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Ep 3: Pacifism and Self-Defense in Christian Ethics

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Welcome to the third episode of The Libertarian Christian Podcast. Today, we explore another volatile topic: violence, self-defense, and pacifism. The overwhelming majority of both Christians (at least in the West) and libertarians are not pacifists, and would at minimum favor a right of retaliatory or defensive force against aggressors. In fact, most libertarians tend to be even stronger advocates of gun ownership and self-defense than the typical conservative. At the same time, many professed pacifists are advocates of gun control, high taxes, and other leftist public policies (which, of course, are always enforced by the state with violence). Despite copious examples from earlier in church history, finding consistent Christian pacifists in the West today is exceedingly rare.

The Non-Aggression Principle — the baseline of all libertarianism — holds that it is unethical to initiate force against anyone, except in response to an attack on person or property by an aggressor. The Non-Aggression Principle leaves open the door for violent self-defense, so long as one does not initiate an attack. However, libertarianism is not a comprehensive worldview that addresses every ethical situation, and it’s possible that the Bible calls Christians to an even higher standard of behavior than what baseline libertarianism would permit.

Are Christians ever permitted to use violence, even in self-defense or the defense of others? Should we encourage gun ownership? What about Christians serving in the military or as police officers? Tune in to Episode 3 of The Libertarian Christian Podcast! We’ll even cover the type of cliché hypothetical scenarios that anyone involved in this debate can expect to hear in every conversation on the subject; maybe we’ll even succeed in ‘blowing away’ a few of them…

Ep 3: Pacifism and Self-Defense in Christian Ethics


Books

The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays.

Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence by Preston Sprinkle. See also here.
A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd. Read Doug’s review here.

Engaging the Powers by Walter Wink.

Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne.

Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood.

Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight.  Read Nick’s review here.

Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd.

Articles and Other Resources

Stanley Hauerwas and Miroslav Volf, “Peace and the Apocalypse.”

John Piper, “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?”

Doug Stuart, “Christians and Guns: A Libertarian Christian Perspective.”

David Gornoski, “Drop the Scapegoat! The Pragmatic Case for Christian Nonviolence.”

David Gornoski’s talk to Christians for Liberty Conference: “A Neighbor’s Choice.”

Preston Sprinkle, “The Early Church and Military Service.”

Ben Witherington III, “The Long Journey of a Christian Pacifist.”

Greg Boyd, miscellaneous writings on Christianity and violence.

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3 Responses

  1. Have you guys heard of a new book called “Jesus Untangled:Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb?” with a foreword by Greg Boyd? It’s really right in line with what you’re talking about and takes a slightly different angle.

  2. Hi guys! I read Piper’s and Doug’s articles last year and very much liked them both. A few thoughts:

    -Many libertarians would object to a broad use of the word “violence” to apply to self-defense (they would say that self defense is not violence-or at least not aggression). I know what you mean, i.e. the use of physical force for the purpose of self defense.

    -I find it helpful to think in terms of rights as seen through natural law (in which self defense is clearly a right) and the way which Jesus promotes in the sermon on the mount. Jesus doesn’t deny natural rights, but teaches that kingdom righteousness is a much higher standard. OT law allowed for retribution up to the point of equal suffering (eye for eye), but Jesus encourages us to forgo retribution entirely.

    -There are other possible reasons for employing physical force than self defense. I like Luther’s discussion, in which he rejects self-defense entirely, but reluctantly allows for the possibility of physical force 1) for the protection of other people, and 2) for the benefit of the aggressor (i.e., it’s not good for the person for us to allow him to continue hurting others.)

    -There is a legitimate question regarding whether threat of force is perhaps more permissible than force itself. For example, a violent act might be deterred by the brandishing of a gun, even if we are completely resolute to never actually pull the trigger.

    While I’m not exactly settled in my position, I’m pretty much where I think Doug is. I have many guns, but I don’t believe I need to use them against people and don’t ever plan to.

    Great discussion guys! Thanks for doing it.

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