Reverend Rob Schenck, a pro-life activist and missionary to politicians on Capitol Hill, broke with his expected evangelical position on gun ownership when he found himself questioning what it meant to be pro-life. In her directorial debut, The Armor of Light, Abigail Disney documents Schenck’s conversations on the subject with politicians and people of faith, while also highlighting his interactions with Lucy McBath, the mother of an unarmed teen murdered in Florida. To find out more about Schenck’s story, we caught up with him in the midst of his ministry to those struggling with the violence at Umpqua Community College in Rosemont, Oregon.
The Armor of Light documentary focuses in on Schenk, who is the chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance and president of the National Clergy Alliance. Schenck has been serving as a commissioned missionary to elected officials since 1995, sent to Washington, D.C. intentionally for that purpose of ministering to members of all three branches of the United States government. While he has been pro-life when it came to abortion, he began to question his stance on guns after being repeatedly asked to pray after violent situations involving guns, like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 and the Naval Shipyards in 2013. The change in his position on guns and laws concerning guns caused many of his previous supporters to question his beliefs and his politics. The controversy escalated, drawing director Disney to him.
When the opportunity for the documentary presented itself, Schenck admitted that it was intimidating at first to have the cameras following him around but that, ultimately, it proved therapeutic to give voice to his internal struggle over whether Christians should be gun owners or not.
While some issues tend to be defined based on divisive lines between those who claim to be religious and those who are not, Schenck’s stance has been highlighted by what some Christians, like Tenn. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, have said in response to recent violence. Ramsey posted on Facebook that Christians should better arm themselves to be prepared for similar situations, and Schenck gently rebutted him.
“While the Lt. Governor of Tennessee may be well intentioned,” Schenck wrote, “it’s not good advice. Anyone with good firearms training knows that when you strap on a gun, you are psychologically ready to kill another human being. That’s a paramount moral decision. Guns are lethal weapons that put lives at risk, including the gun owner’s own life and the lives of loved ones, neighbors, and friends. The best people to give moral advice on guns or any other issue are church leaders, and they’ve been conspicuously silent on the question of Christians arming up in fear. I appeal to pastors and other church leaders to speak out clearly, prayerfully, and biblically on the Christ-like approach to guns, fear, and even love of enemy. I appeal to Christians not to look to secular sources for their most important moral decisions. We must turn to God in prayer, search the Scriptures for wisdom, and look to Christ as our only model for dealing with evil.”
That silence by Christian leaders with conviction about escalating violence troubles Schenck, and is why he chose to step out and take a stand. “I’ve received a couple of emails and a phone call,” Schenck said, “but people have to sit with this kind of challenge. It took me months to accept Abby’s invitation because I had a reticence to share my voice. I had to find courage. I knew that the film could cost me long-established friendships, so I had to weigh the cost. We’re told to count the cost by Jesus, but the truth is that people are starving spiritually, ethically, and morally for guidance.”
Schenck wanted to be clear that many of the things that made people defensive about his stance were natural, and that he respected them for holding those values. “I’m careful not to dismiss the impulse to take care of your family,” Schenck said, passionately. “Some of those things don’t make the film because we had ninety minutes to share two years’ worth of conversations, distilled down.”
“The challenge of the gospels is to go beyond that, but we’re missing that in the Western church,” he continued. “We talk about how to live for Christ but we don’t talk about how to die for him. I know a few pastors who are armed in the pulpit in case someone comes there, but I’ve been asking if it’s always the will of God that we survive?”
The theologian, evangelist, and missionary said that we have a natural human response that is powerful but we’re called to work to get to Jesus’ response. Schenck pointed toward Jesus’ injunction to his disciples to put their swords away in the Garden of Gethsemane as he was being arrested, and his encouragement to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
“Paul tells us in Philippians to refer to others as better than ourselves,” he shared, “so I have to remember that I’m not the most important person in the equation.”
The film’s impact certainly has Schenck aware that what he expected and what happened are often miles apart. “People tend to jump to conclusions,” Schenck continued, “because the conversation questions their orthodoxy. It puts people on the defensive, so I’ve learned to be sensitive and work to relax their defensive reactions.”
Regardless of what you believe about the Second Amendment, guns, or faith, The Armor of Light is a discussion starter that allows us to see one experienced pastor’s perspective in a world where violence is becoming more and more prevalent. Hopefully, audiences will watch the film with their friends and family, and then offer up their opinions about how our communities, our churches, and our country can move forward, holding the Constitution of the United States in one hand and the hand of God in the other.
The Armor of Light will be in select theaters on October 30.