Is “Police” a Christian Calling?

Police.jpgHere is a letter from a reader and I’m wondering what you think? As an Anabaptist, I’m aware of this issue from a variety of angles, not the least of which is that violence and God’s kingdom are at odds. There are a lot of issues involved here, and one of them is that many Christians don’t even think about this sort of question. But what do you think?

Dr. McKnight,

I wanted to know your opinion on something. For many years I have felt
called to be a police officer. At one point I was planning on becoming
a pastor but I gave that up to pursue a career with the local City Police.
I know that God created government and police officers because we live
in a fallen world.

But my question is, “Should Christians be police
officers?

Christians are called to live a life  marked by non-violence but does this necessarily mean that they cannot be apart
of the institutions created by God to keep order in our society? Can
you help me at all?

In Christ,

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Matt B.

    A better question – why could’t a Christian be a Police Officer? Or a soldier? Or a politician?

  • Gordon Walker

    Then some soldiers asked [John the Baptist], “And what should we do?”
    He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
    – Luke 3:14

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    One role of the police is to defend the powerless. Society is not better served by having no Believers performing this role.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    I say the following as someone who has strong anti-violence leanings. In fact, I think that tangible love to evil people is the central strategy of God for overcoming evil in this world. That said, yes, I believe that Christians are called as police officers. In this age, evil must be restrained and I believe God has given the sword to human authorities for that purpose. As with most things, I wish there were a higher percentage of Christians in the work, because it is a powerful job and that power is easy to abuse and has a long and ongoing history of abuse.
    Matt B., the call to nonviolence is so strongly taught and modeled in the NT (as is the concept of the government of God), that many folks think Christians ought never become a violent instrument of human government as a citizen of Christ’s kingdom.

  • JoeT

    Romans 12-13 seem to make it clear that there are seperate roles for governments and God’s people. Jesus even said in context of His arrest that “if my kingdom was of this world my disciples would fight”.
    the clear call to followers of Jesus is marked with non-violence. The role of government and the role of God’s people are 2 different things.
    We cant lay aside the words of Christ. Could I join the CIA or FBI knowing that I have to use deceitful tactics and flat out lie if I was in the field? I know some people say these things are ok because it is for your country, but I have yet to find in scripture that violence or deceit for that matter are given a pass for those reasons.

  • http://TheologyAndCulture.wordpress.com Aaron Rathburn

    This conversation is timely for me. My brother is leaving Bible college to enlist in the armed services, as he feels a call to minister to soldiers (but not in a “chaplain” role).
    I am undecided on the question theologically. I have traditionally been an Augustinian “Just War” subscriber, as we live in a fallen world in need of governing, violent as that sometimes can be. But I am strongly sympathetic with a more anabaptist and pacifist position, because I am so keenly aware of the way the Kingdom is and how we should operate in an ideal.
    I have, ironically, been framing the “military” question in the form of “police” instead, because I think it’s easier for Christians to conceive of a Christian being a police officer than a soldier. But functionally, they operate in the same role–one domestic, one abroad.
    At the moment, I think I agree with the previous commenter that we live in a fallen world, and it is an unfortunate necessity, and that it would be fortunate to have Christians doing the job better than the world does.

  • http://TheologyAndCulture.wordpress.com Aaron Rathburn

    JoeT said: “Jesus even said in context of His arrest that “if my kingdom was of this world my disciples would fight”.”
    Yes, but you also have to keep his comments in context. In this context, Jesus is talking about the protection and propogation of his Kingdom by violence–something we never do. However, whether Christians should protect the weak and justice in a nation-state context is completely different.
    JoeT said: “Could I join the CIA or FBI knowing that I have to use deceitful tactics and flat out lie if I was in the field?”
    In Exodus, the Hebrew midwives lie and God blesses them for it. Ethics are not necessarily as “black-and-white” as we would like them to be.

  • Your Name

    i agree Aaron, then let’s wrestle with the words of Christ in Matthew 5:38-48; 22:34-40; 26:50-52, John 18:35-37; Luke 23:33-35 and the words of Romans 12:9 – 13 and I John 3:11-20. I am not saying government is neccessarily evil or bad, but the roles seem to be laid out pretty different.
    Like I said, I am yet to find an exception to the rule. People like to use Romans 13 to say we can fight, but in context of scripture on both sides of it, it appears to say the opposite.
    I am not saying I have to be right here. But I am saying, the proof isnt on me to prove christian non-violence. The proof is on others to show me where christian violence is acceptable, or even blessed by God.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    As a law professor, I wrestle with this question sometimes. Many lawyers go directly into law enforcement as prosecutors and criminal court judges. Even civil lawyers are invested to some extent with state power to coerce (did you know that a lawyer can issue a subpoena in federal court civil litigation that carries the punishment of contempt of court for failure to comply?). Mayn Anabaptist groups therefore see the profession of lawyering as unacceptable for a Christian.
    I think the black-and-white question — can a Christian be a police officer (or a lawyer) — is only an issue from a very strongly Anabaptist perspective. From a Reformed and/or Catholic perspective, there is no issue here per se. Scripture makes clear in Romans 13 that the authority to use force in order to preserve the peace and promote justice is delegated by God to the government. A Christian who serves as an officer of the peace, therefore, is acting on God’s behalf. Augustine developed this notion by arguing that the use of force can sometimes be an act of love (e.g., in “On the Correction of the Donatists” (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102185.htm). I don’t understand how the very strong Anabaptist perspective handles Romans 13.
    Now, there is a very fair response here, especially to Augustine: “On the Correction of the Donatists” is a bit creepy because it provides the theological basis for Constantinism (the fusing of church and state power — really the usurpation of the church by the state — under the Emperor Constantine). So, I think we need to be extremely careful about the Augustinian justification. A Christian who is called to law enforcement will have to carry a unique burden of acting justly — not an easy thing to do when police power is abused so easily and so often.
    As for Christians in the military — in my view, that is another and more difficult question. Many of the pre-Constantinian Church Fathers advocated that Christians should not serve in the military. I think we need to take this witness seriously, since these leaders were the direct inheritors of the Apostolic tradition. Moreover, the sorts of wars we in the West have engaged in during recent years have, IMHO, been highly ethically suspect (I’m not sure the Iraq war would / should have passed even the “just war” test). But, on the assumption that the military plays its proper role as a servant of peace and justice, it seems to me that Christians can serve, again with some unique and difficult burdens. I would suggest, for example, that Christians could have joined the Allied forces during WWII in good conscience (though again, there were many atrocities committed that the Christian soldier would somehow have to eschew).

