Most will be aware of the brief speech Jerry Falwell Jr. gave at Liberty University’s Convocation this past Friday. The stir was created by these words as communicated in the video below:
“If some of those people in that community center had what I have in my back pocket right now…,”
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.”
“I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course. Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
If you know me, you’ll know I pretty much champion a full view of non-violence. I believe in protective justice, though I don’t believe this has to include weaponry (especially on the personal level). However, I advocate non-violence as a central reality of following Jesus. You don’t know how hard this is for me. I have had to go through some personal reconstruction to arrive at this point.
Still, laying aside my own personal story, I primarily base this view in the fact that Jesus, himself, chose to take up a cross rather than a weapon at the time he was being threatened, beaten, and tortured. Interestingly enough, he called his followers to do the same. And I am securely convinced that Jesus would have never turned to his closest friends and said, “See those Pharisees, see those Romans. If they come after us, charge with weapon in hand!”
The earliest church was so gripped by the M.O. of Jesus that, as they faced their own threats, death, and unjust persecution, they remained humble, peaceful, and non-violent in their response. It led to their deaths. I cannot fathom what they walked through.
For those who want to bring up a) the passage where Jesus clears out the temple and b) the words of Luke 22:36 (“if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one”), as reasons for retribution and violence, I grieve that we have greatly failed in understanding how to engage with Scripture.
For both accounts, we have to understand the ancient Jewish story. Hence why each connects with specific Scriptures from the Old Testament. To keep this article short, I’ll let us do a little background research on our own of why neither of these passages are arguments for violent force through the use of weapons. Here is one article to consider. And consider why the New Testament narrative does not carry forward any kind of trajectory for violent response in the followers of Jesus.
But let’s just get practical for a moment here.
What is being communicated and advocated when the President of a Christian college (the largest one on planet earth) stands up and addresses tens of thousands of students and their staff/faculty leaders with the message that was given in this brief address?
Walking to the stage, letting those in his care know he himself is carrying a concealed weapon, telling them that good people can “end those Muslims,” and to sign up for our free course to prepare yourself to carry a weapon.
What does this say?
I work at a Christian college. Not one the size of Liberty by any means. Nonetheless, there are some parallels. I’m trying to imagine our President, a good friend of mine, walking to the stage at our worship/chapel setting and dropping similar words in our midst.
I cannot wrap my head around it AT ALL.
If it did happen, serious reflection, prayer, and counsel-seeking would ensue on my part as to whether this was the place for me.
Listen, laying aside the whole debate of whether there should be stricter gun laws or not, or how we should interpret a few statements of Jesus in the New Testament, think about the culture being created with this kind of irresponsible statement.
Take a moment and reflect.
I am imagining that, going forward, the concealed weapon population is about to go up at Liberty University. Perhaps a measly 1% have permits to carry a gun as of today. Who knows? But in the weeks and months to come, I expect that, whatever the percentage, it’s probably going to arise. We’ll see.
And if you now have an increasing population carrying guns at a university, imagine the possibilities before that university going forward.
Still, laying aside whether there is an increase in carrying weapons on campus, a culture is being created, has now been created, where people are ready to shoot-to-kill if needed.
I can carry this weapon. My President says it’s ok. He’ll give me a free class that allows me to carry and shows me how to use a gun. And, as he said, we’ll be ready, to quote the President, to “teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
I’ve been in a Christian college setting for multiple years now. Listen, it’s not always peachy. Sometimes there are challenges. Sometimes words are misconstrued. Occasionally a person says one thing to mean this and another takes it to mean that. At times, students have fall outs with one another or a professor. Emotions get heated. I’ve seen it. I’ve been a part of it. I don’t like it. We don’t like it. But it is what it is.
Now, imagine a setting where a possible higher percentage of students and staff are now carrying a weapon because the President of the college has encouraged those to take a course, get their permit, get a gun, and be ready to shoot if “they” show up.
Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve got a license to kill. Retribution is on our agenda.
Now, continue to imagine those situations of misconstrued and misunderstood words, those heated situations of emotion on a college campus. We don’t always think so straight when our emotions are involved. And now we’ve got some extra guns in the back of our pants, in our purses, or in our backpacks. Even more, we are now aware that Johnny owns a new gun because he starts telling others he’s got a gun, showing it off. He’s ready in case “they” show up.
I don’t have a gun, but I’m well aware Johnny has a gun.
Picture a student fed up with being picked on. Picture someone being constantly slandered on campus. Imagine a heated fall-out. He or she reaches for their gun, turns, and pulls the trigger. Or they grab Johnny’s out of his locker, head to the dorm of the student they are angry with, and pull the trigger.
Sure. This is conjecture.
But consider the culture that is actually being encouraged in this address in the video. Let’s carry guns. Let’s be ready to shoot-to-kill if “they” come in.
We are asking for problems. We are asking for problems as emotionally-driven people at times.
On a side note, I know that “those Muslims” being referred to are those committed to terrorist acts. Falwell later clarified. Still, he followed up with, “If I had to say what I said again, I’d say exactly the same thing.”
No, no, no!
Mr. Falwell has created a culture ready for violent retribution. But he has also created a very unsafe environment on his campus in the midst of broken and sinful human beings interacting together on a daily basis.
He spoke in the emotion of the moment, all to the applause of young people. Yet he failed to consider the long-term probable consequences that lie ahead. It was failure on a great level. It creates a culture very similar to that which such gun proponents argue they are trying to stamp out. Matter of fact, I believe his perspective shared at that Convocation is more akin to that of terrorists than Jesus.
I am convinced this is not the way of Jesus. It never has been, nor ever will be.