Can a Christian exercise armed self-defense?
The Governing Body of the JWs, unfortunately, in recent decades has started to create and impose human rules on the Witnesses. These rules are not based on the Bible, but reflect the personal opinion of the members of the Governing Body (GB). One thing that each Witness should keep in mind is that if any member of the current GB has a personal view on a particular subject, the congregations will, sooner or later, be imposed such a view. Not only that, disagreeing with such an opinion will be seen as blasphemy. We see this at various points where GB members simply go beyond the Scriptures and start imposing their own views, such as in the subject of higher education, beard use, not greeting someone who has been disfellowshipped, among others.
In this article, I discuss four points about the GB’s current opinion on armed self-defense: First: Jesus did not speak of self-defense in Matthew 26:52 (which is the basic text for the governing body’s current position on armed self-defense), but of revolt against the authorities; Second, the Bible does not condemn armed self-defense. At this point I will analyze the article in The Watchtower of July 2017. In the magazine, the author presents six justifications for a Christian not to exercise armed self-defense. I will analyze each one and prove that they are all false; Third, Jehovah’s organization has in the past defended the right to armed self-defense. At this point I will compare what The Watchtower of September 15th, 1939 said about self-defense to the way the GB has deconstructed the biblical view to impose members’ personal opinion on us; Fourth, it is not up to the GB to say how Christians should protect themselves and their families. The current position of the GB on self-defense should make us doubt the competence of their members to instruct the people of God.
This article is written by Miguel Hensel, who is the translator of my book, My Beloved Religion — And The Governing Body into Portuguese. Hensel is from Brazil, where the crime rate is very high, and he argues that the Bible does not forbid self-defense when one is attacked, not even defense by the use of a weapon.
Rolf J. Furuli
The GB’s personal opinion, not that presented in the Bible, is expressed in the Awake! of September 22, 1995:
And if uninvited trouble comes your way, pulling out a weapon is sure to escalate the conflict. You could get killed—or end up killing someone else. How would God, the Source of life, view your actions if you could have avoided using violence?—Psalm 11:5; 36:9. […]
What about “safer” weapons, such as chemical sprays? Besides the fact that they are illegal in some places, these weapons have serious drawbacks. Instead of immobilizing a drug-crazed attacker, they may only succeed in infuriating him. It is even possible that the wind might blow the chemical into your face rather than the attacker’s—assuming you get the spray out in the first place. Seeing you rummaging through your pockets or purse, the assailant may assume you are reaching for a gun and decide to take some aggressive action of his own.
This is not what the Bible says, but it is the concept of some individuals. Even a “non-lethal weapon”, such as pepper spray, is discouraged (=prohibited) by the GB. This is yet another example of the audacity of GB members who think they have the right to influence our brothers and sisters in personal matters. The same magazine says:
The threat of violence was real back in Jesus’ day. One of his most famous parables, commonly called the parable of the Good Samaritan, related an incident involving violent robbery. (Luke 10:30-35) When Jesus asked his disciples to equip themselves with swords, it was not for protection. In fact, it led to his stating the principle: “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword.”—Matthew 26:51, 52; Luke 22:36-38.
True Christians, therefore, do not arm themselves so as to harm their fellowman. (Compare Isaiah 2:4.) They follow the Bible’s advice at Romans 12:18: “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.” Does this mean being defenseless? Not at all! (My italics)
Let us make an analysis of that thought. Violence has always been a reality in this system. That’s not news. Yes, Jesus narrated a violent assault. And what about it? Nothing. But let’s keep moving. Jesus said in Luke 22:36:
Jesus said to them, “But now if you have money or a bag, carry that with you. If you don’t have a sword, sell your coat and buy one.” (Easy-To-Read Version)
The referred magazine correctly explains this passage. Jesus was not referring to buying a literal sword and getting armed. The point here is to be prepared for trials. In verse 38, after being asked whether two swords were enough for the coming events, Jesus answered: “That’s enough”. Jesus didn’t mean that two swords were indeed enough, but most scholars agree that that statement was either ironic (for two swords would obviously not be enough) or a way to end the conversation, a dismissal of the subject. So far so good. The problem begins with a biased interpretation of Jesus’ words: “Return the sword to its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
The GB teaches that a Christian cannot have arms, not even a knife, to defend himself from other humans. I will defend four points in this article:
- First, Jesus did not speak of self-defense in Matthew 26:52, but of revolt against the authorities;
- Second, the Bible does not condemn armed self-defense. At this point I will review the article in the July 2017 Watchtower;
- Third, Jehovah’s organization has already defended the right of self-defense. At this point I will compare what The Watchtower of September 15th, 1939, said about self-defense to the way the GB has deconstructed the biblical view to impose their members’ personal opinion on the Witnesses;
- Fourth, it is not up to the GB to say how Christians should protect themselves and their families. The current position of the GB on self-defense should make us doubt the competence of their members to instruct the people of God.
