Last month, my family came under direct and immediate threat from white supremacists. After I wrote to condemn the term “cuckservative” as grounded in a particularly vile form of white-nationalist racism, my Twitter feed was flooded with thousands of tweets from hundreds of other users hurling vicious slurs at me, my family, and especially my youngest (adopted) daughter. They called her a “niglet.” They called me a “cuck.” They accused my wife of sleeping with black men while I was deployed in Iraq.
Twitter is easy enough to manage, however, and I viewed the racist response as essentially confirming my point. When both my wife and I refused to back down, publicizing some of the worst tweets, things took a much darker turn. Beginning late on the evening of September 18, my wife’s Patheos blog was bombarded with images of executions, suicides, and gunshot wounds. For page after page, gifs of the most gruesome images scrolled through the comment section — images used in some of the darker corners of the web, the same corners the Roseburg, Ore., shooter allegedly patrolled before his horrific killing spree.
While I believed the images were shared mainly to intimidate, I had to take seriously the possibility that they represented real, tangible threats. After all, it would not be the first time that my family had been in danger as a result of our public activism. In 2012, a disturbed man, apparently a follower of our writing, showed up at our home and our kids’ school. We reached out to the local sheriff, and for a time he stepped up patrols through our rural neighborhood. But, then as now, I was under no illusion: Neither he nor his deputies represent my family’s first line of defense. That duty falls to me. And my wife is right there beside me. It’s frankly never crossed my mind that my Christian faith would compel me to stop at non-lethal means in defense of my family, that it would be better for my children to be killed than for me to kill our family’s attacker.
Yet that seems to be just the argument of evangelical pro-life pastor Rob Schenck, the subject of a new documentary called The Armor of Light, which is making the rounds of the festival circuit and will soon be available for wider release.
The film is directed by Abigail Disney, a progressive, pro-abortion activist who persuaded Schenck to publicly call for evangelicals to rethink both their resistance to gun-control laws and their personal commitments to owning or using a gun for self-defense.
I’ve met Schenck on a number of occasions. He’s been a stalwart pro-life activist for more than a generation, and he’s a kind and thoughtful man. But in making his argument against guns, he appears to have fallen for the sentimentality and stereotyping that so often dominates the left side of the gun-control debate. In an interview with NPR, for example, he said:
When you talk about aiming a weapon at another human being, no matter what the circumstances are, that’s a question of paramount moral and ethical dimensions, so it’s something that we should take very seriously, and I don’t know that a lot of us are.
This is a caricature of the views of many evangelicals. We are willing to aim a weapon at another human being precisely because we’ve thought through the “moral and ethical” dimensions of the act, and understand the profound, biblical responsibility to defend others from deadly aggression. I’ve never in my life met an evangelical who was casual in his use of weapons or philosophy of gun ownership.
#share#Schenck respects those who want to defend themselves or others, but he questions whether self-defense need be lethal:
I understand that impulse [to own a gun for self-defense], and I respect it. I don’t impugn people’s motives on that. I think an awful lot of those people are sincere, and that’s a noble inclination that we have. Now whether the handgun — a lethal weapon — is the best way to manage that security for yourself and your family is another question. Sometimes, a handgun can be a shortcut in the equation.
He’s indeed correct that a handgun can be a “shortcut,” but in an emergency, that “shortcut” is often the difference between life and death. This isn’t a theological argument; it’s an emotive one — and it’s aimed at the wrong problem. Gun deaths in this country typically come not from self-defense gone awry but rather from deliberate, premeditated killings.
Schenck says that he sees “life as having value from the moment of conception, but there’s a whole lot of life after conception.” Of course. And that life is worth defending. Indeed, Nehemiah commanded God’s people to “fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” Jesus’s disciples carried swords, and He even once urged them to arm themselves. There are examples of divinely sanctioned, lethal self-defense throughout scripture.
There is, in fact, an overarching command for believers to care for their own households. In First Timothy, the Apostle Paul declares, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I would be a poor provider, indeed, if I furnished my family a house, food, and education but didn’t even attempt to provide a viable defense against those who might seek to take their very lives.
#related#Scripture provides examples of self-defense, and it provides powerful examples of martyrdom. But it does not applaud those who stand aside and let their families die. If I am specifically called to sacrifice myself, then I pray I will have the courage to do so. I do not, however, see in scripture a call to sacrifice those under my protection and provision, and I shall not. Ever.
When speaking about my experience in Iraq, I once told friends that fighting al-Qaeda — an Islamic death cult — was perhaps the most effective pro-life thing I’ve ever done. And if anyone — whether angry white supremacist or deranged stalker — comes after my family, both my wife and I are prepared to defend life by killing the merchants of death. We would do so with a clean conscience and with a singular prayer on our lips: “Dear God, don’t let us miss.”
— David French is an attorney, a staff writer at National Review, and a veteran of the Iraq War.