Can we kill, but not murder…?

Continued from “What does the Sixth Commandment Mean for Jesus?
I’m looking at one of the sermons that came out of Mars Hill Church a couple of months ago: Is God A Pacifist? People, even popular pastors, speak only their opinion: not the words of God.

Mr. Driscoll has some very definite actions that he intends to justify before his audience through his sermon/article. But he does so only if that audience is already predisposed in that direction to begin with. It sounds very personal and basic (who would not want to defend their family?) but that is exactly why the argument fails. It’s much more based on emotional sentiment (and American superiority/power) than logic or New Testament values. “Sometimes… it is right for the state to take the life of a criminal or to use violence to defend against oppression and attack. If someone tries to murder you, and you defend yourself with lethal force in order to protect the lives of you and your family, that’s not murder. When a police officer gets out of their car and suddenly comes under heavy fire, if they return fire and kill the person who’s trying to murder them, the officer is not guilty of sin.”

I’m not going to condemn or defend the police officer here; that would be between him (or her) and God. And I don’t mean that flippantly. Honestly, I think Mr. Driscoll is correct in this instance: but it is a highly specific situation that the average antagonist against pacifism does not run into very often. I would hope that every person in such a line of work has come to a place in their lives where they would feel comfortable shooting back. I have not. I have a friend who’s a police officer whom I also consider to be one of the most peace-seeking people I know (which is why I’m glad she’s an officer). I similarly know (well) a number of people in the army and have no qualms about them serving: although their leaders have much to answer for if they’ve gone to war illegally. I, however, am not able to reconcile all that internally; which is why I’m not in any such forces.

But the other examples: “the state to take the life of a criminal”, “violence to defend against oppression and attack”, “protect the lives of you and your family”. The first example I’ll stand against outright: as has most of the civilized world (American Prospect Magazine, 2004). As I said in the first part of this series (Bowles, The Geographer’s Corner, 2014), God has all the knowledge and right to be able to use capital punishment; the state does not. This has been recognized time and again in the release of death-row inmates. As stated by Amnesty International: “The death penalty legitimizes an irreversible act of violence by the state and will inevitably claim innocent victims. As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.” (Amnesty International, 2000)

And the rest: I’ve already mentioned how Mr. Driscoll’s perspective regarding on “killing” rather fails to align very well with most of the New Testament, including 1 John 3:15, which says it outright, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him”. I don’t know about Mark, but I am not able to kill (in Mark’s righteous sense) someone whom I love, in the Biblical sense. Even if someone is “oppressing” or “attacking”, I do not believe we are justified by a default position that returns violence.

Now perhaps Mr. Driscoll would have some way to get around this verse; “brother” might mean another Christian, and no Christian would ever do anything that would threaten him or his family, or do anything to make him hate him. In fact, perhaps Marks sees “his brother” in this verse only as a member of his church, over which he has absolute control and authority (The Stranger, 2012). By his own words, as soon as a member of his flock “sins”, that person must either “repent… of their sin and live… as Christians” or “never…set foot in the church again” (Mars Hill Church, 2012). They thus cease to be a church member, so cease to be a brother. It can be useful to be able to shift Scripture to the definitions that are most convenient.

So: would I defend my family? Certainly. To the point of lethal violence? I hope not. I hope to never have find out. I hope that I would always be successful with non-violent means. Does that mean I will never use violence? No. But violence will never be my default.

And I think Jesus would do the same.

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