Falwell’s gun remarks at Liberty U. are on target (COMMENTARY)

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Liberty University's  Jerry Falwell Jr. has overseen a massive expansion of the Lynchburg, Va. campus. Fueled by online enrollment the campus has multiple capital projects in the works. Photo by Ryan T. Stone/courtesy USA Today

Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Jr. has overseen a massive expansion of the Lynchburg, Va. campus. Fueled by online enrollment the campus has multiple capital projects in the works. Photo by Ryan T. Stone/courtesy USA Today

Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Jr. has overseen a massive expansion of the Lynchburg, Va. campus. Fueled by online enrollment the campus has multiple capital projects in the works. Photo by Ryan T. Stone/courtesy USA Today

Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Jr. Photo by Ryan T. Stone/courtesy of USA Today

LYNCHBURG, Va. (RNS) A lot has been said about remarks Jerry Falwell Jr. made in convocation on Friday morning. Some authors have accused Christian leaders like Falwell of making proclamations appealing to religious authority but lacking biblical reflection.

Christian antagonists often use scriptural misinterpretations to lambast self-defense in general and gun ownership in particular. When unbelievers in his time tried to ensnare Jesus with his own teachings, Jesus replied, “You are mistaken because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” I believe the same can be said today of Christians and non-Christians alike who misuse Scripture to deride self- (and national) defense.

Unbelievers and others lacking knowledge about the true character of God sometimes refer to Christ’s moniker as the Prince of Peace to conclude that Christianity must be a wimpy, defenseless teaching. Of course, this is one of many titles for Jesus, another being the Lion of Judah. While Jesus was exceptionally mild and meek at his first coming, we are assured by Scripture that he will not be so at his Second Coming. He is described in Revelation 19 as the King of kings who leads the armies of heaven on a white horse and utterly destroys his enemies with the word of his mouth (visualized there as a sword). In a world littered with violence, the Prince of Peace knows that real tranquility is only obtained through strength.


READ: Arm yourselves against ‘Islamic terrorists,’ Liberty U. president tells students


The words of Jesus uttered during the Sermon on the Mount are also misinterpreted by some. Jesus urged his followers to be peacemakers and to love, not kill, their enemies. Indeed, this marks a pivotal distinction between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Muhammad. Some fail to recognize that war and weapons can be used for evil or for good, for offense or for defense. Jesus urged the latter.

It is sometimes claimed that Jesus never told his followers to arm themselves, but that is patently untrue. In Luke 22:36, Jesus told his disciples to buy themselves swords even if they had to sell their cloaks to afford them. Of course, the sword was the “arms” of their day, as the gun is for us today. The disciples possessed two swords and Peter used one of them to injure a man when Jesus was being arrested. Jesus rebuked Peter, and this is offered as proof that Christians should not use weapons (despite the fact that Jesus just told them to acquire them). However, Peter was rebuked not for using a sword in self-defense but for interfering with God’s plan of redemption. We know this because Jesus said it plainly: “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).


READ: Jerry Falwell Jr. is wrong to encourage concealed weapons to ‘end those Muslims’ (COMMENTARY)


Perhaps most commonly, the “turn the other cheek” admonition is used to advance Christian pacifism, but those advancing that argument are again missing the point Jesus was making. God is not urging his followers to put themselves or others in harm’s way or to be bullied or mistreated at the hands of evil men. He is telling us to put away retaliation, to take insult without retribution, to leave vengeance to him (Romans 12:19).

Daniel Howell is a professor of biology and anatomy coordinator in the Department of Biology at Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va. Photo courtesy of Daniel Howell

Daniel Howell is a professor of biology and anatomy coordinator in the department of biology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Photo courtesy of Daniel Howell

Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham are leading the charge against deadly political correctness. Graham has been chided for advising that we refuse Syrian refugees entry into the United States, warning that doing so could lead to a Paris-style attack in America. Most people regard Graham’s warning as common sense. Importantly, Graham does not propose abandoning refugees but rather finding a solution that is best for them and us. One proposal is relocating refugees to safe places within the Middle East where the victimized can retain their customs and culture and we can be safe from the terrorists among them. The costs can be covered by Samaritan’s Purse and federal aid. Graham’s position is fully consistent with the gospel.

