There is a strange contradiction at work in the American evangelical soul. I see it emerge every time there’s a discussion about either gun control or public protest. And as one who has promoted the benefits of strict gun control and who has been involved in my fair share of public protests, I have heard both of these seemingly opposing arguments many times.
FIRST, THERE’S THE RIGHT-TO-BEAR-ARMS AMERICAN
When the topic of gun control comes up, some evangelicals are quick to defend the 2nd Amendment, saying that banning firearms from law-abiding citizens would only give the state the advantage to rule over and dominate them. In claiming this, they echo the American Founding generation’s deep mistrust of governments and their standing armies.
Having just freed themselves from English colonial rule, many Founders believed that central governments simply couldn’t be trusted not to oppress the people. They figured if they could limit the new American government from having a standing army, the chances of an oppressive regime emerging to dominate their citizens would be reduced.
But what if a foreign adversary were to invade? How would America defend itself without a standing army? Simple. Guarantee the citizens the right to bear arms and to organize into a “well-regulated militia” whenever such an emergency arose.
As a non-American, it sounds pretty dicey to me.
And even some of the Founders considered it risky. Alexander Hamilton thought the idea was nuts. And as we know America never really went for it entirely because they do have a centrally controlled standing army.
But, 2nd Amendment champions don’t care. The right of the citizens to bear arms ensures that should any tyrant take the reins of government, the citizens can rise up and fight for their freedom.
THEN THERE’S THE SUBMIT-TO-YOUR-AUTHORITIES AMERICAN
Often times, the same Americans who insist on the right to bear arms in case they need to overthrow a tyrant in the White House, will condemn any form of public protest on the basis of Romans 13.
This is the passage in which Paul calls on the Jewish Christians in Rome to submit to the governing authorities of the day. He counsels them against withholding taxes or from becoming involved in any anti-Roman protests through sympathy with Palestinian Jewish nationalism.
In fact, he goes so far as to say, “…whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Rom 13:2)
On the basis of this passage, many American evangelicals will say that any form of anti-government protest is condemned by Scripture. We are instructed, they will say, to submit to government authorities and live at peace with our rulers.
Furthermore, they will read similar passages like 1Peter 2:13-25 and argue that any protest against any authorities (president, police, parents and even pastors) is rebellion and therefore to be condemned. They readily shares verses like 1Pet 2:17: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”
I hear this argument made when I argue for a change in immigration policy or support protesters at Standing Rock or participate in the Women’s March or express a negative opinion about the US President. Submit, Mike! That is your Christian duty.
SO, HOW DOES THAT WORK?
How is it possible to advocate, on the one hand, for the right to bear arms in the eventuality of needing to overthrow a tyrannical government, while on the other, to argue that we should always honor the emperor?
I’d like to suggest that you can’t. And I’d like to suggest that those who defend their freedom to overthrow tyrants while also trying to quell political dissent are being disingenuous.
Firstly, I don’t think anyone is fooled that 2nd Amendment advocates are concerned about the possibility of forming a militia to overthrow any tyrants. We know their argument about their rights runs more deeply to a concern about the imposition of controls over the autonomy of the individual.
And secondly, they often only quote Romans 13 and 1Peter 2 to quell political dissent when they don’t like the political position of the dissenters.
Both Paul and Peter were writing under the brutal dictatorship of the Roman emperor, Nero. Telling their churches to resist political dissent would be like a North Korean pastor today telling his underground church not to stir up trouble again Kim Jong Un. It makes perfect sense.
Paul’s directions in Romans 13 are for Jewish Christians to refrain from joining a nationalistic movement against Rome. I don’t think he’s offering a universal manifesto on church-state relations.
That said, I’m not suggesting we simply ignore Romans 13:1-7. I think we can agree with Paul that God’s hand is at work in the establishment of all governing authorities, and that believers should, insofar as it is possible, live in peace, respecting the law of the land.
But, of course, every government has been tainted with human sin and doesn’t conform to the rule of God, so if a governing body ceases to be a force for good and order, but instead becomes an instrument of evil and death, it is no longer a Christian’s duty to submit and obey that authority (cf. Acts 5:29).
The question for us today is, what does that resistance look like?
In a society ingrained with the belief that citizens should be able to keep firearms in case armed rebellion is required, all political dissent is only ever seen as potentially violent.
An illustration of this comes from Matthew Davis, a former spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party who back in 2012 questioned whether armed rebellion was justified over the Supreme Court ruling upholding Obamacare.
Davis, infuriated with the Supreme Court, wrote,
“There are times government has to do things to get what it wants and holds a gun to your head. I’m saying at some point, we have to ask the question when do we turn that gun around and say no and resist. You can’t have people walking with lattes and signs and think the object of your opposition is going to take you seriously. Armed rebellion is the end point of that physical confrontation.”
And there you have it. Public protest isn’t seen as the citizenry expressing their views to their elected officials, and demanding change in policy. It is seen as the first (usually ineffectual) step toward an uprising.
In other words, when it comes to gun ownership and political dissent, many American evangelicals assume the former is always good and the latter is always bad. I think this dichotomy sits at the heart of much of the inability for Americans in general, but conservative evangelicals in particular, to participate in constructive public discourse.
It’s either an angry mob, or it’s silent acquiescence.
11 thoughts on “Bear Arms and Submit: the strange schizophrenia of the American evangelical soul”
Good point on the inconsistency Mike. The use of Romans 13 to squash any sort of dissent is disingenuous, especially when taking into account that the author spent so much time in and out of prison.
This is a strange split, but not “schizophrenia “per se. Just saying.