  • James Petticrew

    I was a police officer in Scotland and though I did regulary have to use force to restrain people, as a UK police officer, I wasn’t armed and so I knew I would never be confronted by the situation where I had to take a life. For me that was important.
    As for the use of force by a Christian I tried to keep to a code of non-violence in my “personal” life but as a police officer I felt based on Romans 13 I was one of those servants of God that he had authorised to use force for the protection of others and the restraining of evil. I think Scripture as a whole does support the idea that a society has to uphold justice, protect its people and restrain evil and in doing so the use of proportionate force is acceptable.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Joe (& Your Name),
    As referenced above, John the Baptist, as a prophet of the kingdom, does not tell the soldiers (likely more like policemen than soldiers) to stop serving as soldiers but rather how to do their job better. Why would a prophet, especially one as radical as John, tell them how to do it better if they shouldn’t do it at all? He does a similar thing with Herod, the governor appointed by Rome. John’s rebuke to Herod is not that he should never accept such a post, but that he shouldn’t have his brother’s wife. There are multiple other dealings with government officials of various kinds in the NT and in none of these interactions do Jesus, Paul, John or anyone say anything against holding such posts, as if they are inherently opposed to the government of God. I do think that the theo-political gospel of Jesus and Paul was so strong that Paul had to go out of his way to specifically tell the church in Rome to be subject to the king and his officers because they are God’s (not chiefly Caesar’s) servants. But Paul does explicitly name human authorities as such. Paul has no faith, in light of Jesus, that evil will be defeated or overcome by the sword, but he acknowledges the role that human governments have, as God’s servants, to restrain evil in this age.

  • Scot McKnight

    dopderbeck,
    Good thoughts, esp as you tie them to the law.
    The question becomes then “How does a Christian sustain fidelity to the kingdom vision of Jesus (or to the Bible’s whole teachings) and carry out the violence of the State [under order of superiors] in the role of police officer?”
    The question gets down to this one: Caesar or Christ? Can one always follow the latter and work for Caesar?

  • Tami

    Oh my word. I’m trying to imagine a world where no police were Christians.
    *shudder*

  • Scot McKnight

    T,
    Were any of those whom John, Jesus or Paul addressed followers of Jesus? Does that matter in this instance?

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    dopderbeck,
    Very good comment. And same to James Petticrew; thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Daniel

    The evangelical Christians I’ve known haven’t been any more calm or peaceful than anyone else.
    Therefore all police officers should be practicing Buddhists.
    Seriously though, do we really believe ONLY Christians are good police officers? What’s a good police officer?
    The fact that U.S. officers are armed seems significant, from an Anabaptist perspective.
    (And, as always, what Anabaptists ‘do’ with Romans 13 is read Romans 12.)

  • RJS

    I don’t think this is an issue – because I don’t view police work as an inherently violent profession. I know that there is resort to violence on occasion – but it “should” only be in self defense or to protect the weak – those who would be powerless. And much of the job is simply dirty, hard, and necessary. We need Christians in the ranks to carry out the job with a kingdom vision. Police handle accidents, crashes, suicides, murders, robberies, …
    Would we really be better off with a hands-off “keep your self pure” approach? Somehow I don’t see this advocated within the NT. I think that MatthewS hit the key point in #3.
    And on top of this every profession can be perverted in a fashion incompatible with the kingdom vision of Christianity.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    T (#11) said: “Why would a prophet, especially one as radical as John, tell them how to do it better if they shouldn’t do it at all?”
    I respond: I think we need to be careful with this argument. In Philemon, Paul tells Philemon how to be a better slavemaster. This has unfortunately been used to argue that slavery is acceptable from a Christian perspective. We can say the same about the holy war passages of the Old Testament. Often, scriptures gives the seeds of principles for which the immediate culture is not fully prepared, and which the Church needs to develop.
    Scot (#12): I’m not comfortable with that “Caesar or Christ” reduction. The fact is that all of us are required to serve Caesar to some degree. No matter what your job and lifestyle is, unless you live completely off the grid out in the desert, you have obligations to Caesar (and this is not because we live in an era of “big government” — it is just the nature of life in a civil society.). Jesus, of course, famously said “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” (Matt. 22), which needs to be folded into the mix here.
    The question also is complicated by the fact that we in the West live in pluralistic liberal democracies. In a very real sense, “Caesar” is us. (Set aside for the moment all the arguments about the extent to which the U.S. and/or the E.U. really are “democratic”). There’s a difficult hermeneutical task in applying Jesus or Paul’s (or the authors of the Bible’s prophetic and apocalyptic literature’s) theologies of government to our liberal democratic form of government, which would have been inconceivable in the ANE and/or Hellenstic / Roman worlds.
    A resource I’d recommend BTW: Glen Stassen of Fuller Seminary has a great page on “just peacemaking,” which he offers as a “third way” between traditional pacificsm and just war theory: http://documents.fuller.edu/sot/faculty/stassen/cp_content/homepage/homepage.htm Stassen is one of my favorite Christian ethicists.

  • James Petticrew

    I think this discussion perhaps inevitably has focused on the use of force but that is not purely the role of a police officer or the only issue for a Christian to face if they wish to serve on the force.
    Maybe this was particularly true for me as a police officer who didn’t carry a firearm but I had to decide when I joined the force whether I would be willing to give my life to protect the lives of others and ensure their freedom and safety. This was not an abstract concept, I had to enter several houses where people were armed with knives and potentially guns, attend robberies where God could be in use.
    It seemed to me that the willingness to ultimately be willing to lay down your life for the benefit and safety of others is certainly in line with the values of the Kingdom of God.
    So lets not just frame this debate about Christians in the police in terms of being willing to take the life of another as a servant of the state but in also in terms of being willing to give your own life as a servant of the state for the benefit of others. Certainly in the UK the latter is more probable than the former.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    “Christians are called to live a life marked by non-violence…”
    Nope. Christians are called to live a life of non-retaliation, non-oppression, and non-wickedness. Stretching that to non-violence requires going beyond the text.
    So go keep us safe, and may God keep you safe.

  • James Petticrew

    oops “God could be in use.” should read “guns could be in use” though the fact I am still here does suggest thankfully God was also at work!

