Redeemed Natures: Appendix -Situational Ethics

(Click Here to Read my Redeemed Natures series from the start)

Situational Ethics: “What would you do if…”

“What would you do if someone broke into your house and threatened the lives of your spouse, children, parents, and what if they were going to rape them…what would you do??”

 

This question gets asked a lot.   It is an understandable, and important question.  Our natural tendency is to fight or flee a violent scenario, and when flight is not an option, we desire to defend ourselves and the ones we love, at whatever cost.

I am a married man, and I love my wife more than I love myself, and I would gladly lay down my life for her.  We do not have any kids yet, but I am sure that if we did, I would love them and desire to protect them from harm as well.  So when the question is asked, “What would you do if…”, it is a hard question to answer, but I will go over my general thought process when thinking about it:

  1. I love my wife, and I would love my kids when I have them
  2. I have no fear of dying if it meant saving their lives
  3. Jesus would desire for me to spare the life of the attacker (Link)
  4. On instinct, I cannot guarantee that I would be faithful to my religious beliefs
  5. If I take another life to protect my loved ones, that does not mean that I would be justified to do so under the Lord’s Will for my life, and even after being forgiven, I would still have to deal with the physiological effects of taking another life.
  6. I have a moral responsibility to advocate for nonviolence in all scenarios; hoping that that advocacy could translate into further commitment to nonviolence when a situation arises.

As you can see, I do not have a crystal clear answer to this question, and while I do not doubt that there are some pacifist-like folks who could answer clearly and honestly, I think that for those of us who know that we cannot guarantee our actions in the moment, it is better to be honest about our true struggles with this question.  We can avoid entering the military, we can avoid taking a job that may contradict our convictions, but we cannot avoid an intruder/attacker if they break into our house.  

That is why I put the sixth thinking point in there.  Even if I do not know what I would do in a real life scenario, I have a moral obligation to advocate for nonviolence so that hopefully I could remain committed to what I see as a commandment of Christ.  But advocating for nonviolence in this scenario not only could help my response in the moment, it could also help the way that myself and others think about those who we perceive to be a threat.

In other words, how much would I be thinking of a nonviolent way to address an intruder, when I keep a loaded pistol in my nightstand?  How could I possibly see their life as having value when I’ve already set up the booby traps before they would even break in?  I realise that many would respond to these questions with “I am only preparing for something in case it happens”, but in reality, by doing that, they have cut out the option for nonviolent solutions before giving them a chance.  And while some may have the strength to not pull the trigger, many will react in fear and instinct and kill an intruder, even if that intruder has not violently threatened them.

However, many people say that protecting your family is a biblical principle to follow.  I wanted to give this view justice because a fair amount of people believe it, but not many can provide a reference.  Based on what I could gather, the main passage that is used to support this idea is found in Exodus 22.   Let’s study it.

Exodus 22:2-3  – When an intruder breaks in

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.” (ESV)

These verses are often used to justify lethal home defense, as well as the biblical right to keep a weapon ready to defend your family.  But I really don’t think it’s that simple.  These two verses describe two different scenarios.

The first scenario:

It’s dark, someone is found breaking into your house, and if you strike them fatally, you are not guilty of murder.  

Let’s imagine this scenario for a second:  You are laying in your bed, or on your mat, and you are startled awake by an unusual sound.  Someone is in your house, and your family is all asleep, and you did not invite anyone. Still drowsy, you stumble out of sleep, and as you meet the intruder, you have a confrontation, which ends up with you striking them in some way, or pushing them, or maybe they tripped, and that causes their death.

The second scenario:

It’s daylight, someone is found breaking into your house, and if you strike them fatally, you ARE guilty of murder.  If the thief is alive, they will surely have to give back what they stole, or if they don’t have it, they will be sold as a slave.

Now let’s imagine this scenario for a second:  It’s daylight, and you are up and about; possibly doing some household chores.  You hear someone break in, you rush toward them, and you strike them, and kill them.  You are now guilty of the blood you have shed.

So what’s the difference?

In both scenarios, the homeowner spilt the blood of the attacker, but they are only guilty of that if they did so when it is daylight.  That distinction is extremely important in talking about this passage.  Why is this?

I believe it comes down to a difference of consciousness.  In the daylight, you are alert, and aware of your surroundings.  You know exactly where your bat, bullet, sword point/edge, or other weapon, is going to land, and you have complete control over the force of that blow if you are not using a projectile weapon.  You are also thinking clearer than at night, and possibly could have found another means to make them leave.  In short, killing them in the daylight would be intentional.

Blogger and author, Benjamin Corey, writes the following on these verses:

“When people are scared in the dark and try to get away, bad things can happen even though the individual doesn’t intend it. For example, if you’re grabbed while walking on a dark path and shove the attacker to get away, but the attacker falls and dies, it would be disingenuous to say that lethality was an actual intent. This verse made room for those kinds of incidents when lethality was clearly not the intention.

