Right now I can’t go anywhere or do much of anything without hearing about Jerry Falwell Jr.’s comments towards Liberty University students encouraging them to get concealed carry permits, saying they need to get Muslim extremists before they get Christians, and going as far as to offer free training on campus.
I went to Liberty for a few years and graduated with a degree in Religion in 2014. The Liberty that I remember was a place of spiritual nourishment. It was a place of deep religious conviction, and it was a place where all were welcome to join in the community and in the pursuit of God’s Kingdom on earth. It was a place where the Crusades were ridiculed and frowned upon. Life was cherished, Love was emphasized, and Christ’s example was always at the forefront.
You can imagine my confusion, then, when Falwell made these comments. I want to believe that Falwell views himself in the middle of a hurricane of global crisis and is under intense pressures to guide Liberty, and those who look to him for guidance, through times of heightened instability and mounting violence. If this is the case, Falwell has possibly spoken too quickly without processing his grief appropriately and likely will apologize in the near future.
If he truly meant what he said, perhaps he isn’t that different from his father. And if he truly meant it, then perhaps, he needs to reconsider who Jesus is in the face of IS.
Jesus came into the world during a time of military occupation. In today’s time, it is equal to being born in Syria under the reign of ISIS. The Jewish people were under the tyrannical reign of the Romans and they faced daily persecution which often resulted in beatings and murder. This stands at a contrast with America where we are not under the occupation of a force like ISIS or the Romans. We have seen various terrorist attacks in our history, but none of them are coming from our government.
Not only did Jesus come into an occupied territory, he came as a baby. He came into the world in the most defenseless way imaginable and gave Himself into the care of a teenage woman and her husband. He gave Himself into the care of a population that found itself in a society defined by fear, paranoia, oppression, and death.
The simple fact is, Jesus came into the world in vulnerability, innocence, and love in the face of mounting violence.
There is something worth looking at here. If we begin (as the author of John’s Gospel asserts) that the Word has existed eternally, then the Word could have conceivably come into the world as a brute man to lead a violent resistance to the Roman occupation. To return death for death. To exchange a life for a life.
And yet, He didn’t. He came as a baby. And when He grew up and became an adult, He continued spreading God’s message of Love, Mercy, and Grace overcoming the violence that His people found themselves in and overcoming the darkness that all too often presents itself among them and us.
Even when He is arrested to be offered up for death and a disciple tries to cut an ear off of a guard, Jesus rebukes His own disciple. Then Jesus explains that if someone lives by the sword, they will die by the sword. In essence, returning violence for violence ensures the perpetuation of violence, oppression, and death.
If a sword is unacceptable, then a gun is an abomination.
Gun violence is certainly an issue in our country. And while I don’t believe that gun control will do much to solve issues of the heart, I cannot condone owning a firearm for purposes of killing human beings for any reason.
We are constantly seeing instances of police brutality in the news. These people are trained for extensive periods of time to protect and serve society and they still succumb to the human frailties of racism, anger, and confrontation. We also have children who get ahold of guns that belong to their parents and shoot one another accidentally. Still, we have gang violence and domestic disputes that end by the bullet.
Despite all of this, Falwell encouraged a room full of college students to get guns. A room full of college students. To me, that’s frightening. College is a difficult and stressful time and it is easy to buckle under the pressure in any number ways. As horrific as it sounds, a college student with a gun could conceivably buckle under pressure and do harm to others around them.
Then we have the matter of “getting the Muslims before they get us”. I understand that Islamic extremism is a problem. I’m all for calling Islamic extremism for what it is in the same way we are taught to call out Christian extremism. Falwell has said that he meant Islamic extremism in his remarks, but that does nothing to change the end point.
Early in the history of the Church, persecution was rampant. Christians were being chased down and murdered for their perceived threat to the Roman Empire they found themselves a part of. Nowadays, that still occurs in some countries overseas. We have churches in America that speak of being persecuted that aren’t.
In all of these cases, violence is rarely the response advocated for.
In fact, even the churches that claim they are being persecuted stick to the formula of preaching, advocacy, and protest for Christ over culture. They return the oppression they perceive with articulation and sermon whether offensive or respectful.
They hardly ever resort to violence.
And yet, now violence is advocated for. The words “before they get us” encourage a variety of responses, but the one that is most likely is the seeking out of Muslims and killing them based on their religion.
It has gone from “Abortionists are killing babies” with a response of protest to “IS is killing human beings” with a response of kill.
Killing someone is not the way violence is ended. Dialogue and the sharing of Christ’s love is. It will take time. Look at Jesus. He lived a lifetime as a human being on earth, died, and resurrected and to this day, He is still challenging our society to transform and meet violence with love, even in the face of perceived death.
Falwell’s error is not in his concern for his students, his error is in his understanding of how Jesus would respond to IS. Remember, Jesus died when He had unfathomable power to retaliate above and beyond the power of a gun. He chose not to. He chose not to buckle to the pressures of His day and He stood in peaceful defiance of the oppressors and murderers of His day.
This is not to say that we are facing down death from IS in this country. The truth is far different. We are facing down death by our own hands. We are facing down death from our lust for weapons, killing, and silencing of peaceful options. We are facing down death here from the unwillingness to practice costly love, radical peaceful defiance, and offer our lives fully as a testament to the Love Christ has called us to. Falwell’s comments have only continued the cycle.
But in the end, Falwell doesn’t get the final say on how to combat violence, Jesus got the last say on the Cross.