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    At Genesis 1, humanity was given the creation/cultural mandate … to exercise dominion over the earth. That mandate is still in force. Christ redeeming work encompasses not only redemption of individuals but of culture and the entire created order, including human governance.
    In this time between the inauguration of the Kingdom and the consummation of the Kingdom, human governance inherently entails violence. At the basis of government is the ability to compel compliance with coercive force if needed. Wise government enacts laws justly and seeks broad willful compliance but if government is to be sustainable it must ultimately be able to resort to circumscribed violence to achieve its ends.
    There are many today who call themselves Anabaptist who decline military or police service. Yet they have no qualms about energetically participating in the advancement of political programs that seek to regulate behavior by redistributing wealth, diverting private funds for public purposes, or regulating the behavior of individuals and entities. My point isn’t about the merits of these aims but rather that they are contingent upon the ultimate threat of government to use circumscribed violence to achieve them. The logic that justifies participation in the enactment of government power to accomplish these eneds while simultaneously avoiding and condemning the essential element of government coercive power escapes me.
    Gordon #2 highlights John the Baptist’s response to soldiers who want to know what to do to repent. No call here to quit being soldiers. Jesus commends a Roman officer with no call to leave the service and “go and sin no more.” Peter baptizes a Centurion and his household with no call to change his occupation. Paul speaks of government and its use of circumscribed violence as God’s instrument … and this was during the Roman Empire. What about our context with governments operating with checks and balances in a democratic society?
    Clearly in matters of daily conflict, and in response to illegitimate use of power against us, nonviolence is a powerfully transformative response. But I think the matter of government using circumscribed violence in fulfilling is legitimate functions is another set of issues.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Scot,
    Perhaps that matters, but I don’t tend to think so. In general I’m suspicious of the idea that these folks (Jesus, John, Paul, etc.) would offer one ethic to believers and a different one to non-believers, given the immanently global scope of Jesus’ lordship and gospel (even if Jesus was chiefly concerned with Israel in his own work). Don’t both camps (followers and non) need to repent of any wrong-headed/harmful loyalties and activities? Both camps need to know what following Jesus means. It seems out of character for prophets to withhold such an obvious component of repentance, whether sent to Assyrians or Israelites. Plus, you probably know more than most how difficult it is to pin down when exactly some of the these people in the Gospels are “saved.” I don’t think a person’s place on that continuum would make a difference in this issue.
    But to be more specific, the soldiers came to John and asked, “what should we do?” John didn’t hesitate to call the Pharisees snakes when they asked the same question, but he seems to give the soldiers an honest response, presumably because they honestly, and in a spirit of repentance (John’s mission?) wanted to know. Does the act of these soldiers coming out to a Jewish prophet and asking such an open-ended, risky, repentant question mean they were “followers?” I don’t know. But I have a hard time believing John was going to willingly give them a misleading or second or third tier answer to their question which was certainly broad enough to allow for a “change your vocation” answer. I think the most defensible reading is that they asked the question with humility and readiness to repent, and John gave them his best answer as a prophet of the kingdom.
    Same thing with the centurian and Jesus. The centurian amazes Jesus with his great faith (greater than anyone he’s seen in God’s people). His faith is in Jesus’ authority. If this guy’s faith doesn’t make him a follower of Jesus, I wonder if I am. Jesus had this and multiple opportunities to condemn such offices as unclean or not appropriate for his followers, at least in private after such dealings, but no mention. We’d have an easier time proving that Jesus is opposed to his followers being in business than holding public office, at least from the Gospels.
    I’m big on personal nonviolence–it is so underrated by Christians as the power of God to overcome evil–but the classic anabaptist approach seems to deny God’s purpose for human authorities, even the ones that carry swords. The NT clearly critiques pols and police as God’s servants, but doesn’t disown them or their service.

  • dopderbeck

    Michael (#22) makes an excellent point that shouldn’t be overlooked, particularly from a “postmodern” perspective: all attempts to change culture can be defined as “violence.” Nonviolent civil disobedience is in fact an act of violence — it’s just not physical violence. MLK Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was a glorious act of violence against the “powers” of oppression. There is a time and a way to confront the powers. I think of organizations such as International Justice Mission, which harnesses legal and police power to rescue victims of the sex slave trade in the name of Christ (http://www.ijm.org/).

  • Paul O. Bischoff, Ph.D.

    It strikes me that the underlining no-violence-at-any price-ever is naive, unbiblical and contra Jesus’ words about bringing a sword when appropriate. Of course, this brother can be a cop as no less a vocational call than my call to be a Transitional Interim Pastor in the Covenant Church in America. Both “calls” are driven by love for God’s creation, not prompted by some sentimentalism foreign to Jesus who was angry when he drove out the consumers from the Temple with some kind of instrument that worked. Current 20th century notions of pacifism spilling into the 21st century church emerge from a gnosticism which denies the sacredness of the human body and its need for safety, protecting and order—the first rule of any society living under the Rule of a Sovereign God, whether that society embraces that biblical truth or not. Note how Bonhoeffer abandoned his 1934 pacifism for participation in the plot to murder the murderer Hitler…his call to murder Hitler was no less a call than that to the Confessing Church as a pastor…his last call while alive, admittedly under the uniquely trying circumstances of Nazi Germany’s extermination of the Jewish people. Note how Bonhoeffer was “at peace” with non-professing Christians of all stripes with whom he shared “fellowship” without attempting their conversions because they all shared in a cause of Christ-oriented justice guarding the sacredness of human life—even with bombs that didn’t work on July 20,1944. Anabaptists and all others may need to re-think their pacifist positions from a more cruciformly theological position beyond merely echoing current anti-warism evolving from the liberal, theological or otherwise, project. Law enforcement officers symbolize the rule of God and God’s desire for order within a fallen creation. And I believe that even when pulled over for moving traffic violations, usually on my way to or from church!
    Paul O. Bischoff, Ph.D.

  • JJoe

    The answer depends on the person. Just as there were slaveowners who would call themselves good Christians, so there are cops that lie and break other laws who would call themselves good Christians. I have personal experience with that.
    A better question might be asked about Prosecuting Attorneys. Their job depends on reelection, and reelection depends on convictions, and so many see their job as not being involved with justice but with convicting whoever gets into their sights.
    A prosecuting attorney who gets an innocent person the death penalty is guilty of murder, probably first degree murder, so how can that person be a Christian?

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    dopderbeck,
    I went back and re-read Philemon just to get a sense of it. It is more than a little difficult to justify American-style slavery, or any type of degrading human arrangements, by citing it as precedent. Especially this portion:
    “For perhaps this is why he was separated [from you] for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave—as a dearly loved brother. This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.”
    I’m sure when you read the letter, it strikes you as it does me in that I wouldn’t want to be the lawyer who had to use this letter as precedent to support slavery/servanthood, particularly any kind of servanthood that would allow for treatment of servants that is less than appropriate for one’s own family. I don’t even think that American jurisprudence for Employer-Employee relations meets the high standard Paul calls Philemon to here. The central thrust of this letter is nothing short of a condemnation of the “lesser form of humanity” idea that American slavery built itself upon. This letter screams of brotherhood, of treating the slave like we would treat Paul or Christ himself. The other references to slavery in the NT (still less demeaning than American-style) give the same ideas–You can have slaves, just treat them like family.
    I agree that we have to be very careful with making inferences. But I don’t see how we can get around it. But not all inferences are equally justifiable in the least. The inferences to support the legal and de facto norms for American-style slavery from Philemon are pathetic. I don’t think the inferences that human governments and human officials of them play a God-given role in this age are in the same ballpark, especially when we have an express statement in Romans to that matches the inferences from other texts.
    Anyway, I just didn’t want the writer of the note to Scot to think that the arguments being discussed in this thread were somehow equal to those used by some to justify American style slavery. It’s not comparing apples to oranges; it’s comparing a few bad apples to a bushel of good ones.

  • ChrisB

    JJoe,
    The question isn’t whether Christians can do wrong when they get into a position (as most would argue trying to knowingly convict an innocent is) but whether doing the job properly requires sinning.

  • http://arbevere.blogspot.com Allan R. Bevere

    Scot:
    I spent two years as a volunteer police chaplain. While I struggled with the violence issue, I felt that it was an opportunity for me to do out-of-the-box ministry. I wore a uniform and body armor but I did not carry a gun. The chief was willing to send me to fiearms training, but I declined because I felt that the possibility of inflicting lethal force was incommensurate with my task as a chaplain. I did have pepper spray for limited and non-lethal defense, but I felt it was more important to put myself out on the streets without a firearm, than to have the option of killing someone made in the image of God.
    As far as whether or not being a police officer can be a Christian calling, I wonder if we might illuminate this issue by asking another question: Do those who do not believe it can be a calling for a Christian call the police when they have need of them? If we reject the notion that the police may at times employ violence, should we be consistent and not call them when we are in danger?
    Just a thought.

