Al Mohler: Killing of bin Laden was just, but not an act of justice. Is this possible?

Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, makes this statement in a recent blog post on the killing of Osama Bin Laden: “The death of bin Laden was fully justified as an act of war, but not as an act of justice. The removal of a credible threat to human life — a clear and present danger to human safety — is fully justified, especially after such an individual has demonstrated not only the will, but the means to effect murder on a massive scale.”

I’m not sure what to make of this. Here’s why. If an act is justified, then it is just, and Mohler seems to believe this. On the other hand, he wants to say that the killing of bin Laden was not an act of justice, even though it was “fully justified as an act [in a just] war.”  But if a just act in a just war is fully justified, why wouldn’t it be an act of justice? What more do you need? He seems to be suggesting (elsewhere in his blog post) that true justice can only take place in a court or before a tribunal. But that doesn’t seem right. For example, if I were to repay my neighbor after damaging his driveway (assuming this was all done privately without any recourse to the public authorities), would not that be an act of justice?

What Mohler seems to be saying is that the killing of Osama has robbed us of complete justice, in the sense that his victims will never achieve full recompense for their loss and we will never witness the detailed and devastating case for his guilt as a mass-murderer that one can only see in a court of law. That’s true. But the absence of complete justice is not the same as the absence of all justice. So, killing bin Laden can be an act of justice without being an act of ultimate justice.

Is there something I am missing here?

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  • thompson

    While killing bin Laden did not perhaps violate justice (unlike many cases of homicide), justice arguably also did not require anyone to kill bin Laden.

    That is, sometimes “just” may simply mean “not unjust,” as when “right” is used as the complement of “wrong.” When used in this way, to say that act is just clearly does not imply that its omission would have violated a demand of justice. So, if an “act of justice” is an act demanded by justice, then bin Laden’s killing is arguably not an act of justice, even though it is just.

    If this interpretation is correct, then I commend Dr. Mohler for pushing back against the dubious retributivist views so common among evangelicals.

  • Audie Feliu

    I like the efforts you have put in this, thank you for all the great blog posts.