you
God is good

danny said...

Dr Witherington,

To clear something up, I think you said earlier in the discussion (forgive me, there's a lot to wade through) that you would have tried to tackle the gunman rather than shoot him. But isn't this still violence? Do you advocate necessary violence short of death? If I'm mistaken, I apologize.

Again, I'm not weighing in on the pacificism discussion, though I find it fascinating (in fact, I encourage everyone to read the chapter on pacificism in Richard Hays' Moral Vision of the New Testament, even if you don't agree you'll be challenged). I'm just trying to get a clearer understanding of your position. Thanks for your time, I pray for you and your ministry, Dr Witherington.

John R. said...

As the arguments have already been addressed here and elsewhere, I'll simply say that I do hope that pacifism remains a minority position.

It certainly isn't a correct one.


Matt Bohlman said...

Dr. Witherington, I appreciate the post and I think the discussion thus far has been profitable. I am struggling though on how you seem to be connecting the dots with such ease. For instance on the one hand you want to invoke what you see as kingdom principles of passivity that involves turning the other cheek, sharing Jesus to a crazed murderer, and not resisting an evil man, etc. And yet on the other hand you state that you hope you would have the courage to sneak around him and forcefully tackle him to the ground and physically subdue him. How is that passive? How is that Jesus? How is that turning the other cheek and disclosing a window into the kingdom for the pagan world to see?
What was she supposed to do Dr. Witherington? Throw down her gun and try to find a baseball bat simply because a bat is less lethal? Yet what if that hesitation resulted in more people being killed? It seems your whole argument rests on the premise that because Christians are already "saved" their continued, physical preservation should not warrant the loss of an unsaved psycho on a killing spree. BUT what if this happened in a secular venue such as a mall and the people being killed were "unsaved"? Any inaction or hesitation on the part of a Christian police officer to not draw and fire (lethally) would ultimately serve as an accomplice to the murder of more unsaved people- thus sending them to a God-less hell. I'm not a huge fan of hypotheticals but let’s say that the cop got shot and his gun is within reach. If you knew those being killed around you by the second were unsaved people, would you use the gun or dismiss it as being excessively violent, off limits for Christians, and opt for an umbrella instead or running head butt?
Could it be that absolute passivity doesn't always equal the kingdom manifested? I think so. Yet I do agree with you that our world is much too violent and that Christians are to stand in contrast to the cultural slide into violent turmoil and hatred. But is it fair to imply that the female parishioner was playing Rambo. No it isn't. All in all a good discussion and I'm glad you decided to tackle it for all of our benefit. God bless.

Ben Witherington said...

Dear Friends:

Wow, this is a juggernaut of a discussion.

A commitment to pacifism has nothing to do with being passive in the usual sense of the term. In fact of course definitions of pacifism range from strict passivity to non-violent resistance. I am on the latter end of the spectrum, and I think that is actually what Jesus is talking about. The use of strength or force at times is not the same thing as doing lethal violence against someone, taking their life away.

This is an important distinction, and it answers the question about Jesus' action in the temple. Did Jesus ever use force to accomplish something good? Yes he did. Did he ever use lethal force to deal with a human problem-- no he did not. This is the line I choose to walk, and it certainly makes the best sense of what the Gospels say, but also what Paul says in texts like Romans 12. Christians are to overcome evil with good, not return fire when fired on.


Ben W.

P.S. To j.p.u. I am sorry but I don't have the post you are referring to. It must have gotten lost--- sorry.

John Umland said...

Bummer. Oh well.
Thanks for clarifying your end of the spectrum of pacifism. Any force can be lethal though. A tackle can cause death. It's in the Lord's hands anyway, all those "freak" accidents. I think it was a not accidental that all the high velocity lead balls the security guard put in the shooter were not lethal but, nevertheless, incapacitating.
You replied that we don't know "what the effect would have been on talking to the sick young man, and asking him about Jesus," yet we also don't know if those young missionaries in Arvada did speak to him about Jesus, or if that Dad in the parking lot did before his daughters were killed, or if someone on the ex-Pentecostal board privately messaged him. He seemed intent and unwavering on his commitment to hurt as many as he could.
I don't think anyone on this blog would not lay down their lives in a minute if it would end the shooting, but taking one bullet but leaving 100 more rounds for others would not incapacitate him. If he's aiming in the Sunday school rooms and a pacifist only has access to a firearm, does the pacifist use it to save children? Here is a dilemma in applying the Golden Rule. Who is the neighbor? Should the pacifist run out and find a millstone to put on his neck, which is better than allowing him to continue harming children? The guy was spraying bullets all around the narthex, no tackler had a chance. He was using a force that projected his field of violence to the walls, and only a similar force could incapacitate him. Perhaps church security guards should have tasers, but they kill too. Are pacifists Taser champions?
I'm not trying to be a wiseacre, but I can't see the lines a pacifist operates behind.
Should Sunday school teacher applicants be screened out if they are pacifist since they won't use whatever means necessary to incapacitate someone who comes to harm the children?
btw, interesting pastor to pastor discussion at the simpleminded preacher blog on this topic. the anecdotes are chilling.
i am not a contributor to this blog, just a reader.
God is good

Sean said...

