There is no doubt that many of the soldiers responsible for the recent death and destruction in Fallujah are Christians. And there is no doubt that many Americans who call for more death and destruction in Iraq and elsewhere are Christians as well.
The phrase should be a contradiction in terms. If someone referred to Christian adulterers, Christian drug addicts, Christian prostitutes, Christian pimps, Christian gangsta rappers, or Christian acid rockers, most Christians would get an extremely perplexed look on their face. But when Christians in the military continue killing for the state, and Christians not in the military call for more killing in the name of the state, many Christians don’t even raise an eyebrow.
In some respects, this is the fault of religious “leaders.” Christians in the pew are in many cases just blindly following their pastors, priests, elders, and ministers who, instead of preaching the gospel, are preaching the same pro-war politics their congregation hears on the Sean Hannity radio show or else they are not denouncing the debacle in Iraq for what it is: unscriptural, immoral, and unconstitutional. Conservative religious leaders are in some cases nothing more than cheerleaders for George Bush and the Republican Party.
But even if a Christian hears nothing but pro-war propaganda from the pulpit, it is still no excuse, for Christians have access to the truth if they will just put forth the effort to look for it. They have a Bible they can read for themselves. They have the example of some principled Christian leaders who have opposed the debacle in Iraq from the beginning. They have an abundance of alternative news sources to receive information from besides the pro-war propaganda they get from the Fox War Channel and the War Street Journal. It is unfortunate that some Christians won’t read anything unless it was written by some other Christian they know and usually agree with. God forbid that they should read something by someone outside of their denomination, circle, or “camp” — or even worse, someone they consider to be a nominal Christian or not a Christian at all.
To justify their consent or silence, and to keep their congregations in line, Christian leaders repeat to their parishioners the mantra of “obey the powers that be,” a loose paraphrase of Romans 13:1, as if that somehow means that they should blindly follow whatever the president or the government says, and even worse, that it overturns the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17), which is repeated in the New Testament (Matthew 19:18; Romans 13:9). The way some Christians repeat the “obey the powers that be” mantra, one would think that they would slit their own mothers’ throats if the state told them to do so.
Under what circumstances, then, is a Christian justified in or excused from killing another human being? Is it ever all right for a Christian to be a “killer”? As I see it, there are four circumstances under which a Christian could justifiably kill or be excused from killing: capital punishment, self-defense, accidents, and “just” wars.
A Christian who lawfully carried out capital punishment would not be committing murder. Although the subject of capital punishment is sometimes hotly debated, the Bible sanctions it before the law (Genesis 9:6), under the law (Numbers 35:16—21, 30—31), and under the New Testament (Acts 25:11; Romans 13:4). For more on the death penalty see Walter Block.
No one, Christian or otherwise, would fault a man for killing another man in self-defense. Only the most diehard pacifist would refuse to act in self-defense if he was attacked. This would have to include the protection of one’s family as well, for if the Bible condemns a Christian for not providing for his own house (1 Timothy 5:8), how could a Christian not ensure by whatever means necessary the protection of his family’s life?
Accidents happen. And sometimes someone is tragically killed. This does not make the perpetrator a murderer. The Jews were commanded in the Old Testament to establish cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6, 11-15) to which someone might flee that killed his neighbor unawares or ignorantly (Numbers 35:11; Deuteronomy 19:4-5).
Most Christians would wholeheartedly agree with these first three propositions. The problem is with war; specifically, the fact that all wars are not created equal. The vast majority of wars in the world’s history have been destructive, unjust, and immoral. What constitutes a just war is a question I have answered in the essay “Christianity and War.” Obviously, an aggressive, preemptive war against a country with no navy or air force, an economy in ruins after a decade of sanctions, and that was no threat to the United States is not a just war.
A Christian fighting for the U.S. Government in Iraq doesn’t fall under any of these circumstances.
After Bush launched his nebulous “war on terrorism” by having Afghanistan bombed back to the Stone Age to supposedly rid the world of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban, he announced to the world his “axis of evil” and went to war against Iraq to, depending on what day it was, rid the world of the evil Saddam Hussein or because Iraq violated U.N. resolutions or to destroy Iraq’s supposed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction or because of the perceived connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq or to liberate the Iraqi people or to bring democracy to Iraq.