First point: Jesus wasn’t referring to self-defense
The entire account in Matthew 26 and the other parallel accounts did not concern self-defense, but illegal resistance against the authorities and the defense of Christ (preaching of the gospel) by arms. Note that Peter, the whole time, drags the sword. At no moment did Jesus reprove or censure Peter for carrying a sword for self-defense. The sword was used for protection from both wild animals and criminals.
The Greek scholar John Gill, explained:
this is not to be understood of magistrates who bear not the sword in vain, are ministers of God for good, and revengers of evil works; but of private persons that use the sword, and that not in self-defence, but for private revenge; or engage in a quarrel, to which they are not called; and such generally perish, as Peter must have done, had it not been for the interposition of almighty power. Though this seems to be spoken not so much of Peter, and of the danger he exposed himself to, by taking and using the sword, and so to deter him from it, but rather of these his enemies: and as an argument to make and keep Peter easy and quiet, and exercise patience, since, in a little time, God would avenge himself of them; and that the Jews, who now made use of the sword of the Roman soldiers, would perish by the sword of the Romans, as in a few years after the whole nation did. (My italics)
Matthew Henry, an Anglican scholar, also advocated something similar. He explained that Jesus’ words mean that “Christ [will not] have his ministers propagate his religion by force of arms”. In other words, the author claimed that Christ was not referring to self-defense, but to defending the Christian religion with arms.
Adam Clarke, a scholar often quoted by the Watchtower Society, explained what the GB refuses to admit: “Neither Christ nor his religion is to be defended by the secular arm”, and even “the shadow of public justice is not to be resisted by a private person, when coming from those in public authority”. The point explained by Adam Clarke, as well as by others, is evident: In the account of Peter and the sword, Jesus did not refer to self-defense, but to resisting the authorities and imposing Christianity by means of arms.
Christ condemned Peter not for carrying a sword, but for trying to defend Christ through arms. This means that when the authorities come against true Christians, we will not take up arms to defend ourselves, either as a group or as individuals. We will simply be detained and defend ourselves by argumentative means, or legal means that the authorities permit. At no point in this passage did Jesus infer that the Christian cannot have a weapon for self-defense.
Second point: The Bible does not condemn armed self-defense
Neither the GB nor any reasonable person will say that the Bible condemns self-defense. There is no dispute here. The problem is that the GB condemns owing arms for self-defense – something not based on the Bible. The Bible tells us that Esther begged King Ahasuerus to prevent the Jewish people from being annihilated, according to Haman’s intention. So, the king supported the decision of Mordecai, the Jew, who instructed the entire Jewish nation to arm and defend themselves. King Ahasuerus’ secretaries wrote letters to all provinces according to Mordecai’s information. The Bible says:
(Esther 8:11) wherein the king granted the Jews that were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, their little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey, (American Standard Version)
This information is in the Bible not just to tell us about some events in God’s people. But this account instructs us about what God thinks of armed self-defense when the country’s law allows it. (Romans 15:4)
Another example of armed self-defense can be seen in Genesis 14:14, 15. This account shows us that Abram (later Abraham), knew that his relative had been kidnapped. So, Abram gathered 318 men and chased the kidnappers as far north as Damascus. Finally, his relative was rescued. God did not condemn Abram for this. On the contrary, he made him a great nation. These examples are enough to show that God supports armed self-defense when it is needed.