Says BW3, "A commitment to pacifism has nothing to do with being passive in the usual sense of the term."

Exellent point, often times those who endeavor to literally obey Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” are classified as pacifists. However for some, the word “pacifist” has come to mean one who is “passive.” The pacifist is made out to be a coward who for fear does not engage with intense situations of life and death. Pacifists are seen as pushovers who lack courage to do what’s right when times get tough. Pacifists are those who make an over-literal interpretation of Jesus’ commands in order to justify their own spinelessness and condemn the brave who risk their lives to earn the freedoms that allow the pacifist to even question these matters. The pacifist is a gutless, weakling who may be nice to have over for dinner but certainly should not be trusted with watching other’s children or bearing any responsibility for others.

However, we contend that the command of Jesus, “to love your enemies” is the antithesis of this description. In fact, the very wording of this command defies all notions of passiveness by its very afirmative nature. Jesus did not say, “don’t fight back;” he didn’t say, “don’t hate your enemies;” he didn’t say, “don’t stand your ground against your enemies;” he said, “love your enemies.” He is calling for action not passiveness. Which is harder: to hate one’s enemy or to love one’s enemy? Which did Jesus do? He is calling his followers to radical, self-sacrificial love. He is calling his followers to do what’s right especially when it is hardest. The command, “to love your enemies” means that we should be actively involved in extreme forms of love.

If there is a fight, it should be the follower of Jesus who gets involved, seeks peace, and if necessary risks his own wellbeing for the sake of others. If there is an attack it is the follower of Jesus who not only loves his own but seeks to demonstrate love to the attacker. If there is a war, it is the follower of Jesus who prays even for the enemies of his nation. If there is a plague it is the follower of Jesus who risks his own health to nurse his enemy back to health.

The one who takes seriously the command of our Lord to love the unlovable is the courageous one. He is the one who sets aside vengeance, self-preservation, and selfishness to step out in absolute faith on the simple instruction of our Lord. With childlike obedience and trust the disciple of Christ seeks to do the impossible, to defer vengeance to God, to love the hateful, to return blessing for cursing, to refuse to render evil for evil but instead overcome evil with good. And in the end, if we perish, we perish.

sorry to be so long-winded here

Larry Chouinard said...

Can we boil down the discussion to a reflection on some creative responses to violent situations? Can we all agree that the life of the assailant is just as valuable as those who were gunned down? If so, would you say the best outcome would have been one that halted the violence by minimizing as much as possible any more shootings, including the shooting of the assailant? Rather than knee jerk reactions that meet violence with violence, can the Christian community imagine any other creative response? Let's say you had to disarm this guy without killing him what would you do?

In our world Christians need to learn some creative peacemaking strategies before we find ourselves in violent situations. Since we have not been trained in peacemaking we too easily resort to our culture's violent tendencies. Can you imagine a scenario where Christians bravely surrounded this guy, putting their lives in the line of fire, and prayfully tightened the circle to subdue the perpetrator with love? Unrealistic? Maybe -- but there are Christians being trained to respond to such situations in creative non-violent ways. Check out --
But in the least, Christians should stop making heros out of those who simply mimic the world's violent reactions.

Jeff said...

For a different perspective than Dr. Witherington's, follow this link:

Click Here

Scroll down to the "Life and Death" series (there are eight parts). It is lengthy, but well worth it. I found it to be interesting, insightful and very Biblical.

JohnO said...

Again, I still see a lot of people talking about "saving peoples lives". But I re-iterate my first comment:

To the remark that she "saved over 100 lives" - did not God already save these lives? What is the harm in their death then?

In response to Rom 13.4 "Do the ideas behind that chapter change when the one placed in authority is a Christian?"

Is there any reason that a Christian should be in the authority of a nation, and not God's authority??? BW3 has provided good evidence that a Christian could not even be in one of these positions. The early church fathers universally share that any members of the Roman army that became Christian refused to use the sword from then on.

