Should Christians Use Deadly Force In Self Defense?
This was the first question asked after I opened the blog for questions. Remember to submit your questions using the contact page, on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. There is a series on ethics that I did in 2017, that I think would be helpful for those trying to figure out how to determine what is morally right or wrong in any given circumstance. Here is a link to the particular lesson about Christians and violence: https://christoa.com/2017/08/30/ethics-peace-and-war/
On November 1, 2018, Oklahoma’s “Make My Day” law was expanded to include places of worship. I want to understand the Make My Day law (also known as “Stand Your Ground” or “Castle” law). Then, I want to ask the ethical question. Are we justified in using deadly force to defend self, family, property, and, concerning the new expansion of Oklahoma’s law, church family and church property?
So, what is the “Make My Day” law?
The “Make My Day” law is an application of the Castle Doctrine, which was established by a Presbyterian by the name of Matthew Henry. In the 18th century, Henry wrote that
“A man’s house is his castle, and God’s law, as well as man’s, sets a guard upon it; he that assaults it does so at his peril. Yet, if it was in the day-time that the thief was killed, he that killed him must be accountable for it (v. 3), unless it was in the necessary defence of his own life.”
Matthew Henry’s commentary can be read free here: https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/exodus/22.html.
The castle doctrine was adopted in the laws of most states, becoming the “Stand Your Ground” laws and giving people the freedom to defend themselves, their families, and their properties without fear of arrest or retaliation from the state. If there is a trespasser and deadly force is used against that trespasser, the family does not have to fear separation or murder charges. This is only one way in which the Bible has informed laws in the western world.
What does the expansion of such a law effectively do?
It was already lawful for a person to defend self with deadly force if his or her life was being threatened. It was already legal in most states, including Oklahoma, for law-abiding citizens to carry weapons (concealed or not). What the expansion of the law effectively does is create a safety net for persons using deadly force in places of worship and extends the freedom to use deadly force to more than merely self-defense when life is being threatened. The same safety-net was already applied to the personal residence and to the place of business. The law states that a person is permitted to use deadly force if:
1. The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, or a place of business or place of worship, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against the will of that person from the dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, or place of business or place of worship; and
2. The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.
Clarity is given in the expansion of the law to the fact that people in a church are free to defend not only themselves but others around them. This seems to be altogether good clarifying language in Oklahoma law. You can read the law on the Oklahoma Legislature’s website. The reference number is HB-2632.
Should Christians use such deadly force?
As is often the case, legality does not determine morality. Just because something is legal does not mean that it is right or just. Just because something is illegal does not mean that it is wrong or unjust. Christians, because of their obedience to Christ, will sometimes abstain from things that are legal and will sometimes participate in those things that are illegal but commanded in Scripture. Christians every day commit crimes against their government in order to see the work of the Gospel accomplished.
Just because the use of deadly force is permitted by the United States or by one of the united states under certain well-meaning conditions does not bear on morality or on God’s law. Furthermore, Matthew Henry’s words are not the words of God. Let us examine the law of God, together:
“When a man steals an ox or a sheep and butchers it or sells it, he must repay five cattle for the ox or four sheep for the sheep. If a thief is caught in the act of breaking in, and he is beaten to death, no one is guilty of bloodshed. But if this happens after sunrise, there is guilt of bloodshed. A thief must make full restitution. If he is unable, he is to be sold because of his theft. If what was stolen — whether ox, donkey, or sheep — is actually found alive in his possession, he must repay double” (Exodus 22:1-4).
Practically speaking, society cannot thrive unless property (one’s well-being) is protected. As we peer into the Law, here, we see the outpouring of God’s character. Personal property was to be under the protection of what here amounts to civil law. People had the freedom to protect their property, specifically. Scripture recognizes that there will be thieves in a sinful world. Thieves were to make restitution (paying back double what they stole). In the defense of personal property, if a thief was killed, the steward of that property was not prosecuted as a murderer. If the thief was seen after sunrise (the assumption by Henry is that he posed no imminent threat to the lives of those on the property) and was killed, then the steward of that property was prosecuted as a murderer.
Here, we see two things about God’s character as we look into God’s law. First, God desires that people are mutually respected. This is indicated by the law against thieves and regarding restitution and by the permission of the defense of property specifically. Second, God treasures all human life. If it could at all be helped, deadly force was not desirable. In fact, despite the permissions given, it was even discouraged in this particular law.
John Locke, when he wrote his political philosophy (the one that the United States Constitution is based on), expounded on Genesis 1:26, which says:
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth,’”
As Locke expounded on the creation of humankind, he came to the conclusion that all people are created equal. I will add the clarifier “in worth.” So, the United States Constitution was drafted based upon this idea that all people are created equal in worth by their creator in His image. This biblical truth is the standard for what is constitutional and what is not under United States civil and criminal law. What we see with Locke was the same understanding that we saw with the Hebrew civil laws under the Law of Moses. That is why we display the Ten Commandments at our courthouses; we believe in this truth that all people have been endowed by their creator with certain unalienable freedoms.
Noticing the things that we notice about God’s character, we can answer this question. Deadly force is never desirable, but it is permitted under certain circumstances in the context of a sinful world.
It is possible, and I think we have seen it especially among conservatives, that our concern for personal security has become an idol, though. I get it. I carry, and I support the freedom of any law-abiding, able, and sober-minded citizen to carry. Sometimes we care so much about security that we are unwilling or unprepared to present our bodies as living sacrifices before our Lord. Idolatry will cause a more severe death than a lapse in personal security. All people are created equal in their worth. God is king. Whether we live or die, God is glorified. God, give us wisdom. Help us to exercise Your discernment.