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June 10, 2009

Self-Defense and Christianity

Book2yel Jason's recent post on a pastor who has urged his congregation to bring their guns to church fascinated me, and brought up a related issue: self-defense. A number of years ago, I spent a week going through a self-defense course led by Sanford Strong, who was once a San Diego police officer in charge of violent crimes. He became tired of investigating crimes where victims could have survived -- or at least sustained lesser injuries -- had they known how to respond to a violent assailant. So he began traveling the country offering self-defense classes.

What is perhaps unusual about my involvement is that it happened because a pastor friend arranged the classes for everyone (kids and adults) who attended a week-long summer camp. A woman in his congregation had been attacked in broad daylight on a busy interstate highway. Fortunately, she was able to get away unharmed. But it made Gene realize that part of his job as "shepherd" was to teach his flock how to protect themselves. So he hired Sandy to come in and conduct a self-defense seminar.

In between the Bible classes one would expect at a Christian camp, Sandy taught us what to do should a criminal confront us; he then had us practice simple self-defense moves against the largest guys there, who were wearing special padded uniforms to keep them from getting hurt. We were all a bit black-and-blue by week's end; but it gave us the confidence to know that, if we act properly, we can greatly increase our chances of surviving a violent crime. (I should add that, as a teacher, I believe it's my job to protect my students should someone come into my classroom and cause trouble. So the training I received goes beyond mere self-defense.)

How many of you have been through -- or would like to go through -- such training? Do you find it consistent or inconsistent with your Christian beliefs? Explain.

(Image courtesy of Sgtstrong.com)

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Jason Taylor

I have not been through such. However I would not find it inconsistent with my Christian beliefs.

I do think it smacks of inpropriety for a pastor to do so. A pastor's vocation is partly to send a certain type of message and if preachers become warriors that makes Christians seem a little less like Christians and more like, say Sikhs or some other warrior-religion. A preacher has to be a representation of the Church as well as ministering to the flock. He is one of the most visible symbols.

It is kind of like asking why King Edward VIII couldn't be pardoned for having inappropriate tastes in feminine company. The answer was of course,"You're a King, tough luck."
Now of course King Edward was actually commiting adultery. But that was not why he was deposed. He was deposed because he disrespected his own office and what it represented.

In the same way a preacher's office represents something-something more important then a Kings office. And so he has to be careful how he looks. And while I don't really think the aptly named Mr. Strong intends to disrespect his own office, for a minister to teach people how to fight seems to me inappropriate.


Took judo/self defense as a kid and hunter safety with my son a few years ago and I think this sort of thing has a lot of value. You might not just save yourself but also your children or your friend - if you know what to do.
I also have a thought that gun safety should be taught in the schools. Sex ed has been offered for years to help keep the kiddies "safe". By the same logic guns are easily available in our society so why aren't young people being taught how to be safe with them!

Jason Taylor

Quite true Becky. A martial craft worthy of respect would assuredly include ideals of dedication and discipline that would be helpful in other areas of life.

Remember the Centurion? "I say to one come and he cometh, and I say to another go and he goeth..."

Diane Singer

Jason, Sandy Strong was a police officer, not a pastor. My pastor friend, Gene, is the one who arranged for the seminar out of his desire to teach Christians how to protect themselves. At the time, Gene was also serving as a chaplain to several police and military units in Arkansas. I doubt that those men or women saw a problem with what he was doing, especially the police officers who -- like Sandy Strong -- probably welcomed any training that would help innocent people escape harm. BTW, the goal of the training was not to teach people how to go toe-to-toe with an armed and violent criminal: it was to teach you how to defend yourself just long enough to escape.


My son wanted to take karate in the worst way. And precisely because it was "the worst way", I said he couldn't. Based on my own (pre-Christian) experience with martial arts, I knew that success depends on accepting Eastern thinking, particularly Zen, and I didn't want my child converted. Or, worse, for him to learn how to beat people up, but not have the self-control and self-discipline provided by Zen. (I could easily see him thumping his younger sisters.)

But Western self-defense has a slightly different problem: should a Christian defend themselves, or trust in the Lord? This ties to our past discussions about guns; "I fired but the Lord guided the bullet."

