Those who live by the gun will die by the gun

Roman Catholic priest Ed EverittMy heart goes out to the congregation of Holy Ghost Roman Catholic Church in Hammond, Louisiana, who include a blogger friend, for the sad loss of their priest Ed Everitt. (I call no one on earth “Father”, Matthew 23:9.) Everitt was killed at a beachfront house in Mississippi, as reported by abc24 – thanks to Jim West for the link. See also the other JW’s post about this sad event.

I have good friends in Hammond, not Roman Catholics, and visited the city last year.

Jim rightly highlights the “Barbarism” and “depravity” of the suspect who has been arrested, who was reportedly planning to take his family to Disney World with the car and the money stolen from Everitt. But I want to look at another aspect of this story. I quote from the abc24 report as quoted by Jim:

A handyman is accused of using a Catholic priest’s own gun to kill him at a beachfront house in Mississippi …

What was a priest, a man of God, doing with a gun, when he had gone to the beach, 70 miles from Hammond, for his day off? For me this raises two questions.

First, is American society really so dangerous that a man needs to take a gun with him on a day at the beach? If so, then something really needs to be done about general violence, and in particular about the proliferation of guns.

Second, is it really appropriate for a priest to carry a gun? I wouldn’t want to make a general rule forbidding this as there might be special circumstances where it would make sense. But it seems very strange to me that a man who claims to be representing Jesus who said “Do not resist an evil person … turn to them the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) would carry a weapon.

Anyway it seems likely that resisting evil led to this priest’s death. The full circumstances are not clear, but according to the abc24 report “Police believe the handyman had intended to rob Everitt.” Very likely if the priest had followed the teaching of Jesus he would have lost his car (only temporarily as it had a tracking device) and his wallet but saved his life. But for having a gun, and maybe for confronting the thief with it, he paid with his life.

This incident shows clearly that (to contextualise yet another verse from Matthew, 26:52) those who live by the gun will die by the gun.

28 thoughts on “Those who live by the gun will die by the gun

  1. Well… Peter… you live in the UK where guns have, I think, been banned for a long time. Here in the US, we have the right to carry guns and many do (in fact, many in my own church do – a group went after church up to the shooting range last Sunday)

    In some parts of the country… indeed, in some parts of my own city… I wouldn’t want to be without a concealed handgun.

  2. Hi Peter, interesting post. I often wonder why many in the USA seem to be convinced that guns make things safer. That said, without more details it’s impossible to be sure of the situation!

    I did want to ask you about something tangential though, I notice that you reference Matthew 23:9 when saying that you call no-one on earth ‘Father’.

    However, looking at it in context it seems to be a warning about not calling people by reverential titles (such as ‘rabbi’ and ‘father’) because they are looking for earthy glory, i.e. in the way the Pharisees used those titles. I don’t think it’s a blanket restriction on ever calling anyone by those titles, not least I hope I can call my father – well, ‘father’!

    I’m just wondering whether you think that is how Ed Everitt (or more generally, other people who use the term ‘father’) would have applied that title to himself – i.e. in a way which would have been looking for glory for himself.

    Sorry to post up a tangential question. I was just curious. I hope it comes across in the spirit in which it is intended, i.e. friendly and just a result of curiousity! – I think you probably have more knowledge in this area than I do 🙂

  3. Kay and Scarlett, I certainly don’t want to condemn vulnerable people who carry guns for their personal safety. But of course you need to be careful how you do so as they can make things worse rather than better, as seems to have happened in this case. I would suggest that the situation of a priest or pastor is a somewhat special one. I will refrain from commenting on the US politics involved.

    Phill, I’m sure literal fathers are an exception. I don’t want to suggest that Everitt was personally “looking for glory for himself.” He was simply following regular Catholic usage. But I would suggest that that regular usage has its roots in the mediaeval self-glorification of the priesthood, and so would be better abandoned. I note that Jesus didn’t say “don’t call yourself Father” but “call no one Father”, i.e. don’t tempt them to glorify themselves by setting them up with special titles. But the same applies also to alternative titles like “Pastor” and “Reverend”.

