Recently on VOMRadio a listener in Indiana asked a question about why persecuted Christians don’t fight back or at least defend themselves from their persecutors. Below is a transcript of our conversation with Cole Richards, the leader of VOM’s international work, you can also listen to the conversation (and to all episodes of VOMRadio) online (this conversation begins about the 20:30 mark of the broadcast).
Todd Nettleton: Our question this week comes to us from Scott in Huntington, Indiana. I am going to read his question because I think it is an interesting one; then I have invited Cole Richards, who leads our international work, to help answer this question.
So here’s the question from Scott in Huntington Indiana: “I am curious about self-defense and its place among believers. With so much danger and persecution is it out of the question to fight back? I am not speaking of a defensive attack, I am merely wondering if being prepared to defend one’s family, home or life is at all appropriate? Granted, I think the example set by Jesus on the cross or Stephen as he was being stoned has to be the standard response to persecution as required by love; but (and I think Scott is being very honest here) I envision my own response to someone entering my house with the intent to harm me or my family, I do not see calm prayer as my first response. I would be lying if I said my first thought would not be to grab a weapon of some sort and defend my family, my life and my home.”
So, Cole, I think every American can identify with this question, “Wait a minute, someone is coming into my house, they are attacking my family and you are telling me I am supposed to love them and pray for them?” What is the place for self-defense, and we see this in our brothers and sisters overseas, too. What is the place of self-defense in a persecution attack?
Cole Richards: We have really found there to be two different positions on this among the churches in which we serve overseas. I want to make the point that we serve them, they are being led by the Lord, we don’t try to influence them on this issue really. We try to serve them the best we can.
Let me start with the first approach, which is really a non-violent approach. Now there are some in the Body of Christ that embrace non-violence in terms of really being pacifistic or believing violence has no place as followers of Christ. That is really a minority position. But I want to give it its due. I think as believers we should certainly allow for that position and respect it. There is bravery in not using violence in many ways. You can see that example in Christ: though He could have commanded legions of angels to come to His defense, He chose not to. Why? Because He was following the will of the Lord, and He knew that, so I think we need to give place for this when our brothers and sisters feel they are led not to defend themselves. They may be led by the Lord and we give them room to discern that for themselves.
But more often, people choose not to embrace violence because it is not in their minds effective or a sound tactic. In other words, they know that it can’t work. So since they know they can’t effectively defend themselves they adopt a non-violent approach. In that sense they are choosing to be a witness to eternal realities instead of fighting for their temporal realities.
Todd Nettleton: It reminds me of Pastor Wurmbrand wring in Tortured for Christ, he talks about the guards would beat us (the Christian prisoners) and we would preach to them and they were happy because they could beat us and we were happy because we could preach to them. I think that comes into play in those cases where it is not going to work to fight back, so by not fighting back you have an opportunity to be a witness. You have an opportunity to say, “Hey, we are different from you, we are not fighting back.”
Cole Richards: Yeah, and the way I can characterize that is it is very powerful. I think this is a great thing for American Christians to contemplate, is it makes such a strong statement because radical Muslims today will kill for their faith and it is very powerful when Christians say, “You know what, you are willing to kill for your faith. I am willing to die for mine. I am willing to die to show you the love of Christ.” It is very powerful.
That kind of bridges me to the second position which I want to give credence to, as well, which is believers in many places do defend themselves. Again, if you have a completely non-violent or pacifistic viewpoint in your Christian faith fine, but many Christians, and this is the majority position, believe that it is okay to defend yourself. You know, so sometimes people kind of get it wrong in the sense that when they read the scripture and it talks about loving your enemy and blessing those who persecute you, that that has to mean pacifism and most Christians don’t think that is correct. In places where we work believers do defend themselves in reasonable ways.
An important point to understand; and I think American Christians miss this, is that in these profound persecution environments the Christians usually know that they cannot defend themselves, there is absolutely no chance. So at that point it leads them to other conclusions. So here in the US we always think about defending ourselves because at some level we really believe, or know, that we can. We have access to weapons or fences or security systems, all these things. So I want to bear out the point that our brothers and sisters in these environments where we work are really helpless in the physical sense.
It is interesting because in scripture Christ talked about believers being as lambs led to the slaughter. You think of a completely defenseless lamb led to the slaughter. So our brothers and sisters in places like northern Nigeria, in the Middle East right now in many contexts really are like that. They know that they cannot defend themselves in the temporal world. All they have at that point is to trust in the Lord. Of course, they are encouraged by the support we can give them as the Body of Christ.
Todd Nettleton: I think our mindset is “if I can hold them off, then the police will come.” That’s the thing, if someone if breaking into my house, if I can hold them off a little while the then the police are going to come. If I am in northern Nigeria, the police are not going to come. They are not going to help. If the army comes it might get worse for me. So it is a very different mindset and I think it is hard for Americans to put ourselves in that position where if you call the police it gets worse instead of better. That helps to understand why they make those decisions.
YOUR TURN: What do you think about the issue of persecuted Christians and self defense? Share your thoughts in the comments to this post. And remember to listen each week to VOMRadio on your local radio station, online or as a podcast.