Guns, government tyranny, and 1 Peter 2:13-17

In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt traces the history of European anti-Semitism through its many decades stewing as an ideology that became normative. It was like a dormant ideological virus until the right social catalyst transformed it into genocide: the economic devastation and social upheaval of Eastern Europe after the first World War and then the Great Depression. I’m genuinely concerned that the escalating anti-government rhetoric within the US is functioning similarly as a viral ideology that will turn bloody given the right social catalyst. This question will offend some people, but I think it’s my duty to ask it. If you say you’re collecting guns to protect yourself from government tyranny and you call the current president a tyrant, at what point are you going to start shooting?

Most countries in the world have experienced some kind of full-out war on their soil in the last hundred or even fifty years. In America, we have not since 1865. I worry that this has given us a false sense of security, believing that we can talk as irresponsibly and hysterically as we want to, because we won’t ever cross the line into physical violence. We believe in the total depravity of everyone else. How dare anyone suggest that we could be capable of things that only gangsters and terrorists do?

9/11 and the Boston massacre were done by foreigners. They were not only tragic, but egregiously offensive to our sense of world order because things like that don’t happen in America. We’re able to bracket the mass shootings (that aren’t “terrorism” because they’re done by white guys) as “mental health” problems that have nothing to do with our culture’s idolatry of violent weapons.

I recently had a conversation with someone who said that it was his civic duty to be armed in order to protect our democracy from tyranny. So who gets to make the call on what counts as tyranny? It’s one thing for a group of colonies to revolt for being taxed without representation. What if slightly more than half the country supports a vision for our society in which nobody lacks healthcare? Should the guns of those who consider that social vision to be tyrannical trump the votes of the slightly more than half who support it? Is that democracy?

As Christians, we are specifically called not to be the people who are fomenting violent rhetoric and dehumanizing political opponents. 1 Peter 2:13-17 is a good encapsulation of the witness we are expected to bear in our society:

Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God on the day of His visitation. For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Peter doesn’t allow Christians to play the “two kingdom” game and try to cite one set of rules (like the Bible) for how we behave among Christians and another set of rules (like the Constitution) for how we’re supposed to behave in the secular world. He makes us responsible for whether or not non-Christians glorify God. Peter doesn’t allow Christians to let ourselves off the hook by blaming the “liberal media” for how we look to the world. He puts the responsibility for “the ignorance of the foolish” on our shoulders. We are not supposed to silence the foolish with our arguments, but by doing right. It’s amazing how dismissive and contemptuous “Biblical” Christians are towards the Bible when it actually contradicts how they want to behave.

The most dishonorable thing that many American Christians are doing right now is their participation in the outrage industrial complex. They simply don’t see it as a sin to circulate exaggerations and outright lies about political opponents. When they get called out for bearing false witness, instead of responding with contrition and repentance, they just pluck out another supporting argument to see if it will stick better than the first one.

If you’re stocking up arms to defend your country against tyranny, it’s a fair question to ask when you’re going to use them. What if a talk radio host announces a campaign to stop paying taxes since the government has gone too far? Let’s say the FBI is moving in to arrest the radio host for conspiring to break federal law and he says come over to my headquarters with your guns to defend me against tyranny? Would you go?

Oh that would never happen. This is America. Hmm… Yes, this is America, and you and I are creating an America whose future is uncertain. If you do violence to the truth by spreading irresponsible exaggerations and rumors, then you will be held accountable by God if and when the seeds of violent insurrection bear fruit given a potent enough social catalyst. If we ever reach the 30+% unemployment levels of the Great Depression and enough anti-government militants are desperate because their homes are under foreclosure and no jobs are in sight, that could be a catalyst for widespread domestic terrorism.

As Christians, we are supposed to have a very sober perspective about the evil that we ourselves are capable of. Instead, we consider it pious to preach about the evils of other people, which is actually a strategy for concealing our own capacity for sin. When Jesus says that whoever hates another person is guilty of murder (Matthew 5:22), it’s because a murderer is someone whose hate is combined with the right social catalyst just like an adulterer is someone whose lust is combined with the right set of circumstances.

Fascists and terrorists are not a different species of human; they are people who have been brainwashed to believe that the victims they target are fascists and terrorists who threaten their own existence. The Jews weren’t hated for race or religion, but because of decades of unchallenged lies being told about them: that they were the “bankers” who caused World War I, the Great Depression, etc.

