This question is posed by a liberal Baptist Huffington Post columnist, and the answer has potential public policy ramifications for all.
It’s both a strength and weakness that Protestantism and Evangelicalism traditionally emphasize personal relationship with Jesus. The strength is that faith becomes intimate and warm. One potential negative is that it tends to focus on Jesus the man during His earthly walk while often unconsciously minimizing that Jesus, according to Christian theology, is the eternally existent Second Person of the Trinity.
The Christ of Christian faith was present at creation and present through all the drama of the patriarchs and prophets of the Hebrew narrative. God in Christ ordained kings, summoned nations, ordered generals into battle and presided over great and often violent events.
“What Would Jesus Do?” has been a popular spiritual question for reflection especially among Evangelicals for decades. But this rhetorical question typically focuses on the character and vocation of Jesus the preacher and healer of the Gospels to the exclusion of His wider cosmic identity.
This narrow focus by some politicized liberal church people often construes Jesus to be a Gandhi-like figure, shunning power and violence in favor of endless reconciliation and pacifism. There probably has been no major anti-war demonstration of the last 45 years where there was not signage demanding: “Who Would Jesus Bomb?”
The answer, according to traditional Christian theology, is that God in Christ ordained governments in a fallen world to defend and protect their people, which at times may include dropping bombs. But Jesus during His earthly walk had no vocation for lethal violence. He was during those years as a nomadic prophet called to preach the Good News of hope and salvation.
Jesus during his relatively brief earthly ministry was not called to many activities that were not necessarily precluded for His followers. He didn’t get married or have children, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code novels notwithstanding. Jesus didn’t seem to own property. He didn’t loan money, or seek public office, or directly address political issues.
Yet Jesus’ very exclusively unique role as Savior is very often ignored by activists attempting to appropriate Him for their causes. The recent column in Huffington Post by a liberal Baptist minister is a case in point.
“It’s hard for me to reconcile this Jesus — this supreme gift of God’s creation, with an instrument of utter destruction,” the anti-gun pastor declares. “Some have appropriated the current gun conversation to ask ‘What Would Jesus Carry?’ but I’d rather take it one step further and ask ‘Who Would Jesus Shoot?’ Guns are manufactured for shooting with unprecedented precision. They have no other purpose. They are ruthlessly, relentlessly efficient in this task, and yet I can’t see Jesus holding one.”
And yet unmentioned by the liberal Baptist HuffPo columnist is that, according to the scriptures and Christian belief, God in Christ anointed many lethally armed heroes of the faith in the Old Testament. And in the New Testament He ordains the state to wield the sword in pursuit of justice. When Jesus is taken captive, His apostle Peter resists with a sword. Jesus admonishes him, as Jesus knows His appointed trial has arrived. But He surely already knew that Peter was armed, presumably to defend the disciples against robbers.
The HuffPo Baptist admits some deride his anti-gun perspective as “simply not practical — that there are ‘bad guys’ who must be stopped and the best way they are stopped is at the end of a gun. I can understand the social ethic there, and yet I wonder if another way is yet possible.” He cites a photo of a heroic Polish priest during WWII who defiantly and unflinchingly accepts without resistance his execution by a German.
This martyred Polish priest offers the “way the Christian is called to,” the liberal Baptist concludes. “This is what I am called to as a minister and a Christian. You can choose to be behind the gun or in front of it — that’s your choice, but it’s not hard to know which end of the rifle Jesus on.”
So is everyone called to martyrdom like this Polish priest and supremely like Jesus, the ultimate martyr? And is there no appointed role for defending innocent others, such as children, from martyrdom? The HuffPo Baptist leaves these questions up in the air.
But traditional Christian teaching is not so vague. States through their police and military functions are divinely ordained to defend justice and especially the innocent. Individuals, when agents of the state are unavailable, are morally obliged when possible to defend the defenseless. And not even individuals are automatically called to non-resistance against assault. Not everyone, not even the devout, is necessarily called to the special vocation of martyrdom. Parents have obligations not to leave their children orphans. Children are obliged to spare their patents’ the grief of loss. Nearly all are called to constrain violent evil in pursuit of an approximately safe and just society.
No, Jesus in the Gospels did not bear arms. But the whole message of scripture and Christian tradition carefully allows that some of His followers may be called to bear and deploy weaponry in certain circumstances where justice requires. The ultimate question is not so much What Would Jesus Do but rather What Does Jesus Tell Us to Do?