  • Keith Foisy

    i understand your points Dr. Bischoff has made, though i cannot recall when Jesus said it was ok to use swords when appropriate. Typically the sword imagery of the NT is a metaphor for dividing or division. i do recall the disciples telling Jesus they had two swords among them, and Jesus said that would be enough. Of course, they were thinking they would take on the world and Jesus saying 2 swords is enough was a bit of sarcasm. i don’t think Jesus was justifying violence. i think the disciples missed the point, and two swords were enough because Jesus never intended them to use any.
    i believe Jesus and the NT extends a radical call to non-violence, telling us to live counter culturally by loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, doing good to those who hate us. We never see the apostles saying that it is ok to use violence to defend ourselves against the evil others would do to us. Bonhoeffer’s assassination attempt actually made Hitler feel like a god, since he escaped it! The good intent of redemptive violence has a lot of potential for making a bad situation worse.
    i believe the ultimate mission Jesus calls us to involves demonstrating the love of Christ, especially through forgiveness and self-sacrifice. Though we are called to be willing to die for what we believe, i don’t recall anywhere in the NT that encourages us to also be willing to kill for what we believe. i believe this is where there is a major difference between the OT & the NT. “You’ve heard it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but i tell you..”
    Ultimately whether you believe police or military duty is a calling from God will be determined by whether you believe the New Covenant justifies the use of violence against enemies.

  • Nick

    At what point would a police officer be following Caeser or Christ? Here’s a situation. A (Christian) Police officer gets a call to a house for a domestic dispute. As the officer enters into the house the man is sexually abusing his wife. He commands the man to stop but he doesn’t listen. In fact, he gets more and more violent. So does he a) follow Caesar and physically restrain the man or b) follow Christ and (according to the pacifist) call for back up so something else can do it. Now I understand the view of the anabaptist is that Christians should not be police officers so they never have to make a choice. However, what if you’re not a cop and you came home and an intruder was the one molesting your wife? All I know, if it was me, I was do whatever I would have to do to protect my wife, even if I had to die violently restraining the man. When phrased that way, it actually sounds like one would be dishonoring Christ by ‘passively’ standing back while his wife is abused. Wisdom needs to be used. Christ’s kingdom is one that is marked by peace and love. We do not anticipate the kingdom best by violence. However, as we still live in a cursed world I think it is sometimes undeniably necessary to use violence to protect others.

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    While I don’t think there is an intrinsic problem with a Christ-follower serving in the police, I do think that in America–where police service involves the ability and willingness to shoot and kill another human being–one committed to discipleship to Christ should refrain from such service. That is, unless one can serve in a capacity that does not involve the necessity to be ready to kill. I know this is a difficult issue, and it is not one to be taken lightly. For a fuller description of my admittedly minority view, see the following:
    http://cramercomments.blogspot.com/2009/03/folly-of-cross-pacifism-and-police.html
    http://cramercomments.blogspot.com/2009/03/folly-of-cross-pacifism-and-police-ii.html

  • Bob Smallman

    I have served for many years as a volunteer chaplain for our sheriff’s department (I am deputized but have no arrest powers) and, separately, as the secretary of our city’s Police and Fire Commission (interviewing potential new hires and mediating disputes over misconduct complaints).
    At the risk of sounding really theologically naive, I’ve never seen those positions as in any way at odds with my Christian profession. To the contrary, I have been able to bring a Christian perspective to various situations, have counseled officers and staff when requested, and have been able to assist families during death notifications. For the most part our officers and deputies are truly “peace” officers and resort to violence only when absolutely necessary. My experience has been that officers show remarkable restraint in the face of verbal and even physical abuse (though I have no doubt that abuses occur in law enforcement agencies –I’m not that naive!) But I simply can’t imagine a world without police officers — and it only seems appropriate that some of those should be Christians!
    As an aside, when I signed on as chaplain, our Chief Deputy asked me if I wanted to carry a weapon — but I politely declined with the observation that I didn’t think chaplains should be armed!

  • Keith Foisy

    Bob, your last point gets at the real question. If it is inappropriate for a chaplain to be armed then is it inappropriate for any Christian to be armed for the possibility of violent suppression? Is there really a difference between when a Christian is “on duty” as a Christian or for a certain job or no longer representing Christianity to the same degree? If our ultimate vocation as believers is to always be representing Christ then the issue gets complicated.
    i too understand the desire to protect one’s family, as someone else mentioned. The problem with the family argument is that it quickly and ultimately is used to justify open service to Caesar in fighting for reasons we aren’t fully aware of. Perhaps determining whether you would attempt to protect your family in the unlikely occurrence of a terrible and violent attack needs to be separated from the question of whether it is ok to kill for your country or place yourself in civil service positions where you willingly place yourself in positions where you will regularly have to use violent and suppressive force.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    T(#27) — yes, I agree that this is the proper way to read Philemon. However, I think you and I both are able to read it this way in large part because of our historical perspective. Christian pastors and theologians in the Southern slave-holding states prior to the Civil War understood the American slave system as a group of modern-day Philemons who were acting for the good of their African slaves. These Southern Christians considered Northern Christian abolitionists to be heretics who were disregarding the plain sense of the Bible. An excellent, fascinating, and chilling study on this: John Patrick Daly, “When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicals, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War” (http://www.amazon.com/When-Slavery-Called-Freedom-Evangelicalism/dp/0813190932)
    My point isn’t to say that we can’t locate ethical precepts such as “don’t enslave people” or “don’t be violent” in scripture. The point is just that there is ethical development throughout scripture, which is always embedded in cultural contexts. The Hebrew prophets promised Divine retribution to the pagan nations; Jesus said “turn the other cheek” as well as “render unto Caesar”; Paul said respect the authorities; John of Patmos and Peter seemed to assume the Roman dictatorship would be obliterated by eschatological judgment within their lifetimes. The Church from 300 A.D. or so until the Reformation tried to wed temporal and heavenly power. The Reformers also often did the same thing, burning Anabaptist dissenters at the stake. It’s no simple matter to take this whole witness and apply it to an astonishingly novel form of government the writers of scripture, the Church Fathers, and even the Reformers never could have imagined.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Keith #30
    “i believe Jesus and the NT extends a radical call to non-violence”
    Where?
    Romans 13 affirms the state in its role of using violence. (This consistent with God’s governance presented in the OT) I cited four examples (#22) where prime opportunities to denounce violent occupations were passed.
    Is there teaching that prescribes nonviolence apart from an interpretation of select passages in the Sermon on the Mount?
    (And I’m not trying to be argumentative. I’m glad someone who holds your convictions has joined the conversation.)