For far too long Christianity and patriotism have been bedfellows. I hope we can learn a little from history, remember, this is how fascism rose in Germany, Christian faith mixed with intense patriotism.

Dan said...

When I went to seminary,many students and profs beleived that a true Christian could not or would not serve in the military or be a cop. I have always thought that was a ludicrous position to take. Many Christians who are pacifists change their minds when they get into a horrific situation like what happened in Col.or what D. Bonhoeffer faced in Nazi Germany. We cannot judge what this woman did or didn't do until we have gone through the same thing. the pre-constantinian church was very much in the pacifist mode; letothers beat, torture, kill, rape you and your family etcc...But I think tghere has to be some room for self defense. If I am given the courage to act and save the lives of my children in a slaughter situation, then I will do whatever I have to to save them. If that is a sin then so be it. Not everyone can do the Amish thing and sit back and let a madman slaughter everyone. Theoretical pacifism is useless. We do not know what we will do until we or our kids are facing death by violence. I have no right to judge what anyone does in that situation if it does not hold up to what I think I would do. That being said, I think that what the AMish girl did last year when she offered her life in place of the little girls in her school was a tremendous witness to and judgment of our culture. Cleartly the Amish girl and people at large are spiritually formed at a much deeper level than our churches are capable of att his time in our history.

John Umland said...

Hi JohnO
How did you arrive at the conclusion that the "saved 100" were born again? My assumption with these mega-churches is that some portion of the people are seekers and not disciples.
God is good

Jer said...

A few things in response to some comments.

First of all, in the real world, the only time one is legally justified to point a firearm at someone is when one is legally justified in using deadly force against them. "Warning shots" or "shooting to wound" are the stuff of fiction and end up being very problematic in a court of law. The purpose in any legally justified shooting is to *stop* a deadly attack, period. The survival of the attacker is incidental, in a legal sense.

Second, the job of police in the US is to enforce the laws. They are under no obligation, Constitutional or otherwise, to protect citizens from criminals, and are not held legally responsible for failing to do so. Legalities aside, if the armed robber is coming in through the bedroom window, can you delegate responsibility for the protecion of your loved ones to the police when they are 3 minutes away at best?

So much of this discussion seems to be taking place in the aether, so here's some questions, asked in all sincerity. To the pacifist position - sure, in the big picture, an attacker's life is worth no less than your childrens'. But which person is your greatest responsibility? If the people in the attacker's life who have been responsible to this point for nurturing, teaching and inculcating values into him have failed to the point where you are faced with the decision of whether or not to employ lethal force to stop him, and you choose to do so, and he dies, are *you*, the one at the end of that long line of people, really the one who has consigned him to hell? Will God say "darn it, that guy went and killed him before I had a chance to save him?"

If you are willing to risk your children being killed because you are convinced they are saved (I hope you're right), and your theology leads you to believe that by killing an unsaved attacker in the course of protecting them, you personally are condemning them to hell, I'll concede that you are a better Christian, and more Christlike, than me. But I can't help thinking that would be scant comfort to the children's mother. Especially if they weren't killed, proceeding directly to heaven, but were kidnapped, tortured and raped. I certainly wouldn't want to be your kid, not only in that case, but also, say, if I were being tormented by a schoolyard bully. We adults have a hard enough time agreeing on the correct application of turning the other cheek (is it to insult or to violence that we do it?). Are our children equipped to do so? Is it fair to ask them to?

To John O: "did not God already save these lives?"

I don't know. Were they all saved? What if there were a couple of unsaved people mixed in there. Would those two unsaved lives outweigh the unsaved life of the attacker? I feel like we're playing an abstract chess game here instead of dealing with human beings.

"What is the harm in their death then?"

Granted, ultimately none. But would you have the nerve to ask their mother that? Is their death the only thing that might result from failing to protect them? What about the harm in their being raped, tortured and *then* killed?

I will resist evil. If someone aims to harm my wife and seven-year-old and two-year-old daughters, I will. Violence being the absolute last resort. Not because of being macho, not because of patriotism or a warlike American culture, but because my conscience and parental instinct compels me. On the other hand, if I can save a stranger's life by pushing them out of the way of a speeding car and in so doing sacrifice my own life, I will, without a second thought.

Someday I will stand before God to give an accounting for what I have done, and I hope I will not have done wrong.

Sorry, I know I'm all over the map here. I hope I have contributed something positive.


John said...

Hmm. I noticed that my comment wasn't approved from moderation. I would hope that Dr. Witherington would not hide from evidence contrary to his argument.

Jer said...

