Christians and Gun Ownership: An Interview With the Makers of ‘The Armor of Light’ Documentary

How did Lucy McBath come to be involved with the project?

Disney: She was another fabulous, happy accident for us. I was mainly looking for conservative “apostates,” people who were not necessarily people in the movement or people who were really committed one side of the other, but who were starting to question the conservative orthodoxy—because there is an orthodoxy, on both sides. And it seemed to me that if somebody were really a conservative, they’d be asking hard questions about the gun agenda. I was raised in a conservative family, and those don’t strike me as conservative values. Making it easier to destabilize a society is certainly not a conservative value. So I kept wondering, “Weren’t people asking hard questions? Weren’t people beginning to wonder?”

So I went looking for apostates, and in Lucy’s lawyer, we found an apostate who was willing to talk to us. He was a lovely guy—John Phillips, he’s in the film. He led us to Lucy. So we were talking to Lucy, primarily because we were interested in her lawyer, but some people just light up the screen. They just do. And Lucy does that. So we couldn’t resist her. We tried to resist her, but there was no resisting her. And the thing was, we just had to follow her because she was speaking on Rob’s wavelength. The film was kind of making itself. We just needed to keep following this incredibly fruitful path that was presenting itself.

How has the response been from people who have viewed the documentary?

Disney: I am a little speechless about how good it’s been. I was expecting a big pro-gun blowback, and that may still be coming. The gun people, if you make them angry, they come for you. They’re not shy about that. And we haven’t really seen any of that. I’m so pleased. And on top of it, we’ve really gotten open hearings from conservative people. They’ve been willing to sit and talk with us, even when they disagree with us. We’re hearing receptiveness from conservative audiences, which is really heartening. We haven’t had a bad audience yet. They’ve all been really positive.

Schenck: It’s been a little mixed in my private world, because people have viewed it now on iTunes or Amazon or on one of the other access points for it. A few pastors have expressed concern that somehow I’m being beguiled by our political opponents. But just as Abby said, I’m very quick to explain to them that I don’t see this as a political question or as a legislative matter. This is, to me, a moral and ethical question for Christians, and a very serious one.

Two firearms instructors told me that whenever you carry a weapon for self-defense, you must be prepared to kill in an instant and even in a moment of doubt. Because any hesitation will mean that in a violent confrontation, the gun will be taken from you, and used to kill you and probably others. So if you are not ready to kill, in an instant, even in a moment of doubt, then you are more dangerous with the weapon than without it. And good firearm instructors seem to have a consensus on that.

So the point is, that as soon as a Christian decides to use a firearm in self-defense, they are also preparing to shoot another human being dead. And that to me is a paramount moral problem for the Christian. That must be addressed. And better to address it before than after the fact.

That’s why I’m taking this conversation principally to pastors and seminaries and other places where there are people who shape and form other Christians in the process of discipleship, pastoral care, preaching and so on because that’s the best place for Christians to address this problem. And it is a problem, and should be a problem. My argument is that Christians should never take inflicting death on another human being lightly. That should be taken with very serious gravity and every precaution should be taken to avoid taking the life of an innocent person.

And there’s a crossover here into other areas, especially with younger pastors and seminary professors and so on who harbor similar doubts about the death penalty, again because of the moral and ethical implications for Christians. These things family together.

Rob, you mentioned you have taken criticism for voicing concerns about the American gun culture. Where does this criticism come from?

Schenck: I have gotten a mix of criticism, mostly from older voices. Younger voices have been overwhelmingly supportive. So it’s kind of like if a pastor is under 40, I can predict he, or in some cases she, will be very supportive of my doubts about armed self-defense. If they’re over 40, it’s not so predictable, and the older they are, the more likely they are to object to raising any questions about armed self-defense, even in the church.

Disney: What I was not hearing from anyone was an appropriate level of threat, an appropriate level of, “Oh gosh, I hope this never happens.” Because if you listen to the language of the NRA, and if you’ve seen the film you’ll see Sarah Palin just embody it right there: “Don’t waste a bullet on a warning shot.” Where is the feeling, the appropriate feeling, that this would be a horrible thing to have to do? I wasn’t hearing it from anyone.

So what is the way forward? Is there really a path to open, honest dialogue between two groups that so passionately disagree with each other?

Disney: That’s why I made this film, because there is no way forward as long as we’re in this standoff that we’re in, and nobody talks with each other or even interacts with each other. That has to stop. And the only way to stop it is to make the move yourself, to decide to go against orthodoxy, and to walk across the line and shake somebody’s hand.

James P. Long