Self-defense, both national and individual, is not denied by Christianity. Indeed, from the kick of a horse’s hoof to the hot blast of a bombardier beetle, self-defense is a God-given right to all creatures, including man. As noted already, armed self-defense is specifically sanctioned by Jesus (Luke 22:36). Falwell and Graham are right, but most Christians already knew that.

A version of this column originally appeared on the Liberty University website.

(Howell is a professor of biology and anatomy coordinator in the department of biology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.)

  • alison

    Is this from “The Onion”?

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  • Tim

    The convocation remarks do more to express fear than to express the ministry of reconciliation Jesus brought in his incarnation and bought with his death on the cross. He’s entitled to his personal convictions, but not everyone who belongs to Jesus will share them: Why I Do Not Carry A Concealed Weapon (http://wp.me/p2EmLc-360).

  • Martin

    Daniel Howell, by quoting only part of the Scripture of turning the other cheek, also misses the point. The late Walter Wink in his book “Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way” refutes that this is a call to be passive or a Christian doormat. He says that masters would backhand a slave with their left hands, thus hitting the slave on the right cheek. By turning the other cheek, i.e. the left one, the slave is saying that the master’s insult did not affect him and if the master wants to strike again, the master will have to use his right hand as he would if he was striking a peer.

    Wink says: “The powerful person has been stripped of his power to dehumanize the other. This response, far from admonishing passivity and cowardice, is an act of defiance.”

    I disagree with Mr. Howell and think he is the one who is misunderstanding Scripture, because, in the end, he neither shows nor proves how killing an enemy is an act of love; rather than “urging” us, Jesus commands us to love…

  • Robert Wade

    You use Luke 22:36 as your proof text however, I guess since the author is a Biology and Anatomy professor and not a Bible professor, he doesn’t realize that Luke 22:37explains why they needed the swords. The passage together states; Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ d For the things concerning Me have an end.”
    There was a prophecy beng fulfilled since transgressors had swords. Then when the disciples again put their foot in their mouths by saying how many they had he tells them “It is enough.” You can feel the frustration in Jesus’ voice.
    Mr. Howell needs to take some classes in the seminary to learn how to properly use exegesis on a biblical passage.

  • Eric

    “As noted already, armed self-defense is specifically sanctioned by Jesus (Luke 22:36). Falwell and Graham are right, but most Christians already knew that.”

    Most Christians know that the question of armed self-defense is an old and contested issue, actually. Moreover, they also know that your pitiful defense of the idea would never convince even the most hawkish “just war” theorists, who rarely if ever supported armed *self-defense* as opposed to defense of others, much less committed pacifist theologians. The latter at least take seriously the plain meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, whereas you twist and downplay that central teaching of Jesus on the way to inventing a meaning for a single passage about swords.

    You’ll understand if I listen to, say, Yoder and Hauerwas, or even Augustine or Aquinas, over Falwell and Graham. Like most Christians. I sincerely hope for your students, though, that you are better at teaching biology than writing theology.

  • larry

    What a useless poster. As a man who teaches biology at a school which espouses Creationism, we already know he is willing to compromise his professional integrity. He is willing to 1ie in service if his faith.

    So why not go further and make stuff up about Jesus advocating paranoid clutching of firearms as a security blanket.

  • This article does some slight of hand to gloss over an important detail while focusing on what most people agree on. Most agree on the right to self-defense. The detail being overlooked is Falwell’s opposition to any government attempts, to restrict and regulate the the sale and ownership of guns. His reasoning is that what stops bad guys with guns is good guys with guns.

    The problem with this thinking is that regardless of the demarcation between good guys and bad guys in society, laws restricting gun sales and ownership makes sense. If the demarcation is clear, then fewer bad guys will have guns. And the same goes for when the demarcation is not clear. In the meantime, for good guys to adequately stop mass shootings today, they must have the same weapons as the bad guys. So is what we want and need here is a society where every member is walking around armed with multiple assult weapons so that at the first sign of trouble, the good guys can open fire on the bad guys?

  • Alison,
    Thank you. Your comment made me smile.

  • Eric Lindblade

    Mr. Falwell stated that “good people” must carry concealed weapons. But who is Good? As Aleksander Solzhenitsyn wrote, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

    In a time of terror and violence, it could well be that when Christians bear witness to love and peace that such an attitude will do more to defeat terrorism than all the guns in the world.