"And in the end, if we perish, we perish."

Sounds kind of cavalier to me, if "we" consists of other people besides me. In fact, my impressions of pacifists from this discussion aren't that they are wimpy, but that they are so brave as to be cavalier with *other* people's lives. They also seem to talk a lot in the abstract.

There are a lot of propositions here that sound godly as we sit behind our keyboards in the developed world, but I have a hard time imagining applying them universally. I ask that you carry out your propositions to their logical ends.

I can choose, in love, to not employ physical violence against an attacker, knowing it may well cause my death. Do I have the right to choose that for a defenseless person under my protection? Do I have the right to decree the sacrifice of their life (or innocence?)

What if I'm the only adult in a room full of children? What is the correct response to a homicidal attacker? Yes, I should love him. But what form should that love take, in light of the others in the room with whom I've been entrusted?

There seems to be an assumption here that to love an enemy means to not physically resist his evil actions. Is this true? If I defend the defenseless against an attacker using physical violence, does it necessarily follow that I don't love him? Is it necessarily out of selfishness or vengeance? I think it is arrogant to claim so.

I can't help wondering how many of us have actually faced the situations we're abstractly talking about.

Larry, I can imagine a scenario where Christians bravely surrounded a guy, putting their lives in the line of fire, and prayfully tightened the circle to subdue the perpetrator with love. It sounds wonderful. The problem is when I imagine children in the room. For whatever reasons, this guy has turned his back on whatever love, teaching and nurturing he has received in his life. His eternal destiny is in the hands of a sovereign God, not in those of a frightened believer (and if you tell me a believer shouldn't be frightened in the face of violence, I will agree with you and then go on to bet that you've never faced violence). I contend that the children have a right to experience the life that the guy has scorned.

Every day, I pray to be made more like Jesus, so maybe I'll change my mind about all this eventually.

Sean said...

Wow. Quite an extended set of comments we have here. It appears that a lot of the pro-violence comments fall into one of the following categories.

1. I just couldn't let _____ happen to my loved one so I will use violence...if that is sin then so be it.

2. Obeying Jesus' command to love my enemy will not work in the real world. Only violence can be used to stop someone using violence.

It is so fascinating to see that there are no biblical texts being brought up in defense of violence. It's like we all know that Jesus said, "love your enemies" and we are all trying to mitigate that command, to tame it, to mold it to fit something that makes sense in Satan's world. But then we will have another problem:

Luke 6:46 "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?"

We need to have FAITH. (1) pray in faith that God will protect us (2) have faith that if some intruder did come to violate our families that God would not abandon us to our own devices. There are plenty of stories that tell of a time that an assailant was repelled by a song, a confrontation, a lack of fear, or a command in the name Jesus Christ. If God wants us to (1) love our wives and children and (2) love our enemy then HE is the one who needs to provide a way out of the dilemma.

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

Yahweh is not a cruel God. He is not going to command us to do something that we cannot do. Let us have faith in him and have an open ear for the spirit's guiding especially in "hairy" situations. To do otherwise, and plan to use violence--if it came to that (whatever that means)--is effectively saying, "Jesus, I will obey you in everything except when it costs me what I hold most dear to me." God help us to work this out. When we think that what he requires of us is too much, may we look to the cross and see what extreme love really means.

Ben Witherington said...

Good summary Sean.

I must just give the personal testimony that for me, in part, the issue is will I trust God. In any crisis the first thing a Christian should do, if there is time and opportunity, is not act, but pray. And when one prays, the second activity, again if there is time and opportunity is to listen for the response. This need not take more than minutes. Then thirdly, one must muster up one's courage and act positively on first principles--- not gut instinct, not out of pure fear, but out of love for everyone involved including especially the innocent who are being victimized, but also including 'the enemy'. This includes being prepared to get in the way of mayhem in order to stop it. I submit this takes far more courage than taking a gun and 'taking someone out'. In fact, most would see such an attempt as foolhardy. But consider an example.

Hostage negotiators do something similar to what I am talking about. They go in unarmed and try to talk to the person with the gun to convince them to give up, or at least to let the hostages go. Either way they are unarmed and dealing with a person who is out of kilter and has deadly force. It is interesting how often this actually accomplishes the desired aim. You may of course say that a person with hostages is not as dangerous as a person simply spraying bullets in all directions. You may be right, but then again you may not be.

In any case whatever one does in an extreme situation, a Christian ought to do their best to try and act in as Christian a manner as possible. I suggest that this takes far more courage than just being able to walk up and shoot someone.

Christmas blessings,

Ben W.

John Umland said...