  4. It is not uncommon for folks I know here in the United States to carry guns. I have several. Many of my friends carry guns in the cars with them. Why do we do this? Its not that we fear or that crime is so bad. I would say its simply part of being an American. We are given the right to bear arms and I don’t know any families who don’t have guns in their homes. So to answer the question of why this priest would have a gun with him at the beach is because he has the right to.

  5. Disciple, American law and custom gives priests, and any other US citizens, all kinds of rights to do things which would be quite inappropriate for priests or indeed any Christians to do. But on your argument everything he is allowed to do by law he should do. For example, if I complained that another priest was sleeping around with lots of different (consenting adult) women, would you argue that he should do so because he has the legal right to? Surely not!

  6. It does seem two faced for a leader of a “peaceful religion” to carry arms. Similar to the bullet proof pope mobile. Now that is showing the flock the deep devoted faith they have in the big guy.

    In this society that has so many of us feeling we should carry defensive measures,,, the underlying problems of why are never touched upon as to why the crime rates have escallated, and it has all to do with the idea of temperance, sobriety,,, or I should say forced sobriety. Any society that has a preponderance of black market activities will always feel a need to have some form of defense.

    Calling a religious leader “father” is sad, blasphemous, and in this USA a “title of nobility” which should not happen. Only the sperm donor and if you belive in a father creator, him too shall have that title.

  7. Meatwad, I would distinguish between purely defensive measures like locks and bullet-proof glass, and ones intended to harm others like guns, even if carried for defensive purposes. I’m sure that historically Prohibition was a major factor in the growth of the US gun culture.

  8. I held off my knee-jerk reaction to this post, but after a couple of days I feel the same, and since none of your other commenters have said it, then I will.
    I think this is a cheap shot and completely inappropriate.

    You have read between the lines of an already questionable source (a news story) in order to create a scenario which enables you to make a point. On its own that is merely unpersuasive, but doing it to a murder makes it unpalatable. How do you know what he was doing with the gun? How do you even know that it was his, since he shared the house with others? Even if your guesses are right, are you comfortable with the way in which you so confidently pass judgement on the actions of a murder victim and conclude that he brought it on himself?

    I take it from your comments that you are a pacifist – correct me if I’m wrong, but it ooks very much as though you are using this unpleasant case to piggyback your moral views on to your readers. I don’t like it.

  9. Charlie, I accept that my point depends on the accuracy of the news report, which quotes a sheriff as saying that “Everitt’s .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol was found in the stolen car”. If the sheriff is correct, and has been correctly quoted, Everitt owned a gun and had it with him at the beach. I presume the reporter has some basis for claiming that he was shot with it.

    I am not a complete pacifist but consider it inappropriate for Christians to carry guns except in places of special danger. This case, if correctly reported, illustrates one good reason why. I have a right to express my beliefs. If you don’t like me doing so, you don’t have to read this.

    I must say the tone of your comment, and the rather offensive wording “to piggyback your moral views on to your readers”, made me think you were a militant atheist. But it turns out from your link that you are a Church of England vicar! In your sermons do you never comment on current affairs and build your point on them? Isn’t that piggybacking your moral views on to your congregation? Or how about your blogging? Was it not just as distasteful, by your strict standards, for you to take the sad story of Terry Pratchett dying as the basis for expressing to your readers your “moral views” about euthanasia? Seriously, what is the difference?

  10. Hello again Peter, and thank you for your openness in publishing my comment. If you found it offensive, I could respond “those who live by the offensive comment shall die by the offensive comment”. You seem a very robust blogger, so I guessed you wouldn’t mind a robust comment.

    I just think it was inappropriate of you to judge this guy, who you never heard of until you read this news item, and make out that he basically got what he deserved. How would you feel if you were his brother, or parent, on reading this post?

    My point, of course, is not that it is wrong for you to have a view. It’s just wrong to create an artificial scenario which supposedly supports your view, and doubly so to do it with a real-life tragedy. I don’t see a great deal of difference between this post and the infamous Mail headline of a couple of weeks ago, “girl killed by falling branch because teachers were on strike”. Both points are logical, neither was very pleasant to read.

