Jeff Sessions, Romans 13 and Separating Families

(Note: I started writing this post this morning and then had to prioritize work. Now that I’m returning to finish, I’m given to understand that the President is signing an executive order ending family separation. I thought about not finishing the post, but I figured I might as well given that the points I’m arguing below have more applicability than just this situation).

Given how much coverage, discussion and debate the crisis at our border has already had, I’ve been reluctant to write about it myself–what is there that hasn’t been said? I have realized, though, that, even if I’m rehashing the same ideas, it means something to publicly stand with my righteous brothers and sisters calling for an end to this abominable practice. So that’s what I’m doing.

Since theology is a large part of what I write about, let’s start with the theological arguments that have been made in favor of the issue. First, let me point out that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a member of the United Methodist Church. I must admit embarrassment by that, but also some satisfaction with the response from at least some members of the UMC–over 600 members of the UMC, both clergy and laity, have filed a complaint against Sessions under the UMC Book of Discipline–our version of canon law. The complaint alleges that Sessions’ actions–and his use of scripture to justify them–constitutes potential child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and the teaching of doctrines contrary to those held by the church. Details can be found here.

As both a Methodist and an attorney, I am quite interested in how this plays out. I find the latter three claims to be quite straightforward under the circumstances, but the child abuse claim is an interesting one to me because it will be difficult to resolve. The major issue here is one of causation–are the AG’s actions a direct-enough cause to hold him to culpability? I see arguments on both sides, though I lean toward affirming–in part because we’re not talking about criminal culpability, but a desire to reconcile Mr. Sessions to the teachings of the UMC. The tougher question is what we mean by the term “child abuse?” Herein lies my biggest reservation with this portion of the complaint.

Is the government’s policy wrongly causing children (and parents) to suffer? Undoubtedly. Is this a violation of human rights and general decency? I believe so. Is this practice causing deep trauma, some of which will never heal? Unreservedly, yes. Should we call it child abuse? I’m not so sure.

Yes; it matters. If we expand the societal definition of child abuse, more parents will be subject to claims of abusing their children–not criminally, but giving the poisonous and often hateful nature of online forums and public denunciation in our society, great potential to harm remains. This issue concerns me not directly because of Jeff Sessions, but because of how the construct of “child abuse” might be unreasonably expanded in the future if we are quick to call Jeff Sessions a child abuser.

When we talk about child abuse, I don’t think that there is any question that physical injury, endangerment, or sexual exploitation constitutes child abuse. I think we’d all further agree that emotional abuse is real and can have lasting effects on persons of any age, but especially children. Here, though, is where we run into problems. First, where do we draw the line between negative emotional treatment that is not abusive and treatment that is? Second, how do we separate emotional trauma that results as a byproduct of particular actions from emotional trauma directly inflicted? Are they both “abuse.” I do not have answers to these questions–they require much deeper moral, spiritual and logical analysis than there is space for here. So, I leave this topic with a caution: If you believe that Jeff Sessions is complicit in the violation of human rights by needlessly separating families, fine; I can understand that. If you want to call him a child abuser, I am very hesitant to agree. Is he wrong, morally, in the general sense? Absolutely.

Is he wrong theologically? Also absolutely. Let’s spend some time on that. Sessions stated that there is Biblical support for the governments separation policy by citing Romans 13:1, which reads: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

Okay, that is something that “the Bible” says. But coming to the conclusion Mr. Sessions would have us reach requires a very particular–and not very logical–approach to interpretation of scripture, one that ignores (and must ignore) much for the argument to not fall apart under its own weight. Benjamin Corey would call this the “Swiss Army Knife” approach to Biblical interpretation, where we see the Bible as intended to apply usefully and directly to any human situation whatsoever and then to pick and choose verses from the Bible, while ignoring others, to accomplish that. For Corey, and I agree, the fundamental problem of this (see what I did there?) is that it views all parts of scripture as equal in authority and status.

Let’s start local, shall we? Let’s be legalistic for a moment and invoke Rule 107 of the Texas Rules of Evidence, the “Rule of Optional Completeness.” This rule allows an adverse party to inquire into any part of a writing when the other party has introduced a portion of that writing into evidence.

If we read all of Romans 13:1-5, we get the following: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who dos o will bring judgment upon themselves. For rules hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”

The presumption of these verses is righteous rulership by a just ruler who sees himself as a servant of God (and presumably also the people). It does not address behavior when the authorities are acting unjustly and immorally. If we are to act as “a matter of conscience,” it is conceivable that there are situations in which resisting authority is the righteous action.

Both in Biblical history and the ancient world in which Paul lived, we have a multitude of examples of unrighteous rulers. Chronicles and Kings give us plenty of rulers of Israel who “commit the sins” of their fathers before them or who “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” The dominance of Rome and its rulers in Judea certainly demonstrated exploitative and unjust rulership. It is important, and perhaps ironic, that Paul writes this letter to the Romans and includes the words of 13:1-5. At the time Paul is probably writing, the Roman authorities had little interest in the nascent Christian movement, mostly because they weren’t really sure how to differentiate them from Jews. Persecution would soon ramp up, but at this point things were still relatively calm. Even so, Paul’s argument about the divine right of kings, though supported by the Old Testament stories of the early kings, was not entirely borne out by the long history of kings of Israel and Judah. That oughtn’t be ignored in evaluating Paul’s words.

Still in Romans 13 (verses 8 and 10), Paul writes: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law….Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is fulfillment of the law.”

So, even within the same chapter (remember that chapters are an artificial interpolation, so I use this term to mean “very nearby in the text”), Paul provides us with scripture stating that the government’s position is violation God’s law because it is causing harm.

As a side note, my instinctual response to a leader that cites Romans 13 in, however understated, a claim to divine right and authority is that that person doesn’t understand servant leadership and therefore cannot be the type of ruler described in this passage.

As important as the local landscape of Romans 13:1 is, we must interpret Paul’s words here by reference to the Bible as a whole–with particular attention paid to Jesus’ words and actions.

Here, let us start with other things that the Pauline epistles say of similar tone. I should preface this by saying that, although Romans is one of the epistles about which there is little doubt that Paul is indeed the author, both Ephesians and Colossians are of more disputed authorship, with many arguing that they are Deutero-Pauline, that is, in line with Pauline thought but not written by Paul himself.