    Isaiah speaks of wolf and lamb lying down together in peace. Is the message now, “And the day will come when the lamb will get an AK-47 and exterminate the wolf.”

  • Richard Rush

    Here is just one example of something we need to expect more often when “good people” have permits to carry concealed guns:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/12/31/the-inside-story-of-how-an-idaho-toddler-shot-his-mom-at-wal-mart/

    She was raised in northeast Idaho and always excelled at school, former high school classmate Kathleen Phelps said, recalling her as “extremely smart. … valedictorian of our class, very motivated and the smartest person I know. … Getting good grades was always very important to her.”

    She went on to graduate in 2010 from the University of Idaho with a chemistry degree, according to a commencement program. From there, she got a job at Battelle’s Idaho National Laboratory and published several articles, one of which analyzed a method to absorb toxic waste discharged by burning nuclear fuel.

  • Larry

    There is nothing more brain-dead than the arguments against safe storage of firearms. Its all catering to cowboy fantasies of being quick on the draw and killing “the bad guys” in the heat of the moment.

    Reality is that hundreds of people are injured or killed every year because people failed to store their firearms safely and securely. Worse still are members of households injured or killed because a trigger happy relation mistook them for home invaders.

    Despite the lousy customer service, nobody requires a gun at Walmart. The whole notion of fantasizing about being a “good guy with a gun” when something nasty happens is an invitation to accidental mayhem and deadly misuse of a firearm. Responsible gun owners don’t carry them around where it can be stolen or accidentally go off.

    Frankly gun ownership should require some form of liability insurance. This way there is a financial incentive to not be a lethally reckless d0lt.

  • Greg J

    Two people debating gun laws quoting scriptures must seem like contemplating the peanut to the outside world. You got two separate nuts wrapped in the same shell.
    Not against owning or carting a gun legally, I would advise against telling the world where my concealed weapon is concealed though.
    Question? What does the fight to give away forgiveness look like?
    I would say a gun fight when your not winning.

  • Ben in Oakland

    We have islamist jihadists saying, “Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!Kill! Kill! Kill!Kill! Kill! Kill!” And all in the name of God.

    We have Christian jihadists saying, “Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!” all in the name of God.

    Each can seem to find no peaceful solution to their problems with other religions. Each has their holy book. Each claims he is speaking for God. Each uses God to justify what cannot be justified by any other means.

    I don’t want to kill anyone, I don’t want the state to do it in my name, and I don’t want to be around anyone who thinks that killing people is a good idea, a holy idea, or justified in any way outside of immediate self defense.

    As always, thank god I’m an atheist!

  • Sufferinggod

    Great comment!!#

  • Sufferinggod

    Excellent point!!

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  • Be Brave

    Curt,

    If we “the people” elevate the NRA to a Governmental Agency that gets to oversee who does and does not pass the test to own a gun, then maybe the demand for government to disarm its citizens would be ethical. As it stands, if the wrong political party were to gain power and control over gun owners, then totalitarianism could very well ensue.

    The NRA has very strict rules for how to handle guns, Just try to wear a loaded gun into an NRA event. Mishandle a gun at an NRA Gun Range. No chance.

    The vilifying of the NRA is a fine Alinsky-tactic of social manipulation, but in an ethical approach to American gun ownership, the NRA is not villainous.

  • Be Brave

    In my view . . . Falwell has no ethical or Gospel reason to make the statement he did. It was wrong on just about every level of Christian reality as it can be. According to the NT, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. And NO WHERE is the call to go heeled. Now of course, self-defense is OK, but Falwell should have spent his time at the podium at his Christian University, preaching how Islam is not connected to salvation and he should have preached the Gospel to a world there to showcase his every word. Islam is no different to Christian life and evangelism, than was the pagan Roman religions of Peter and Paul’s day. The theology and political movement of ONE MAN Mohammad, is quite easy to show as incompatible with salvation based on ethical research of Mohammad’s “biblical” theological errors. Falwell would have done the lost a service by preaching the Gospel of Christ Jesus and not used the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution.

  • Be Brave

    Eric,

    Perfect comments.

    Jude would be proud of you.

  • larry

    The NRA has strict rules about handling guns? LMAO!! That is one of the most ridiculously untrue statements made here!

