Preston Sprinkle, Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence (Colorado Springs: David Cook, 2013).
Preston, what led you to write this book? I mean, you come from a conservative Christian context, typical “guns and religion” culture, “praise the Lord and pass the ammo,” that kind of thing, so how did you get to where you are?
That’s right, Mike. Not only do I come from such a culture, but I’m still in one! I’m a Reformed, Evangelical, socially conservative, country-music listening, gun-owning Christian. And I’m an advocate for nonviolence. As I said in the introduction of my book, I have no cultural, political, or emotion aversion to violence. The only reason why I advocate nonviolence is because—to echo the mantra of my fundamentalist brothers and sisters—I believe the Bible tells me to.
How can killing always be wrong, when the Bible permits killing in self-defense and even prescribes the death penalty for certain offences?
Does it? I don’t think it does. Or more specifically, I don’t believe the New Testament allows for killing in self-defense, and in spite of how Romans 13:4 is often read, I wouldn’t say that it “prescribes” or celebrates the death penalty. It simply says that Rome “bears the sword” and punishes wrong doers (including a Jew who committed—so they thought—insurrection in AD 30) and God may sovereignly work through the state to pour out His wrath and vengeance.
I don’t think the New Testament ever encourages Christian to celebrate the death penalty, nor does it allow Christians to kill in self-defense.
The Old Testament, of course, is a bit messier. The death penalty was prescribed for all sorts of different crimes, and killing in self defense seems to have been allowed (according to one reading of Exod 22:2-3). However, Christians need to think critically about how they apply the OT Law to their lives. At the very least, Jesus and the NT writers give several commands that appear to directly supersede these OT laws. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye…’ but I say to you,” and “turn the other cheek…love your enemies,” (Matt 5).
In any case, I devoted 4 chapters of my book to the Old Testament, so the interested reader can see if my argument therein holds weight.
Can Christians serve in the military or as a police officer?
Tough question, Mike! At least you didn’t ask about Syria!
Again, I devote a good deal of space to these two specific questions. I’ll answer them in a second, but before any Christian seeks to answer these questions and others (Can I kill Hitler? What about the attacker trying to kill my family? I can kill him, right?), we must first answer the question: “Does the New Testament ever permit Christians to use of violence (or more specific: killing) under any circumstances?” If we can build a Biblical case for saying yes, then we can move to give a Christian answer to the question you ask.
After looking at the OT, NT, and early church, I can’t find a convincing biblical argument that permits a Christian to use violence (we need to define this, of course) or killing to rescue the innocent, defend oneself, further national interests, or punish one’s enemy.
So, my short answer to your question is: Yes, serve in the military but not as a combatant. Yes, serve in the police force but in the rare instance where you may have to pull the trigger, don’t.
Tell us how your approach to war and ethics informs Christians as to what kind of policies they should support and oppose regarding the possibility of a US strike on Syria?
I should have guessed…
However, to be honest, I really struggle with the intersection between faith and politics in the public sphere. On the one had, I want to say, with Greg Boyd, that the kingdom of God should be concerned with the kingdom of God, and the nations will do what the nations will do. Ours is a spiritual warfare—a much more ferocious war, indeed!—and one cannot destroy a non-flesh and blood enemy with flesh and blood weapons. Tanks and drones cannot hurt Satan, and a Christ-less world peace could be a demonic victory. I get it.
However, I’m also fascinated that the prophets of Israel called the nations on the carpet for their disobedience to their Creator (e.g. Ezek 25-32), and John castigated Rome as the “whore of Babylon” for her violence and self-indulgence in the book of Revelation. Neither John nor the prophets let the nations just be the nations. They called them out for flagrant violations of the Creator’s will.
So I struggle with these two models. Should we be someone indifferent to what America does or perhaps hold them to their own standard, i.e. Just War theory (model 1)? Or, should the church prophetically call America (and all nations) to obedient submission to the will of their Creator, to love neighbor and enemy alike, to pick up their crosses and become followers of Jesus and settle for nothing less (model 2)?
Still thinking through this one, mate.
Are there any good wars? Was WWII a necessary war to stop the Nazis? Did Australia do the right thing by accepting the UN mandate to set up a peace-keeping operation in East Timor which meant eliminating Indonesian backed militias who were attacking the populace?
“Good” by who’s definition? I believe it is “good” to love one’s neighbor and enemy, to pray for people who may persecute me, to self-sacrificially give money to the needy, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and be joined to the risen King of all Creation. Are there any “good” wars?
Okay, okay. Let’s go on the world’s definition of “good.” Even still, Oliver O’Donovan, a major advocate for Just War theory says: “History knows of no just wars.” World War II is often hailed as a Just War, despite the fact that more than 2/3 of the deaths were civilians and many of these were by the hands, or bombs, of allied forces. Did we use “Proportionate Means?” Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden, which one historian labels “the largest slaughter of civilians by military forces in one place at one time since the campaigns of Genghis Khan,” argue the contrary. Did we honor “Non Combatant Immunity?” No.
No war has satisfied the criteria for Just War theory. Not even close. If we want to say that some wars were necessary, then we can discuss them in those terms. But I think that the terms “good” or “just” only try to whitewash an evil with the thin morality of the world.
What are you reservations/criticisms about “Just War” theory?
I devoted an entire appendix to Just War theory, so I would point our readers there. In short, Just War theory argues that violence and warfare is so evil, so wicked, such a tragedy that it should be pursued only as an absolute last resort; that is, after all other nonviolent means have been exhausted. Or according to Just War theorist Arthur Holmes: “War is evil.” “Its causes are evil.…Its consequences are evil … it orphans and widows and horribly maims the innocent … it cheapens life and morality … wars that are intended to arrest violence and injustice seem only in the long run to breed further injustice and conflict. To call war anything less than evil,” concluded Holmes, “would be self-deception.”
But I don’t hear this type of stuff when I hear people say they believe in Just War theory. At least in my country, I hear a lot more eagerness for militaristic intervention as a first, maybe second, resort, not a last one. (The contrasting approaches of Obama and Putin are a case in point.) “Praise the Lord and pass the ammo,” as you stated above. That’s our Just War theory.
So in itself, I think that nonviolence and Just War theory actually share a moral foundation, one which does not race to violence to solve the world’s problems. But as a Christian who has not found a convincing biblical argument that Christians should ever use violence to confront evil, I don’t think that physical warfare is ever the solution to evil. I believe that that there’s a real war going on, one which is a hundred times more devastating than any earthly war, one where the victor gains heaven and the loser suffers hell, one that is fueled by the Spirit and blood of a crucified and risen King.
Let’s focus on that war. It’s much more urgent.