From now on, I will review the article in the “Questions From Readers” section of the July 2017 Watchtower magazine. Several errors were made by the article’s author. Such mistakes, indeed, should make us seriously doubt the GB’s competence to teach Jehovah’s people. The article begins by defending something with no biblical basis:
These [Scriptures] advise against the use of carnal weapons, such as handguns, rifles, or other firearms, for protection against other humans.
This is not based on the Bible. Self-defense implies that those who defend themselves must have similar power to those who attack. Self-defense has always been conceived as an act that could take somebody’s life. If a thug approaches you with a revolver, it is foolish to think that the most dangerous “weapon” you can get to defend yourself is a whistle, but this is more or less what the GB conceives as “Christian self-defense”. Even a baseball bat, if used for defence, would be used by Christians “so as to harm their fellowman”, and that would be against the opinion of the GB members.
It is obvious that if the bandit approaches you with a knife, it would be wrong to simply fire a weapon and kill the man; but every citizen, Christian or not, has guaranteed the right of self-defense by God. And, as stated, self-defense implies similarity between the power of attack and defense. Christians must, of course, obey the laws of the country. Therefore, where there is no permission to own legal weapons, a Christian should act accordingly.
To justify the personal opinion presented at the beginning of the article, the author points out some topics. I will analyze them one by one.
First reason: “In Jehovah’s eyes, life—especially human life—is sacred.”
Without a doubt, human life is sacred. But this does not mean that the Christian cannot defend himself with a firearm, as the Christian’s life is also sacred – and that is the point that the author of the article ignored. I have never met a devout catholic or protestant who owned a gun because he ‘wanted to kill someone’; but because he didn’t want to get killed. A Christian who refuses to defend his own life and the lives of his family members out of “respect for the sanctity of the bandit’s life” is underestimating the sanctity of his own life. This borders on what we can call pathological altruism. Self-defense is a response to a reaction caused by someone else, and it implies in essence the probability of death. It is the armed criminal who comes into your home who disrespects the holiness of life, not your self-defense. Obviously, if a bandit stole your wallet and ran away, you will not, under any circumstances, chase after him and shoot him in the back. That would be a disrespect to human life. Even the law of men would condemn such action. But if an armed bandit comes into your house and you are able to draw a gun and target the criminal, you never disrespected the sanctity of life. On the contrary, it is precisely because you consider your life as holy that you took such action.
Still on this topic, the author of the article continues:
Moreover, if an attacker—who may already be tense—sees that the other person has a firearm, the situation is very likely to escalate and a death might result.
Here the truth behind the article becomes clearer: It is not the view of the Bible being presented, but the opinion of the members of the GB. How does that statement help me understand the view of the Bible? It doesn’t. That is an opiniated argument, not a statement to make the biblical concept of self-defense stand out. I agree that a person who does not know how to use a weapon puts himself at serious risk by carrying one – that is obvious. But if a person knows how to use a firearm, who can say that it will put the life of the victim of an assault at risk? The GB members visibly have no idea of what they are talking about.
Second reason: Peter and the sword account.
As I have already explained, Jesus did not refer in any way to self-defense. In the entire account Peter carries the sword, and Jesus didn’t say a word about it. Jesus said that Christians should not resist the authorities through force and armed rebellion. It seems to me that Jesus could be making a prophecy about the condemnation of the Jewish nation under the Roman state. This account cannot be used under any circumstances to claim that Christians do not have the right to armed self-defense.
Third reason: “In harmony with Micah 4:3, God’s people ‘beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears.’”
At this point it becomes more and more evident why I believe that the GB member have no clue of what self-defense really is. The author of the article quoted Micah 4:3, and argued that Christians should not own arms for self-defense because they must “beat their swords into plowshares”. The subject presented in the text of Micah 4:3, like Matthew 26:52, is not self-defense. In Micah, the point is to refuse learning “war”. The verse says that “Nation will not lift up sword against nation”. Going to war to kill others for a nationalist cause is wrong for a Christian, but self-defense is a right granted by the Creator to every man.
The author of the article also quotes Romans 12:17, 18: “Return evil for evil to no one […] If possible, as far as it depends on you, be peaceable with all men.” But since when did those who exercise self-defense stop “being peaceful”?