  11. Charlie, I don’t really mind a robust comment, but I’m not sure it was the best way to get a well considered response from me.

    I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that this priest deserved to be murdered. I might suggest that he was foolish for taking a course of action (if the report is true) which seems to have contributed to his death rather than kept him safe. But my point was more with the incongruity of men of God relying on guns for their safety.

  12. A few things I would like to note:

    1) Whatever this priest was doing with a firearm, provided it was legally acquired, is his business and his alone. It certainly is not the business of the blogosphere.

    2) There is no general prohibition in Scripture against using weapons in the defense of one’s life, property, or family from the acts of criminals. The verses that are used to support this indefensible position are ripped entirely out of context. They either speak of the misuse of force for advancing the Gospel or our response to personal insults. It is one thing to be slapped on the cheek. It is another to be asleep in your home at night and be subjected to a home invasion by men who would kill you, your wife, and children.

    3) I am acquainted with a pastor who not only possesses a handgun and a concealed-carry permit, but has also successfully (and lawfully) used his weapon to protect the lives of not only himself, but others. Not only is this lawful, but it is his covenantal DUTY to protect his family and neighbors from harm. Is it not a clear Biblical mandate to act in the defense of life?

    4) To suggest that Jesus forbids people to act in self defense when placed in physical jeopardy is an Anabaptist lie, which was rightly condemned by Reformed and Lutheran theologians nearly five centuries ago. This whole “discussion” is therefore terribly late to the party.

  13. Kenneth, I don’t think the police and the courts would agree with you that the provenance of a murder weapon is a private matter.

    I don’t see any hint of a qualification in Matthew 5:39 like “in broad daylight if he is not threatening your wife and children, otherwise use lethal force on him”. This verse in context is not just about personal insults but about robbers, to whom one should give twice what they want. Anyway we can presume that there were no wife and children involved in this case.

    As for your supposed “clear Biblical mandate to act in the defense of life”, if it is so clear how come I have not seen a hint of it in my Bible study and reading? Please let me know where you got this from.

    Reformed and Lutheran “theologians” largely settled their “discussion” with the Anabaptists by persecuting their unarmed opponents to death. I am not prepared to accept the results of that kind of “discussion”, indeed of any theological discussion centuries ago, as binding on future generations.

  14. Didn’t Jesus disciples carry weapons, and in fact didn’t Jesus tell them too? (Luke 22:36)

    Also, isn’t the “turn the other check” passage best understood in the context of Roman occupation, like the accompanying verse about someone taking your cost – it was common for Roman soldiers (basically, the police force) to assault people and confiscate their belongings and force them to carry heavy goods – I think that is the basis of Its not about muggers and robbers.

    Even if you don’t accept that interpretation, it is about you – it is not about refusing to protect your family or others.

    And finally, Canada (where I live) apparently has far more guns per capita than the USA, yet it has only a tiny fraction of the gum crime – so gun ownership is not what causes the problem.

    I do not own a gun and I have no axe to grind on this subject, but I think that you (Peter) are viewing it through a British filter rather than a Biblical one, as I would have once done,

    “Living by the sword” means much more than simply owning one. I understand it to mean that those you live violent lives will have violent ends.

    Just asking the questions!

  15. Just to correct my typos (posted on my phone) I meant “take your coat” not “cost” and “gun crime” not “gum crime” 😉

    The passage is Matthew 5:35-45 which seems to be Jesus response to the zealot culture about regarding the Romans as “enemies” and “resisting” them and “paying them back” with violence.

  16. Martin, I think you have spent quite long enough in Texas 😉

    Yes, Luke 22:36 is a very odd verse, and one which seems to go against Jesus’ teaching in several other places, even one verse earlier and two verses later. I think it has seriously argued that the whole thing is to be taken as irony: he knew what the disciples had in mind, in fact he knew they already had swords with them, and ironically asked them to do that so they would become the “transgressors” he was to be numbered with. I’m not entirely convinced by that kind of interpretation, but the only alternative I know of which doesn’t make Jesus inconsistent is that this was a special concession made for that one night.