  • dopderbeck

    Michael: “select passages” in the Sermon on the Mount? I think a very strong argument can be made that the Sermon on the Mount is at the heart of New Testament ethics, and that non-violent peacemaking is at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount (e.g., Glen Stassen, “Living the Sermon on the Mount” and Stassen and David Gushee, “Kingdom Ethics”). Certainly Jesus radically upset the lex talonis.
    I think Keith is right: Jesus’ ethic is a radical call to peacemaking (non-violence). What Paul is doing in Romans 13, I think, is recognizing the “not yet” aspect of the Kingdom. To use Neibuhr’s phrase, Paul advocates a “Christian realism” with respect to government (and other institutions of his day, such as slavery and perhaps the roles of women). Governance or “dominion” is a creational ordinance, but the need to employ the sword in pursuit of just governance should be seen as a result of sin. There is a tension between Jesus’ ethic and Paul’s on this point, which maybe represents the already-not-yet tension of the Kingdom?

  • http://ecumenicalpilgrim.blogspot.com Scott

    Nick,
    There are all sorts of tragic scenarios which could be listed in order to encourage the use of violence by Christians. But no matter the number of scenarios nor the brutality of the imagery change the message of Jesus.
    As Christians we recognize Jesus as our Savior and LORD. As our Lord we are fully dedicated to following him no matter the consequences.
    The scenario you described would be absolutely tragic. I would likely respond to your story by telling you that my goal would be to get in the way; to place myself between attacker and the victim. I would argue that being a “pacifist” is not the same as a “passivist.” In fact there are organizations such as the Christian Peacemaker Teams (http://www.cpt.org/) that ACTIVELY pursue peace. But while these points might help to explain an appropriate Christian response to your situation they do not actually address the issue at hand.
    How does a follower of Jesus reconcile a violent response with Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:38-39?
    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

  • http://theoreflec.blogspot.com/ Pat

    Since God created government and one of their responsibilities is to maintain order, I do not see a conflict with a Christian becoming a poilce officer. On their shield is the saying, “To protect and serve”–an honorable motto in my opinion. What hopefully we won’t have with Christian cops is rogue cops. Ideally, the Christian police officer would only use force as a necessary means of carrying out his or her sworn duty.

  • http://www.christspeak.com ChristSpeak

    Just thought I would throw Piper’s thoughts on pacifism into the discussion. He basically creates a private/government split, where violence is allowable when acting in a governmental role (i.e., army, police) but not in a citizens role (i.e., everyday living). I’m not sure if the dichotomy really holds up well (i.e. did the American Revolution count as a government or a private matter for the rebelling Americans?), it is interesting to read.
    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/2006/1450_Did_Jesus_teach_pacifism/

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #37 Scott
    “How does a follower of Jesus reconcile a violent response with Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:38-39?”
    So a parent should not never interfer when one sibling is attacking another? A woman who is being brutally beaten by her husband or boyfriend shouldn’t offer resistance?
    Application of the teaching is not so straightforward as you are suggesting. Neither is the impact this teaching has on the use of violence for legitimate restraint of evil and compelled compliance with just laws straightforward … uses of violence ordained by God in the OT and affirmed by Paul in the NT.
    From what I’ve read, the verses may conjure up images of encounters the people had with Roman soldiers who abused their power, where turning the other check was an act of defiance. Whatever the case there are considerable challenges to making blanket application of this teaching.

  • http://ecumenicalpilgrim.blogspot.com Scott

    Christspeak,
    So would you say that there are times when Christians should act in a manner that is contrary to the Kingdom of God?
    Are there times when it is legitimate to follow the standards of our temporal government systems over the standards of God’s eternal kingdom?

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    dopderbeck #37
    “… that non-violent peacemaking is at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount”
    I would say that radical love and dependence on God are at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. That radical love and dependence certainly takes away a great many of the needs and motives that might drive us to violence and in that sense it creates a much less violent world. Radical love and dependence do not negate use of circumscribed violence. Indeed circumscribed violence is essential to loving and protecting the least of these, and in providing order that promotes the general shalom of society this side of the consummation of the Kingdom.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    dopderbeck,
    Yes; agreed.
    Michael,
    This strategy of overcoming evil by doing good, of being generous (in our flesh or money) to those who do violence to us is the central strategy for good overcoming evil in this world, epitomized by the cross & resurrection, which is the ultimate expression of God’s own ethic towards evil people. We are called to trust God and enter this strategy ourselves as indicated throughout the gospels (SoM and discipleship discussions and beyond) as well as at numerous points in the letters and as painfully modeled by Paul. We are to love as Christ loved, which includes asking God to forgive people for brutally attacking us instead of even asking for fire to come down from heaven to judge them.
    Love to enemies is general. Jesus’ cross is not only intended as our rescue but our ethic; our calling to do likewise toward others, to pick up our cross and follow. What could be more central?

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    John Stackhouse in Making the Best of It takes of mission in terms of four commandments:
    Creation Commandments
    * Cultural Mandate – Serve as God’s co-regents over all creation including human governance.
    * Great Commandments – Love God and love neighbor
    These two commandments are essential our human existence as God’s image bearers. They never expire.
    Redemption Commandments
    * Love on another – By our care for each other in the body of Christ we give witness of the coming Kingdom.
    * Great Commission – Go and make disciples.
    These two commandments are temporary and cease at the consummation of the new creation.
    Redemption is not just about the redemption of individuals. It is not just individuals and the protection of creation as some are arguing today. It is about the redemption of all creation and the role humanity plays in context of the eternal creation commandments.
    Included in “all creation” is the governance of human affairs. In this time between the fall and the consummation of the Kingdom, sin is always with us and our governance must address this reality. While we recognize that sin and violence will cease when the Kingdom comes in its fullness, and we seek to proleptically give witness to the Kingdom, we live in cognizance of our “already, not yet” reality. That means involving ourselves in the ethically perilous business of governing human affairs.
    To be missional means working for the redemption of all spheres of human activity and that includes governance, which by definition includes the use of circumscribed violence in our era. I would say that not only is police work permissible, it is a missional imperative.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Michael,
    To give some specific examples, the sermons of Jesus talk about blessing those that curse, giving to those that take (both $ and flesh), being kind and generous to the wicked and ungrateful, loving our enemies. I really don’t see “being defiant” as the picture that emerges there, except that one must be defiant to the forces of evil within and without that try to draw us into evil response in kind. The epistles echo this, especially I Cor. 6, dealing with lawsuits. The cross, I believe, and, to a lesser extent, the actions of Paul and the other believers (like Stephen) have to be the lens through which we evaluate the ethical teachings, which only makes them more radical, and more powerfully effective. We are like sheep (like our Lamb-Lord) being led to the slaughter . . . but with a promise of resurrection.

  • Colin

    This is an interesting question to me as well. I have a degree in physics, and can’t find employment. The defense industry loves physicists, and I might be able to get a job in defense. On the other hand, I know that I am building devices to kill (bombs) or to aid in killing (surveillance), which leaves me feeling like I have blood on my hands.
    I’m torn because my wife works, and we make enough to just scrape by so my employment seems important for our sake, but I will not be able to sleep at night knowing what I am doing. I’ve been married for a couple of months now and looking for work since December (graduated March). What is the Christian to do?

  • Merry Kendall

    Jesus is/was the voice for those who had no voice. Isn’t that what police officers and officers of the court are supposed to do?