Imagine the following situation: In a Christian family there is a father, a mother and two school-aged daughters. The father is in the garage repairing a nail gun. The mother and daughters are in the living room chatting. At that moment, two criminals brake into the house and hit the mother hard on the head. She falls on the floor unconscious. The two daughters cry out for help. The criminals intend to sexually abuse them. The father hears the screams for help from the garage and runs into the living room with the nail gun in hand. When he comes across the situation, he has two choices: either he faces the criminals, or obeys their orders. Then the father points the nail gun at the criminals and thinks: “The Bible tells us not to repay anyone evil with evil. So, I’m going to put the nail gun down and collaborate with the bad guys.” This thinking is pathetic, but it is exactly what the GB’s posture suggests. The mistake in all of this is that exercising self-defense is not “returning evil for evil”, but preventing evil from prevailing in a specific situation. A father who decides to use a nail gun in this situation would not do this to “harm his fellowman”, but to prevent the criminals from killing his family!
Note what the text says: “as far as it depends on you”. Exercising self-defense is the right of every human being, and whoever does so, does not stop being peaceful. The author is confusing being peaceful with being a pacifist.
In an article entitled Why Jehovah’s Witnesses Are Not Pacifists, in The Watchtower in 1951, we read:
pacifism means: “Opposition to war or to the use of military force for any purpose; especially, an attitude of mind opposing all war, emphasizing the defects of military training and cost of war, and advocating settlement of international disputes entirely by arbitration.” Such pacifism not even the Bible itself can be charged with teaching, and neither can Jehovah’s witnesses, who stick most scrupulously to the Bible. (My italics)
This explanation is perfect! Being peaceful does not mean being willing to die or refusing to exercise self-defense for the sake of criminals. It is clear that the author of the 2017 “Question From Readers” article has no idea of what self-defense is and also contradicts what was said in the 1951 Watchtower article about being peaceful and not a pacifist.
Fourth reason: “Christians consider life to be far more valuable than material things.”
A Christian obviously will not simply shoot a thug who points a knife at him and tells him to hand out his wallet. It is better to hand out the wallet and save a life, both in benefit of those who steal and of those who are robbed. This is indisputable. But that is just one situation, and it is quite simplistic. The author also argues that it is “better to be safe than sorry”. That is also obvious. It is so obvious that it sounds curious that someone might think it is necessary to point it out. However, when we talk about exercising self-defense, we have more complex examples in mind rather than a simple theft. For instance, a thug with a firearm brakes into your home, or your car, and wants to take you to a specific location. Or perhaps an armed bandit approaches both you and your family, or even more tense situations. In such cases, simply handing out your cell phone may not be enough. And an armed bandit is, in essence, a risk to life. Therefore, in any situation that a Christian believes that his life or that of others is at risk, he is permitted by God to exercise self-defense.
The June, 2008 Awake! magazine commented on self-defense:
On the other hand, what if a person’s life is threatened by an assailant? A law that God gave to ancient Israel sheds light on this. If a thief was caught in the daytime and was killed, the assailant would be charged with murder. This was evidently because thievery did not carry the death penalty and the thief could have been identified and brought to justice. However, if an intruder was fatally struck at night, the householder could be exonerated because it would be difficult for him to see what the intruder was doing and to ascertain the intentions of the intruder. The householder could reasonably conclude that his family was under threat of harm and take defensive action.—Exodus 22:2, 3.
This reasoning is correct and makes perfect sense. But what would be the modern equivalent for this principle? Note that it was explained that “if an intruder was fatally struck at night, the householder could be exonerated because it would be difficult for him to see […] the intentions of the intruder”. Today, therefore, a Christian has the right to exercise self-defense if he concludes, according to the circumstance, that his life or the lives of their loved ones are in danger.
What are some indications that a Christian’s life is at risk in a robbery? The possession of a firearm by the bandit. If a thug pointed a firearm at the victim, this is equivalent to the biblical principle expressed in Exodus 22:2, 3, and a Christian is immediately granted by God the right to defend himself and his property. If a Christian has access to a firearm, and if he is capable of using it, it is his right to defend himself. If the criminal dies, the Christian is free from blood guilt. The criminal may only want the Christian’s cell phone or wallet, but since he is pointing a gun at the victim, it is understood that he is willing to use it, either with the Christian or with someone else afterwards. An armed bandit is life-threatening for good people, even if he just intends to steal one’s cell phone.
