Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How Should Christians React to the Killing of bin Laden?

I think the statement released by our Canadian Prime Minister had the most appropriate response to the killing of bin Laden when it spoke of taking "sober satisfaction" in the event.


To answer that question, we must consider who killed him and why.

Osama bin Laden was killed by the US government on the orders of the Chief Magistrate of the United States, the President, as just punishment for his horrendous war crime on 9/11 and many other acts of murder, terror and mayhem. It is true that the killing was not done by the police, but this was a strike against a terrorist organization that had declared war against the US. So it was done by Special Forces operating under the authority of the constitutionally defined Commander-in-Chief and it was moral, legal and appropriate, in my opinion.

In Romans 13 Paul teaches that God has given the State the sword to use to punish the evildoer and to reward the good. In this action, the State wielded the State in accordance with its Divinely mandated duty and punished the evildoer.

Christians cannot criticize the State doing what the Bible says is its job. Neither pacifist nor just-war Christians can criticize the rulers for ruling justly and doing exactly what God ordains that they should do.

What pacifist and just-war Christians can legitimately and necessarily disagree about is whether or not they as Christians ought to be (1) giving advice to the State on matters of killing, (2) serving as agents of the State in authorizing killing or (3) being soldiers in war and actually doing the killing. Pacifists must logically disqualify themselves from all three roles or else they become complicit in killing, which pacifism teaches them they must not do under any conditions. A pacifist disobeys God and misconstrues Scripture when he advises the State to become pacifist in disobedience to the mandate given to the State by God and described in Romans 13. But a pacifist who believes all killing is wrong cannot advise the State to kill. Therefore, since a pacifist can neither advise in favor of or against killing, he has nothing whatsoever to say on the matter to the State.

The just-war Christian, on the other hand, can consistently act in all three roles mentioned above because he believes (along with Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin) in some sort of two-kingdoms doctrine in which the Church and the State are two different institutions with different roles and responsibilities in a fallen world between the the first and second comings of Christ. A Christian participates in both the Church and the State in this life because we are part of both kingdoms. God reigns over the Church through Jesus Christ, the head of the body, directly. God reigns over the fallen creation indirectly through rulers and governments that He raises up and pulls down according to His inscrutable Providence throughout history. We can neither engage in a flight of gnostic escapism nor try to turn society into a theocracy ruled over by the Church if we wish to be orthodox Christians.

Therefore, a Christian, from the just war perspective rejects both Theocracy and Separatism. Theocracy (church ruling over the state) and Separatism (church withdrawn into an alternative polity disengaged from secular society as with the Amish) are two sides of the same coin. Both see only one kingdom, not two, and have opposite reactions to how to deal with that fact. The Theocrat strives to make the world subordinate to the church; the Separatist strives to separate the church from the world. Both, however, agree that the Christian cannot live in Babylon without either ruling it or withdrawing from it.

As Christians, we do no wish the Church to take over the role of dispensing worldly justice by means of the sword (violence). But we do want the secular State to dispense justice. Obama was not acting as a church member when he ordered the killing of bin Laden. He was acting as the head of a secular nation state. A pacifist says that no Christian should be an agent of such a State and that is fine to say that, but the pacifist veers into the territory of theocracy when he condemns the State for punishing the evildoer by means of the sword. Obama could personally love bin Laden and desire his conversion to Christ and salvation from sin, but that does not mean that he should refrain from exercising judgment on him as a head of state attacked by the terrorists on 9/11.

Under other circumstances, I would wish to witness to bin Laden and try to lead him to Christ. But if I had been one of those Navy Seals, I would not have had that opportunity. No one deserves endless time to repent of his sins and no one deserves to escape responsibility for committing murder. God knows our hearts and assigns to us a limited number of days on this earth. Bin Laden brought this upon himself as surely as someone who jumps off a tall building brings death upon himself. That was his choice as a free moral being. He is now reaping the consequences of his moral choices - as we all must.

Pacifist who criticize the killing of bin Laden are rejecting Scripture and, at least implicitly, Divine authority. They have fallen into what I term "Liberal Pacifism," which is a characteristic of Liberal Protestantism. It is a heresy that is rooted in a Romantic, Utopian notion of human nature and specifically the perfectability of man. It owes much to J. J. Rousseau, Walter Rauschenbush and John Dewey and little to Augustine, Thomas, Luther and Calvin.

I am glad bin Laden is dead because, as President Obama put it so simply yet profoundly, justice has been done.

1 comment:

Josh Bailey said...

Hmmm... you might want to correct your Osama/Obama flub toward the end there.

In any case, as one trying to understand my own role as an American Christian, admittedly quite sympathetic to Christian pacifism, thank you for your careful articulation of these matters and distinctions. They have been grist for the mill for a few years now.