    Are you sure your facts are right about Canada? This Wikipedia page gives a very different picture.

    The priest in question was not using his gun to protect his family. He can only have been thinking about his personal safety.

  17. That Wiki article is about small arms (pistols) – not riffles and hunting weapons. There are various statistics – Gallop says 27% of both Canadian and American homes have guns. Some statistics have Canada higher – either way, there are lots of guns in Canada but not lots of gun deaths.

    The priest may not have had a family but the conversation seemed to be developing along “it’s never right to defend yourself or others” lines.

    Jesus telling his disciples to buy or carry a sword only seems contradictory if you don’t allow for circumstantial differences. In some circumstances it is OK to carry a weapon – in others it is innapropriate.

    (I never carry one and don’t intend on ever doing so, but it is a “disputable matter” (see Rom 14) to me and not an “absolute” for all Christians at all times in all cultures and in every circumstance.

  18. Martin, I can’t find a specific definition of what was included in the Small Arms Survey, but Wikipedia implies that it is based on its own definition of small arms:

    Small arms is a term of art used by armed forces to denote infantry weapons an individual soldier may carry. The description is usually limited to revolvers, pistols, submachine guns, carbines, assault rifles, battle rifles, multiple barrel firearms, sniper rifles, squad automatic weapons, light machine guns (i.e. M60), and sometimes hand grenades. Shotguns, general-purpose machine guns, medium machine guns, and grenade launchers may be considered small arms or as support weapons, depending on the particular armed forces. …

    Though there is no civilian definition within the U.S., any firearm utilizing a projectile greater than 1/2 inch (.50 caliber or 12.7 mm) in diameter is legally defined as a “destructive device,” while anything .50 caliber or less is normally considered “small arms.” The so-called “1/2 inch rule” does not apply to shotguns, sporting cartridge big bore rifles (such as rifles chambered in .600 Nitro Express) or muzzleloading black powder firearms, many of which are larger than .50 caliber.

    So the definition clearly includes military and sporting rifles and shotguns.

    Anyway the point at issue is not hunting weapons. I can understand Canadians in rural areas carrying them, for hunting and for protection from wild animals, and perhaps occasional wild people. But I think the priest in this story was killed with a small pistol.

    In fact I agreed with you from the start that “In some circumstances it is OK to carry a weapon”, such as when in a very dangerous situation. That could explain why Jesus allowed his disciples to carry swords (but only two between twelve of them, if you take the passage literally). But if the beach that the priest was visiting was really that dangerous, then I’m not sure he should have been spending his day off there at all.

  19. By the way, Martin, to refute your suggestion that I am “viewing it through a British filter rather than a Biblical one”, I would point you to the blog of your fellow Edmonton pastor Tim Chesterton. Yes, Tim was originally British, but he became a pacifist in Canada. Over the last few days he has been posting an interesting series on Christians and War: the Early Church Speaks, and also reported on the 3rd Annual Prayer Walk for Peace, Edmonton.

  20. Not only that, Peter, but in the Northwest Territories I owned no less than four hunting rifles and used them regularly!

    And yes, I think it’s a bit rich to say that the Reformed and Lutheran theologians ‘answered’ Anabaptist arguments five centuries ago. As you say, they mainly answered them by burning, drowning and torturing the Anabaptists – all in the name of Jesus, of course. I myself have become deeply unsatisfied with their arguments and in fact countered many of them at a workshop I led on Friday called ‘War and Peace: What’s a Christian to Do?’

  21. I don’t know why I keep posting because I really don’t have strong feelings about this – I think I am just trying to understand why you (Peter) do.

    Firstly, I think everyone (me included) reads the Bible through a cultural lense whether we are consciously aware of it or not (I wrote a bit about this in Victorious Eschatology). That means that we can have opinions, but we need to hold them tentatively (or at least admit that, at best, it is simply our own flawed understanding of scripture).