Fifth reason: “Christians respect others’ consciences.”
Here we have the most – at least to me – preoccupying reason. The author says: “If it became known that a member of the congregation kept a gun for protection against humans, some fellow believers might be shocked, even stumbled.” Does that mean I can’t defend myself with a gun because a brother in the congregation doesn’t like it? What if a thug breakes into my house, kills my wife, and after that I manage to survive, but realize that if I had had a real gun at home, I could have saved my wife? Would the weak-minded brother be held responsible for her death? Would the GB members be “shocked”?
The next point is scary. The author then states that “love” makes us give up something that ‘we think we have the right to do’. What the GB is doing here is very, very preoccupying, and it is one of the reasons why I defend the that the GB must be dissolved. In short, the GB indoctrinates our brothers and sisters to think something that the Bible does not say – in this case, the prohibition to own a firearm for self-defense – so, most of our brothers, for believing that the GB has been appointed by Christ, come to agree with this. As a result, the GB uses the brothers who have already been persuaded by the non-biblical argument, so that the rest of the congregation, who has not yet been persuaded, ends up doing what the GB wants them to do – all of this in the name of “love”. This is extremely preoccupying. It is not up to the members of the congregation to give an opinion on how the other members should defend themselves and their families. The GB is using the brothers who have already been indoctrinated to think something non-biblical as a justification for those who have not yet been indoctrinated to do what the GB wants them to do. This is extremely unloving on the part of the GB. The true Christian love for our brothers and sisters must motivate us to respect the right of every person to defend themselves as they see fit, according to what they see in the Bible.
Sixth reason: “Christians strive to be exemplary.”
This is the last reason presented in the article. What it is argued here is very simple: Christians must strive to be good examples. Therefore, they must not be prepared with armed self-defense. This is purely circular. I will demonstrate why:
- The GB says that whoever has a firearm for self-defense is not a good example;
- But Christians must be good examples;
- Therefore, being a good example is a reason for not having weapons for self-defense;
In short, the reasoning is purely tautological: an opinion is used as a justification for itself. I would sort of agree if the GB suggested that the elders do not own firearms in order to avoid potential problems with justice and potential false accusations. The problem, however, is that a suggestion from the Governing Body is currently venerated and understood as an unquestionable order.
 See The Peoples New Testament, by B. W. Johnson; also John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible.
 John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible. Available at https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/matthew-26-52.html.
 Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible. Available at https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/matthew/26.html.
 According to Barbara Oakley, author of the book Pathological Altruism, this expression can be defined as ‘altruism [that] hurts the altruist, [and it] is taken to an unhealthy extreme, or causes more harm than good’. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathological_Altruism.
 A carpenter’s tool.
 The WatchTower, 1951. February 1st, Paragraph 3.
Third Point: The Organization has already defended the right of armed self-defense
What you will read next is an article in the September 15th, 1939 Watchtower magazine, pages 279-281. The italics in red are mine. You will find that the author of this article correctly uses biblical texts without twisting them to support the opinions of men. In this article, the author even defends armed self-defense.
Do the Scriptures approve of a Christian’s defending himself against an unlawful assault and using force to repel such assault? Self-defense is the right of every man to ward off an attack and to use such force as to him appears to be necessary to safeguard himself from personal injury or injury to his property. The same right of self-defense may be exercised by him for the protection of his near relations or close friends, his brethren. Such is the law of the nations or states, but that law does not rest upon tradition, nor upon the conclusions of men alone, but finds complete support in the Word of God.
Moses saw an Egyptian smiting his Hebrew brother, and Moses, to protect his brother from such assault, slew the Egyptian. (Ex. 2: 11,12) Moses fled from Egypt that the Egyptians might not kill him. Moses did not receive any punishment or even a rebuke from Jehovah God for what he had done. Afterwards God specifically used Moses to do and perform service particularly picturing Christ Jesus the Messiah and his work. God also made Moses his prophet and used him to write the first five books of the Bible. Since then every nation has invoked the law of self-defense, extending that right of self-defense to the protection of near-of-kin.
