Should Missionaries use Self-Defense?

A missionary recently posed this question to me, and I’d like to share the discussion with you all, because I have a feeling that this may be on your mind too.

How much should current action(s) be amended by future possibilities?

If I legitimately defend my life, whether by fist or firearm, and I injure or kill a person from the host culture, it is possible that violent retribution will be forthcoming. It may not be against me/my family, but against whatever target of opportunity perceivably linked to me next presents itself to those seeking retribution. What are your thoughts?

I think these are excellent questions; ethical yet pragmatic with potential positive outcomes for those you love (protecting their lives), but also negative outcomes for those in your community and the work they are undertaking (retribution and/or loss of access).

Oh, how I lament the law of unintended consequences!
I would first reference you to the following Scripture verses to guide our discussion pertaining to the sovereignty of God in these situations:

Isaiah 43:13 which says:  “Even from eternity I am He, And there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?”

And Colossians 1:17 which says: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Finally, Ephesians 1:11-12 says: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

First, let me be clear that I never doubt the sovereignty of God in matters both mortal and martial. The Lord holds all things together, and nothing comes against us, as His children, that does not first pass by His throne. The awesome thing about our God in these kinds of matters is that He has already forgiven us of our sin. This understanding is critical in the decision-making process.

That said, take comfort as you consider your actions and the potential consequences because EVERYTHING we do (from the actions we take to the responses that manifest as a result) is covered in the blood of Jesus.

 

To be clear, this is not an invitation to cheap grace when it comes to our personal security or the use of force in protecting our lives; the opposite is true. We need to wrestle with our personal security decisions; especially when they can lead to the harm of those we know or love because of our actions.

Remember: Within God’s sovereignty there is always a place for personal responsibility—especially when it comes to our actions. Because God expects us to take personal responsibility for our actions, the law of unintended consequences should not be ignored in these situations without significant cost. That’s because any course of action that is emotionally driven can undoubtedly lead to unintended consequences that we might later regret. When we take a course of action solely because it feels right, there will almost always be unintended consequences for us and those around us.

Feeling-driven decisions, especially in the heat of the moment, can have disastrous results. In survival situations, emotionally driven decisions can literally lead to additional personal peril OR survivor’s guilt because our emotionally driven decisions, under stress, led to actions that resulted in dire consequences for others—sometimes far beyond the initial incident we had to overcome.

(Quick aside: that’s why I love running role plays on ethical decision making with our students. It allows them to see that they cannot always trust their feelings under stress. Also, it helps them to see the necessity for rational decision making toward a course of action BEFORE a crisis event; not during).

Second, based on the situation you have described (fighting for your life or the lives of those you love within the sovereignty of God), your actions in these cases are neither right nor wrong. The WRONG is that you, or your family, were attacked and victimized in the first place. Thus, your decision making (as outlined above) is not about right or wrong, or even good or bad. It’s about understating that the decision-making process merely leads to consequences (be they positive or negative) for you, your family, your community, other expats, etc.

Therefore, what matters now is your rational processing of these potential outcomes (and I do mean potential as the responses of others to your actions is not guaranteed…). This means considering the outcomes to your family, your ministry, and the broader expat community including their safety and ministry access.

So, how oriented are you to both your personal feelings AND rational thinking in this area of self-defense? Based on your comprehension of the Scriptures, as well as your understanding of the ramifications of your actions to save the lives of your or your family, are you willing to risk violent retribution toward those around you?

Is sacrificing yourself or those you love worth it to stave off potential retribution focused on others? It is not my place to say, for you are in the decision-making position; not me. It is my hope, however, that I can help you with the decision-making process.

Remember, your potential decision making in these areas should not be based on the mere feeling of right or wrong. Indeed, at this point, you are only faced with considerations for future actions as you count the cost of obedience where God has you serving right now. Nevertheless, as you count the cost of a considered course of action, just remember that you never want to be making potential life and death decisions in the heat of a moment that will certainly be filled with raw emotion—and making emotionally charged decisions under duress is much more likely to lead to post-incident regret, than rationally processing your desired course of action now (thus making your decisions under duress easier to live with).

 

Bottom line: continue to count the cost; seek wise counsel, and plan.

Remember, the Holy Spirit is with you in this process, and the same God who is with you now will be with you in your time of need.

Remember the words of Proverbs 15:22: “Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Also remember that wielding the sword (or a firearm) is allowed by our Lord as we protect ourselves from evil along the road.

Luke 22:36 makes this clear: “And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.”

As I have said before on this matter of self-defense for the Christian, this is not a call to crusade or forcing others to our way of thinking by force; it is merely the understanding that God does not desire for his children to suffer needlessly from victimization (Proverbs 21:15; Hosea 12:6; Isaiah 1:17). I say this knowing that, as God’s servants, we are to rejoice in persecution and sufferings for the sake of the Gospel (Matthew 5:12; Acts 5:41). And what you have described to me does not sound like persecution, rather evil and victimization, or “evil along the road” as portrayed in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

In closing, I believe the choice is yours to make in this matter. God, in His wisdom, often leaves choices of a martial nature up to His children. While the Lord intends for His Word to provide guidance and direction, the ultimate decision for how to deal with these threats is up to you. Choosing to defend – or NOT to defend – yourself or your family based on the cultural ramifications of your actions is really an issue of conscience that you, as guardian and protector of your family, must make.

Therefore, I leave you with this thought: Where the Bible is silent, we must follow our conscience as we submit it to God’s will, through God’s Word.

Therefore, in your decision making:

  • Study the Word to show yourself approved, a workman unto Christ (2 Timothy 2:15).
  • Meditate on the Word that you might not sin against God in your decision going forward (Psalm 119:11).
  • After studying the Word, seeking wise counsel, and submitting your decision-making process to the Lord in prayer, STAND on your decision (Ephesians 6:13).
  • Pray that peace may abound and that the Lord protects you from having to implement the strategy you chose (2 Thessalonians 3:3; Deuteronomy 31:6).

-Scott Brawner

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