The monkey wrench in this proposal was that Jeanne Assam had been fasting and praying for the past 3 days. We don't know how she engaged him. Is it proper to assume she engaged him with her gun aimed at him? On the other hand, she might have seen someone try to engage Murray and seen Murray respond with heavy fire. She might have presumed Murray just murdered someone before her eyes, someone without a weapon, just like the 2 the night before, and the 2 in the parking lot.

Is that assumption being made that the Arvada missionaries did not engage Murray with love?

My presumption is that Murray was engaged with love by 4 people before encountering the one who had been praying and fasting for 3 days with a firearm and the training to use it and engage people like him. He demonstrated a commitment to violence regardless of the attempt of interaction with him. It is downright smug to think one can do better than those who presumably tried the method of peacemaking, what other method is available when weaponless. One is free to contribute oneself to the body count but it doesn't prevent the murderer from continuing.

God is good

Ben Witherington said...

Dear JPU:

The issue is certainly not smugness. I don't think you can make the presumptions evident in your latest comments. You don't know what was or was not attempted in the line of peacemaking. Neither do I.

At a minimum I would think you would realize that the use of lethal force, as a Christian, is a last resort-- not a first one.

I do not in any way dispute that Ms. Asam is a Christian, nor that she had been in earnest praying and fasting before this happened. Nor, that she believed she acted in good conscience. And actually, I am quite glad that she was not responsible for 'taking out' Murray, as he murdered himself. She will not have that on her conscience.

But it needs to be understood that 'murder' under whatever circumstances, even if it is the least of several evils, and I believe you can make a good case that it sometimes is, is nonetheless still 'murder'. Let's call it what it is. Any premediated act which intends to result in the death of a human being, and succeeds, is murder.

This act doesn't cease to be a sin simply because it is a lesser of two evils sin. It is still something not to be celebrated or lionized, but to be repented of thereafter. I don't believe in situation ethics, and I am quite sure God doesn't either.


Ben W.

JohnO said...

What if the N people are not all saved Christians? I hope the situation brings them to a place in their life where they can choose. Imminent death for the thief on the cross made him choose. One chose life, the other death.

To those who are Christian, in response to what if you are raped, tortured, ect, I only have to turn to the biblical example of Stephen, and the historical examples of the early church, who were all beaten horribly and then killed. To sum up:

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Because I believe so firmly in the glory to come, the next age, the Kingdom age, I am prepared to suffer in the present.

As to being "cavalier" with others lives, and the idea that a pacifist is passive and doing nothing - it couldn't be further from the truth. As BW3 pointed out, pacifists are not passive. As Sean pointed out, we are called, as Christians, to engage with a fallen world, to be involved. The pacifism case is not made on a "resist not evil" basis, Jesus' instruction there is not global, but specific. When the devil attacks him, he resists. The pacifism case is made on a "love your enemies" basis. Nor, would I deny the responsibility of protecting family and brothers and sisters. The love that is to be shown is not death. Being involved and attempting to disarm or slow the attack while others can get to safety would be my goal.

I make no attempt to judge the individuals involved in what happened in Colorado. Rather, I wish to spell out, what I believe, is the Biblical position. God is the judge, and will do so at the appropriate time.

Luken said...

"My concern is that Christians act on Christian first principles-- period."

Mr. Witherington, I agree with you 100% on that statement but every time you comment on a political issue your political ideology comes shining through as your obvious presupposition which in turn seems to inform your biblical interpretation rather than the other way around. Look at how you frame your arguments. They seem to always start with the "evidence" (usually they are assertions rather than evidence) for your political ideology and then you toss in the scripture text that you think backs up that particular ideological frame work. I don't mean to question your sincerity on this issue and I respect a number of my brothers in Christ who hold a similar view but I think that perhaps it would be wise for you to examine your own extra-biblical presuppositions and in what way they are impacting your particular Christian Worldview. We all have our blind spots in interpretation and you are no more immune from that than anyone else. I am just asking that you be mindful of that.

Rom 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

This is often quoted from your camp but of course that all ready presupposes that defending yourself or others is evil

Paul continued with: Rom 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

And some times living peaceably with all is not always possible, far preferable but not always possible.

My conscience would not allow for me to stand idly by while my brother or sisters or wife
or children or family or strangers were endangered if I had the means to protect them. If
that means of protection unavoidably lead to having to kill or otherwise disable the threat as the only option I would
do it, with a heavy heart but I would do it.


Unknown said...

"I believe Jesus has forbidden violence to His followers and calls us to be willing to suffer and die for him rather than protect ourselves to the harm of others."