The law of self-defense is further emphasized by what is written in the Scriptures which showed that it is right and proper for Jehovah’s servants to prepare in advance for self-defense. Nehemiah, the approved servant of Jehovah God, led a company of his brethren, whom Jehovah brought forth from captivity and sent to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. When those faithful men in obedience to God’s commandment began the building of the wall, Sanballat (picturing the religious leaders who oppose God’s kingdom) and his followers made repeated threats against Nehemiah and his brethren, which threats were brought to the attention of Nehemiah. Then Nehemiah prayed to God, and this was his prayer: “Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a price in the land of captivity; and cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders. “- Neh. 4: 4.5.
The enemy had conspired together to fight against Nehemiah and his brethren; as it is written: “But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wrath, and conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it. “- Neh. 4:7, 8.
Did Nehemiah instruct his brethren to willingly permit themselves to be smitten on one cheek and to then turn the other cheek and ask to be smitten on that also? Did Nehemiah tell his brethren to quit work and hole up to safeguard themselves from the attacks of the enemy? He certainly did not, but made ready for self-defense, and his answer is written in the Scriptures, to wit: “Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.“- Neh. 4: 13,14.
In order that the Jews might work and that they might not be stopped in their work by reason of the enemy’s assaults, Nehemiah further says, “they which builded [sic] on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. [sic] And he that sounded the trumpet was by me. “- Neh. 4: 17, 18.
Surely the Jews did not have those swords there merely as a bluff, but to be used when necessary to protect themselves and to prevent the enemy from interfering with the work which God had commanded them to do. Can anyone successfully contend that the enemy of God’s kingdom can compel the servants of God to now cease their work which God has commanded them to do in order that they might avoid trouble? Did not Jesus command that they must go forward with their work without regard to threats and without fear of those who might kill their physical body? (Matt. 10:28) The watchfulness of Nehemiah and his brethren, who even slept with their clothes on in order to be ready, is a striking example for those to whom the Lord has committed the kingdom interests at the present time.
Again, the Lord God approves the use of force to be applied against one “breaking up” that which does not belong to the’ ‘breaker-up’: “If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.” (Ex. 22:2) One who attempts to commit an unlawful act against another may be dealt with, and against such wrongdoer such degree of force may be used by the one assaulted as may to him appear to be necessary to protect his property or himself or kin from an assault of the wrongdoer. Jesus used whips to drive the disorderly ones out of the temple, and he did not invite them to smite him on the cheek.- John 2:15.
Now Christ Jesus, the antitypical Moses, is present. His kingdom is come. He sends forth his representatives under command to proclaim “this gospel of the kingdom”. No one has the right to interfere with the execution of that command. Even the law of the land provides that when one unlawfully attempts to “break up” a meeting or assembly of propleg who have come together to hear proclaimed the Word of God such disturber or ‘breaker-up’ is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be dealt with accordingly. On the 25th of June, 1939, approximately 20,000 people assembled peaceably and lawfully at Madison Square Garden, New York, to hear proclaimed the message of God’s Word concerning his kingdom. Persons who oppose God’s kingdom had repeatedly made threats that they would break up that assembly, and these threats had been brought to the attention of the Lord’s people. Even the police officers had been notified of such threats. On the day of the meeting several hundred of such wicked ones entered the Madison Square Garden meeting after the program had begun, and made a violent attempt to “break up” that meeting. Ushers, whose assigned duty was to keep order, commanded the disturbers to stop their disturbance or else leave the building. Instead of complying with that request the disturbers violently assaulted the ushers. Some of the ushers in the exercise of their God-given and lawful rights resisted such assaults and used reasonable and necessary force to repel such wrongful assaults. In doing so the ushers acted strictly within their rights and in the performance of their duty and certainly have the approval of the Lord in so doing. The ushers were not using carnal weapons in order to preach the gospel, but they were using force to compel the enemy to give up in efforts to prevent the preaching of the gospel.
