Is it Christian to Defend yourself?

Have you ever wondered why “Thou Shalt Not Kill” doesn’t seem to apply to “self defense”?

When Christ ordered his followers to “turn the other cheek” when attacked, why do we think it’s OK to ignore this in “self-defense”?  Have you ever been challenged by another Christian, or just someone familiar with these phrases?

If so, read on!

Background

My first article here at Maccabee Society was a review of a firearm for the purpose of concealed carry.  I hope many of you read that and enjoyed it.  In writing that article I began to consider writing on an even more important topic; that of the moral rectitude of using a deadly weapon in self-defense.  If you are going to keep a firearm for self-defense, either in the home or about your person at all times, it is important to understand the moral implications of doing so, and when there is justification for use of deadly force.

Shortly after my most recent training, my brother also had training and was issued a concealed carry permit; my dad has been permitted for a few years.  We have discussed this topic, as we are all “conservative” Christians and wanted to better understand the limitations and responsibilities of our decision.

Hopefully this article helps to form your frame of mind around the subject, and prepares you to discuss the topic intelligently with others; particularly other Christians, or those who consider it hypocritical for Christians to maintain deadly weapons for self-defense.

Challenges

There are several common challenges to the idea of a Christian defending oneself, or others.  Well informed challengers might be able to reference scripture such as

“You shall not kill.” (Exodus 20:13)

“But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

“…Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath…” (John 18:11)

Of course these examples from scripture carry great weight, yet, is there a limit to these statements?  I think we find that there are, and/or the statements themselves are not as conclusive as they appear.

2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Justified Defense

The critical discerner is the difference in state of mind of the defender.

A few years ago a friend of mine went through concealed carry training, and was telling us about the training, in particular, he mentioned that the instructor stressed the idea of “shoot to kill”, because when you stand in court to explain what happened there is only one side of the story (yours).  From a purely utilitarian point of view, this seems like reasonable advice, but it always bothered me from a moral perspective.

That line of reasoning sounds to me like you had the option of allowing the attacker to live, but chose to kill for your own legal convenience.  This idea always left me uncomfortable but it wasn’t until I took my own class, and began to research further that I really understood why.

In my concealed carry class we were taught if you are involved in a defensive shooting you tell the responding officer(s) that you were trying to stop the attacker.  The instructors, who were both county sheriff’s deputies, were clear that in cases where the drawing of a firearm was justified a potentially lethal approach was required due to the myriad complexities of such an event.  Specifically, trying to “shoot to disable” was unlikely to be successful in stopping the attack due to degraded accuracy of the defensive shooter, moving/evasive target and so on.

While the end result of my training and my friend’s training may be the same, the mental framework of “shoot to stop” versus “shoot so there’s only your side of the story” was to me dramatically different.  There is always a hope on our part that our defensive action does stop the attacker without resulting in their death.  We must be willing to do what is necessary, but also restrained and moderate in our response.

With this in mind, I began some additional research and found that not only was my instructor’s advice consistent with North Carolina law, it is also very consistent with historic church teaching on the subject which I have provided some examples of below.  With this evidence I think we can determine it is morally just to stop an unjust attacker.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a very good explanation of this line of thinking, that I believe can be informative to all Christians, not only Catholics.

Legitimate defense

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.”

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility”

(http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm)

I find section 2265 above.  Particularly fascinating for those of us charged with protection of a family.  Even if we do not find it preferable to protect our own life, we still maintain a duty to protect those that depend on us, and also to protect ourselves in order to continue to provide for them.

Conclusion

Per 2 Peter 3:9 it can never be our will or intention to kill.  The death of a person committing evil at its best, an unfortunate consequence of the act of stopping their attack.  In fact, it may be viewed as a consequence of their action which necessitated defensive action on your part.  It must always be our sincerest hope that they will repent, and to kill is to deny them that opportunity.  This is consistent with the law in most US states which will penalize “excessive force” or continuing defensive action after the attacker has surrendered or otherwise ceased to be a threat.

I hope you find that this informs you, both to prepare yourself in the event you need to defend yourself, but also to properly explain your position to others who challenge you.

As a fine point, we can note from John 18:11 and elsewhere, it’s clear that the Apostles were armed and prepared to defend themselves.