Editor’s Note: Originally published on TownHall.com, used with permission. Frank Turek is a speaker and author, and a leading Christian apologist. Learn more at his website www.CrossExamined.org
I like to strike up conversations with people I meet while traveling. Last Tuesday, on the way back to San Francisco airport, I asked the driver where he was from. “Jordan,” he replied.
In an effort to make a connection, I mentioned that I haven’t gotten to Jordan, but I went to Iran in 2006 and served in Saudi Arabia with the Navy twenty years ago.
“What do you do?” he asked.
“I’m a writer and a speaker. I co-authored a book defending the truth of Christianity called I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.”
“I’m a Christian too,” he said. Then, just as we were pulling into the terminal, he asked, “What do you think about the Iraq war?”
With less than 90 seconds left in the ride, I quickly said, “I think it was the least bad choice we had. Saddam used WMD, invaded Kuwait, and then violated 17 straight UN resolutions and the cease fire. What other choice did we have in a post 9-11 world?”
He didn’t answer the question. Instead, he claimed that Iraq had nothing to with 9-11, and that we just should have gone after the bad guys in Afghanistan. He then said, “Jesus told us to love our enemies.”
Leaving the issue of 9-11 aside, was his inference correct? In light of what Jesus said about loving our enemies, should Christians be pacifists?
I don’t think so. In fact, sometimes the use of force is not only justified, it can be a dereliction of duty not to use force.
First, “loving your enemies,” like “turn the other cheek,” is a command for individuals in personal relationships. It is not a command for governments or for individuals put in grave bodily harm. As individuals we should pray for our enemies and “turn the other cheek” instead of returning insult for insult. Such behavior demonstrates supernatural love aimed at securing the offender’s conversion to Christ. But those commands do not mean that we have no right to personal self defense, nor do they mean that a nation shouldn’t protect its people from other hostile nations.
With regard to self defense, not only does the Old Testament affirm the right to self defense (Ex. 22:2), Jesus himself told his disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword (Luke 22:36). Jesus later told Peter “put your sword away” so Christ’s sacrifice would go forward and the scriptures would be fulfilled (Mt. 26:54). But the very fact that Jesus told Peter and the other disciples to buy a sword shows that its use for personal protection is appropriate. (By the way, Jesus never condoned the use of the sword as a means of religious conversion. It’s impossible anyway. Genuine conversion, by definition, is freely accepted. It cannot be coerced.)
With regard to war, the New Testament does not order newly baptized soldiers to get out of the military. Instead, John the Baptist told them not to abuse their power and to be content with their pay (Luke 3:14). Soldiers are needed because, as Paul pointed out in Romans 13, governments have a God-given responsibility to use “the sword” to protect their people from harm. In fact, Paul himself accepted military protection when he was in danger (Acts 22:25f), and Jesus affirmed the right of governments to impose capital punishment, saying that such a right was given by God (Jn. 19:11).
Second, “love your enemies” cannot mean that all use of force is prohibited because such an interpretation would contradict the passages just cited and result in absurd conclusions. It would be absurd to say that “love your enemies” means “allow them to kill your family.” How would that be loving to your family?
It would be absurd to say that “love your enemies” prohibits all wars. What about the war against Hitler? Not justified? Please. How would that be loving to the Jews or the countries overrun? (Notice that even my driver friend isn’t against all wars. He thinks that the war in Afghanistan is justified. But if “love your enemies” meant you could never use force, then how can Afghanistan be justified?)
With such an absurd interpretation, we couldn’t even have police protection, a court system, or prisons. Why believe that police can use force but not Armies? There’s not much of a difference. Police use force to protect people from enemies inside a country. Armies use force to protect people from enemies outside a country.
Without the proper use of force, we’d have anarchy, and innocent people would be hurt or killed. That’s why complete pacifism is not only unbiblical, it is a dereliction of duty. Individuals have a responsibility to protect themselves and their families from harm, and governments have a similar responsibility to protect their citizens.
Christians can and should, of course, oppose specific wars that don’t meet what theologians call “just-war theory.” As I mentioned in my last column, I believe the Iraq war is just. But I didn’t get enough time with my driver friend to hear his complete case against the Iraq war. Maybe he knows something I don’t, but it didn’t seem so.