A certain illogical mindset says one must submit to those in authority, but actively works to oppose the current government, frustrating legislation, abusing those Presidents, Prime Ministers etc, in order to replace the leader and government with the order to which they will submit. Perhaps called a bloody-minded theology?
There is development in the attitude to ‘those set in authority’ within the New Testament also. Revelation peels open the anti-Christ heart of a governmental system which demands total allegiance. More modern day examples of different attitudes to political power was seen in the churches as Nazism emerged and triumphed pre WW2. I wonder what those uncritically advocating Rom 13 as absolute would do with this scenario? I know, pull out those guns!
I think your premise is flawed… The right to bear arms is a Constitutional right, it is legal, it is written and a binding law. Most gun owners don’t buy arms to fight against our government? That is inherently misstated. Gun owners have guns to hunt game, to protect their property from burglary, and to protect themselves and their families from assault. Add to the fray, some owners are collectors of guns for no other purpose. That being said, a right by our government is being obeyed, just as the right to freedom of speech. At issue is taking away or altering that right without The People being allowed to object. What if the government were to say that they were going to alter or void the right to free speech?
By contrast, you point to our Biblical duty to obey our government. But we have. We also have the right to freedom of speech to voice our objections to any change of our rights… The people purchasing guns illegally will always purchase guns – illegally, they are the criminals, that’s what they do.
Statistically, since Australia enacted confiscation and gun control, murder rates have declined 35%! Wow! But during this same time frame, murder rates in the US declined by 40% – without gun confiscation or altered rights. In addition, during this same time period gun ownership in Australia increased, illegal, unregistered gun ownership increased, and all other crime rates increased. Statistics are a valuable tool when attempting to find solution.
The Bible has many examples of bearing the sword to defend self and family, but instructs us to be peacemakers – there is no hypocrisy in this, it is a measure of making sure we are protectors when protection is necessary. And as the statistics show, owning a ‘sword’ and actually using it are not interlinked.
Did or do you live in Australia Helena?
America has about 100 x more murders than Australia. (Currently)
Percentages only are comparable when the starting points are comparable. The Las Vegas shooting ALONE was more than all related homicides in all of Australia in 2016.
No I do not, nor have I lived in Australia. Whether or not the US has more murders than Australia is not the point, we also have more immigrants, and our immigrants are not the select educated semi-wealthy that Australia brings in. Most of the murders in the US are perpetrated by gang members who obviously don’t own ‘legal’ guns. The most recent event has yet to be decimated – ISIS, or even FBI, the facts are still being investigated. If you were to take events of this nature as indicative of gun laws, then the Paris attacks … every ISIS attack, terrorist attack around the world would be lumped into that murder category. Evil will always exist. Taking away the sword will not change evil. Nor will it stop it.
You’re a confident person. Even when you don’t know what you’re talking about you still feel impelled to comment authoritatively.
And your response is to attack me personally? How incredibly Hollywood!
Helena – on a factual point, the US has 13% of its population born outside the US (i.e. immigrants), in Australia it is 28%. You can’t claim gun violence is driven by immigration.
Claiming the problem of homicide is due to illegal guns, and stricter gun laws would not address this, is also illogical. In the UK we also have criminals, what we don’t have is easy access to guns, and we do have very strong punishment if you break gun ownership laws. UK criminals could get hold of guns, but they know that if they do own them they will end up in prison for a long time, so they don’t. Which is one reason why you don’t get thousands of people killed each year by people with guns.
Yes, evil will always exist, but if evil can walk into a shop and arm itself with semi-automatic weapons before it goes on a killing spree a lot more innocent people will be killed than if the best weapon it can find is a kitchen knife.
I am addressing this article/commentary in particular. The commentary purports to say that American evangelicals are hypocritical. The commentary makes some bizarre statements that have no basis in fact, such as, “Americans who insist on the right to bear arms in case they need to overthrow a tyrant in the White House”. There are statistics that show that countries such as Jamaica which has a high murder rate also has highly restrictive gun control, or Canada which has a low murder rate and rational gun control. This commentary is about ‘the right to bear arms’, it is not about registration or controls.
Further, the article is about a shaming of sorts of ‘American evangelicals’. As such, it is a target article/commentary that is not built on factual data, but on opinion. And so, it furthers it’s target by claiming, “…same Americans who insist on the right to bear arms in case they need to overthrow a tyrant in the White House, will condemn any form of public protest on the basis of Romans 13.”
The ‘right to bear arms’ is actually born by the UK, Australia, Canada, etc… However, the target, the US and American evangelicals, are being called out. Why?
To illustrate his point, Frost uses ‘a quote’ by ‘a former US Republican leader’ from 2012.
Homicide rates in the US have gone down 40% since 1996, that is a statistical fact. Could they be lower? Yes! But ‘how’ is not properly addressed, because the ‘how’ should be based on the ‘why’. And there are far too many multiples of why as can be seen in spectrum of statistics, Chicago being the most obvious. What I objected to was the commentary’s obvious opinionated slant. As such Mr. Frost chose to attempt to slander/shame me personally which hardly aligns with his home page statement of ‘grace’, ‘open conversation’, and ‘positive’ dialogue. And therein perhaps is the true hypocritical value…
If one were to truly look at the source of rebellion in the US today, it is not the Matthew Davis’s. If one were to look at the actual ’cause’ that drives the murderers in the US and globally, that would truly be an open conversation rooted in a positive dialogue embracing grace, instead of an attack on the US, American Evangelicals, and – myself, which really serves nothing but personal self lauding and grandizing.
Evangelicals are hypocrites