Ephesians 6:5-6 reads: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” Colossians 3:22 says almost exactly the same thing. This repetition leads to three primary interpretations, I think: (1) the author of Ephesians and Colossians is the same person; (2) the writer of Ephesians had access to Colossians, or vice versa; or (3) this statement is based on something Paul said or wrote that is not directly attested.

If we are comfortable that these epistles conform with Pauline thought, regardless of authorship, we need not resolve the authorship issue (which is good, because we can’t).

Modern Christianity has rejected slavery in all of its forms–we have reject Pauline thought here in favor of “doing no harm” as a truer practice of Christian love. If we have rejected this logic as flawed, we have decided that, inspired as the author(s) of the epistles might have been, they are prone to error in judgment at times. So why not conduct the same analysis of the statement in Romans 13?

For the best resolution of any ambiguity here (which I’ll admit remains somewhat speculative and incomplete), we have to look to the words and actions of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 22:15-22, when confronted by the Pharisees about whether Caesar’s tax should be paid, Jesus tells them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Here, Jesus clearly separates temporal rulership from divine rulership. What’s more, if the interpolated punctuation accurately reflects the rhetoric employed, Jesus has set temporal rule and divine rule in contrast or opposition to one another.

If we want to put a fine point on it, we might refer to Mark 9:37, where Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Or Mark 10:14, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Here we might also comment that Jesus Christ, as Messiah, defied messianic expectations by refusing to foment military overthrow of Roman (and generally foreign) dominance. There are several viable interpretations for this–nonviolence, a lack of interest in immediate temporal affairs over divine and eternal ones, a theological statement through choice of action that comments on how the Jews might have misunderstood God (especially those in the apocalyptic schools of thought of the time). I tend to believe that Jesus’s focus on love and mercy says everything it needs to about the evaluation of temporal power. Combined with Paul’s words on Romans 13 on love that follow the argument for obeying authority, I think there’s plenty here to support the stance that Jesus’s words (and actions) tell us not just that we ought to oppose unjust authorities of the world, but that we ought to do so peacefully whenever that is possible.

If we look to Jesus’ actions in driving out the money changers at the Temple, we see that (related in Matthew 22:12-13, but also in Mark 11:15-18 and Luke 19:45-47) Jesus does not shy away from taking action against those who abuse their position–though the extent to which there is any real “violence” in this act is highly debatable, as I’ve explored somewhat in my series, “The End of Violence.”

When we look more completely at the statements of Romans 13, comparing it to other parts of the scriptures, looking to our own traditions and to our experiences of rulership in history and even in the modern world we know, and when we apply logic to prioritize ideas that are contradictory (or at least not readily in line with one another), we see that we must take the position that Paul’s statement in Romans 13:1 needs to be read as speaking to a specific situation and time, needs to be nuanced, or needs to be rejected altogether in light of the example of Christ and our call to love our neighbors–especially when loving our neighbors requires standing against injustice.

Would that anyone who wants to support an argument using scripture would take such a broad and careful approach before relying on a single verse at face value!

Wonder Woman: Some Thoughts

I know, I’m way late to the game. I’m not a big superhero fan (being that I like my fiction a bit grittier, though I acknowledge that there are some gritty comics), so I didn’t see Wonder Woman until it happened to show up on one of the streaming services to which we subscribe.

I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like it, not because it wasn’t entertaining (it was) or I had any issue with the acting (it was pretty good) or I didn’t like the setting (WWI is interesting). I didn’t like it because of the way it argued against its own narrative.

SPOILERS AHEAD.

If you haven’t seen the film, or have forgotten it, or have paid no heed to the spoiler warning, the main conflict of the film turns on the conflict between Wonder Woman (as champion of the mythical Amazons) against Ares, the god of war. In the story’s twist on Greek myth, Ares killed the other gods in a war over humanity but was injured himself such that he is only returning to exert his influence to destroy humanity in the early 20th century.

A key point of his plan is to create a souped-up chemical weapon (an improved mustard gas, if you will) to prevent an armistice from ending World War I so that humans will keep fighting and killing one another because Ares believes they are evil, selfish beings that deserve to be wiped out.

You can bet my ears perked up at this, because this is an existential-level question about the nature of man. An interesting set-up, but poor followthrough. Despite some platitudes between Diana and Steve Trevor about how you can’t defeat the kind of evil that Ares simultaneously represents and accuses humans of possessing with more violence, that’s really the only tool they employ (except perhaps for Trevor’s attempt to detonate the poison gas at a high enough altitude to render it harmless).

I couldn’t help but compare Wonder Woman to the poison gas itself–she functioned in most respects as a weapon against which there is no ready defense. If she entered a room full of German soldiers, you can bet that they were all dead within seconds despite the feeblest of attempts to defend themselves (which was the best that they could manage given that Wonder Woman herself is later revealed to be a god).

And thus, despite a clear intent to communicate something more, the film falls fatally into that great American lie: that the road to peace is travelled by being stronger than everyone else and able to coerce them into following your idea about what is good–or else.

Violence is never more than a temporary solution that causes as many future problems as it overcomes in the present. I’d like to say that that’s the reason I never really got into superheroes like many of my friends did–this latent power fantasy that we all in our darkest selves want to own, the ability to be forced, coerced or conquered by no man and no thing, thus establishing what is “good” and “true” by fiat.

I am not against fictional violence. I play and enjoy combat-oriented video games and tabletop games, preferring those that force tough moral choices. I watch and enjoy action movies and TV shows that often feature violence. They are exciting and when death or severe injury is on the table, the meaning of the action is heightened. This is excellent for narratives and games, but not so much for real life.

Thus, I think it’s important that we treat characters a little more realistically. Not that we can’t or shouldn’t have characters with kewl powerz, but that we take the time to nuance the choices and morality of those involved in a story. Maybe this is why, ultimately, I prefer my fiction gritty: it’s easier to put into context people who are broken and flawed participating in violence because they are unable to take more noble courses of action, separating my enjoyment of their struggles and stories from my beliefs about right behavior and moral action when real lives are at stake.

So, while the film was well-acted and well-shot, I just couldn’t get over the characters’ actions arguing so strongly against the values that they claimed to espouse. The cognitivie dissonance I felt on their behalves became too much for enjoyment.

Review: Far Cry 5: No There There

As a writer of both fiction and theology, the premise of the latest Far Cry game (creatively entitled “Far Cry 5”) quickly piqued my interest. Where the previous games in the series played upon the otherness of exotic locales, the latest installment brings the action close to home, setting us in (fictitious, though the geography is based on real geography in the southwest corner of the state) Hope County, Montana, a strange community of traditional heartland folks, stereotypical “preppers”–and a mysterious and dangerous cult calling itself the “Project at Eden’s Gate.”