I *did* think "Maybe I'll let my son go here, but I'll send his sisters *there*, so they can defend themselves against him." But preaching about how Christians are to pursue peace at any price won me over, so we didn't give them any training.

Now that the kids are adults, it's a non-issue even though my son's huge; http://thepoint.breakpoint.org/2009/06/pixar-female-characters.html?cid=6a00d8341c635553ef011570ee2f72970b#comment-6a00d8341c635553ef011570ee2f72970b

Jason Taylor

Hmm, I must have misread. I thought it said he was a pastor who had once been a cop. Go figure. Naturally it would be quite appropriate for a cop to teach self-defense because that IS his vocation.

Jason Taylor

Western self-defense of course has it's own traditions and rituals that correspond to the self-control and self-discipline provided by Zen. For instance the rustic rituals that used to be provided to teach boys how to respect a rifle,"Never point a rifle unless you intend to use it, son" or "Never shoot an animal you don't intend to eat, son." The first has obvious utillitarian benefits and the second teaches lack of waste. But they also teach how to handle a weapon.

And of course there are the various bits of trivia from Western military tradition and from the old Gentleman's Code. Use of which might depend on the boys interest-not all boys have interests which coincide with mine regrettable though that is.

Or a boy can simply be a Boy Scout. Which of course is a deliberate attempt to find ways to inculcate "self discipline and self control" that were calculated to a boys interests.

But be that as it may the Western martial tradition, like the Eastern one has tradions of self-control and self-discipline.

Benjamen R. Meyer


Karate and other martial arts forms do not require one to accept Eastern philosophy, even Zen. Christian philosophy and meditation can easily be inserted in place of Zen or other philosophies.

Sadly, though - there is a great lack of Christian martial arts instructors that do just that - so I do understand what you mean.

Glenn Sunshine

As a one-time martial arts instructor I don't have a problem with this idea. We often forget the number of military metaphors for God in the Old Testament and the passages that talk about God "training my hands for war and my fingers for battle," among other things. The question becomes when it is appropriate to use violence in a self-defense situation. Good martial arts and self-defense programs teach proper escalation of force--just enough to be safe--and should discuss the ethical issues involved and the values that shape your response. For example, I am far less concerned about self-defense than I am about defense of my family (which also means I need to stay alive and well to continue to provide for them). I see this as part of my God-given responsibilities to my family. It isn't a matter of personal pride or ego. This is the key, I think, to understanding Jesus' command to turn the other cheek. Jesus said if someone strikes you on the RIGHT cheek, turn to him your left as well. In the middle east, no one would strike you with their left hand--it was unacceptable culturally. So to strike you right cheek, they would have to backhand you, which was understood clearly as an insult. Turning the other cheek, then, is about not accepting the insult, but not retaliating either--you allow your opponent to strike you on the LEFT cheek so as to force him to affirm your dignity. You don't get in a fight over an insult, you do not retaliate, that would be your ego responding. But neither do you allow people to humiliate you or demean the image of God that you bear. I realize this isn't a common interpretation of this passage, but even if you reject it, there is another way to look at it: being slapped does not threaten life or limb, so there is no need to defend yourself regardless. From the perspective of proper self-defense training, this would not be a situation in which you should resort to violence, so the teaching shouldn't be applied woodenly to life threatening situations. Jesus didn't say if someone comes to kill you, let him kill you wife or child as well. Bottom line: if we believe in the right to life, then we must also believe we have a right to live ourselves, and thus that we have a right to self-defense.

jason taylor

I never thought of that. But it is true the left hand is under a taboo in the Middle East because it was the hand used before the advent of disposables.

Diane Singer

Actually, Glenn, I have heard the "turn the other cheek" passage explained this way before. However, it's so often misquoted and misused that I'm glad you chimed in here.

Ben, according to the pastor friend, Gene, who set up our self-defense training with Sandy Strong, you are quite right that you can be in martial arts and not fall for the Eastern religion stuff. Gene's a ninth-degree black belt (I think that's right... I just know he has a really high ranking). What's funny is that he once went to Asia to train at a facility run by Buddhists. He sat at the same table with the same group of people for every meal, and he always said a prayer before eating. NO ONE at his table got sick from the food; all the other participants did!! He said it gave him a great opening for witnessing to his table mates.

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