Can Christians Kill? [The Best of jaceonline]

Author’s note: I used to blog at jaceonline.com, and in an effort to introduce myself to new readers and hopefully wring a little more entertainment value out of those old posts, I’m going to be dipping into the old site and re-posting some of my favorite entries. Hey, if Leo Sayer can have a “best of” collection, so can I.

My brother-in-law and spiritual advisor Jeremy posed an interesting question for me to mull over. He called me on the phone and asked, “Can Christians kill?” I know Jeremy’s been having a lot of trouble with Ft. Worth city government employees lately; only now do I realize how much.

But putting aside any sprees Jeremy might be going on in the near future (keep an eye on the news!), this is a compelling question. For Christians, cold-blooded murder is obviously right out. I haven’t heard of any religious leader or philosopher who ever argued otherwise. (Note to those with the lyrics to “Helter Skelter” tatooed on the inside of their eyelids: Charles Manson doesn’t count.) But when you talk about self-defense, or service in a military or police force, or the death penalty, the argument becomes muddier.

It’s not like people haven’t done a whole lot of thinking on this question through the history of man, and sometimes concluded in the negative, like the pacifist Quakers. (But they weren’t the weasley, drum-beating, poetry slam kind of pacifists. During World War II, instead of conscientiously objecting to service, many Quakers enlisted as Army medics, which requires more guts than I’ll ever dream of having. There are more reasons to admire Quakers than just for their breakthroughs in the field of oatmeal science.) But it’s beneficial for everone to chew over moral quandries like this one, and each seek God’s will with his own mind.

If we were just taking our cues from the Old Testament, it would be simple. Nobody pulled their punches in the Torah, baby. Armies marched under God’s orders, and they weren’t ordered to deliver gift baskets. Samson killed whole bunches of people with his bare hands and seemed to have a jolly good time doing it. We could spend all day going over all the offenses that earned you the death penalty under Old Testament law. (Leviticus 20:15 – “If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he must be put to death, and you must kill the animal.” Imagine what the animal must be thinking in this scenario: “Well, just when I thought the day couldn’t get any worse…”)

But, the teachings of Christ flipped a lot of Old Testament conventional wisdom on it’s head. Now, let me make this perfectly clear: I do not believe in Hippie Jesus. The popular misconception of Jesus portrays him as some laid-back dude who walked around followed by bluebirds and adorable woodland critters, telling us everything would be cool if we just loved everybody. I find this description to be incomplete at best. Jesus did say, “Love your enemies,” but he also said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” We just have to figure out what he meant by that.

In Matthew 18, Jesus says, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Is He advocating the death penalty for corrupting a minor? On the surface it seems so, but then again, Jesus was never really an “on the surface” kind of guy.

However, we can take two general principals from this statement: Jesus distinguishes the guilty from the innocent, and it is good to protect the innocent from the guilty.

Bear in mind that this guilt is distinct from the guilt of sin that requires salvation. That falls on everybody, and no one is more guilty than any other. But that doesn’t mean we are all equally culpable for each sinful act. Jesus isn’t some cosmic ACLU lawyer, laying all evil at the feet of society.

Other verses teach us that it’s good to protect and care for widows and orphans, those who can’t take care of themselves, those whose predicament is not of their own choosing. Throughout the Bible we’re called to support the weak and innocent — spiritually, emotionally, and financially. It only follows that we should defend their lives as well, so I believe it is allowable for Christians to take a guilty life to save an innocent life.

Author’s note, again: Jeremy and I pursued this subject over a few more posts, if you’re interested in seeing how it played out, please give ’em a look.