As a pastor, I'm at a loss to defend this statement with a single passage of scripture. Christ never forbade violence -- he forbade vengeance. He never forbade self-defense (in fact he taught it quite plainly in Luke 22) -- he forbade hatred. He never forbade armed service -- he forbade extortion by force of arms.

To claim that innocent children should be murdered because Christians must not raise a hand to defend them from the murderer is to turn the teaching of Christ on it's ear.

Ben Witherington said...

Mr. Luken:

If you knew me at all, you would know that I have immersed myself in Scripture for 30 years straight, non-stop. This has totally changed my social and political views. I was even, sadly, a supporter of Richard Nixon in high school.

The reason for this change is plain-- Jesus was radical, he believed the Kingdom was coming, and he believed Christians must live according to Kingdom principles. These are the first principles I am talking about, and they are plainly, plainly Scriptural.

It has nothing to do with modern liberal political ideologies, which by the way, perhaps you have not noticed-- none of the Democratic or Republican candidates for President in living memory have been pacifists, or are pacifists now!!

You are entitled to your opinions, but please, don't make the mistake again of suggesting my political opinions are determining my exegesis, when just the reverse is the case in my life.

I struggle to live up to the call to love my enemies and pray for those that persecute me. I struggle to overcome evil with only good-- not more violence and evil. It's not easy, but by the grace of God, I intend to do it.

If you read the garden of Eden story and it's sequel you will discover that killing was not part of God's original plan-- living forever was, hence the tree for that in the garden. Killing began once the fall began, with Cain and Abel. Obituaries (otherwise called genealogies) began as a result of the fall.

As Jesus says, I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly. He did not come and say-- 'I came so you might defend yourself when others attack you, and if it requires violence, c'est la vie.'

Go back again and read the Beatitudes-- you will notice it praises the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted for righteousness sake. Then Jesus adds "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all manner of evil against you.' This is the same Jesus who not only say do not murder, he even says anyone who is angry with his brother or sister is subject to judgment!!!

Try reading Mt. 5.38-39--- "You have heard it said an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." To this Jesus replies "But I tell you do not resist an evil person." Did you hear that--- hmmm???? Which part of do not resist an evil person, is unclear? This is the same Jesus who told us to turn the other cheek, give up our property, love our enemies, and take up our cross and follow him.

The problem with the ethic of Jesus is not that it is not clear, it is that it is terribly offensive to a lot of Americans, and sadly even many Christian ones.


Ben W.

It is a total misrepresentation of Lk. 22 to suggest Jesus sanctioned violence in this text, when in fact the Greek makes clear that Jesus is totally disgusted with the disciples for suggesting it. Jesus is not making the ridiculous suggestion that his disciples only need two swords to confront the Temple police or the Roman legion! The best and most probable translation of this passage is as follows---

Jesus tells them to sell their cloak and buy a sword so they can be 'numbered with the transgressors'. In other words, so they can fulfill the Scripture about their defection and desertion of Jesus, and their betrayal of his principles, in effect, acting as transgressors do. When they respond-- "see Lord here are two swords" Jesus' response is both caustic and classic--- "That's enough (of that nonsense)!" You have to interpret Lk. 22.36-38 in light of what Jesus has just said in vss. 31-35 to Simon, about his, and the other disciples desertion.


Ben W.

Joel Joslin said...

Don't forget John 18:36, where Jesus says that if his kingdom were from this world, his disciples would have fought to defend him - but his kingdom is from elsewhere.

Bishop Wright says this verse should be translated "my kingdom is not from this world." Is he correct?

There's also the witness of the church for the first three centuries and a little of the fourth century, which was completely non-violent in the face of persecution. They took the clear call to non-violence by Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc. very seriously and literally. Multiple early writers say a Christian should not kill under any circumstances, and converted Roman soldiers were even required to quit the army. Pagans such as Celsus derided Christians for their pacifism, actually, and the church grew in spite of it. It wasn't until Constantine, where Christianity fused with a highly militaristic empire, that the Christian view of violence changed.

The early church is not infallible, but we should take them seriously due to the fact that they weren't fused with a secular institution, their closeness to the apostles, and the oppressive times they faced.

Unknown said...

"Try reading Mt. 5.38-39--- "You have heard it said an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." To this Jesus replies "But I tell you do not resist an evil person." Did you hear that--- hmmm????"

I am quite aware of the Sermon on the Mount. That passage is about the law of vengeance as defined by the Law of Moses, recorded in Exodus 21 -- the exact same law that lays down the death penalty for murderers. And Jesus is quite plain in his teaching; vengeance is forbidden, forgiveness required.