Then when Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew, assassinated the German diplomat Ernst von Rath on November 7, 1938, the German outrage industrial complex exploded into Kristallnacht, an orgy of violence that left 91 Jews dead and 30,000 thrown into prison. Kristallnacht showed the Germans that open violence against the Jews had become socially acceptable; it completed the groundwork for the Holocaust to begin.

At what point will the widespread ideological violence of our virtual reality explode into a Kristallnacht of physical reality? Will the Muslims or the homosexuals or the “illegal aliens” be the scapegoats that Satan uses to accomplish his plan? How many Boston marathon bombings and IRS scandals will it take for a critical mass of people to decide it’s socially acceptable to start shooting? Don’t say it can’t happen in America. The best that we can do as Christians to prevent violence is to be the witnesses of peace and good will that Peter tells us to be. If you argue with that, you’re arguing with the Bible, not me.

22 thoughts on “Guns, government tyranny, and 1 Peter 2:13-17

  1. Morgan,

    I think what you are saying – at least what I am hearing – is “Christ and His kingdom first”, which is actually, Godly advice. And its wise.

    I have a couple of questions though. I study the law quite a bit. I am not an attorney, and for very good reasons that include loss of certain liberties that is concomitant with becoming one, I despise that moniker, but I am getting off point.

    Do you believe from the passage that you have quoted that as a Christian, I should not “defend” myself at law at all? I mean lets suppose that I can demonstrate that, say, certain taxes dont apply to me, and can win that battle legally. Would that be ok with you? And what about some ordinance that shows clearly on its face that I seem to be violating it – but I win in court, simply by using the law. Would that be O.K. ?

    The reason I ask these types of questions is that Christians espousing the verses that you do rarely have nary a clue as to what the Law in the united states of America says. IN passages like you quoted, you need to look at the culture carefully and what was/is going on at the time. IN this country, court case after court case has decidedly stated that “the people are sovereign”. Not any president, or governor, or supreme court justice, or any one else, but rather, “the people”.

    Here is an excerpt from just one of those cases:

    “…at the Revolution, the sovereignty devolved on the people; and they are truly the sovereigns of the country, but they are sovereigns without subjects…with none to govern but themselves; the citizens of America are equal as fellow citizens, and as joint tenants in the sovereignty.” CHISHOLM v. GEORGIA (US) 2 Dall 419, 454, 1 L Ed 440, 455 @DALL 1793 pp471-472

    What is even more striking is that when these rulings were handed down, they didnt mean that the people are sovereign as a body politic, but as individuals. In fact,many legal treatises say that the prerogative of the King (of England) devolved on the people of the united states of America. Think about that!

    Now, does that mean I use my “prerogative” as a means of beating down my brother, or act like a fool in some other way? As it says in Proverbs, foolishness doesnt become kings. MY first obligation,and maybe my only obligation is to God and His government. And He DOES have government.

    Passages as you quoted bother me some because it is so easy to look to the Government as “authority”. (Its especially difficult for me to view government as authority in light of who are the sovereigns) But can the creation be greater than the creator? If you believe what has been said about representative government and that the people put congress, the senate, and all presidents in as servants, including the present administration, then they (government) aren’t the authority at all. YOU are.

    The creation is not above the creator. God says to obey those in power. Well, that power would be YOU in this country. And, are we as people of this Country to take serious the words in the declaration of Independence – still a governing document in American law as can be attested to by the opening pages of the Federal Statutes annotated – wherein it (the declaration) states:

    “…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

    I am not saying we are to go to this extreme -what I am saying is that it is irresponsible to push a bible passage without understanding the whole story. The people being sovereign is a silly concept when it comes to heaven and the ruler thereof, but it is not silly when we think of Government as established here.

    I do not believe in taking up arms against government, for many reasons, but practically because I believe that if everyone stopped listening to the lies on FOX or CNN, and instead devoted themselves to the study of law, we could take this country back in less than 5 years. I mean that sincerely.

    Less than 5 years.

    The real loss of liberties in the u.s. of A. are taking place in the minds of the people, and then those losses are realized in the courts.