  • beckyr

    talk about a loaded question, Scott #42 : “So would you say that there are times when Christians should act in a manner that is contrary to the Kingdom of God?” Perhaps disabling a person from harming another is in the kingdom mentality.

  • dopderbeck

    Colin (#47) — wow, tough dilemma! I can’t presume to answer for you, but aren’t there many branches of the defense / homeland security industrial complex that don’t involve making weapons? A friend of mine, for example, has a high-level security clearance, and does work on government computer systems that facilitate inter-department communication to monitor terrorist threats — or something like that, I think he’d have to kill me if he told me what it’s really all about. Yes, there are still questions about the surveillance state and all that but his job I think is pretty far removed from aggression.
    Isn’t the Really Big Question here this: to what extent can a Christian remain pure in any “secular” job? My students (hopefully, if the economy improves!) will get jobs as lawyers, some in roles that I wouldn’t relish as a Christian, in a legal system that often is only marginally about justice. My friend who works in accounting for Sony facilitates our consumerist-entertainment addiction. My neighbor who installs commercial air conditioning systems perpetuates our reliance on carbon fuels. My brother who teaches high school can’t really buck a failing educational system too strongly. And so on…. It seems to me that we can withdraw into monastic enclaves (perhaps some are called to that) or live in the world and get our hands dirty to some extent.

  • Colin

    I have no problem with the idea that I’m going to get my hands dirty no matter what I do, but how dirty can I get them without crossing a line?

  • paul

    I wanted to wade into the discussion a little bit…
    - For pacifists I think there needs to be less focus on non-violence and more focus on loving others, even in the extremes. For pacifists, this means renouncing violence (and professions that might lead to violence) because you cannot imagine loving others and following Jesus’ example and committing violence. That makes sense to me. Also, I think pacifists need to have the humility to say something like: “Pacifism is an ideal I try to uphold because I think it is the best way for me to follow Christ’s command to love others. But, I have no idea what I would do in the midst of a difficult situation, and as a result I will never pass judgement on the way others acted in difficult situations. Rather I will try to remind everyone (especially Christians) to always love others, even their enemies in everything they do in the future.”
    - For those of us who believe violence is at times necessary, I think we need to temper things a little. Rather than saying the violence was just or good or apart of God’s plan, I think people need to repent of their violence, even when they feel it is the only option left. There is no good in hurting someone, even if we do so in protection of others. Rather than asking God to bless our violence, maybe we should ask for forgiveness for our violence and mercy for the way we responded (which is clearly less than the ideal God desires in his Kingdom)… because if (we believe) violence is the best/only solution to a problem, then we truly do need God’s mercy.

  • Barb

    Can I work in a gun factory? How about a knife factory? How about a store that sells guns? How about a factory that makes parts that go into guns, How about a missile factory? How about an airplane factory that makes planes that drop bombs?
    these are hard questions, I am retired, but I worked 30 years in a missile factory and I was a Christian the whole time. Should I give the money back, not take the retirement pay?

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Scott #42
    The Kingdom has not been fully realized and will not be until Christ returns. Jesus says there will be no giving and taking in marriage in the new creation. Should we end marriage in faithful witness to the Kingdom? There will be no more sickness and death. Should we leave the medical profession? There will be no more crime and violence. Shall we abandon the human structures that coercively constrain violence?
    We live as a shadow of the coming Kingdom in the present, always with a full knowledge that that Kingdom has not been realized, and will not be realized until Christ makes all things new. We live the Kingdom of God in this present reality not according the way we will live when all is made new. The Kingdom of God enters into this world’s structures, influences them toward righteousness, and serves as a pointer to a coming new reality.
    Separating from the structures of this world, instead of redeeming them, is in my estimation an abandonment of the cultural mandate, which has never been revoked. The tension of living the Kingdom in an “already, not yet” context is challenging and fraught with peril … and it is the mission to which we have been called.

  • http://ecumenicalpilgrim.blogspot.com Scott

    Michael #54,
    Thank you for your thoughts. However, I respectfully disagree. While the Kingdom of God has not been fully realized it has been enacted and we have been commanded to live it out. This is the great tension that we face. We are to live out the Kingdom of God in a fallen world. I have not made any statement which could be construed as a declaration to live out some eschatological ethic. I have merely quoted the ethic that Jesus told us to live.
    I understand all of the arguments as to why it would make sense to use violence.
    I understand your argument that we need to redeem the government.
    I just don’t think that any of that circumvents the commands of Jesus.
    We are called to love our enemies, not kill them.
    We are called to turn the other cheek, not retaliate.
    When it comes to governments, I think that Romans 12 & 13 give us a clear contrasting picture between the role of government and the role of Christians. We have different mandates.
    You say that it is our mission to redeem our government structures. Historically speaking, when the church and the state get too close Christianity is corrupted.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #52 Paul
    “Rather than saying the violence was just or good or apart of God’s plan…”
    I may be overly sensitive, and I don’t know if this is directed in part to my comments above, but this is the second time I’ve had the sense that I’m being heard to argue that violence is good and part of God’s ultimate plan. I’ve not said that. So just to be clear ….
    Human violence was not a part of God’s creation plan, nor is it part of the new creation. But we do not live before the fall or in the consummated new creation. We live in a world in between the fall and the consummated new creation, where violence is present. Therefore, our cultural mandate to exercise dominion is challenged by the presence of violence and necessitates the use of circumscribed violence to create shalom. God ordained the use of circumscribed violence in ancient Israel. Paul affirms the use of circumscribed violence. No where is circumscribed violence denounced. It is necessary for the shalom of the world until Christ returns.
    Furthermore, the idea that God is somehow utterly and always opposed to the use of violence in bringing about his purposes is not valid. Read the OT. In the N.T., what was God’s response when Ananias and Sapphira lied? Luke didn’t seem to think that God was totally averse to violence in realizing his purposes. NT authors like Peter cast the judgment in terms of passing through a refiners fire. I think it is dangerous to use apocalyptic images too literally but judgment is held out as the joyous celebration of the destruction evil and the victory of God.
    Now, with all that said, I get the sense that some are suggesting because I (and others like me)am not pacifist that I’m somehow endorsing and advocating violence. If so, I’m not being heard. The infusion of the Kingdom of God into human hearts and human structures will result in a decline in violence. We endlessly pursue transformation that leads away from violent approaches to problems. My point is not that violence is good, or part of God’s plan at creation, but rather that it is in an inescapable reality that must be addressed realistically.

