Christ and the Sword by Perry Mann on this Veteran’s Day “….nothing could be clearer than Jesus’ exhortations from the Mount: Resist not evil, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give to him that asketh, love your enemies, bless them that curse you and do good to them that hate you.”


It is clear to me and has been most of my life that if one wants to live an animal existence with a modicum of amenities, he must compromise morally; and if he wants to live a princely animal existence, he must not only compromise but  he must  prostitute himself and sell wholesale his principles. On the other hand, if one wants to attain Christ’s  heights of  morality and live as  morally uncompromising as Christ did, he must be prepared to be crucified.  No state, church or any other entity can long endure a man or woman preaching, acting and living as he did, because Christ’s teachings if implemented economically and politically would totally undermine the very foundations of the modern state and reduce the rich  and the poor to a common level.

So I  decided long ago that there was no way that I could imitate Christ, because I just didn’t have the moral courage to do so. I decided that I would try to cap my compromising at a level  with which I could live, that I would  admit to myself that  relative to Christ’s standards I was a weakling and that I  would therefore  ask forgiveness and understanding of my fellowman. Self preservation in the face of Christ’s example won out and so it is with every one who has escaped the cross.

The inducement for this article is an essay on faith written by a man who was trying to resolve the moral dilemma of being a Christian and being ready, willing and able to kill another in his defense; that is, he is an elder in the Presbyterian church and presumably a rabid member of the NRA. He relates that governing bodies of some mainstream churches have passed resolutions asking members to remove firearms, especially  handguns,  from their homes and to work to remove them from their communities and that some Christians say that it is immoral for one to defend himself if his defense could take the life of another, even the life of a criminal threatening deadly force. He poses this question: “Should Christians do nothing to defend their lives  or the lives of their family and neighbors?”

If one reads Christ closely,  he will  answer, indubitably, yes. The short argument is that that is precisely what Jesus did; and if he had done otherwise, if he had armed himself and   fought to the death with his enemies taking with him a goodly number, it is unlikely that  he would  have inspired millions of mankind to consider him God’s son, for he would have, by arming and defending himself, acted as an ordinary human. Further, twice in Matthew’s Gospel, Christ  makes  clear that one should not let loyalty to family be an excuse for not  following  and believing in him. In summary, he said  that  one’s chief foe shall be his own household; that  one who  loves family more than him is not worthy of him; and one who forsakes everything including family for his name’s sake shall have his reward.

Then, the elder makes reference to Luke 22:36-38,  to which scripture  Christian gun-lovers have made reference for at least 500 years. I know that they have because Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), the Intellectual Father of the Reformation, in his classic The Praise of Folly takes to task a doctor of theology who cited the scripture for the very reason all others do: To make a case that Christ advised his disciples to sell all they had in order to buy swords, presumably to defend themselves. Erasmus devotes two and three-quarter pages in counter argument that in my estimation should inhibit  forever  Christian gun-lovers from citing it again for the purpose of arguing that Christ , were he here today, would be a member of the NRA or a least have a deadly weapon close at hand. The good doctor’s construction of the scripture, said Erasmus, is as “agreeable to the mind of Christ as are Fire and Water to one another.”

The  elder admits that later,  when Peter cuts off the ear of an officer who came to arrest Jesus,  Jesus reprimanded Peter and told him to sheath  his  sword, for he who lives by it dies by it. But  he  concludes that  “the swords must have been for the protection of the disciples when He was no longer with them.” Erasmus  addresses this  point: “Nor does he [the doctor] take the least notice of this, that he [Christ] that so willed the sword to be bought, reprehends it a little  after  and commands it to be sheathed; and that it was never heard that the Apostles ever used swords or bucklers against the Gentiles, though it is likely that they would have, if Christ had ever intended, as  this Doctor interprets.”

And this from him who is   a church elder and wants to  defend himself and family with a gun: “Our gift of life comes from God, a life heavy with instinct for self-preservation and a God-given free will. Should we recognize God’s gift by letting evil take control of it?”   In answer, one can confidently reply that  nothing could be clearer than Jesus’ exhortations from the Mount: Resist not evil, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give to him that asketh, love your enemies, bless them that curse you and do good to them that hate you.

Self-preservation is the source of  much evil. It is an instinct that denies free will. It is the source of selfishness  and  all of its wicked manifestations. In fact, being born again is to lose the life of the animal in order to gain the life of the spirit.  And no one who is dominated by  his spiritual being is in the market for a handgun to kill whoever threatens his animal being.

I suggest that the elder,  gun-lovers  and Christians ponder  the following excerpt from The Meaning of the City by Jacques Ellul: “Judgment has been rendered once and for all: ‘The light came into the world, and the world did not receive it.’ There is no use trying again. And if you see the powers of the world so well disposed , when you see the state, money,  cities, accepting your word, it is because your word, whether you are only a man of good will or an evangelist, has become false. For it is only to the extent that you are a traitor that the world can put up with you.”

If a man looks honestly upon his livelihood, particularly if it awards him power and wealth, he cannot escape Ellul’s indictment that he is a traitor.  A man that arms himself with a deadly weapon to protect  his life, family and  property  is even more a traitor to  Christ’s spirit. And a  person intimate with Christ through the study of his words and acts cannot seriously believe Christ would  carry a sword, or pack a pistol, in  his defense.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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