The premise of such a location is full of narrative possibility, particularly in the current political and religious background of America. Here are some of the things I hoped to find within the game:

  1. Some investigation of the interplay between certain types of Christian fundamentalism and the Prepper mentality. Though entirely unscientific, my own experience with Prepper culture (some of which is through personal encounters, but most of which is through the admittedly not-entirely-trustworthy media of the internet and reality TV) seems to indicate a strong correlation between pre-millennial dispensational theology and Prepper culture. On the more disturbing end are those with even more extreme spiritually-based conspiracy theories that create within them the fears that lead to prepping for the end-times. Here, I should mention an unsettlingly-common belief that demons or fallen angels have infiltrated American government (and/or foreign governments) and are purposefully driving us to apocalypse. Yikes! This whole subject merits a post of its own, I think, but that’s for another time.
  2. Narrative that deals with the interplay between Trumpism and Christianity–the ways in which Trumpism distorts Christianity into a self-justifying parody of itself and the ways in which more honest Christianity defies the values of Trump and his compatriots.
  3. Tension between cult beliefs and traditional Christian beliefs.

Was I naive to expect any of these things? Of course I was. On the other hand, as video games are pushing into a more maintsream and respectable narrative medium, we should be expecting our games to push the envelope, to make philosophical arguments and investigate both theological ideas and political ones. Spec Ops: The Line is an excellent example of a game that’s already done this, as are the Bioshock series (is there much that’s more interesting than a well-crafted video game that investigates a philosophical system like Rand’s Objectivism?) and games like Heavy Rain.

And to be fair, the game starts off in a misleadingly promissing way for my hopes. You play as a rookie deputy sheriff in Hope County, Montana; the game starts with you in a helicopter as part of a joint sheriff’s office and federal agent task force to arrest Joseph Seed, the “father” and prophet of the Project at Eden’s Gate. Walking through the Eden’s Gate compound, surrounded by tense believers with automatic rifles, knowing what you’re there to do creates a great dramatic moment with which to launch a story.

It gets better. You approach Joseph Seed to arrest him, and he does not resist. He does tell you that God will not let you take him. Exactly what you’d expect a cult leader to say. But his prophecy becomes reality. As you return to the helicopter and it attempts to take off, fanatical cultists swarm the vehicle, with some even throwing themselves into the rotor to cause the chopper to crash. Joseph leaves the wreck remarkably unscathed and with the obligatory, “I told you so.”

That’s where the narrative peaks, unfortunately–right when it poses the following fascinating questions:

  1. Was it divine intervention that Joseph Seed walked away from the crash, or was it simply fanatical human action combined with coincidence and luck? This search for an understanding of whether some felt but unprovable synchronicity lurking behind human events is real or merely imagined is a fundamental existentional question.
  2. As a corrollary to the first, is Joseph Seed right? Is he a prophet? Of course, we never really get a clear view of the theology of Eden’s Gate, so this question falls quickly by the wayside.
  3. Has America, through its recent history, culture and politics created a landscape ripe for the likes of extremist cults?
  4. What do you do when faced with a violent cult using the trappings of Christianity but promoting patently non-Christian courses of action (Eden’s Gate are murderers, thieves, abusers, drug pushers, kidnappers and a whole slew of things that you’d think would give some of its members pause, but this is never really addressed). Is violence a legitimate means for the Christian to resist evil being done in the name of Christ (though I don’t think that Joseph actually ever mentions or alludes to Jesus in the game if I remember correctly). Under what circumstances? Can a cult like this really be taken down by violence, when the expectation of violence and aggression from external sources feeds directly into their eschatological expectations?

Instead, we are treated with a two-dimensional bad guy, a stereotype onto which the elements of religiosity have been crudely grafted. Joseph Seed is made to look distinctly like David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, complete with 90’s-style yellow-tinted aviator glasses. He quotes (paraphrases, really) the Book of Revelations, but never mentions any other part of the Bible and never makes any concrete theological assertion–only claiming that the end is coming and people must repent and be cleansed of their sin. By sin, he apparently means the extra-biblical “seven deadlies.” One minor caveat to this–the signboard of the church in Fall’s End (the one non-Eden’s Gate church in the game) does have a reference to a verse (but not the text of the verse) in Jeremiah that warns to beware of false prophets.

The game sends you on a blood-soaked path of murderous resistance to Eden’s Gate without sufficient self-awarness to question what that really means, underlining it only with a repeated chorus of “America, Fuck Yeah!” The other characters in the story are likewise various survivalist and prepper stereotypes that bleed into a muddy morass that deprives the game of any real humanity.

And the cultists aren’t really even that convincing. Turns out, it’s drugs, not beliefs, that create the fanaticism of the “PEGgies,” as the game calls them. The enemies are dehumanized and the bodies in your wake only a tally of progress. This may be lamentably American, and perhaps that disturbed me most about the game (kudos to the writers and designers for that if it was intentional and not a sad symptom of our culture).

If you came to this post looking for a review of what gameplay is like, I’ll have to direct you elsewhere, as there are already a plethora of reviews to handle that. But I will admit that, if you like the previous Far Cry games, you will enjoy playing Far Cry 5. It’s the “theme-park” experience to be expected in this line of games and it does have a humor and gameplay style deep enough to entertain. I played through the entire campaign and–so long as I didn’t think about it too much–enjoyed it.

But I finished the game disappointed, as is common when some narrative promises us great ideas and interesting story in the previews but fails to adequately exploit and explore those ideas in the actual doing of the thing. In my struggle to ideologically bolster the lackluster storytelling, I even watched (yesterday) the half-hour movie teaser that Ubisoft made for the game (it’s on Amazon Video). This did nothing for me (though I did like the one they put out for The Division some time back).

And maybe that’s the greatest commentary about current culture to get from this game, whether the creators made the commentary intentionally or just happen to magnify this running theme. And that’s the idea that much of American Christianity is really only the cultural stylings of the faith appended to ideas that may be “American” but almost certainly aren’t Christian–the idea that Christianity is a style of doing things rather than a substantive approach to existence. Then again, that could be a concern of mine fully projected onto the game in a desperate attempt to create some meaning where I could find none.