    There is so much more that I could reveal on this issue, and I believe that the absolute application of passages such as you have quoted are misused by well meaning, though often ignorant Christians. I do believe that we are to be respectful of laws that are reasonably intent on helping us live in harmony, and I dont go out of my way – for the Lords sake – to violate them. After all, I dont want to damage my witness for the kingdom, and that is a principle that I will be judged on.

    • “The real loss of liberties in the u.s. of A. are taking place in the minds of the people, and then those losses are realized in the courts.” I think the true “powers and principalities” that subjugate us are not the flesh and blood of government officials as such, but the widely pervasive demonic mentalities that keep us from living imaginatively as citizens of God’s kingdom and also as you say sovereigns of the USA. I got that from Foucault. We don’t need to have guns pointed at our heads. We’re quite happy to be compliant sheep. The people who supposedly rule us are just being sheep as well in their own positions in the monstrous Leviathan that owns us. I’m interested in hearing more about what you’ve found in your study of law.

  2. Pigeon-holing? Ah… no. With extreme respect, the prospect of violence is not substantiated. At the various Tea Party rallies in Washington and elsewhere there was not one single shred of violence in any form. This was not the case with the Occupy rallies.

    If the current administration had a record of demonstrated integrity, then the fiasco that occurred at Benghazi would probably be viewed with less suspicion. Given the conduct of the administration and its spokesmen, that suspicion is being proven well warranted. Really, to blame the entire mess on a video tape and describe a hours long military scale attack on the embassy as a demonstration simply beggars the imagination.

    The use of the judicial department to put pressure on AP journalists is not simply problematic. It is a serious misuse of the power of government. If journalists obtain classified information, the failure is with the person who leaked the information, not the journalist. To suppose that government only shrouds legitimate material as secret is naive. One need only remember… the Pentagon papers. Secret? Illegal? As then, so now it is not possible to suppose that the current administration would not use such restrictions for protection from any little problems.

    The inexcusable use of the irs as a political weapon is a matter of such concern that criticism of the administration is being voiced from both the right and left side of the political spectrum. It is unprecedented the the irs would be used used to muzzle political speech not welcomed by the administration. To suppose that it was only the result of free lancing by low level irs operative is laughable. It was know as far back as March 2010 that such things were going on. These things were only done to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Not once was the same sort of extreme review directed at groups seeking to raise money to support the current administration in the election cycle.

    Who bears responsibility for the current acidic political environment? Blame falls rightly on the media that thrives on controversy to fuel it’s 30 minute news cycles and its agenda driven reporting. People

    The current acidic political environment reflects the reality of a political process wherein office holders serve themselves rather than the public. It reflects the consequences of class warfare styled as a agenda of change in which any opposition is characterized as evil on its face. The political process is not remotely related to any sort of marriage at all. It is more properly compared to a legal contract in which the parties negotiate for their own best interest. In that regard, lack of trust is a very good thing. And given the current administration, that lack of trust is completely warranted. This is especially true given recent statements by this current administration that at no time was this current administration aware of what this current administration was doing.

      • “You’re pigeon-holing me as a “leftist.”

        Morgan, you ARE a leftist. Your political (and even theological) perspectives all come from that slant. Your bias is severe in that regard (and apparent to all).

        “Just don’t shoot anybody and I’ll be happy.”

        If they don’t come to my house and try to kill me or my family, they’ll be fine. It is the liberal who is antagonistic and proactive in destruction. Look at Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground. Look at Occupy and the rampant drug use, vandalism, and rape that happened at those events. There were even murders at Occupy. Yet at Tea Party events, there was calm, order, and people picked up their own trash. There wasn’t a single violent incident at a Tea Party rally… yet you’d be hard pressed to find an Occupy event without violence, arrests, or vandalism.

        When you say things like “it sounds like you are ready to start shooting tomorrow” and “just don’t shoot anybody” it shows that you lack a fundamental understanding of conservatives. By default, and in their nature, a conservative wants things to be as they have always been. Their bias is for inaction. They rise up only when defending their own lives or the lives of their loved ones. Only when it becomes apparent that the government is going to come after and hurt them as a whole would they rise up against government as a whole (for example, the government says “all conservatives are to be rounded up and executed”).