And we must forgive this murderer, that is very clear. But must we allow him to kill innocent people when we have the power to stop him? God forbid! The devil intends to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), we are instructed to resist him (James 4:7), and to not do so is sin (James 4:17).

Also, your interpretation of Luke 22:38 is completely at odds with any sound exegesis. "It is enough": from the greek "hikanos": 1) sufficient a) many enough, enough
b) sufficient in ability. To translate "enough" as a command to end an argument -- from an english idiom -- is incorrect; there is no such idiom in the Greek.

The plain interpretation of that passage is that swords were needed, and that two swords were sufficient in number and ability. Jesus' prayer that very night in the Garden of Gethsemane was for the disciples physical safety (John 17), for He knew they were in grave danger because of Him.

Magnus said...

I was wondering if a soldier or policeman or any other job that may require the use of deadly force could be held by a Christian.

It seems from reading the post and the comments that most of you would say no, I could of course be missing your point and please correct me if I am wrong.

If that is true that Christians can not hold such jobs, then what does that say about us when we call police or soldiers or any of the other professions to come and help us? Should we not just have faith that God will provide our escape or safety or release or anything else? What about the point of God providing means to get things done? I wonder what such an attitude would have done during WWII? I understand confronting does not necessarily mean using deadly force, but what of WWII? I am sure that other ends were tried before war, but all failed. Would that mean it failed because of our lack of faith or something else? If WWII was justified, then why was it and what conditions must be met before we can go to war? Reading some of the remarks I would say that most would never go to war under any circumstance. What about the point that someone made that Jesus was talking more of vengeance and hatred and taking the law into your own hands. Are we not told in the Bible to follow the law of the land and to respect our leaders since God uses them to bring about some of what He wants accomplished. If the law of the land says that after a judicial process has been followed and exhausted that if sentenced one should be put to death, how could we be against it?

Trierr said...

I have been struggling to make theological sense of all of this and I appreciate Professor Witherington's analysis. I also live close to New Life and drove by the church just minutes before the shooting. Some things that we do know: Ms Assam expressed regret for the loss of life, including that of the shooter. 2) witnesses noted that she shouted for the assailant to surrender several times before shooting. 3) At least one other unarmed person in the church attempted to distract the assailant and draw his attention during the assault.

I am very leary of the use of lethal force by Christians, but the one case I can possibly allow it is in the protection of innocent life as a last result. And from what I know, this was her last result.

When asked a question about gun control, Ms Assam deftly avoided answering. I think she did not want to make this into a political issue. In all the productive discussion of the political and theological issues, let us not lose sight of the people: Pray for the victims' family. I can not imagine losing two daughters this way. Pray for the shooter's family, they are lost as to how this could happen. And finally, pray for Ms. Assam. She had been praying and fasting for guidance about whether to return to law enforcement. She has been through a lot and clearly never wanted this kind of attention.

Josh Caleb said...

Sorry Ben, there is rather disingenuous to suggest that the Greek esti hikanos translates "enough of that nonesense".
A better reading would imply the use of swords for protection as they are sent out as apostles into foreign lands on strange roads and byways. I would agree that it does not directly support violence, but does support legitimate use of the sword, otherwise, why take one up? Jesus' rebuke to Peter at his arrest is enough to make that point though.

Ben Witherington said...


If you go read the commentaries on the Greek text of Lk. 22 you will discover that various commentators do indeed take Jesus' words as sarcasm--- 'oh that's enough for sure' (sarcasm), and some do indeed interpret Hikanos as an interjection which is perfectly normal in Greek Enough! which means Enough of this. On your interpretation, you must ignore all together that Jesus tells them, by citing Scripture, that by his disciples' taking up weapons he will be numbered with the transgressors.In short they will have their hands dirty and probably bloody. Jesus is not talking about them going out on a mission at that juncture. He is talking about what is about to happen in Gethsemane.

And as a footnote to Luken, I have examined both my views and my heart numerous times on this very issue, so accusations of pride are not in order here.


Ben W.

Ben Witherington said...


Thanks so much for the additional data about the incident in Colorado. This helps provide a broader context.


JohnO said...


I suggest that a Christian cannot hold these positions of deadly force. The early church also felt this way. As I understand, the Didache, a document of early Christian instruction, lists many jobs which any convert to Christianity must leave, and soldier/police (the two jobs were one and the same under Rome) was on that list.