That ultimate emptiness and sense of unfulfilment was all that remained after I finished the game and when I think back on the hours I spent playing it–a great opportunity lost by the writers, either because they did not understand the subject matter well enough to intelligently comment on it while coopting the trappings for the style of their game or because they opted not to make any particular commentary for fear of hurting sales. That’s understandable in a commercial sense, and money often influences all forms of art. But I can’t help but feel that it’s a cop-out anyway.

So, for the TL;DR (I know, it should be at the beginning, not the end): Far Cry 5, a game to play for mindless fun and a few cheap laughs, but don’t expect any depth. There is no there there.

Pilgrimage, Day 10: Life and Death

For the previous entry, click here.

In contrast to our evening at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre yesterday evening, we started our morning at Beit Sahour, a Palestinian town near Bethlehem where the angels are said to have appeared to the shepherds and announced the birth of Jesus. The site we visited in particular is a Franciscan chapel (the Franciscans are the custodians of most of the Christian holy sites that are not co-governed by multiple Christian denominations) built near the ruins of a Byzantine church.

It’s impossible to locate the site of the angels’ appearance with any certainty, of course, and the nearby Israeli settlement of Har Homa is rapidly expanding into the few actual fields remaining in the area.

Dr. Beck took this time to speak to us about the popular misunderstanding of the location of Jesus’s birth. I had known that Jesus was more likely born in a cave than the barn-like structure often depicted, but this talk filled in many details. First of all, a manger is not a building, but a device for storing food or water for animals. This made perfect sense to me; “manger” is French for “to eat.”

I hear it often mentioned (and have said myself) that there’s a translation error naming Jesus and Joseph as carpenters, because there are few trees in Israel. That’s true in its point: there are very many trees in Israel, but few of a type and size that would yield construction-grade wood for structures. This is one reason the remains of so many Biblical sites can be seen today–they were built in stone. Wooden barns like we tend to think of in the U.S. (or parts of Europe) simply were not a thing for the Israelites. You may recall that David formed an alliance with the king of Tyre that involved the delivery of the “cedars of Lebanon” for the construction of his palace (and later the Temple). But I digress.

There were two types of mangers commonly used in 1st Century Israel. The first, made of stone, was for holding water. The second, made of wood, was for holding barley and other grains used to feed the sheep raised by the families in the vicinity of Bethlehem (and elsewhere across Judea). Some mangers were “hybrids”, a stone base with a wooden fixture that could be added to the top to convert from water storage to food storage and back again. It’s likely that Jesus was placed in something like this after his birth. But let’s go back to that cave thing:

As it turns out, many homes built in the south of Israel (Judea proper, we might say), were constructed over a cave–the cave was used for storage or, more often, for the stabling of the animals husbanded by the family. This protected the sheep or cows from heat and cold as well as predators when they were not out grazing. It provided the added benefit of giving some heat to the home above, as living creatures huddled in a small area tend to generate lots of heat.

So, Mary likely gave birth to Jesus in a cave under the home of a relative–that’s where the animals would be and that’s where a manger would be in which a baby could be lain. But what about that inn?

As it turns out, this is really a mistranslation. Judean homes of common people in the 1st Century were usually constructed with one central room and a narrow hallway-like second chamber that was mostly partitioned off from the main room and which was used for guests to sleep in. The (Greek) word used in Luke can sometimes mean inn, but it more often is used to signify this guest room. Elsewhere in that Gospel, the Luke author uses the more common word for a traveler’s hotel, so we know that that word is in his vocabulary. It’s most likely, then, that Luke is telling us that Mary and Joseph’s relatives claimed to have no guest room for them (I note that my NIV translation uses “no guest room” rather than the oft-cited “no room at the inn.”

After Beit Sahour, we went into Bethlehem proper. Like Beit Sahour, Bethlehem is in Palestine, which means we traveled through checkpoints and beyond the massive security wall between official Israel and the territories it occupies. We interacted with a number of Palestinian Christians over the course of the day and found the Palestinian people, regardless of their faith, to be kind and hospitable.

In Bethlehem, we visited the Church of the Nativity. In 614 CE, the Persians invaded the area that is now Israel. Wherever they found them, the invaders destroyed Christian churches, of which there were many. Constantine’s mother, Helena, built the early Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Ascension (on the Mount of Olives) and the Church of the Nativity. The Byzantines built many more. Of all of them, the Church of the Nativity was the only one to be spared. Why?

The three wise men. As you likely remember, the “wise men” were magi. Magi (s. magos) is the origin of the words “magic” and “magician”, just as “wise man” is the origin of the word “wizard” (though in a slightly more roundabout way. The magi were Zoroastrians, probably priests of the religion in Persia at the time and had a reputation for mystical arts–astronomy and astrology among them. This jibes with the idea of the three magi following a star to find Jesus despite his being in a faraway place.

Anyway, in 614, the Church of the Nativity had a mosaic above the entrance depicting Persian holy men. When the invaders saw this, they decided not to destroy the church out of respect for their earlier brethren. St. Helena’s version of the church had not lasted until 614; the church had been destroyed in the Samaritan Revolts of the early 6th Century and then rebuilt under Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in 565.

We were able to travel into the cave–complete with manger–where Jesus is said to have been born. Again, we can’t be sure of the specific location, but the tradition from very early on (Justin Martyr visited as a pilgrim sometime around 100 CE) that the cave is located in the area carries great weight for the general locality.

We switched gears after that and visited the Herodium, the massive fortress palace built by Herod the Great (and site of his tomb). The engineering marvels there rival Caesarea Maritima: Herod didn’t think the mountain (read: large hill) on which he wanted to build the structure was big enough, so he took the top off of a neighboring mountain/hill to build his site higher (and to provide a “skirt” of fill dirt around the outside of the main palace/fortress for additional strength). The Herodium proper was a circular fortress five stories high with a tower seven stories high; the interior contained a Roman-style hot bath, a garden open to the sky and surrounded by column-lined porches, massive cisterns and a marble staircase leading inside. On the hill below the fortress was a Greco-Roman-style theatre (later filled in when Herod built his tomb). At the base, a second palace for guests and a swimming pool. Water had to be brought about three-and-a-half miles (past farmer’s fields) to supply the pool.

The Herodium was meant to be seen from Jerusalem–another sign of Herod’s grandeur and dominance. When Jesus told the Disciples on the Mount of Olives that they could command a mountain to through itself into the sea were they to pray with enough faith, he was likely pointing at the Herodium–a mountain that had already moved and that was within eyesight of the Dead Sea (which tradition held was the proper place to dispose of pagan and unholy things).