    Secondly, with due respect to my fellow Edmontonion, that is not really a Biblical view of war, it is a Patristic view – which is perfectly acceptable …. as one viewpoint.

    Lastly, (and this is really what I have been trying to get at all along) – are you suggesting that your view of whether this priest – or anyone else – owns or carries a firearm is an “absolute” that all Christians should follow (like, say, the 10 commandments) or is it a “disputable matter” (like alcohol use – Romans 14) that there is freedom of opinion about?

    If you make “disputable matters” into “absolutes” you will end up with a very small church comprising only those few people who agree with everyone about everything.

  22. Tim, somehow a gun-toting priest seems more appropriate on the north coast of North America than on its south coast. I guess you used your rifles the way most of us use grocery stores. But watch out for the revenge of the polar bears you shot!

    Martin, I accept that we view these things through our cultural lenses. Maybe that colours my view on carrying guns for self-defence. So I am prepared to accept my opinions on this as tentative, and certainly not as an absolute to be imposed on everyone. Although perhaps it should, that doesn’t stop me expressing them.

  23. Martin: well, I am an Anglican, and we tend to think that the Church Fathers, who lived much closer than we do to the culture of the New Testament writers, might just have a thing or two to teach us about how to interpret them.

    Peter: Ibnever shot a polar bear (I found their meat pretty indigestible). I did however shoot caribou and muskox, also Arctic hare and ptarmigan. All very tasty! However, when we moved south we had to buy furniture (we had been living in furnished mission houses), and we had very little money, so the rifles had to go in favour of beds (sigh!).

  24. Peter – yes you are entitled to have – and share – your opinion on anything, including “disputable matters”.

    Tim – the early fathers did have valid opinions (my point is that with ‘disputable matters” any opinion that has some logic to it is valid, but not “absolute” – they are just that – an opinion). However, considering that Origen taught the transmigration of the soul, Tertullian taught baptismal regeneration, and Irenaus taught that Jesus was crucified when he was 50 years old, many of their opinions have to be taken with a pinch of salt 🙂

  25. I realise that this is drifting further and further away from the topic – so to just get back to it again:
    I don’t own a gun (of any description) and don’t want to. Some of my reasons for this come from a mixture of my cultural upbringing, my personality, and my understanding of scripture. However, on the last point, I concede that there is no clear, unambiguous passage of scripture which would teach that it was wrong for the priest in this article to have owned a hand gun. That was his choice, based on his convictions, which were no doubt based on a mixture of his cultural upbringing, personality, and understanding of Christian principles.

    Therefore it is a secondary matter and one of little importance (in my flawed opinion). The fact that a criminal used his weapon against him (if it was indeed his weapon) says more about the murderer than it doesn’t about the priest. Some Christians are pacifists, some believe that there are just wars. Some are total abstainers, some drink wine and beer, etc. If we present these issues as “absolutes” (e.g. “good Christians are pacifists or would never own a gun or have a beer or eat meat or drive a Mercedes or watch American idol because it has the word idol in it” …. all things I have heard said – usually from the Red Letter/Emergent wing of the church) then I think we are restricting our listening audience and alienating large groups of people we could be reaching with the gospel, and then allowing them to come to their own conclusions on these things. That is much more important to me. Now, there is a place for expressing our views on these matters (how else will people come to their own conclusions if they don’t get to hear all sides?) but I think we should not present them as if they are the correct or universal view.

    That all I was saying – and that’s all I am going to say!

  26. Martin, I agree that “there is no clear, unambiguous passage of scripture which would teach that it was wrong for the priest in this article to have owned a hand gun”. So yes, it was his choice. I would want to say at least that it is unfortunate that his cultural context made him feel the need to make that choice.

    I fully agree with you that reaching people with the gospel is a priority. But on that point I would say that a lot of people, here in the UK and probably also in the USA and Canada as well, are thoroughly turned off the gospel by its culturally bound association with right wing politics, the gun lobby etc. If I make a few people think more about these matters, I don’t think that is harming the gospel.

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