    Just listen to the arguments against safe storage of firearms or liability insurance. “It will interfere with my ability to quick draw against home invaders”. As opposed to showing concern for gun theft or unauthorized use of an unsecured firearm. Ignoring the very likely risk of accidental gun injury/death in favor if unlikely fantasies.

    The NRA encourages irresponsible behavior and panic gun buying. The majority of gun owners see how monumentally silly the ” good guys with guns” idea is.

    As for gun regulation leading to tyranny, that is just paranoid fantasy. In most dictatorships, the gun toting amateurs work for the government to oppress others.

    Vilifying the NRA is simply common sense and sanity.

  • Ben in oakland

    It happens on occasion.

    We agree.

  • Jack

    Very interesting, Robert. While this hardly proves Jesus was a pacifist, it does suggest that Jesus was not telling his disciples to buy swords for self-defense, but rather to fulfill the prophecy. I never saw it that way….now I do. Thanks.

  • Jack

    Curt, you made reasonable and thoughtful points until your final two sentences, which are absurd.

  • Jack

    A fair point, Eric L. While I strongly agree with the right to bear arms as an extension of the right to self-preservation, I never felt comfortable with what appeared to be a triumphalist, proud defense of it. You hit the nail on the head about the dangerous self-righteousness behind dividing people into good vs. evil. Granted, good vs. evil are real enough, but no human being is unmarred by the Fall, and thus none can be properly called “good” in the ultimate sense.

  • Jack

    Unfortunately, Falwell’s father had the same problem….witness the name of his group — the Moral Majority. While standing for Biblical ethics and morality is laudable, the danger is that in so doing, people confuse standing for righteousness with being righteous themselves. Nobody is.

  • Jack

    While most killing is bad, some killing is unavoidable. The result of renouncing that idea is to hand the world over on a silver platter to the worst tyrants and terror-mongers.

    It’s good you added “self-defense” as your exception.

    My concern is not people having guns. My concern is people (1) misusing guns to harm innocent people and (2) worshipping guns as a ridiculous idol. The second is particularly sick because one is worshipping the power of death.

  • Jack

    Be Brave, if you’re saying Jesus would oppose the bearing of arms by ordinary people, I would disagree. But if you’re simply saying Jesus would oppose prioritizing this over the Gospel, especially at a commencement, then you’re correct. And yes, this was a golden opportunity for Falwell to contrast Jesus with Mohammad in a thoughtful way, not in a triumphalist, jingoistic way, but in a Gospel way.

  • Jack

    It seems that too many evangelical Christians today are taking their marching orders from talk radio rather than good teaching from the pulpit or solid theological reflection. When that includes the head of a Christian university, it’s not good.

    Evangelical Christians should absolutely stand for the right to bear arms as an extension of a core human right to defend one’s own life, but they need to extricate themselves from the gun glorification that is far too connected with contemporary partisan politics.

    Guns are instruments of death. They are necessary for the law-abiding — from police to military to ordinary citizens — in a sin-sick world, but in the end they are horrid things that one day will be no more when God redeems our world.

  • Jack

    The NRA lobbies for gun owners just as NAM and the Chamber of Commerce for businesses, and every other lobby for its own.

    By their nature, every such trade association is absolutist in its demands. Every one of them is uncompromising by definition.

    So to single out the NRA for this is absurd. It’s how these associations naturally work.

    Under our adversarial system of governance, it is expected that NRA opponents will take a similarly inflexible stand…..and that public policy will digest both views and come up with some third view, either a compromise or something else.

  • larry

    How many other trade associations encourage lethal and irresponsible behavior as a matter of course?

    The NRA gets singled out because of the nexus between their trade and the everyday lives of others/law enforcement in a way no other lobby does. Plus there is a steep decline in the sanity of their rhetoric in the last generation. It has gotten to the point where they are only representing the most ridiculous, irresponsible and paranoid segment of the firearms owning community.

    Plus nothing you have said does anything to dispute my statement that they are encouraging dangerous stup1dity.

