It’s not uncommon, these days, to see misinformed Christians parading around in favor of pacifism, as though Christianity demands that Christians can’t defend their families, as though we as a society must abandon moral stances, capital punishment, self-defense, and our right to bear arms. Going even further, some ignorant Christians even seek establishment of hate speech legislation, believing that dangerous ideologies shouldn’t be morally challenged or honestly discussed in public. As a Christian, few beliefs irk me more than these.
Fortunately, if we take a close look at Jesus’ teachings, quite the opposite can be proven about His commandments. For instance, one of the most widely-bungled teachings of Christ concerns the concept of forgiveness and non-retaliation, as most clearly stated in Matthew 5:38-42:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
While this passage gives the initial impression that we are never to seek justice for wrongdoings, if we take the message in context, we find this commandment still gives victims the right to Biblical legal recourse.
Let us consider, for a moment, that Jesus Christ is who he says He is: God, the Son of God, the Messiah who takes away the sins of the world (John 3:16-21)(John 8:48-59). If He is indeed the Son of God, and He had to die for our sins, His death begs the question: for which sins did He die? Unequivocally, the answer is that He died for our sins as presented in the Law (1 John 3:4-5). Thus, we may deduce that the Law itself is good. If it weren’t, then Jesus wouldn’t needn’t have died for our sins, as no laws would have been worth our damnation.
Second, if the law–which clearly prescribes justice for victims–is good, we may conclude that law and the threat of legitimate violence itself is also good, so long as it does not contradict the principles contained within the law. Jesus confirmed this philosophy in His commandment to love our neighbors not with feelings, but with all the principles contained within the law and prophets (Matthew 22:34-40).
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.‘ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments [emphasis added].”
Oftentimes in response to Biblical law, misguided Christians will quote Jesus statement about “an eye for an eye” in order to further prove their point of total pacifism. But this line of reasoning is also based upon ignorance, in light of the Law’s legitimacy. In Old Testament Law, victims were never required to seek legal recourse for any wrongdoings, but the concept of “an eye for an eye” served as a limitation for punishment, similar to our eighth amendment today. Due to perverted (and probably intended) misinterpretations of their original Israeli constitution, Jesus, in what may be described as a TEA Party-esque reformation, sought not to destroy their original law, but rather to guide others to its heart and soul. For this very reason, He declared that mandatory revenge wasn’t necessary (although the victim was entitled to it), and that forgiveness and kindness toward an erring brother were better than merciless, mechanical retaliation.
But even if someone does attack you in your home, you still have a Biblically-legal, moral right to self-defense. Exodus 22:2 clearly states that if someone breaks into your home, and you are in your home, and you kill that intruder, you’re not to be held liable for the intruder’s death. So even turning your cheek has limits, unless of course you really believe that this old law is outdated, which would imply that the omniscient God of the universe spends His time concocting new moral values.
And this leads us into our next, incredibly valuable point. When you are wronged, Jesus does indeed command you, personally, if you are His follower, to turn the other cheek. If you are not the victim, Jesus does not command you to turn someone’s cheek for them. If Jesus were commanding us to force others into passivity, then we would have no legal recourse in defense of molested children, of the murdered, of the raped. If Jesus were commanding us to abandon all laws and all defense, as Barack Obama claimed He did, then we would have no standards for anything, ever, and He would have never given the law, as the law would have been evil. And thus we may conclude that turning someone’s cheek for them is no more loving than increasing taxes on the rich is charitable. If we love our neighbor, then we abide by His law. If we don’t love our neighbor, we abandon justice.
A very interesting and important side point, many Christians aren’t aware that Jesus Christ’s apostles were armed. In one particular instance, Jesus gives approval of sword-bearing, and in another, we find that Peter draws his own personal sword in self-defense (Luke 22:35-38)(John 18:10-11). Perhaps we might reason that the apostles carried very large jars of jelly for feeding thousands, and thus needed extraordinarily large butter knives for convenient spreading. Or, we might argue that they carried weaponry because Jesus condoned self-defense, so long as that self-defense didn’t interfere with God’s plan (John 18:11).
In conclusion, Jesus wasn’t a pacifist. Jesus believed in a just and eternally-righteous system of Law, which served as a tutor to explain His very character (Galatians 3:24). So the next time an ignorant Christian commands you to turn your other cheek, take them out for a Bible study. Hopefully, it’ll be one they’ll never forget.