One thing is for certain: Christians contradict scripture and common sense when they say no war or use of force can ever be justified. As terrible as it is, War is sometimes the least bad choice available. In other words, it’s not that Christians are for war; it’s that we’re against the alternative—the oppression and death of the innocent. And in a fallen world like this, sometimes the use of force is necessary to protect the innocent. Without it, we wouldn’t even be able to love our friends.
Posted in Scripture Tagged with: Frank Turek, Iraq, Jesus, Jordan, military, Paul, Peace, TownHall, turn the other cheek, War
On January 10th, VOR posted Dr. Brown’s The Hollow Sound of Anti-Israel Protests article on our Daily Kos diary. Daily Kos is known as one of the most liberal sites on the net, thus it is no surprise that response to the article in the comments section was quite negative (perhaps vitriolic is the more precise word), with most of the venom directed at Dr. Brown for things unrelated to the article. One of the more interesting (and less hateful) comment threads involved Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek”, suggesting that as believers in Jesus, we ought never support any side in a war, with nations needing to “turn the other cheek” upon being confronted militarily. The following is a sampling from the thread:
As your sister in Christ, might I suggest turning the other check is in both party’s interest if they really want this conflict resolved.
by grannyhelen on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 03:09:58 PM PST
I thought that Christ’s maxim was that if someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek toward them. I don’t recall him saying, if someone slaps you on one cheek, bludgeon them with a sledge hammer. Please clarify.
by Leftywingnut on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 03:24:37 PM PST
I find it sadly amusing that so many so-called self-identified ‘Christians’ have to do all sort of logical gymnastics to twist Christ’s simple and direct language to suit their ends, as opposed to listening in their hearts and reading the specific words on the page.
These same ‘Christians’ love Leviticus when it tells them to persecute gays, but fail to abstain from eating shell-fish, wearing a cotton/poly shirt, or eating a bacon double cheeseburger.
Often times they moan about efforts against public prayer (in government chambers) without acknowledging Christ’s clear directive to pray in private rather than make a public display of their superior piety, ‘like the hypocrites.’
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.”
by Leftywingnut on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 03:49:12 PM PST
Are we “do[ing] all sort[s] of logical gymnastics to twist Christ’s simple and direct language to suit [our] end” when we support Israel in their war on terror? We want to obey Jesus in all ways, so what does He want us to do when He commands us to “turn the other cheek”? Should we abstain from defending ourselves from somebody physically attacking us? Should we denounce rather than support nations for defending themselves from terrorists? Consider the following:
Interestingly, while it is not uncommon for anti-missionaries to attack some of these passages, it is often the Jewish background to the passage that elucidates its meaning. Note, for example, that Luke 6:29 states, “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also,” but Matthew 5:39, which occurs in the context of legal retaliation (see Matt. 5:38!), provides an important detail: “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Does this mean that if someone breaks into your home and tries to kill your spouse and your kids, you should sit idly by even if you could easily stop them, or, perhaps even turn your family over to the intruder to be brutalized? Does it mean that you don’t call the police or offer any resistance? Of course not. The issue is one of legal retaliation, in this case, for being publicly shamed, which we know because of the words, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek,” implying a backhanded slap against the face. That is to say, a right-handed orientation is assumed in similar legal cases, and, since a right-handed slap would strike the left cheek and a right-handed person would not strike with the left hand, being struck on the right cheek means being struck with the back of the hand.
As Nolland and others have noted, the Mishnah dealt with this very situation in m. B. K. 9:6. To summarize, ‘a slap with the back of the hand calls for twice the payment in recompense for other blows; in terms of dishonor it is on the same level as tearing an ear, plucking out hair, spitting on someone, pulling a cloak off, and loosing a woman’s hair in public.’
Now, it must be remembered that the Mishnah was often dealing with actual laws and procedures, along with legal theory, just as a court today would get into great detail in terms of determining culpability and assessing fines and punishments. That is perfectly understandable as an ongoing application of Torah law. Yeshua (Jesus), however, was saying to his disciples, ‘This is not for you. I’m calling you to something higher. When you are publicly shamed and have the right to exact payment, turn the other cheek. Make yourself vulnerable and don’t try to fight your opponent on his terms. Step higher!’
— Michael L. Brown: Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 4
As is so often the case, taking time to understand the subtleties in the Scriptures, rather than forcing some hyper-literalistic 21st Century application, reveals the truth.
Posted in News, Scripture Tagged with: daily kos, Dr. Michael Brown, Gaza, hamas, israel, Israel protests, Jewish Objections to Jesus, Mishnah, New Testament, Scripture, turn the other cheek