As magnificent as the Herodium was (and its ruins remain impressive, though no where as near as the complete building would be, even in our own time), its bookends easily overshadowed it. Being in the area where the Savior incarnated into this world carries a certain gravitas, as one would suspect. And our late-afternoon experience moved nearly as much.

We visited the Tent of Nations, winner of this past year’s World Methodist Peace award. The Tent of Nations (whose motto carved in an entrance stone is the picture on this post) is the result of the unshakeable faith of the Nassar family. The 100-acre plot in the West Bank known as Daher’s Vineyard (after family patriarch Daher Nassar) was first registered to the Nassar family under the Ottoman Empire (when few people bothered to register their land because doing so required the payment of exorbitant taxes). The family maintained the land’s registration under the British Mandate, the nation of Jordan, and eventually under Israel.

In 1991, the Israeli government attempted to confiscate Daher’s Vineyard as “state land.” Despite the Nassers’ ability to demonstrate a clear chain of title and right of ownership, they remain to this day engaged in a lawsuit with the Israeli state in the Israeli military courts (which handle matters in occupied territory such as the West Bank). The Israeli government has tried to take the land through misuse of legal process, through purchase (the details of which mimic the tale of Naaman’s Vineyard quite closely), and through the surrounding of the land with five Israeli settlements. Those settlers have attempted to oust the Nassers from their land through the threat of violence, through general harassment, and through the destruction of crop trees, the Nassers’ livelihood (and which take at least two years and sometimes as many as ten to replace through the planting and raising to fruition of a replacement).

The Nassers are Palestinian Christians. Their response to repeated oppression is the kind that only faith can engender. First, they decided that they would eschew all violence in any response, because violence only begets violence and they intend to love even their enemies. Second, they refuses to think of themselves as victims. Third, they refused to leave.

This required them to find a fourth way, one heavily inspired by their belief in Jesus. The first tenet is that they “refuse to be enemies.” The second is that they use avoid violence through creativity and pursuit of justice in the courts. Israel has prevented any utilities from being provided to the farm, so the Nassers have built large raincatching systems and cisterns to store water for both irrigation and domestic use. They had no power, so they set up solar panels to provide electricity where needed. The Israeli government refuses to issue them permits to build new buildings on the ground, so they have built into the caves on the property to provide additional housing, storage rooms, and spaces for their programs.

If such a noble and peaceful defiance of oppressive power is not enough, the Nassers turned Daher’s Vineyard into the “Tent of Nations,” supporting cross-cultural discussion between Jews, Muslims and Christians; providing summer programs for children to learn about recycling, sustainable farming, and caring for Creation in ways that help them to feel self-empowered and to make the choice to resist oppression through creative solutions rather than violence; and to generally be that “City on a Hill” that both inspires and instructs others so that they might move to a peaceful dialogue and respect for one another than eventually leads to some resolution of the tragic conflict between (some) Palestinians and (largely) the Israeli government.

I cannot say enough about how inspired I was in the two hours we spent at Daher’s Vineyard. Their website is http://www.tentofnations.org. I invite you to go learn more about them, consider donating for the planting of additional trees in the vineyard (which both help strengthen their claim to the land under Israeli law and provide support for the family and the programs run by Tent of Nations), or even consider volunteering to help with harvest and/or programs. They have a place for you to stay on site and provide room and board to their volunteers, who they are happy to take for–as they told us–“a day or a year.”

For the next entry, click here.

The End of Violence, Part IV: An Argument

For the previous post in this series, click here.

As promised, I’m going to humbly offer here my own views as to the appropriate relationship between the Christian and violence. The best way to begin, I think, is to start with a few statements based upon the previous posts in this series (or from scripture not discussed) and which all readers could (I hope) agree upon. Following these statements are some questions raised by the previous analysis that represent issues that must be resolved.

First: When it has a chance of success, a non-violent approach is morally superior to a violent approach.

Second: Jesus never explicitly commands his followers not to do violence.

Third: Jesus wants us to love even our enemies.

Q: If some violence is acceptable, when and how much?

 Q: Does loving our enemies (or our friends, for that matter) necessarily mean punishing those who commit injustice?

Q: How do we resolve the tension that results when we are called to love both those who would do harm and those they target as victims?

The three statements and three questions give us a good foundation to build upon before we delve into the gray area. Here’s how we begin:

Precept 1: The Christian should, to the extent possible, avoid using violence.

Violence solves problems, yes, but it typically creates more problems than it solves. Thus, Matthew 26:52, “They who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

As a student of Renaissance history, I often think of the Wars of the Roses or the vendettas fought amongst the Italian nobility during the Quattrocento. One act of violence creates a need to “get justice” or “get even” or “punish wrongdoers.” We are left with a century of bloody conflicts, each subsequent engagement arising out of those fought before it. I’m not sure that any other century is different.

Machiavelli, writing about that time, offers the pragmatic advice in The Prince that, when one moves against one’s enemies, one ought to destroy every remnant, every vestige of the enemy and his friends and relations so that none is left to seek reprisal. In the struggle for power, as was the status quo in Machiavelli’s Italy, this is sound advice. But it also reflects the extremity to which violence must be used to prevent further violence.

We ought to realize that violence, even if used for just purposes, is a result of the fallenness of humanity. Were everyone to love his neighbor as himself, there would be no need for violence. Thus, while an individual act of violence may not be a particular sin, the use of violence is always the participation in the corporate sin of humanity. Because of this, it must be used only as a last resort and should be employed only with a since of sorrow that a better outcome could not be achieved.

Precept 2: Violence should only be used to prevent or stop violent injustice against a person, not after the fact. The need for violence must be immediate.

If there’s time to think of alternative solutions, there’s time to seek a non-violent resolution to a problem. On the other hand, if immediate action is required, however, the time for seeking de-escalation of the conflict has been lost. This precept helps us to comply with Precept 1.

Let’s also think of the collateral consequences here. One of the questions posed above was how we can balance loving victims and wrongdoers. When immediate action is not necessary, we can attempt to work on loving solutions for both parties. Yes, this may be punishment for a wrongdoer, but I leave that an open question for another series of posts. When immediate action is necessary to preserve life and limb, it seems just to intervene against the wrongdoer to protect the innocent. Not our first choice given the requirement to love even our enemies, but the choice to do something non-violent has been taken from us when immediate responsive violence becomes necessary.