  • Rodney Wilson

    I disagree. I’ve written why in an essay published yesterday, “Guns for Jesus”:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rodney-wilson/guns-for-jesus-straining-_1_b_8738766.html

  • Larry

    Yes Jack, Jesus wants you to feed that fetish craving to buy an AK-47 ( American or Western European assault rifles are probably a little too expensive for your tastes)

    🙂

  • Larry

    The sales of “militarized” weapons have been driving the gun sales industry for some time. Military surplus or based on military designs. Weapons which are largely useless for self-defense but great for organized crime, satisfying gun fetishes, and catering to SHTF or “Walking Dead” type fantasies.
    http://www.vpc.org/studies/militarization.pdf

    If one is concerned about misusing guns or wants to avoid ammosexual marketing, one needs to disregard everything coming out of the NRA. Their rhetoric is downright insulting to the intelligence of the majority of law abiding and safe gun owners.

    The sanest approach is to regulate gun ownership in the same way we do automobiles. Strict licensing requirements, national ownership and crime statistics gathering, mandatory liability insurance. Insurance requirements alone would cut through most of the “big brother” malarky by introducing private, industry-level incentives for national level data rather than government ones.

  • Jack

    Larry, your reading comprehension skills are abysmal.

    Once again, your post has no relation to my preceding one, and everything to do with those voices in your head.

  • Jack

    You’re not Rodney Wilson. You’re a regular on this board who read Rodney Wilson’s article and then pretended to be him.

    If you were Rodney Wilson, you’d naturally acknowledge where we agree, which is most of my post, while noting the brief clause in paragraph 2 of my post where we disagree.

    Nice try, Insurance Man.

  • larry

    It’s very tough to come up with Jesus being against the bearing of arms with such zingers as “live by the sword, die by the sword”. But cognitive dissonance and convenient reimagining of straightforward text is what makes christianity so malleable

  • Jack

    There’s nothing “lethal” or “irresponsible” for a lobbying organization for the Second Amendment to the Constitution defending that amendment as vigorously as it can, any more than it is for the ACLU to defend the First Amendment with the same tenacity and vigor.

    In both cases, it’s no-compromise and extreme, by definition, but again, welcome to the rough-and-tumble world of democracy. Both organizations can and will be countered by other organizations on the opposite extreme and the result will be some sort of compromise, depending on where along the spectrum a critical mass of politically engaged Americans happen to be.

    Your problem is you’re uncomfortable with the way American democracy works. It shows up in many of your posts on various subjects.

    You should find a place more to your liking. I would suggest France, for starters.

  • Jack

    You’re confusing the right to bear arms, which is the Second Amendment, with a fetish about weaponry, which is a human psychological or moral problem.

    That’s what makes your posts so incoherent. You can’t seem to decide whether you’re simply against much of the gun culture and gun glorification, as I am, or against the Second Amendment, which I am not.

  • Ben in oakland

    Do you mean to say, Jack, that things really started going bad in this country when Christianity decided to become a political party, more concerned with saving sous than saving souls?

    Because that what it sounds like you are saying?

  • Larry

    I am not the one who constantly has to squirm and dodge their way around plain readings of text to find personally convenient interpretations.

    Much like a Fundamentalist Christian take on Bible scholarship, when the plain reading of text is too inconvenient, people will construct elaborate interpretations to get to their desired point.

    The “right to bear arms, as part of a well regulated militia” has nothing to do with the positions of the current gun lobby. It has become a mantra for fetishizing firearms.

    In this case the 2nd Amendment is used as an excuse to avoid sensible regulations and make up fact free nonsense about armed citizenry as a bulwark against government action. The right to bear arms was meant as a means of creating an ad hoc force in service of the country

  • Jack

    You’re projecting again, Larry. I believe the right to bear arms means the right to bear arms. You’re the one who can’t make up your mind on what you believe about guns. One moment you seem against that right entirely; the next moment you’re merely against the gun culture but not against the right.

    This is what happens with people who can’t think clearly and feel no particular duty to tell the truth..

  • Jack

    I wouldn’t blame any one group for “things starting to go bad in this country,” Ben, and in many ways, as you know, I disagree with the doomsayers about where we are as a nation.

    But yes, I am concerned that when Christians talk about political issues today, the tenor and tone sounds more and more like talk radio and less and less like the Gospel.

    I’m not talking about issues per se, but attitude.

    I don’t believe in a political or issues litmus test on who’s a Christian. But attitude does matter.

    I know I’m prone to sarcasm, but in the end, I care about human life and it scares me to read people who talk about guns in a way that loses sight over what guns are and what they’re designed to do.

    I think gun control is terribly naïve, but I still have no illusions about guns themselves. In a perfect world, we would not need them at all. I look forward to that fine day.