As for asking for help - that is what God ordained the nations to do, as BW3 has commented numerous times on the verses in Romans 13 that pertain to this subject. We should not have a problem asking the nations to do what God has ordained them to. Though we should not be surprised if they fall short, or refuse their call by acting dishonestly or with favoritism, this age is ruled by the devil.

Jer said...

Dr. Witherington:

It appears as though my last comment has not been approved for posting, thus giving Sean, and yourself, the last word in our conversation. As is your right, of course, but I feel I raised many points that were either not addressed at all or were addressed in a flawed and incomplete way. Sean, in particular, egregiously twisted my words, and I am comforted that surely the readers of this thread possess the critical thinking skills to see that.

I am not infallible and I allow for the possibility that I will change my position on this issue some day. I struggle with this issue constantly, not only in the wake of tragedies like this. But nothing on this thread has convinced me to change my mind.

I am dismayed, given the volumes of Christian thought on both sides of the issue (and I've seen a lot more that is contrary to the pacifist view), with the prevailing attitude among the pacifists on this thread, that Christians who don't have a sentimental attitude toward unsaved violent men, but also aren't willing to delegate to the unsaved the unpleasant tasks necessary to maintain a free society and protect its weakest citizens, are somehow less Christian than those who would give evil the last word in this world and let God sort it out in the next.


Jer said...

My comment for posting wasn't posted, and the one that was just posted was meant for Dr. W only, and said "Not for posting" at the top. Grrr. This is not working out the way I'd hoped. I'm going to go away now, doubtless to the relief of many.

I really do wish you all grace and peace.


Ben Witherington said...

Word Up to the Concerned:

I post all comments that come my way that are civil and not abusive, whether I agree with them or not. Sometimes however when I hit accept, blogspot seems to eat them, or they disappear. It's not for lack of trying to post them, so keep trying--- but do speak in a fair and hopefully Christian tone. This blog is not for mere venting, but serious discussion, and a lot of the discussion on this subject has been good. Passionate is fine, but respectful is important.


Ben W.

Jer said...

If anything I've posted here has come across as venting, disrespectful, or even anything other than dispassionate, I sincerely apologize. It certainly wasn't meant that way.

Peace and a merry Christmas.

Scott said...

I enjoyed Witherington's article. I agree that more guns doesn't translate into security. The gun culture (i.e. the NRA) is an extreme reaction to violence, without actually solving violence. I have not heard Christian compassion extended to the guy who killed innocent people; Witherington is right in affirming that the answer is getting help and Christian love to those labled as "sick people." We absolutely must encounter violence (both physical and psychological) with Christ's model of enemy forgiveness. "Peace on earth" as the angels sang to the shepherds (Luke 2-3) represents the theolotical puzzle piece to a culture of violence and our response to it in America (this applies globally as well - i.e. war).
However, some things need further insight. First of all, I have lived overseas as well. In many countries (such as Brazil), law abiding society is literally held hostage by illegal gun owning society. My opinions on this issue are influenced by dear friends who have been held hostage by gunmen (where I lived, everyone knows someone who has been in this position), and by friends who WERE the gunmen, later Christian brothers. What we see in America is disturbing, but a playground compared some of what I've seen in other countries. There are no statistics for gun deaths in South America, but innocent families are killed all the time by people who knock on the door and then show a gun to gain entry. What follows is too horrific to discuss, and laws must not be made that facilitate such occurrences. This is also not the answer to the problem of gun violence. America are not like relatively peaceful Europe; the violent elements of developing world problems are present in our urban environments in ways Europe can't fathom. Also, there is a difference between vigilante justice being seen as defense against the "sickos," and, for example, a father defending his wife and children from being shot or raped. I live in an inner-city environment, witnessing all the problems of urban America. I am absolutely convinced that eliminating access to guns will not take guns out of the hands of criminals, only out of the hands of law abiders. Much of the reason that drug dealers and users don't use guns to gain entry into peaceful homes more often is because of gun ownership. Police officers tell me this (only on off duty hours). The black market will also be able to generously arm those who want guns. This is not to eliminate control of rapid fire weapons, but we pray regulary that gun control advocates don't get their way, because there is a huge difference (theologically and legally) between legitimate self-defense, or defense of the innocent and of one's family, and vengeance-driven attitudes of "killing sickos who want to kill us." All this to say that Witherington's central answer is right on: Christian love and peace, embracing the marginalized, etc. Let's hold that first and foremost, but gun control creates too many unintended consequences to be embraced uncritically.

Josh Caleb said...

but it's important to note that we STOP the guy (by whatever means possible) who is shooting innocents before we show him our Christian love. This upholds the 6th commandment rather than breaks it.