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Another look at self-defense

David wrote below that the latest figures from Britain show "a rapid and unexplained increase in the number of times householders were confronted in their own homes by armed criminals."

Many people have an automatic response to this appalling problem, and it is more gun control. When asked to explain statistics that relate higher levels of gun control to higher rates of crime, they stake out the moral high ground. Violence breeds violence, they say, and if pressed, make a Christian teaching their default position. This teaching is "turn the other cheek". It or its equivalent has become a mainstream slogan, conveniently applied to many foreign as well as domestic policy questions. This mainstream opinion diverges sharply from the beliefs of Brits in the past who loved freedom and who were Christians but who did not always turn the other cheek.

That these earlier Christians did not turn the other cheek may reinforce the notion that many Christians are not much good at being Christian, but there is another interpretation which I think you will find reasonable. I say this cautiously because I believe that turning the other cheek can contribute immensely to creating a country of happy, creative people, and I do not wish to diminish it in any way.

Some of those earlier Brits who loved freedom read Jesus in context and believed he was saying, in your daily lives, in business, in your home, and in the fields, don’t be so thin-skinned and easily offended. It won’t kill you to turn your cheek. They did not suppose that Jesus was asking them to turn their cheek when the result would be losing their whole face. They did not look at injustice, and decide to turn the other cheek and do nothing about it. They did not see a child being hurt, and decide, well, just turn her cheek, too. They decided to confront injustice and the particular people who were unjust. When a woman’s husband was being tortured or a father’s daughter was being raped, they did everything within their power to stop it, including willingly sacrificing their own lives. If they killed the man committing the barbarity, his death was their responsibility, but not necessarily their wrong. And based on the Ten Commandments and the commandment that is accurately translated “Thou shall not murder” Common law recognized their right to kill in self-defense or in defending another.

In our own age I think most of us would agree that every effort should have been made to stop the massacres in Rwanda. If only force would stop that genocide, force should have been employed. We immediately qualify this idea by saying that we do not want to become barbarians in an effort to stop barbarians. However, given the world in which we live, not the world we wish we lived in, reasonable force may have to be part of our response.

Does this mean that we are failures? That our ideals mean nothing? That we cannot “turn the other cheek” or – the teaching Christ thought most important – “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself”? By no means!

We try to love and cherish our family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. (Wonderfully, some of the people we love were strangers to us first.) Many others will remain strangers, but even during our most fleeting meetings there are many ways we can respect and cherish them.

Does loving family, friend, and stranger mean that we do not have a right to be armed and should never respond with reasonable force to an armed invasion of our home? By no means! We are realists about the world as it is, we train ourselves to handle arms responsibly, and we use those arms to deter or prevent tragedy.

At the same time, always, everywhere, we try to love every person, even our enemy, for though we may believe that 'turn the other cheek' has little to say about our response to a home invasion, Christ's command to "love your enemies" does, and it is clear. We may need to protect ourselves or others. We will always try to love. It's in this imperfect, human process that we and the world are transformed.

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