Leaders in nine nations explain how they think theologically and biblically about personal safety as mass shootings plague the world.
Compiled by Morgan Lee
Last week, a former police officer killed 36 people, many of them young children, at a daycare in northeastern Thailand. The shooting and stabbing spree came weeks after a gunman shot and killed 17 people at a school in central Russia. In July, terrorists attacked a Sunday church service in southwest Nigeria, killing dozens of worshipers.
The United States has experienced many mass shootings this year, including at a July 4 parade in suburban Chicago, where seven people were killed; at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, where 10 people were killed; and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where 21 people were killed.
In the US, white evangelicals were more likely than members of other American faith groups to own a gun (41%) and more likely to say it made them feel safer (77%), according to the Pew Research Center. More than half of white evangelicals (57%) said protection was the single most important reason they own a gun.
Pew’s 2017 study found that 38 percent of white evangelicals worry about being the victim of a mass shooting, 61 percent worry about being a victim of violent crime, and 66 percent worry about being the victim of a terrorist attack.
Yet Americans who attended religious services weekly were less likely to own a gun than those who attend less frequently (27% vs. 31%), the Pew study also found. And Americans with high levels of religious commitment were less likely to own a gun than those whose commitment was low (26% vs. 33%).
CT recently reached out to church leaders from nine countries to learn more about gun ownership in their nation and their thoughts on the subject, theologically or biblically. Their answers are arranged (top to bottom) from those who believe Christians may own guns for personal safety to those who believe it violates their faith:
Nigeria | Steve Dangana, chairman, Plateau state chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria:
Nigerian citizens can own guns as long as the guns are licensed by the authorities.
Christians are called to be vanguards for peace and peacemakers in a world that is full of violence and evil. The contrast between what we are called to represent and the reality of our world today poses a challenge to owning a weapon for self-defense and other nonviolence purposes. I personally believe that it is right for a Christian to own guns for the purposes of self-defense.
The level of increased violence in our communities has assumed worrisome dimensions today. The recklessness with which innocent lives are killed on a daily basis by individuals with no conscience leaves questions in the hearts of many Christians on the ethical challenges of gun ownership. However, a look at the Bible offers some insight regarding the practices that inform this issue today.
On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, he encouraged his disciples to carry a sword. They had two, which he said was enough (Luke 22:37–39). But as Jesus was being arrested, Peter drew his sword and sliced off the ear of one of the servants of the high priest (John 18:10). Jesus responded by healing the man instantly (Luke 22:51) and then commanded Peter to put away his sword (John 18:11). Peter’s ownership of a sword was not condemned. It was only his use of it in that particular circumstance that prompted Jesus to urge restraint.
On another occasion, soldiers came to John the Baptist to be baptized. When asked what to do to live for God, John replied, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14, ESV). We see John stop short of telling the soldiers to lay down their weapons.
It should be safe to opine that the Bible never forbids a Christian from owning a weapon, as long as it is used in tandem with our Christian faith and practice and brings honor to Christ, respect and value for humanity, and glory to God.
Christian are encouraged to be law-abiding as representatives of Christ and faithful citizens of their nation. Romans 13 tells us that governing authorities are from God and are to be obeyed. Therefore any gun law, as well as other local laws, is to be obeyed.
Ultimately, we see there is nothing sinful or inappropriate about owning guns or other weapons as long as it is for self-defense or other nonviolent use.
South Africa | Siki Dlanga, coordinator of a campaign against gender-based violence for the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa:
A South African can legally own up to four guns at the age of 21 or above. Each firearm must be licensed, with strict rules that go with the license.
Whether a Christian owns or does not own a gun is a matter of personal conscience. About weapons, Scripture teaches as follows: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Cor. 10:4–6, NKJV).
Scripture positions the believer’s protection from the spiritual realm first. Our weapons are not carnal but spiritual. We know that everything begins spiritually before it manifests in the physical realm. We cannot fight Satan with the weapons he has invented and hope to defeat him. To defeat evil, we must use spiritual weapons that are, we are told, “mighty in God.”
Furthermore, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). Reliance on firepower rather than the power of love is not the way of Christ. Firepower has sown much suffering in the world, to the point that we can only hope for peace if we threaten each other with “mutually assured destruction.” That’s hardly an indicator of a civilized society with a sound mind.
