Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Was the Christian Security Guard a Hero?

On December 9, Matthew Murray walked onto the campus of New Life Church in Colorado Springs and began shooting at people. He killed one person and wounded several others before a volunteer church security guard, who was also a member of the church, shot him (she wounded him, after which he shot and killed himself). The pastor of the church called the security guard a "hero." I've received dozens of e-mails from people asking me if I agree with the pastor, so I thought I'd briefly share my thoughts.

Let me say at the start that I have the utmost respect for people serving in the police force. These folks put themselves in harms way to protect innocent people from dangerous people like Matthew Murray. It's an honorable profession. On top of this, there's no question that the action take by this security guard was justified (by normal "just-war" criteria) and brave. In this sense I have no problems agreeing that this security guard was a "hero."

At the same time, just because a profession is honorable and an act of violence is justified and even heroic doesn't mean it's appropriate for Kingdom people. Paul teaches that God allows governments to use the sword for the purpose of maintaining law and order (Rom. 13:1-4). But in the seven verses leading up to this passage Paul forbids Christians from engaging in this sort of behavior (Rom. 12: 14, 17-21).

Every Kingdom person who considers entering into an occupation where they might have to kill someone -- indeed, any Kingdom person who considers using potentially lethal violence against enemies in any circumstance and for any reason -- has to wrestle with the question of how they reconcile this violence with the teachings of the New Testament.

Here's a list of everything the New Testament says about how Kingdom people (as opposed to governments and nations) are to view and treat their enemies. We're to....

* love our enemies (Lk 6:27, 35; Mt 5:44) (and remember, love is defined in the New Testament by pointing us to the example of Jesus dying for his enemies, [I Jn 3:16])
* follow Jesus' example by being willing to suffer unjustly at the hands of enemies, even when we have the power to crush them (1 Pet 2:18-23, 3:15-16; Eph 5:1-2, cf. Rom. 5:10)
* do good to our enemies (LK 6:27, 34-35)
* bless our enemies instead of curse them (LK 6:28; Rom. 12:14)
* pray for our enemies (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28)
* forgive our enemies and ask God to forgive them (Lk 6:37; 11:4; 23:34)
* give to our enemies without expecting anything in return (Mt 5:44; Lk 6: 30, 34)
* feed our enemies when they need food (Rom. 12:20)
* give drink to our enemies when they need water (Rom. 12:20
* never resist evil with force (Mt 5:38-39)
* treat enemies as we wish they'd treat us (Lk 6:31)
* never return evil with evil but always return evil with good (Rom. 12:17, 19; I Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9)
* never exact vengeance against our enemies, trusting God to do this instead (Rom. 12:17-19)
* turn the other cheek when struck (Mt 5:39; Lk 6:29)
* pray for the healing of our enemies rather than seek to injure them (Mt 26:51-53)
* humbly serve our enemies (Jn 13:1-5)
* respond gently when interrogated under persecution by enemies (1 Pet 3:15)
* consider our sin to be worse than those of our enemies (Mt 7:1-3; I Tim. 1:15-16).

To the best of my knowledge, this represents everything the New Testament teaches on the matter. Note that nowhere do we find any exception clause in these teachings. Jesus doesn't say "Love and do good to your enemies except when common sense tells you you need to kill them."

It's also important to remember that many of those who were originally given these teachings subsequently endured the agony of watching their families fed to lions or burned alive before being tortured and executed themselves. The "enemies" the New Testament talks about are not just grumpy neighbors or personal enemies. They include national enemies, enemies who are terrorists, life-threatening enemies, and enemies who threaten not only us but also our loved ones.

Now, let's be honest. This teaching strikes most of us as impractical, if not insane, unpatriotic and even immoral. To not use whatever force is necessary to protect loved ones, innocent people and our nation from dangerous people strikes most of us as just plain wrong! So, many think, whatever Jesus and others in the New Testament meant with their teaching about loving enemies, they couldn't possibly have intended to rule out killing them when it's justified to do so.

I empathize with the sentiment completely. But, if I'm honest with myself, this seems to be exactly what Jesus and others in the New Testament are ruling out. I've looked at this teaching from every possible angle and I see no way around this conclusion.

I grant that this teaching violates our common sense. But how common-sensical was it for the omnipotent God to let himself get tortured and killed unjustly rather than use his power to defeat his foes? And we're supposed to follow this example (Phil. 2:5-7; Eph 5:1-2;1 Pet 2:18-23, 3:15-16). Jesus himself is aware that the teaching goes against common sense, but he stresses that it brings about a distinctly Kingdom reward for just this reason (Mt 5:44-47; Lk 6:32-35). The Kingdom is radical, holy (set apart) and beautiful precisely because it is not "common."

Every person who has pledged to live in the way of Jesus, rather than the way of the world, but who nevertheless carries (and is willing to use) a gun, for any reason, has to wrestle with this New Testament teaching. For my two cents, I confess I cannot see how the two are compatible. The use of lethal force may at times be justified and heroic by ordinary kingdom of the world standards. But I cannot see how it's compatible with being a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Yet, I want to end by saying that this doesn't mean I or anyone else can pass judgment on the security guard or question the authenticity of her faith. Jesus proclaimed that the faith of a sword-wielding Roman Centurion -- a high ranking officer in the Roman army! -- had greater faith than anyone he'd found in Israel (Mt 8:5-10). And, while I'm certain Jesus didn't condone the Centurion's military profession (especially being an unjust oppressor of Israel), neither did he confront it. Jesus meets us where we're at, and we're all at different places as we "work out our salvation" (Phil 2:13).

I thus cannot judge the security guard or any other Christian serving in the police force or military in a capacity in which they might have to kill public or national enemies. But neither can I with integrity claim to understand how they reconcile this with the teachings of the New Testament. So when asked, I feel obliged to help Kingdom folks wrestle with their decision to use potentially lethal force for any reason.

Be a peacemaker.