June 20, 2014
A Roman Catholic priest in Phoenix was killed when a burglar broke into his church, wrestled a gun away from a fellow priest, and shot him.
This caused a predictable flurry of tut-tutting by those who think priests shouldn't own guns. Veteran Chicago anti-gunner Fr. Michael Pfleger argued "I don't think a priest or a pastor should be in ownership of a gun. I just think it sends a tremendously wrong message. If we're supposed to be people who preach a gospel of peace of love and of trusting God, is the gun then a just in case God isn't God," Pfleger said.
The syntax utilized in that sentence isn't going to make anyone forget St. Augustine or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but it expresses, however clumsily, the notion that Christians should trust entirely in divine protection:
"Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." Ephesians 6:11
Certainly, if you're up against the devil, that trusty 1911 will not be up to the job. But what about more terrestrial foes? Jesus himself alluded to the need for material means of personal security:
"And he said unto them, When I sent you forth without purse, and wallet, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing. And he said unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a wallet; and he that hath none, let him sell his cloak, and buy a sword." Luke 22:35-36
Jesus didn't send the apostles out to conquer with the sword, but he recognized there were times they might need to defend themselves with one. Their goal was to bring the good news of eternal life, but that didn't mean idly giving up their own lives.
The Roman Catholic Church has a decidedly mixed record on this point. While the current pontiff opted out of using the armored Popemobile with the jaunty observation that he didn't have much time left anyway, Popes Urban II, Alexander VI and Julius II resorted to the sword early and often.
There are many explicitly pacifistic Christian denominations, like the Mennonites and Quakers, and their scriptural interpretations deserve respect. If their peaceable habits were adopted everywhere, the world would be a much better place.
But today, Christians are under attack as never before in godforsaken hellholes like Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan. Those doing the attacking are most notoriously Muslim, but Christians have been oppressed in atheistic nations like China, North Korea and Vietnam, too. Many will cite the old maxim that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," but Christianity did a lot of expanding by letting other people enjoy martyrdom.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Phoenix pointed out that priests have the same right to own guns as any other citizen. Given the surroundings they often work in, they have the same need for one or even more. Trusting in the armor of God is very praiseworthy, but sometimes He may want you to bring backup.