Christians who support or remain silent about Bush’s “war against terrorism” are terribly inconsistent. If the state were to say: “Here Christian, put on this uniform, take this gun, go to your hometown, and kill your father,” Christians would recoil in horror and refuse to obey the state. But if the state were to say: “Here Christian, put on this uniform, take this gun, go to Iraq, and kill someone else’s father,” I am afraid that many Christians would reply, “When does my plane leave?”
Why is it that the same Christian who would not do the former, has no qualms about doing the latter?
Christians who voted for George W. Bush (even if it is true that he was in fact the lesser of two evils — a dubious proposition), or make excuses for his invasion of Iraq, are supporting a man with blood on his hands (Iraqi blood and American blood). The fact that the president himself never killed anyone is irrelevant — Adolf Hitler never gassed a single Jew.
What, then, is a Christian to do? What should any citizen do? Even though it is no longer posted in the public schools, most people know the answer: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Stop killing or supporting or making excuses for those who do. Quit ignoring the fact that the United States has a global empire of troops and bases that inevitably leads to more killing. Realize that it is the interventionist foreign policy of the United States that is the main reason why the world hates us. Acknowledge that the reason more countries don’t hate us is because we bribe them with foreign aid (after the money is first confiscated from U.S. taxpayers).
It is true that the Bible commands the Christian: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13). And it is true that it also says: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers” (Romans 13:1). But it doesn’t take a seminary education to see that this doesn’t trump the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” To know when to submit and when to be in subjection, we have some relevant biblical examples to go by — two in the Old Testament book of Daniel and two in the New Testament book of Acts.
In Daniel chapter 3, we read that King Nebuchadnezzar “made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon” (Daniel 3:1). It was then decreed that when the music started, everyone was to “fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up” (Daniel 3:5). The penalty for noncompliance was to be “cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:6). It was then charged that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not worship the golden image (Daniel 3:12). When brought before the king and threatened with being cast into the furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). Although Nebuchadnezzar did cast them into the furnace, and God did deliver them, the point is that these three Hebrews did not submit and were not subject to King Nebuchadnezzar.
In Daniel chapter 6, we read that King Darius made a decree that “whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days,” except from the king, “shall be cast into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:7). But “when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Daniel 6:10). For his disobedience, Daniel was cast into the den of lions, but God delivered him. The point, however, is that Daniel did not submit and was not subject to King Darius.
In Acts chapter 4, the Apostles Peter and John were imprisoned by the leaders of the Jews and then brought before them and commanded “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). But instead of submitting and being in subjection, they replied: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). They even prayed for boldness to continue speaking (Acts 4:29).
In Acts chapter 5, some apostles were put in prison by order of the high priest (Acts 5:17-18). They were freed by an angel and ordered to “stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20). These apostles were then brought before the leaders of the Jews and asked: “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? And, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:28). But rather than apologizing and submitting and being subject to them, the apostles replied: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
To say, as some Christians do, that because “The LORD is a man of war” (Exodus 15:3), and God allows wars between nations, that it is honorable for Christians to enthusiastically participate in U.S. wars of aggression is about the most profound demonstration of biblical ignorance that one could manifest.
Perhaps I should close by saying that I have never advocated, nor am I now advocating, nor do I intend to advocate in the future, any armed resistance to the government or any aggression against the government in any way. The pen is mightier than the sword. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:4). However, as Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
And, as even Abraham Lincoln said (long before his invasion of the Southern states):
Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right — a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.
What is a Christian (or anyone) going to do when he faces God at the Judgment and has to give an account of his actions? Suppose he is asked a simple question: “Why did you kill those people defending their homes in Iraq?” And suppose he replied: “Because the U.S. government told me to.” What do you suppose would be the Lord’s reaction to such a reply? But what else could a man say? He could not say that the United States was under attack. He could not say that Iraq was a threat to the United States. He could not say that he was protecting his family. He could not say that he was protecting his property. He could not even legitimately say that he was protecting himself, since he was in fact a trespasser on someone else’s property intending to do the owner great bodily harm.
“Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen” (Deuteronomy 27:25).