This also means that we do not use violence to punish wrongdoers when there is no immediate threat. Violent punishment has largely been shown to be ineffective at deterring future offense (look at 18th Century England, where the death penalty was handed out like it was about to be outlawed). More important, punishment is more about the punisher and not the punishee. When we seek violent retribution for wrongs done to us or others, we are willingly participating in the fallenness that perpetuates violence in the world. “Vengeance is mine…sayeth the Lord” (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19). Violence inflicted as punishment cannot restore to wholeness the party injured by a crime. Because only God is truly just, we ought to leave the meting out of retributive punishment to God. I’m not saying we should never punish wrongdoers; however, violently punishing them is nothing but retribution.

This also means that violence should not be employed to protect property—only people. I’d like to avoid (for now) debates about Jesus’ views on personal property and ownership. Without going into that, I think that we can agree that Jesus’ teachings and life made clear that he valued human life over any property rights he believes in (whatever those may be).

In Texas, where I live, the law explicitly allows justified use of force for the protection of property in specific circumstances. But the law and morality should not be confused—they are separate entities with separate goals and concerns, only sometimes aligned.

Precept 3: Only the necessary amount of violence ought to be used.

To the extent that we can avoid doing more harm than necessary, we should. This is an aspect of loving our enemies. Deadly force ought not to be used if less-than-deadly force could reasonably suffice. The amount of violence we use ought to be scaled to the injustice or violence we seek to prevent. This, perhaps, is what we should take away from Jesus’ statement about turning the other cheek—violence is not the answer to offense, even if violent, that does not really threaten life or limb.

I need to hedge and be absolutely clear that, while a solid precept from a philosophical/theological standpoint, strict adherence to this precept is extremely difficult in practice. When we apply force—especially deadly force—against another person, we have little surety in the ultimate results of the force. There’s plenty of second-guessing to be done in the aftermath of a violent engagement (Would fewer shots fired have been sufficient? Could I have done something differently to stop the attacker and injure him less?), but split-second decisions must be made in a fight and survival is on the line, so the objectively best choices may not be made in the moment.

I recently heard someone say, “if the bad guy is worth shooting once, he’s worth shooting five times.” This is tactically correct—while the human body is a frail thing and a single wound from a firearm may kill a person in a relatively short amount of time, the body is also highly resistant over the short term and a single shot from a weapon the likes of which a civilian would be wielding is unlikely to immediately physically stop the attacker (though it might psychologically). Since the goal of morally-applied violence is to stop the attacker as soon as possible, a high amount of force quickly applied may be necessary, making it less likely that the attacker will survive.

As another complicating factor, applying a lesser degree of force is often accompanied by a greater degree of risk of injury to ourselves. Having studied techniques of unarmed combat, I know (technically) how to defend and disarm someone with a knife. But the same training has made clear that, when fighting a person with a knife, you will get cut, and even expert fighters (which I do not claim to be) can be killed in a knife-fight because of bad luck. If knives come out and I have reasonable tactical distance from the threat, I’d rather be behind a gun. I’m not a big guy by any means, and there are plenty of people in this world with whom I’d prefer not to go toe-to-toe unless forced and, if I’ve decided that violence is morally justified, I’m going to fight to win. A disparity in force with my opponent means the stakes of the violence may be raised higher than I would have voluntarily raised them and I must respond in kind.

Where we can, though, we ought to mitigate the results of our violence to the extent possible. After the threat is over, we ought to provide all the medical attention we can to the injured parties—including and perhaps especially any wounded attacker(s). Again, this is a matter of loving our neighbors.

Precept 4: A Christian who is prepared to do violence must make efforts in the world to prevent the necessity of violence.

If, as I do, you stand willing to do violence to other human beings to protect the innocent, you must recognize some responsibility for participation in culture and human nature that permits violence. Recognizing that, you ought to make efforts to proactively prevent the causes of violence where possible.

By this, I mean actively trying to make the world a better place. Of course, the Christian is called to this anyhow; we are called to show mercy and love justice, so we ought to (non-violently) pursue justice for the oppressed where we can, and we ought to focus on giving wrongdoers the chance to atone and reintegrate into society rather than focusing on punishing them.

This means showing kindness and respect to others—especially those with who you disagree, helping the poor to escape poverty, helping to improve unjust systems and institutions, and showing the love of Christ to our neighbors.

The person willing to do violence ought not to be quick of temper and ought to be ready to forgive offenses—otherwise our readiness to do violence turns to definitely destructive and sinful ends. We ought to hope that we never have to do violence to another person, even if we devote time, talent and money to preparing for the possibility. We must recognize that the proper response to violence is not always more violence.

If we are prepared to do violence, we Christians must be more prepared to refrain from doing violence.

Conclusion

I’d like to summarize my argument thus: We ought to view violence itself as an evil, but one that may be occasionally be used to prevent greater evil. While Christ does not explicitly command us not to do violence, it is clear that love ought to prevail wherever it can. Violence should be employed only reluctantly and with sorrow for the alternative resolutions that have been lost, even if they have been lost through the will of someone other than ourselves. Most of all, we ought to do everything that we can to prevent violence, both in our immediate situation and in the world at large.

I think I probably have one more post on this topic to do, to clean up a few loose ends and address a few things that I realize I’ve left out (what about the Ten Commandments!). More to come.

 

 

 

The End of Violence, Part III: Re-examining Jesus and Violence

For the previous post in this series, click here.

To be fair, there are several arguments (other than the one about the swords) given for the position that Jesus advocated for non-violence where possible but never took the position that violence was categorically impermissible.

An article on RealClearReligion.com by Jeffrey Mann organizes some of these arguments, so I’m going to make reference to it (from April 30th, 2014, available at: http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2014/04/30/the_myth_of_a_non-violent_jesus.html).

Mann makes a few good arguments, I think. In the original Greek, the word used in Jesus’ statement about turning the other cheek refers to an open-handed strike—an act of humiliation rather than of serious threat. For Mann, the statement does not preclude a permission to defend oneself. Mann also argues that the example of Jesus going to his death without fighting against it should not be viewed as the example for all people in all scenarios.

I want to agree with the second argument, but I have to acknowledge that we get into tricky territory when we start to say “follow Jesus in this, but not in this.” That difficulty, however, is not sufficient to say that the argument itself is incorrect.