In the exercise of self-defense caution must be strictly observed and no one should act hastily and without warrant. Christians must obey the law. They must not use physical force in repelling an assault unless it appears to them as reasonably necessary for their own protection and the protection of their brethren and of their property or work. The Christian should do what he can to avoid physical combat and should never seek physical combat. But when, in the lawful performance of his duty, a Christian is attacked by the enemy and the enemy attempts to destroy the Christian’s property or to violently assault the Christian, then the Christian may use such force as at the time appears to him to be necessary to ward off such an assault. When going about in the service of the Lord, and by distributing literature pertaining to his Word or in performing other like and proper service, if Jehovah’s witnesses are attacked by a mob, and if it appears necessary that such witnesses employ force to repel or ward off such assault, then they may properly use such force as to them appears to be necessary for their protection or defense of themselves and their property. They should employ physical force only as a last resort for their self-protection against the wrongdoers. But no one, because he is a Christian, is compelled to willingly and without resistance submit to an attack of a ruffian or others who attempt to prevent him from going lawfully about his work of preaching the gospel. This gospel of the kingdom must be proclaimed, and it will be proclaimed. God has warned his people that the enemy will fight against them, and has plainly told them that the enemy shall not prevail. Hence they should go forward without fear in the performance of their duty, exercising their lawful rights.
If an officer of the law in the exercise of his official duty places a Christian under arrest, then the person so arrested should not resist the officer but should go quietly with the officer and await the proper time to have a hearing and make his defense before the properly constituted court. Such course is acting in an orderly and proper manner. The officer may have no right to arrest the Christian or interfere with his work, but the officer is acting on behalf of the state and there is a proper place to determine the question as to whether he is right or wrong.
When Christians are assembled together to hear discussed the Word of God or to study the Word of God no one has the right to attempt to break up that assembly, and when any person or crowd of persons attempt to do so they may be properly resisted and dealt with, and in so resisting them such physical force may be used against the disturbers as may to the ones peaceably assembled appear to be reasonably proper. At Madison Square Garden meeting a crowd of lawless men entered for the expressed purpose of breaking up the meeting. They started a riot without any excuse. One of the rioters struck an usher a terrific blow on the head, and that assault was resisted. Then the wife of that rioter rushed forward and grabbed the usher by his secret parts. God foreknew that the Devil would put in operation such wicked tactics, and he made provision in his law for such, and which law of God reads: “When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets; then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her. “- Deut. 25: 11.12.
[…] Jehovah’s witnesses and companions are here admonished to walk circumspectly and strictly within the pale of the law and never seek a controversy. They should act in a dignified and considerate manner with all. But when wrongfully assaulted by representatives of Satan who oppose God’s kingdom and the proclamation of the kingdom message, then it is the privilege and duty of those who fully trust and serve God to resist such unlawful assault.
The ushers at Madison Square Garden carried light walking sticks as a means of identification. They had been threatened by lawless ones, and it now appears to have been well, for the safeguarding of themselves from cruel assaults, that they had such walking canes. According to the law of the land and the law of God, when one is threatened with bodily harm, he has the perfect right to arm himself for the purpose of self-defense. -Neh. 4: 7-18.
How sad do I feel after reading this article and comparing it with the Governing Body’s current position! We can notice that both the scholarship and the biblical argumentation in the 1939 article are incomparably superior to the 2017 article. The author of the 2017 article is a layman when it comes to self-defense, but brother Rutherford (or perhaps an appointed brother) was visibly knowledgeable on the subject and also on the Bible.
The Watch Tower’s view on self-defense can be seen as it follows:
- 2017: ‘Human life is sacred. A Christian cannot have a firearm for self-defense.”
- 1939: ‘When one is threatened with bodily harm, a Christian has the perfect right to arm himself for the purpose of self-defense.’
- 2017: ‘A fire arm makes it easier to kill a person.’
- 1939: ‘Surely the Jews did not have those swords there merely as a bluff, but to be used when necessary to protect themselves’.
- 2017: ‘Paul never put personal security above Scriptural principles.’
- 1939: ‘If a Christian is attacked, he has the right to use force to protect his property.’
Fourth point: It’s not up to the GB to say how Christians should protect themselves and their families.
The 2017 article, after saying it is not right for Christians to have firearms to defend themselves, concludes (ironically):
How a Christian chooses to protect himself, his family, or his possessions is, of course, largely a personal matter, as is his choice of employment.