However, the verse then switched to daylight– when you can actually see the intruder in your home. In this scenario, any kind of violent response that would lead to death is not only condemned, but considered murder. In these cases, the one who used lethal violence against a day-time intruder would themselves be put to death.

While often used by gun-slingers to justify shooting a home intruder, verse 3 actually backfires (see what I did there?) on the one making the argument.”

Therefore, being able to aim a gun and pull the trigger at night would not be justified.  Keeping a loaded gun near you, ready for a break in, and then using it, gives little to no room for a possible nonviolent solution to enter your mind.  A human life could be taken by your hands because a thief wanted your $200-1000 TV. I don’t think that that is worth it.

So…what am I to do?

It’s easy to say that you will stay committed to your nonviolent commitments, and it’s another thing to actually do it.  In the heat of the moment, no one knows for certain what they will do.  But one thing we can know is that if we don’t talk and think about nonviolence NOW in all circumstances, we likely won’t practice it later where it counts.   John Howard Yoder says the following in “What would you do?”:

I am less likely to look for another way out if I have told myself beforehand that there can be none or if I have made advance provision for an easy brutal defense. I am more likely to find a creative way out if I have already forbidden myself the easy violent answer. I am still more likely to find it if I have disciplined my impulsiveness and fostered my creativity by the study and practice of a nonviolent lifestyle”. (Kindle Locations 293-296)

Thinking about this stuff is a needed discipline for Christians.   Do you remember that story about the Amish forgiving the man and comforting the family of the man, who killed several amish school children?  Do you know how much that story has impacted the world?  If people see that our underserved grace is given to those at inconvenient times for us, the world would be absolutely Stunned by the Power and Love of Jesus in our lives.  Their images of hateful Christians would SHATTER at our feet as we are able to show them the God who loves, forgives, and serves, unconditionally.  It would show them that this love of God is so Extreme, so REAL, that it caused us to put the life of an enemy above our own.

Right now, the thing for us to do in times of peace is to pray, and to be active in our nonviolent commitment.  Pray for a change of your own heart towards those who are your “enemies”, pray for the hearts of your enemies, and pray that God shows them the transformative love that envelops you.  Pray for God to show you a nonviolent solution.  Advocate for nonviolence, defend it, and live it out in order to show this component of the Will of God for us to others.

My Biggest Frustration

In talking about this issue with my brothers and sisters in Christ, my biggest frustration is not that I get asked the question, “What would you do if…”; my biggest frustration is that when I explain to them my position, and that I hold my position because for my commitment to Jesus and His words…it’s not enough.

Direct quotes from Jesus, the one we claim as God, are not enough to make some of my brothers and sisters in Christ even consider this teaching of His.   When Jesus said, “Love your enemies”, there was no “But not if…” attached to that statement.  When Jesus said “Pray for your persecutors..”, there was no “that they may all die” attached to that statement.  When Jesus said “Turn the other cheek…”, there was no “as long as it matches what the Old Testament says” attached to it.  

I get it.  A Hippie God doesn’t seem to jive either, but please see my writings on the Old Testament in chapter two.  What God does is up to God.  He is the one who will carry out vengeance.  He is the one who will make the wrong right.  But WE are called to “not repay evil for evil”.  WE are called to be PeaceMakers.

My biggest frustration is that we let politics, anger, pride, and revenge, get in the way of following the way of the Cross, of BEING PeaceMakers.  A way that looks like a radical commitment to God, for the betterment of others, even if it costs us our life.

If an intruder intended harm, or was committing harm, upon my family, I cannot promise to you that I would remain faithful to my religious convictions.  But I pray that God would give me the ability to be able to if that time truly came, God forbid.

So…what would you do?


Works Referenced

Corey, Benjamin L. “Why Exodus 22:2 Doesn’t Work To Justify Armed Self-Defense.” The Official Blog of Benjamin L Corey. Patheos.com, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 11 July 2016.
John Howard Yoder. What Would You Do? (John Howard Yoder Series) (Kindle Locations 293-296). Herald Press. Kindle Edition.

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Redeemed Natures: Appendix – FAQ

(Click Here to Read my Redeemed Natures series from the start)

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you do with all of the War & Violence in the Old Testament?

This is one of the most common questions that is asked of me.  And for good reason. The Old Testament contains some pretty graphic scenes; some of which are said to have been approved and ordained by God.  A strict adherence to nonviolence seems to ignore these parts of the bible, especially when many who may hold to nonviolence fail to address these passages, or simply shoo them away as if they were a pest. I do not desire to do that, and though my answers will not be completely satisfying, what answers can be when there is so much violence in the Old Testament, and such peaceful teachings of Christ in the New?