Mann also brings up the point that, when we’re talking about the use of violence to protect others, there is a natural tension between loving the person against whom we might use violence and loving those who we seek to protect. I want to acknowledge that, but I want to argue against his statement (drawn from C.S. Lewis) that failing to punish criminals is a failure to love our neighbors. Punishment occurs when there is no immediate threat; that is a very different thing than using violence to stop an immediate danger to life and limb. I’ll talk about my views on justice in the legal system in other posts, but suffice to say for now that I believe that our punishment of criminals is more about us than them, and I stand against the death penalty as a punishment.

Mann asks the question, “Should we simply forgive them [our enemies] when they do awful things? This clearly cannot be what Jesus intended.” And yet, Jesus forgives those who persecute and kill him. I think that Jesus would have us attempt to love both victim and offender—to help restore the victim to wholeness (to the extent that we can) and help the offender to not offend again. We are called, ultimately, not to judgment but to healing. Unfortunately, people do not always give us the option to help them and sometimes wholeheartedly resist our attempts to love them.

There is also the passage in which Jesus takes a whip to the moneylenders in the temple. (John 2:15). It’s hard to call that a non-violent event; it’s even premeditated considering that we’re told that Jesus fashions the whip himself. On the other hand, the other Gospels make no mention of a whip in the same event, the word for “drove” is the same root as when Jesus “drives” demons out of the possessed and, after all, John is the most metaphorical and least literal of the Gospels.

Origen, the only church father to have commented on this passage in the first three centuries of the Church, reads it in purely a spiritual rather than a literal light. And, nowhere is it stated that Jesus even swings the whip at people, much less that he strikes anyone. For a great commentary on John 2:15, see “Jesus, the Whip, and Justifying Violence” by Nathan W. O-Halloran, SJ on The Jesuit Post blog on Patheos.com (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thejesuitpost/2015/03/jesus-the-whip-and-justifying-violence/).

Where I strongly disagree with Mann is in his use of the Old Testament scriptures as an argument for the permissibility of violence. I’m sure, dear Reader, that you have read my posts on Ambiguity in Scripture and therefore already know my thoughts on this matter. I just don’t think that God did authorize the slaughtering of innocents for the benefit of Israel. I have less trouble with the idea of defensive actions fought by the Isrealites, but the question of whether such behavior is acceptable under Jesus’ New Covenant stands.

Before I leave Mr. Mann aside, I do want to accentuate his excellent point about the theological danger of heaping judgment upon professional or volunteer soldiers if one believes that Jesus would never tolerate any violence under any circumstance. Jesus also told us that “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Soldiers end up in often horrifying circumstances not of their own choosing, being asked to give all to do things that others won’t do so that those same others don’t have to.

The soldiers I know, especially those who have seen combat, do not want to kill people but are willing to do so to perform their duty and to protect their brothers and sisters in arms. They have a tremendous respect for the enemy who faces them in open combat. They have a conviction of belief that makes them ready to shed blood for what they hold dear. That is a powerful thing, and to be respected.

On a different note, let us also not forget that Jesus also has hard—and sometimes downright terrifying—statements as well. He tells us that he has “not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). His pronouncements about the fate of the wicked often seem to be uncompromising, and he is unafraid to speak of the way that the world will hate those who follow him. Some of this is likely intended to be metaphorical, to be sure, but we cannot simply write off the apocalyptic sayings of Jesus.

Maybe I’m simply not capable of unambiguously dealing with an issue of importance. Or maybe it’s that every issue of importance remains ambiguous to some degree or another. Either way, we again end up with great ambiguity with the question of violence.

In the last (probably) post in this short series (here), I’ll try to offer a nuanced and workable approach that, I hope, seeks to follow Jesus intentionally and to the fullest extent possible while also accounting for the exigencies and realities of a fallen world.

The End of Violence, Part II: Jesus and Just War

For the previous post in this series, click here.

Jesus is pretty clear about violence, it seems. We are to “turn the other cheek” to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us” and to “love our neighbors.”

The “sheepdog” community (those tactically-trained civilians who see it as their duty to protect the unarmed masses from threats—we’ll talk more about this later) often likes to refer to Luke 22:36, where Jesus tells the disciples, “And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one…” as justification for the carrying of weapons and use of defensive force. This, I think, takes the comment out of context. Just two lines later (Luke 22:38), the disciples bring Jesus two swords and he says “that is enough.” Something non-literal, something symbolic is taking place here.

Some theologians point to the passage as Jesus ensuring that a prophecy is fulfilled, without any real intention that the disciples take up arms. Indeed, Jesus has up to this point defied the expectations of those awaiting the Messiah and avoided leading an armed rebellion against Roman overlords.

The authors of the New Bible Commentary: Revised Third Edition go even further, comparing the statement with previous times Jesus has sent the disciples out with nothing—especially not swords—and they had been provided for without fail. The statement “That is enough,” is Jesus ending a conversation the disciples have failed to understand rather than commenting on the number of swords he has been brought.

This jibes well with the events in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus rebukes Peter for cutting the ear off of one of the men who comes to arrest Jesus, healing the man and warning that “they who take the sword shall perish by the sword”—violence begets violence (Matthew 26:52).

The entire thrust of Jesus’ ministry makes clear that Jesus would have us love, and that his conception of love does not brook violence, right?

I think that we can definitely say that Jesus tells us (and experience bears this out) that violence is never a good solution to a problem. But does that mean that the Christian should never use violence as a last resort?

An example of the other side of the coin can be found in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, where the main character’s civics teacher, a military veteran himself, retorts to a student who complains that “violence never solves anything” to “tell that to the Carthaginians!” (During the Punic Wars the Romans completely devastated the Carthaginians so that they could never again be a competing world power against the Republic.)

It is true; violence does solve problems. A person you’ve beaten into submission or killed is no longer someone you have to argue with (at least not directly). But that doesn’t mean that violence is ever a good solution. Still, the exchange in Starship Troopers does, I think, lay bare the purpose of violence—to end a conflict that cannot be ended through peace, agreement and reason. Let’s explore whether that end can ever be legitimate in light of Jesus’ example.

I’d like to talk about Just War Theory or Doctrine. Just War Theory (within Christianity) has two primary concerns: when it is just to go to war (or to use violence) and how war must be ethically conducted (how violence may permissibly be used). In essence, this is the same inquiry I’m making in these posts, but I’d like to point out some places where I disagree with the commonly propounded aspects of the doctrine.

