The Kyle Rittenhouse story took the top spot in a long list of stories that have become the center of bitter nationwide divisions on issues of guns, protests, and policing. More importantly – does one have the right to self-defense?
“Self-defense is one of several so-called “affirmative defenses,” which include insanity”
“All states have self-defense laws that allow people who are threatened to use reasonable force to defend themselves or others, and to avoid criminal liability from their use of force. However, each state has its own rules governing the use of force in self-defense, and any use of force that occurs outside the bounds of the state’s laws can result in a criminal conviction.”
Of course, legally this is a settled question, but let us examine it from a biblical perspective.
On the night of Aug. 25, 2020, Rittenhouse went from being described as a 17-year-old lifeguard to a teenage gunman accused of shooting three people, two of them fatally.
Rittenhouse, 17 at the time, traveled the few miles from his home across the state border to Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020, as the city was in the throes of violent protests that followed a white police officer’s shooting of Jacob Blake, an armed Black man, after a call to a domestic disturbance.
“He lived 20 miles from Kenosha in Antioch, Ill., with his mother and sisters. But his father, grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousins and best friend live in Kenosha. He had a job as a lifeguard in Kenosha and worked a shift on Aug. 25 before helping clean graffiti left by rioters at a local school. There, he and his friend were invited to join other adults who had been asked by the owners of a used car lot in Kenosha to guard the property after 100 cars had been torched the previous night, when police abandoned the town to rioters. Kyle took his gun to protect himself, since the rioters were violent and armed, including, for instance, Antifa medic Gaige Grosskreutz, who lunged at him with a loaded Glock pointed at his head before he was shot in the arm.”
Bystander video captured the critical minutes when Rittenhouse, with a Smith and Wesson AR-style semiautomatic rifle, shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 28.
Rittenhouse has argued self-defense in the shootings. Prosecutors trying to convict him of murder have been working to paint him as an inexperienced teenager who misrepresented his age and medical training to other armed civilians in his group on the night of the shooting. Learn more here, but instead of describing the event, listen to the words of Rittenhouse himself below.
Many of those on the side that Rittenhouse is a cold-blooded murder or even a vigilante are quick to say that his acts are not Christian. Whether Rittenhouse’s accusers are even Christian or not, many like to use religion or Bible text to strengthen their argument. So it may be useful to see what Biblical text says about self-defense and vigilantism.
First, a few definitions.
Here are some broad definitions that are not always agreed upon, though useful to consider. There are for sure definitions that may vary, especially in the applicable details, from varying governing regions.
Self-defense is a countermeasure that involves defending the health and well-being of oneself from harm. The use of the right of self-defense as a legal justification for the use of force in times of danger is available in many jurisdictions.
The Biblical case some attempt to make against Rittenhouse.
Even non-religious people would agree that murder and vigilantism is not the right thing to do. The Old Testament is full of examples of men of God killing people and God himself – but not necessarily with malice and for reasons not part of this post to go into detail. Yet, not to murder was explicitly outlined in the ten commandments. Others believe that in the New Testament, the law changed and Christians were to stand down and not take life for any reason. Consider the following.
- Exodus 20:13: “You shall not murder.” “Murder” is the correct translation and not the word “kill.” Do note the definition of murder above – learn more here.
- Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Was Rittenhouse acting out of revenge?
- Matthew 5:39: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Here are more similar to this. Ahhh … this is seemingly the “gotcha” verse for those saying Rittenhouse is guilty – he should have just turned the other cheek. But is this merely saying one should not take revenge for someone’s wrongdoing and not referring to the abstention of self-defense?
- Romans 13:1: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” The heart of most acts (but not all) of vigilantism is contrary to Biblical text – learn more here.
So is self-defense wrong?
It would seem that killing, murder, vigilantism, and self-defense are a little more nuanced in principle than noticed at first glance. As stated in the definitions, it is the malicious (or not) intent of one’s actions that will matter. Consider the following concerning self-defense.
- Exodus 22:2: “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed.”
- Psalm 82:4: “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
- Ezekiel 33:6: “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.”
- Luke 11:21: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe.”
- Matthew 24:43: “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.”
- Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
So it appears that it is reasonable to act in self-defense in some cases and is even commanded to do so. It all depends on intent.
Of course, these are Biblical text references and are not necessarily how the state of Wisconsin legal system nor the politics worked for Kyle Rittenhouse. The United States Constitution and enumerated laws are what mattered. The country breathed a sigh of relief that the case is finally over – not guilty on all counts. It will go a long way in reaffirming the legal doctrine that if you can prove you acted in self-defense you have not broken the law
Give us your thoughts – should a Christian act in self-defense or refrain from any violence for any reason?
See more in this series of Sunday Thoughts – click here.
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