The contradiction now is: if the way I defend my family is a personal matter, why does the GB say that it is wrong to use firearms to defend myself? After all, is it a personal matter or not? If it is a personal matter, then all that was said in the article as “biblical principles” for not owing a firearm are, in fact, the opinions of the members of the GB. When biblical principles are explained and exposed objectively, our brothers and sisters are never told that it is up to “each Christian” to decide whether to obey them or not, or that they are a “personal matter”, as if following the Bible were a matter of conscience.
What worries me most about the current authoritarian position of the GB is precisely the point that their members simply feel entitled to create rules for the consciences of all the brothers around the globe, harming them in various circumstances. What the organization’s coordination or leadership must teach the Witnesses has to be based directly on the Bible. The 1939 article was based entirely on the Bible. The 2017 article was entirely based on what the GB thinks.
At last but not least, I will consider the case of Christopher Chávez, a young Jehovah’s Witness and ministerial servant murdered by a criminal known as Leo Little in 1998. Thomas Matjeka, investigator in charge of the case, said of Christopher: ‘He was probably the most innocent adult victim of all the murder investigations I’ve ever done.’ (Roughly paraphrasing)
The story is that Christopher (Chris) had parked his car and entered an establishment. In the meantime, Leo Little got in the car and waited for Chris to come back. When he returned, the criminal aimed a gun at his head, took him out of town, and finally shot him. Chris did not die immediately, but he agonized for a few days until he was found. Finally, Chris died in the hospital. As they were driving out of town, Leo told Chris to stop at a gas station to buy something to drink. They both entered the convenience store in a gas station. Chris grabbed a drink and Leo Little turned his back to him. At that point, the investigator, while analyzing the video from the security camera at the convenience store, said that on that occasion Leo Little gave Chris the opportunity to catch him from behind. Then the investigator asked Chris’s father: ‘Why didn’t Christopher fight? Why didn’t he say anything? Why didn’t he do anything to end the situation?’, his father replied that Chris was a “very devout individual” and that his “religion is non-violent”, and that Chris believed that if he maintained such a ‘non-violent stand, everything would be fine’. The investigator concluded: ‘That was what got him killed.’
This sad story shows us how dangerous the current pacifist view sustained by the GB towards self-defense is. Many Witnesses say: “I do not trust in firearms, but in Jehovah.” So, I ask: Did Christopher trust in Jehovah less than all the Witnesses? The answer is obvious: Jehovah does not promise us protection in this regard as long as we live in this system. Jehovah gives us the right to self-defense. If Chris had had a firearm or even a knife, he could have waited for the right moment to target the criminal in the back and would have saved his own life. But for the current GB, Leo Little’s life is “holy”, and Chris had better risk being murdered. After all, Leo could kill Chris, but according to the GB, Chris had no right to defend himself, nor to arm himself so as not to ‘not offend the brothers in the congregation’ and ‘not to harm his fellowman’. That’s just absurd!
I’m not blaming Christopher for the way he acted. I can’t judge his attitude. The problem is why Christopher did not react: he was taught that true Christians should be “pacifists”, which is unscriptural and dangerous. We must be peaceful, not pacifist.
Jesus condemned Peter for using the sword to fight against authorities, not for passively exercising self-defense. Jesus did not refer to the right of self-defense when he said that whoever trusts in the sword will perish by the sword. This reliance on the sword was related to defending Christianity before the authorities, not to defending oneself against criminals. The article in the 2017 Questions from Readers section on firearms makes us doubt the competence of GB members to instruct the people of God and simply presents the opinion of men without any solid biblical foundation.
The 1939 article, written by brother Rutherford or someone appointed by him, presents the biblical view on self-defense in a precise, solid and scholarly manner. Such a view contradicts the current pacifist policy adopted by the GB and imposed on members of the congregations.
Neither the GB nor any elder has the right to influence our brothers and sisters to think that Christians have no right to be prepared to defend themselves against criminals. This goes ‘beyond the things which are written’. (1 Corinthians 4: 6)
For these and other reasons, I defend the end of the GB and the creation of another organizational structure for Jehovah’s people, one where there is no hierarchy or unbiblical rules, where Christian freedom prevails and the organization returns to worship God instead of men.
(Isaiah 29:13) “this people draw nigh unto me, and with their mouth and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which hath been taught them; (American Standard Version)
Let us pray together for this cause!
 The whole story can be seen on episode 3 of season 2, I am a killer, on Netflix.
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