South Korea | Kim Seungkyeom, senior pastor of Graceforest Community Church in Yongin:
In Korea, owning a gun is strictly restricted. Only hunting rifles are allowed. But you have to register it at the police station.
In my opinion, it is not advisable to own a gun for personal safety. If someone owns a gun for safety, another person will try to protect himself by owning a stronger gun. You can see this from the arms race of nuclear weapons. More and more nuclear weapons, stronger nuclear weapons, and a comparative advantage over other countries can make the world more and more dangerous.
Basically, personal safety issues are an area that the nation should take on. Romans 13:4 says, “For it is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (NASB).
As for individuals, the Lord said this: “‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword’” (Matt. 26:52, NIV). Strictly speaking, this is a lesson in revenge, not personal safety, but it is also a basic lesson in the use of weapons.
Christian should not rest their safety in possession of a gun, but in the grace and protection of God. Ironically, however, I have a baseball bat next to my bed in case a robber suddenly breaks in.
Switzerland | Jean-René Moret, pastor, Evangelical Church of Cologny:
We are allowed to own guns in Switzerland. We still have conscription, and most Swiss men bring their assault rifle home for storage and shooting practice. Assault riffles are allowed. Men who have served their time have the option to buy their military rifle back and keep it. Gun owners must register.
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(Only men are conscripted. Women can ask to be part of the army. Those who are conscientious objectors do community service.)
Jesus’ teaching and example show that Christians should rather suffer the loss of their possessions, honor, and life than answer violence with violence (Matt. 5:38–42; 1 Pet. 2:20–23). Paul in Romans 13:4 recognizes the role of the state to bear arms in order to repress evil. But this is not the individual’s role.
One could consider whether owning a gun to defend vulnerable others could be admissible. It might be the case in situations of state failure and lawlessness. And even in such cases, one must ask where Christians will put their trust. Will they trust in God, or in their own weapons, strength, and abilities? (Isa. 30:15–17).
Gun violence is a consequence not only of gun ownership but also of a culture where guns are seen as providing security and solutions. Swiss people own lots of guns but don’t expect to have any use of them besides hunting, sportive shooting, and the unlikely war. For Christians, guns may be an idol, a thing that asks for the trust we must put in God only.
Canada | Karen Stiller, author, editor, and journalist, Ottawa:
We can own guns, although Canada has strict gun control laws. Thorough background checks are required. More than 1,500 types of military-style assault guns were banned in Canada in 2020. Stricter legislation was brought forward recently to limit gun ownership even more.
My dad was a Mountie. I grew up in an environment where guns were present and acknowledged as a potentially dangerous but necessary part of my father’s work. We respected my dad, his work, and the uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I was glad he had a gun, because I knew it helped protect him and the people he had pledged to protect in his work and calling.
Guns have a place in the world, of course, but they are just not part of everyday life and culture in Canada like they are in the US, or I suspect, in many other places in the world. Our countries have such different histories, and we don’t have the Second Amendment and all that represents.
The different roles that guns play in lives might vary in different parts of Canada (I am a city person through and through), but I still don’t believe those who would lobby for less gun control in Canada would come close to the passion gun owners have in US culture. Even the question Should Christians own a gun for personal safety? feels very American. (And that statement of mine feels very Canadian.)
It wouldn’t occur to me for our Christian household to own a gun specifically meant for personal safety. If we did, and we followed the laws of the land (which we believe that we are compelled to follow as believers), that gun would be unloaded, locked up, and stored separately from the ammunition. So, generally speaking, an arrangement not very helpful for personal protection, no matter one’s theological position.
Australia | Sam Chan, evangelist with City Bible Forum in Sydney:
In Australia, you can own a gun, but you must have a license and register the gun. But you can’t buy automatic or semiautomatic weapons.
I’ve stayed on a farm and watched the farmer shoot feral animals. I also have friends who shoot guns as a hobby. But, by and large, gun ownership is not a large part of Australian culture.
An Australian might feel the need to own a car or home, but not a gun for personal safety. It’s just not a thing in Australia. It’s the lack of guns in Australia that makes us feel safe, rather than their availability.
In Australia we prioritize communal safety, and we expect the government to make this happen. I think we were the first country to bring in laws for mandatory seat belts for cars, helmets for bicyclists, and random breath-testing for drivers.