Both Augustine and Aquinas believed that war could only be justified by a proper governmental institution. To them, this was a safeguard that the aim of a war complied with the greater good of the people. Unfortunately, I think there is a greater tendency for violence authorized by the state to be unjust than to be just. In many cases, the desire for the highest degree of national security and the desire to act ethically are diametrically opposed. To make the state the arbiter of when war is just or not implies that the actor contributes to the righteousness of the thing at least as much as intention.

I also disagree with doctrines of Just War that assert that the punishment of a guilty party is sufficient cause for war (see below) or that a preventative war might be permissible as just. One of the conclusions that I’ll ultimately arrive at is that violence must be used only to prevent an immediate threat. A peremptory strike may obviate the possibility of attempts at peaceful resolutions.

Regarding the conduct of war, experience shows that no war is just in its conduct. Even in the best of circumstances and the noblest of intents, there is death, suffering, exploitation, humiliation, fear and a whole host of other undesirable ripple effects. These are things that may be necessary, but should never be called just. Can war be conducted ethically? Yes, particularly on the individual level. In the greater scheme of things, I’m not so sure.

On the subject of justice, my reading of history seems to indicate that most wars simply set things up for the reasoning of the next war. Consider the American Revolution and the War of 1812, the first World War and the second, with the Treaty of Versailles placing Germany in such a position as to allow the rise of one like Hitler. Shouldn’t a just war result in lasting peace? I’m not sure that there’s ever been such a thing.

That said, I don’t want to say that wars are never necessary or that they never accomplish some good. Certainly, Hitler and the Third Reich needed to be stopped because greater suffering would have resulted from their victory than from fighting them, steep as the cost was. Even less do I want to say that soldiers are evil, or even necessarily wrong, in the professional practice of violence. I hope that this will become clear as these posts continue.

So, point and counterpoint—Jesus tells us to avoid violence, but World War II gives us a seeming example of when violence proved necessary. And here’s the crux of this whole issue: we Christians want (or at least ought to want) to love as fully and deeply as Jesus did and to avoid violence, but sometimes violence seems like the best of alternatives. How do we resolve that discrepancy?

For the next post in this series, click here.

The End of Violence, Part I: Introduction

This Saturday, I’m going to a combined defensive pistol and defensive carbine class. It’s not my first tactical shooting class, and I’ve in the past been an NRA Pistol Instructor and a Texas Concealed Handgun Instructor. Regardless, the occasion seems a good one on which to share some of my thoughts about violence given my Christian faith.

This is not an easy subject and, while I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying various martial arts—krav maga, karate, sport fencing, historical European martial arts (swordplay, knife/dagger fighting and wrestling, mostly) and shooting—I can’t say that I’ve ever been in a real fight. As such, I simply don’t have access to the experience of either the event itself or the psychological aftermath. I invite those with such experience to comment on this series; I’m going to attempt to restrict myself to the abstract and philosophical side of things.

As a person of staunchly moderate political leanings and progressive theological positions, I’ve had the rare opportunity to be considered both conservative and liberal. Coming from one of the most diverse counties in the U.S. and being a theatre person with friends holding a diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities, moving to College Station put me solidly in the liberal minority, at least among the studentry (I nevertheless had no problem finding likeminded people—Texas A&M is a big school, after all). Then, going to Austin for graduate school, I suddenly found myself to be considered a conservative by my peers.

When many of my fellow students of medieval and renaissance literature discovered that I had a license to carry a concealed handgun, they suddenly had this idea that I had fashioned myself a vigilante; that I wanted to live in the Old West and have a shootout at high-noon; that I had naively decided that combat would be fun (or evilly decided that hurting other people could be enjoyable). When I explained myself, however, I often found them surprised.

I told them that I preferred to carry—legally, and not all of the time (campus carry was illegal back then, of course)— a firearm that I had trained seriously with because that way I knew that I would walk away from a violent confrontation (or, I at least had a good chance of doing so) and that I could try every non-violent dispute resolution technique I could think of rather than responding out of fear. Indeed, as a Resident Advisor at Texas A&M I had been trained in conflict de-escalation, and Texas requires similar training as part of the concealed handgun license coursework. I am convinced that there is no more valuable skill that a person may learn—whosoever they may be—than how to communicate peaceably, respectfully, empathetically and constructively with others, even if that results only in an agreement to disagree. In the broader scheme, more training in the world in how to relate and talk to people with competing interests would save more lives than all the firearms training in the world.

That was certainly my experience the only time I ever came even remotely close to drawing my weapon when carrying it. This was, conveniently, in Austin. K and I were living in an apartment on the southwest side in a suburban area well away from campus. Nevertheless, at about 2:30 in the morning one night, some undergrads in the next building over were blaring music, drinking heavily, and throwing beer bottles into the parking lot from their third floor balcony.

Admittedly, I am a very grumpy person when disturbed from my slumber. I got up, put some clothes on, and holstered my pistol in concealed holster just in case. The first move was mine, and I immediately made a mistake: upon getting close to their building I yelled up at them to turn the music down, using no expletives but not in the friendliest of voices. Immediately, three men, all very inebriated, ran down the stairs to confront me. I stood my ground but tried to backtrack, apologizing for yelling and explaining that I wanted to come ask them to turn the music down and stop throwing beer bottles rather than just calling the police.

They responded with threats. I kept my hands up and palms toward them in a non-threatening manner (also because it happened to be a good defensive position, just in case), but I also made clear that I was not intimidated. I repeated my request matter-of-factly, despite their threats at my mention of the police (they were happy to remind me that they outnumbered me, despite the fact that they were all practically falling over on their own and any collaboration between them was certainly out of the question). In the end, it became clear, perhaps as it should have been from the beginning, that I could not reason with them. I cautiously removed myself from the situation, returned to my apartment and called the police. The next day, I reported the confrontation (although not my possession of a firearm, which was immaterial as it was never produced) to the apartment management. The offending tenants were evicted for threatening fellow residents—a clear violation of the Texas Apartment Association form lease.

I’d like to think that, despite my rough start, the confrontation went about as well as I could have hoped for—I walked away unscathed and without the regret and what-ifs what would have attached if I had injured someone else—justifiably or not.

But the point of this post is not to talk about me (although I hope the long introduction has provided some background to my own biases and experience). Let’s talk about weapons, violence and Christianity. We’ll start in the next post.