  • Mike

    I know many fine Christian men in law enforcement. The only caveat is that one keep on the full armor of God because it’s very difficult work.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Scott #55
    Thanks Scott. Here are my concerns.
    “We are called to love our enemies, not kill them.
    We are called to turn the other cheek, not retaliate.”
    A police officer defending a person against an attacker is not retaliating against his enemy. A parent disciplining a violent child is not retaliating against an enemy. A military or police operation is qualitatively different from engaging in violence against someone who is personally abusing you. To move from these teachings to prohibition against circumscribed violence in the administration of justice requires a series of hermeneutical leaps that are not justified from the text alone.
    Furthermore, we have to discern whether Jesus is talking in absolute terms or is speaking forcefully, even hyperbolically, to make his point. Just ten verses earlier Jesus instructed us to gouge out our eye or cut off our hand if it causes us to sin. Were these absolute commands we should follow? I believe Jesus lays out a new ethic we strive for not a new legal code we unwaveringly follow.
    “When it comes to governments, I think that Romans 12 & 13 give us a clear contrasting picture between the role of government and the role of Christians. We have different mandates.”
    I’m not trying to be antagonistic here, but the logic of this escapes me. In the O.T., God explicitly set up a society that exercised circumscribed violence to promote shalom. Now Jesus comes along and calls us to abandon all use of circumscribed violence. That is something the people of God no longer participate in and is handled by the authorities. But the authorities who exercise the violence are established by God (Rom 13:1). So the God who once had his people participate in circumscribed violence in the realization of shalom in the OT now establishes authorities who do the violence he now outlaws in his Kingdom. God is the author of the circumscribed violence that he now prohibits for is Kingdom people … and the reason the Kingdom people abstain from violence is because their King is opposed to violence … even though it is their King who established authorities to use circumscribed violence for a more just society were wrong doers fear punishment.
    I think we do violence to the text to find a contrast of two kingdoms with two mandates.

  • Rick in Texas

    There is a reason why policemen and women have often been called “peace officers”. Theirs is a high and noble calling. I urge the writer to find a copy of the book “L.A. Cop: Peacemaker in Blue” by Bob Vernon. It’s old and probably dated – been years since I read it – but try:
    http://www.amazon.com/L-cop-Peacemaker-blue/dp/0914850431/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1248745724&sr=8-2
    A second thought. When I was young (and for many years before I was born, going back to my great grandmother’s day and probably beyond), there was a feeling that the theatre and other forms of entertainment were not appropriate career choices for Christians. Even journalism was considered an arena in which a sincere Christian could not serve God. For many, public educational institutions were unfit for Christian children and teachers, and these were re-directed into Christian schools, and later, home schools and charter schools. As a result, by and large generations of Christians abandoned these strategic fields of influence. The result is an entertainment industry, and large sectors of the information media, and many public schools and institutions of higher learning that are often perceived as not being characterized by Christian values. Why? Because previous generations of Christians abandoned them.
    The lesson is: we ought to be very careful about abandoning fields of influence to those outside the Christian faith. Previous generations of Christians made this error and in many arenas we are still paying the price. If all Christians were to abandon the calling of being a peace officer, would that give greater or lesser confidence in the institution of the police? Would that insitution be more or less likely to operate in a Christ-honoring way, promoting peace and justice?

  • Karl

    I feel very simplistic here but as mentioned in one of the earlier comments, Jesus’ making a whip, overturning tables and driving out the moneychangers and merchants from the temple seems to involve just a wee bit of violence in pursuit of Kingdom ends, doesn’t it?

  • paul

    Michael #56
    I don’t believe I read you saying this, but have heard this argued before from others. I in fact like what you are saying.
    My experience is that there are only 2 extremes to this discussion. One side says all violence is wrong, in all situations (and then implicitly casts judgement on those who do violence). The other side tends to justify their violence as something that is good.
    I wish more of those with the pacifism perspectives did not judge for doing violence in the protection of others (implicitly judge). I also wish that those on the other side would be willing to see that violence may be necessary, but is never good or something we should ask God to bless (violence becomes the lesser of two evils in a fallen world…but still evil). I see you saying something like this about violence towards others, and i’m thankful for it.
    I personally cannot imagine myself doing willful violence towards others and at the same time still be upholding the command to love these same people. I have no idea what I would do if it was a split second decision though…I hope I would be able to do something right though

  • Larry S

    I’m an Anabaptist and trained in biblical theology (and getting into this Thread quite late!). I’m also involved in the Canadian Criminal justice system not as a police officer but supervise those bound by court orders.
    Without rehashing what has been said earlier and without attempting to layout an anabaptist theology (I’m going to assume readers may either know it or peruse anabaptist theology web sites). This is where I come out and I recognize many anabaptist brothers/sisters may say I’m being inconsistent :) (but who isn’t at some point).
    I make a distinction between military service and policing. In my view, the former involves unquestioning allegiance to the state while a police officer is more free to follow the dictates of his/her conscience in any given situation. [Regarding involvment in the military, I can't think of any recent war which truly meets the just war theory and as an anabaptist don't buy into the 2 kingdom theory.]
    So in my view, a Christian (even an anabaptist) may participate in policing even if this involves the use of force including lethal. Many Anabaptists will say i’ve left the fold but its a position i’ve come to after working in the field.
    Here’s a quote from the movie, from the older nun (whose involvment in exposing a pedophile in many ways mirrors my own work): “In the pursuit of evil, one steps away from God. Of course, there is a cost.’ I’ve found this quite true in my own experience.

  • Your Name

    Sorry, my last paragraph has a quote from the movie Doubt. A very fine movie dealing with exposing a peodophile. I meant to put the name of the movie into the quote.

  • http://twitter.com/darosi Daniel S

    God can call people to work and serve him in any profession. I would advise that you don’t look at this calling with your christian blinkers on.
    But a word of caution… a close friend and brother in Christ was a police officer for 5 years. He balanced his profession with his calling to be a youth pastor, until he realised that the two were at odds. As a police officer, he was obligated to report and act on any crime that he becomes aware of, without exception. This meant that he had to draw boundaries between h imself and the youth in the church. If a teen confessed, or sought advice of a crime that they committed, he couldn’t just be a pastor. So, he quit and became a school chaplain.
    I would suggest that you look at the implications that this profession will have on other areas that you feel you may be called to. And, try to look for the sweet spot – have you considered being a police chaplain?

  • http://none derek

    The role of the police officer is to serve and protect. Certainly we are encouraged to turn the other cheek.
    On the other hand, I cannot imagine Christ watching someone commit an atrocity on a child (happens all the time these days) and responding with anything other than righteuos anger. Would He sit idly by and let a child be murdered? I think not.
    It seems to me that unless you are willing to answer that He would, then it becomes a question of what degree of force is acceptable in a particular situation.
    my 2¢

  • Travis Greene

    I’d like to see what posts get the highest number of comments. I’m guessing the ones having to do with homosexuality, abortion, and pacifism, in that order.
    And Michael @ 58, the scenario you describe as illogical or absurd, is in fact pretty close to what I believe. God frequently uses evil as a tool for good, without endorsing the evil. Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come.

  • RJS

    Travis – if you go back in the archives, women in ministry posts can top all three of your examples. But your three are always good for comments as well.