        When do we start shooting at the government? When it has become abundantly clear that the government intends to kill us for what we believe. We are not there yet, Morgan (at least outwardly). Do you recall how I told you before all of the scandals came out that we were 50 years from tyranny before Bush, but that now we are literally one national emergency away from tyranny? With Obama giving Al Queda heavy weapons in Libya and now also in Syria, with the absolute shredding of the constitution under the last 2 presidents, with the government knowing about every phone call, every email, every photo, every video, with the government punishing political opponents with the IRS are you now beginning to get a clearer picture of the true state of our authoritarian minded government? When the person who has visited the white house more than any other since Obama took office is the head of the IRS… and when political targeting of conservative groups happen by high up IRS offices literally begins the day after those officials meet with Obama you simply can no longer ignore the evidence. When Paul Krugman says the US has become an “authoritarian surveillance state” and the liberal NY times says “Obama has lost all credibility”… when nearly every single day a new whistleblower comes forward with a new, even more devastating scandal than the day before be it freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the 2nd amendment, the 4th amendment, the 5th amendment…. our freedoms are being devastated right now.

        Since we are “supposed” to be a government of, by, and for the people, it is OUR responsibility to influence and change government to keep it from becoming tyrannical. Tyrannical governments have killed more people and done more evil, and continue to be the most murderous force on planet earth even today. In the case of America, to “render unto ceasar” is to do your civic duty and add your voice and participate in the process.

        • So now you’re saying with certainty not even as a theory that Obama was giving Al Qaida weapons in Benghazi. I just can’t engage this because your lack of concern about bearing false witness makes it pretty clear that you don’t fear God.

  3. “If you say you’re collecting guns to protect yourself from government tyranny and you call the current president a tyrant, at what point are you going to start shooting?”

    I’m not a gun guy, but I think when they start using drones on US soil which despite his claims, Obama does intend to do which is why he is spying on the AP to see if they’ve found any evidence of it, would be the time that the gun collectors begin shooting: namely shooting the drones out of the sky. I also think that’s why the democrats want to ban AR15s, because they are more capable of shooting down their tyrant drones than other guns. But I’m not a gun guy, so I’m only speculating.

    I think liberals had better pray real hard that he gets impeached over the AP spying or the IRS scandal one or the other. Because if not, there will be a civil war eventually, because he will begin using drones on civilians: that’s why he’s spying on the AP, to prevent them from proving it, to scare them into submission.

    • Really? The AP was a very specific case in which classified information was leaked to the press. It was wrong for them to do what they did without going through the courts, but you’re fantasizing pretty wildly here. What’s the story with your name descriptivegrace by the way? Is it Christian?

  4. Relax. Nobody is gathering up their guns to start a war. It’s amazing how quickly you start throwing rocks when it comes to politics.

    • Depends on who you’re talking to. I’m not throwing rocks. I’m just trying to remind my people who we belong to.

  5. It is said, those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it. Possibly. Or, possibly, some folks might actually learn from history rather than repeat it. After all, had someone listened to reason, there would have been no need for 1776. Other than the hysterical left and the current administration, no one seems to be particularly concerned about much less desirous of any imminent repetition of that history. If anything approaching that sort of crisis developed, Christians would be found on both sides of the line and legitimately so. For there would be those who would do nothing in the name of conscience. There would be those who would act because of conscience.

    Political speech can be problematic. Oddly only with this current administration does it seem that there is concern to moderate such problematic political speech. Oddly no such need for moderation of the left-wing outrage industry either secular or even Christian was voiced during the prior administration. Why now is it so very much needed? Had Benghazi, the AP fiasco or a rogue politically weaponized irs occurred in the previous administration, impeachment proceedings would have begun immediately all at the hue and cry of the media, etc. Why now is moderation so very much needed?

    If you looked through the window and saw Kristallnacht 2.0 unfolding across the street, would you … what? Close the blinds? Call the local Occupy organization? Hope that it didn’t morph into a repeat of Tiananman Square? Tell everyone to obey the authorities or follow the same path ultimately but belatedly taken by Bonhoeffer, etc. And… please do note that when it comes to ideological violence exploding, no such excess was anywhere evident except in the various protest at the G-8 and Occupy.

    • You’re pigeon-holing me as a “leftist.” I’m simply concerned about the prospect of real physical violence. I said the same things years ago when I was actually sitting in conversations with anarchists who wanted to break windows at their protests.