To that end, we’ve limited our rights of gun ownership for the safety of the community. There has not been a major mass shooting since 1996.
Paul also appeals to this in 1 Corinthians 10:23–24: “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
Paul says that we have individual rights, but we also have personal responsibility to do what is best for the community.
Honduras | Miguel Álvarez, president of Central American Biblical Pentecostal Seminary in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala:
In Honduras, people can carry guns, but in order to do it they must register, complying with the requirements demanded by state security. Unfortunately, even in this well-intentioned process, there may be signs of corruption. Nevertheless, the law is tough on those who choose to carry guns.
I do not believe that believers in Christ should carry weapons. Bearing arms is contrary to the gospel message. There is no theological or biblical reason that justifies the use of weapons. The vocation of the believer in Christ is peaceful, not belligerent. God has given us the ability to dialogue as civilized beings about our differences in order to resolve our controversies by peaceful means. Every believer who carries weapons obviously doubts the spiritual power that is in him or her.
According to James 3:17 (ESV), “the wisdom from above is … peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Furthermore, according to Romans 12:18 (NIV), “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” God calls us to peace. The presence of weapons is contrary to peace. There is no biblical or theological justification for the use of weapons.
People who insist on bearing arms do not know God’s peace, nor can they understand God’s justice. Therefore, it is important to declare ourselves against war and the use of weapons to resolve human conflicts and declare ourselves in favor of peace and justice.
Philippines | Emil Jonathan Soriano, pastor of Church @ No. 71, San Pedro, Laguna:
In the Philippines, people can own guns legally, though it’s difficult. The government has very strict requirements. Nevertheless, I personally know Christians who have a license to carry guns for recreational purposes.
I do not think Christians should own guns for personal safety. God’s work in the world is to bring forth life in all its fullness (John 10:10) and conquer death (1 Cor. 15). Guns go against God’s work as they are tools of death that are designed to kill. In the Philippines, loose firearms are used for crimes and extrajudicial killings, which has led to vigilante-style assassinations in the past. Scripture asserts that tools of death should be dismantled and converted instead to tools of production and livelihood (Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3).
More importantly, Jesus exemplified the ethic of nonviolence, which he showed through a self-giving, co-suffering love that calls to give our lives away so that others may live (Matt. 5: 38–48; Rom. 12). In Jesus, we see that one does not need weapons to defend oneself and be safe. The early Christians followed his example; they did not seek to defend themselves by picking up arms but instead willingly laid down their lives as a witness to the gospel. This does not mean that Christians should seek martyrdom and not take precautions. , Christians are invited to live in wisdom while working to transform the world into one that is grounded on peace. As Clement of Alexandria, an early Church father, once said, “As simple and quiet sisters, peace and love require no arms. For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained.”
In Singapore, the use of guns is tightly controlled under the Arms Offences Act. Beyond our police and armed forces, it is nearly unheard of for anyone to be seen carrying or using a gun. The rare instances would immediately make front-page headlines.
Simply put, this means we in Singapore can go about life never once worrying about the threat of gun violence.
In Luke 22, just after the Last Supper, Jesus prepares his disciples for the impending season when they will have to carry on the mission without their teacher. “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one,” Jesus tells them in verse 36. A sword in those days would have been useful for many things. To hunt. To harvest. As a multipurpose tool.
And, yes, it was a weapon—but that was evidently not Jesus’ intent. If Jesus had meant for the disciples to carry arms for war, he would not have told them that two swords between the lot of them was enough (v. 38). He would have told them to load up! The more the safer!
But it is clear the swords were neither for attack nor for self-defense. Within hours, in Luke 22:49–51, Jesus is arrested. Peter draws his sword to fend off the delegation led by the traitor Judas. But instead of a commendation, he draws Jesus’ rebuke: “Put your sword away!” (according to John 18:11).
Is it foolish to be defenseless in a hostile world, where everyone else is carrying a weapon? By man’s reckoning, probably. But would it be any wiser in God’s reckoning to hold a weapon that can so easily take the life of another, even in self-defense? Why imagine the life of one—you or your family—be worth more than that of another?
If the world is armed, must we therefore follow—or would that make us just like the world?
With reporting help from Jennifer Park(Culled:CHRISTIANITY TODAY)