In short, I believe that God has complete rights to kill those he wills to, for His purposes.  I believe that God worked through the Israelites, as well as the pagan nations that held them in captivity, to carry out His will.  However, there are specific instances in which the Israelites entered battle without the Lord’s blessing/command, and they were punished.   Even in their ancient tribal, and later civilized, society, violence against another was not permitted unless allowed by God.  Therefore, it is important to note that drawing a comparison between what was permitted for believers governed under the true Theocracy of Israel, and any modern government today, possibly using Romans 13 as a justifier, is a completely unfounded comparison.  

My question back to this question would be, “What do you do with the nonviolence as taught and exemplified by Christ?  When God himself teaches something directly, why not follow it?”

For more on the Old Testament, please refer to Chapter Two.  For more on the New Testament, please read chapters Three and Four.

What do you do with Romans 13, and Capital Punishment?

I’m not scared of Romans 13 because Romans 12 precedes it.  Romans 12 and 13 are meant to be read together with the overall theme of “How do we respond to those around us, on different levels”.  Romans 13 starts with what the Government is able to do, and how we are to view said government.  Romans 12 teaches Christians to love all, to never avenge yourselves, never repay evil for evil, to live peaceably with all men, and leave vengeance up to the Lord. I don’t think that those requirements to the believers are somehow made void when their government tells them to do something contrary to those requirements.  For more on this, please refer to Chapter Five.

How important is this issue, really?

Sometimes, this issue prompts some to ask me if this issue is really all that important to be unified on when there has been disagreements on this issue for hundreds, and thousands of years.

For those who believe that a Christian can kill if they are ordered by their government to do so, I understand this question.  Why should I make such a big deal about it – it’s just my opinion.

But it’s more than just an opinion to those on the nonviolent side of things.  To us, it’s literally a matter of life and death because we place equal value in all human life, and it’s also a matter of following the Lord’s will.  I don’t mean to say that I judge those who disagree with me – as they obviously do not believe nonviolence is a command of God, like I do…but I think that if people are unwilling to consider the argument of nonviolence, and jump to situational ethics questions as a first defense, I think something is wrong there.  We need to be seeking the Lord in ALL things…even when it is uncomfortable.  

If Christ taught nonviolence, or even if we can all agree that he preached that nonviolence is the IDEAL, why wouldn’t we strive for nonviolence and seek to avoid violence?  Why would be willfully enter a fight, or a position in government, that requires violence, when we can easily avoid these things?

If Church fathers before Constantine took such a bold stand against violence, and then after Constantine the Church was wrapped up with the State…why would we not look back to their understanding of this issue before the church and the state were One?

For more on this, please read Chapters Six and Seven.

How do you view those who serve in the military, or police? Do you judge them?

First, I respect all people, and second, no I do not judge them.  But I believe this is the hardest hurdle to get past in this discussion.  On a personal level, the Nonviolence advocating Christian is often placed in a box along with secular soldier-hating and police-hating hippies.  So sometimes, it’s even hard for us to know how to view soldiers and the police, especially when they are Christian, when our position would say that a Christian shouldn’t even become a soldier or join the police if they can help it because the role of the job may conflict with their faith. 

I do not judge non-christians in these positions because the morality of nonviolence is not a religious calling to them.  I do not judge Christians in these positions because the teaching of nonviolence was obviously not made known to them, or at least the argument was not made well; therefore, they are not willfully going against what I would see as the Will of God.  

But here’s the hard part…

Though I do not judge them for being in these positions, I would like for the teaching of nonviolence to lead them to either vowing to not kill in their positions, possibly requesting a change in role, or to not re-enlist when their time of service is complete. That is a LOT to ask, and I know that, but if I am being faithful to my convictions as if they mattered, this would be the desire of my heart for Christians in these positions.

I think it is always important for those on the Christian nonviolence side of things to always remember to respect ALL people.  I’ve always supported veterans by dropping a few dollars in the bucket at VFW drives outside of a walmart, and I’d never trash them, active duty soldiers, or the police.  Advocating for nonviolence necessitates a belief that all life is unconditionally valuable because it IS life. If men and women put their lives on hold, and/or put their lives at risk in a public service manner, no matter if we agree with the validity of the wars we are in, they deserve the people’s respect.  They deserve Our respect.

Therefore, the tension is holding a position that is potentially completely offensive to them, while at the same time making them aware that you still respect them.  And that respect is complicated – it’s a respect of the man or woman, your sibling in Christ, and not in what their position may require them to do.  Tension will be there, but love need to eclipse that tension.

What would you do if someone broke into your house and threatened your wife and/or family?

This question is asked so much that it deserves its own section.  Please follow this blog to see when the next section that will answer this question goes up.