      We need to speak with integrity about the things you named. Benghazi is over the top. Dozens of analogous events happened during the Bush administration. The AP fiasco is obviously problematic; it is also problematic that journalists are allowed to leak classified information under condition of anonymity.

      There’s no excuse for the IRS crap. Heads should roll, but unless there’s evidence it came from the top, Obama’s head shouldn’t be on that plate. Of course it is a valid question whether attack ad organizations should be given non-profit status just because they don’t officially endorse a candidate.

      Regardless, we the people are responsible for creating a poisonous environment in which it’s impossible to govern because of the hyperventilators in the outrage industrial complex. The breakdown of trust is a collective responsibility. It’s just like how in a marriage when one spouse cheats, it doesn’t mean the other spouse is 100% innocent because it’s almost always a response to a complex two-sided conflict.

      • “Heads should roll”

        No they shouldn’t: that’s a very violent thing to say.

        “but unless there’s evidence it came from the top, Obama’s head shouldn’t be on that plate”

        The very fact that today the criminal-in-chief said that no special investigators are needed because he can investigate it all on his own proves he is involved. He’s worried a special investigator would find some very damning evidence of his involvement, and no doubt he’s already begun shredding documents. He needs to be impeached. And any leftist nutter who really is worried about a civil war would be praying real hard that he does get impeached because I can’t think of anything more likely to cause a civil war than the terrorist-in-chief getting away with this.

        • Wow so it sounds like you’re ready to start shooting tomorrow. Thanks for being the living proof that I’m not stereotyping at all.

  6. I would not take up arms against any government. My first allegiance is to the Kingdom of Heaven. My purpose is to be the image of Jesus to everyone. That verse in 1 Peter says it all.

  7. Fascism is hard to precisely define, but generally refers to a belligerant government joined at the hip with corporatist interests which for its own purposes intentionally divides people by appealing to racial pride or national exceptionalism.
    A marginalized, impoverished and relatively powerless opponent of fascism is not a fascist.
    We all should understand that often, those in a fallen world ‘who fight dragons often become one’, but to allow that possibility to keep us from acting would be only to assent to evil.
    Pure pacifists such as Tolstoy whose method is solely ‘cruciform’ are really admirable, but for the rest of us who deplore violence while supporting armed self-defense under certain conditions (and that has been condoned by the Church Fathers – and Mothers) the question is – at what point do the conditions justify such a thing.
    We thank God there any methods of non-violent resistance to evil, and pray none other will be necessary. In the meantime we must not permit a government monopoly on the possession of arms.

    • But at what point does that theoretical commitment of keeping the government from having a monopoly on arms cross over into eliciting conflict? I’m concerned about the people who seem to be spoiling for a fight for naive existential reasons not thinking about the consequences of their rhetoric.

      • Seems the entity most “spoiling for a fight” is our own government, which is engaging in and supporting armed conflict everywhere.
        But I am aware some people too are just a fight looking for an excuse. I fear my own contentiousness at times.
        The point of resistance, our individual “red lines”, and the means of resistance, are very much a personal decision.
        But no one who supports “Just War” when engaged in by government, holds any moral superiority over those who extend the right of armed self defense to individuals , singly or in concert.

        • I hear what you’re saying. I just want for us to be a witness of a different way of doing things. I’m so sick of all the delighting in scandal that happens in our culture.

  8. This is so sad hearing this from someone who ostensibly supports social justice.
    Hitler was an emperor if there ever was one. Honor him?
    And a government that stockpiles horrible and sinful nuclear weapons and wages unnecessary wars of aggression all over the world while simultaneously attacking its own poor and helpless at home?
    Obey that government?
    Yes, it is a sin to promote racial or class hate or needless violence. But it is a grave sin also to fail to act when faced with injustice.
    Let us all turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance in this.

    • I’m just saying that we need to be very careful with our rhetoric. Let’s tell the truth about what it is happening but not exaggerate or create hysteria. If there is a need to confront tyranny, our method is cruciform. I don’t take an absolute pacifist line but I’m disturbed by the rhetoric about using guns to fight government tyranny. We just have to remember that the way to become a fascist is to convince yourself that you’re fighting the fascists.

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