  • Bob Smallman

    Daniel S says, “And, try to look for the sweet spot – have you considered being a police chaplain?” in order to get out of the “conflict of interest” of listening to a confession of a possible crime. As a sheriff’s chaplain, I am also a deputized officer of the law, so (though it has not come up yet), I could be called to testify (and/or have a responsibility to report) illegal activity of which I become aware. Should such a possibility arise, I would warn the person that I was talking to that he or she should not expect that I would keep potential violations of the law confidential. (By the way, I would give such a warning even if I weren’t deputized. I don’t think we have any Biblical mandate to maintain confidentiality if we learn of significant violations of the law or if a person threatens violence again someone — including him or herself.)
    On a different issue in this thread — Christian pacifism — I would simply note that while I believe in the theoretical possibility of a “just war,” the wars that have occurred during my lifetime from Vietnam through Iraq and Afghanistan (and all the “minor” wars in between) have turned me into what I can only call a “pragmatic pacifist.” I am constantly amazed that our congress can always find the billions and billions required to prosecute these wars and yet choke at the thought of repairing our health care or educational systems!

  • James

    I struggle a bit with the application of Matthew 5:38-39 to a complete non-violent ethic.
    Aren’t these verses dealing directly with the concept of personal vengengeance and a need to get even?
    How does that square up with the biblical mandate to take care of the vulnerable in society? I mean, given the scenario where someone wants to cause *me* harm, I can see the application, but what about if a non-vulnerable and very evil person wants to cause harm to a vulnerable person? Such as witnessing an armed rape? Should I go have a nice conversation with the person? Should I throw my body onto the knife or in front of the gun hoping that the vulnerable person can use that time to get away?
    I’m not trying to be flippant here, but where the rubber meets the road, Jesus wasn’t non-violent. He kicked money-changer rear end in the temple. And though he stopped some ear lobbing from continuing, he had a mission that night, and he did tell his disciples to go out armed.

  • Travis Greene

    RJS,
    Forgot that one somehow. Perhaps we can boil it down to sexual ethics and just-war/pacifism issues. Or just sex, love, and violence. Of course.
    James @ 69,
    Yes, you should throw your body onto the knife or in front of the gun. That shouldn’t sound too outlandish for people who worship the sacrificial Lamb of God.
    I don’t have any easy answers for the (typically unrealistic) scenarios of “somebody’s about push a busload of toddlers off a cliff, and the only way to stop it is to shoot him in the head right now”. Maybe we do shoot him in the head, and then repent that we couldn’t imagine another way in time. Maybe we prepare ourselves ahead of time (taking classes in nonlethal self-defense, perhaps, so that the “mugger attacking your children” scenario doesn’t mean we have to take a life).
    Yes, Jesus ran people out of the temple. In what way is that analogous to war? You mention the ear-lobbing (was that all Peter was trying to do, and all Jesus stopped him from doing?) that Jesus stopped, and his mission that night. What was his mission? Kicking ass and taking names? Killing for the greater good? Or was it submitting to death and violence for the sake of the world? I don’t want to be flippant either, but when the rubber met the road, Jesus WAS utterly nonviolent. Maybe we can construct a justification for war in this fallen world before the kingdom fully comes (as Michael Kruse so compellingly argues for), but we cannot get there by looking at the example of Jesus.

  • dopderbeck

    James (#69) — Luke 22:35-38 is one of those enigmatic passages, isn’t it? Others can probably comment more authoritatively, but I don’t see this as Jesus instructing the disciples to arm themselves for conflict. His point is that he is physically leaving (about to die) and that the disciples should begin organizing what they need materially for themselves. Notice that the two swords the disciples produce (v. 38) they already had with them. Jesus doesn’t tell them to get more or to prepare for a full scale battle. And two swords among twelve people, let alone among all the disciples outside the inner circle and those who would be added after the resurrection, would be meaningless against the force of the Romans and the religious leaders. Then his response in verse 51 after the ear-cutting incident seems to convey frustration, as if the disciples misunderstood his intent in his comment about the swords: sort of like, you still don’t get what this Kingdom is about, do you?

  • Karl

    Travis Greene in #70, the assertion wasn’t just that killing is incompatible with the Kingdom, but that violence is incompatible with the Kingdom. Jesus making a whip, turning over tables and driving the money changers out of the temple sounds like the use of coercive violence to me. As do most forms of nonlethal self defense.
    The question, related to but distinct from just war theory, is whether there are times when the use of violence is appropriate to further kingdom goals such as to protect the oppressed or otherwise accomplish justice. It seems to me like Jesus thought so.

  • Travis Greene

    Karl,
    Driving out the money-changers seems much more like a prophetic symbolic act, similar to Jeremiah or Isaiah, than the use of coercive violence. Was this a case of Jesus beating up some crooks, or of Jesus scaring away some crooks by his antisocial and outrageous behavior?
    The use of circumscribed violence to protect the oppressed and further God’s kingdom was a readily available option for Jesus (the Zealots), and by all accounts, he rejected it. Maybe his actions were specific to his context and (in some ways) highly unique mission, and are not normative for us. But that, I think, is the argument you have to make, and I’m not sure I buy it.
    I readily admit this is not a simple or obvious issue.

  • Your Name

    I am wondering how one would reconcile the nonviolence that Jesus seems to preach with the horrific violence that God commands the Israelites to carry out in the Old Testament, including the murder of women and children. I still haven’t ever read anything that doesn’t leave me with a feeling of disgust in the pit of my stomach over the carnage wreaked on God’s command.
    This is where I start to bang my head against my desk.

  • Anita

    My son is a Ca. Highway patrolman. He loves the Lord and is one of the most gentle, caring young men I have ever met. He sees his duty as to protect and serve the public. He would never use any of his weapons unless it was to protect others or himself. He would not be an initiator of violence. Often people are aggressive and violent and he returns as little as possible in order to restore calm. Please pray for these men and women who serve and protect.
    I am so proud to be the mother of this gentle giant that patrols Hwy. 118 in So. Calif.

  • Rob

    #74, was it really God’s command, or Israel’s use of God’s name to justify their barbarism in accordance with what was so prevelant in the ANE?

  • Bill

    As a former police chaplain, I have some trouble in categorizing law enforcement as some sort of violent profession. Can it be violent? The answer is yes. Is it characterized by violence? The answer is no. So this talk about can a follower of Christ be a law enforcement officer? I answer with another question; why not?

    LEOs help maintain peace in our communities by maintaining social order. This is a very godly activity frought with all sorts of challenges many of us will never face. To frown upon the profession as though it violates some pacifist ideal from the NT fails to take into consideration that sometimes force is necessary to maintain peace and order and it is because of the nature of the human heart which is prone to violence. Guarding yourself by embracing a false pacifistic idea is what happens when we divorce ourselves from biblical history as a whole in which we see God at times use force to maintain order and peace. Yes, God can be violent.

    I have been at many arrests and I can say the good LE officer resorts to a violent act (like tasing for instance) only when the situation warrants an escalation of force to keep things from getting out of hand when words and physical restraint are simply not enough.

    Instead of wringing your hands about the violence of LE work and about those who are followers of Jesus who are called to the work of maintaining peace and order for all of us, pray for them, visit them, get your rear end into a cruiser and ride along, be their friend because they are the ones that see firsthand all the crap society dishes out so you don’t need to have it land on your doorstep.

    I am thankful that God has chosen law enforcement work to be a worthy calling. I want to see more followers of Jesus be LEOs because they can bring a healthy dose of kingdom living into a very noble and challenging profession. They look and step into darkness about which many of you only talk, theorize and theologize. It can be a lonely place but with The Master it can be a place of great influence.