Jesus and the Powers– Dialogue Part 6

Jesus and the Powers– Dialogue Part 6 April 25, 2024

Q.  The question of whether and to what degree Christians can serve in a largely secular government, and perhaps particularly whether they can serve in the military without violating their conscience and the teachings in the Sermon on the Mt. is a difficult one.  In my view, Christians cannot undertake tasks which involve violence or killing against other human beings, in which case, at most they could serve as chaplains or medics in the military, like for instance we see in the excellent film Hacksaw Ridge. I don’t have a problem with civil disobedience as there is a time and a place for that when governments do wicked things.  But I see you have served in the military. How would you view the role of the Christian vis a vis a nation’s military?  I take it as a fundamental principle that whatever a Christian cannot do in good conscience is a sin for them.


A. Ben, whoa, that’s a big can of issues you are asking me about. All I can say is this. There are sadly times when lethal violence is necessary for a greater good. If a terrorist or gunman is approaching some civilians with the intent on doing harm, and if no other means of stopping him or her are available, then a police officer or counter-terrorism soldier is morally justified in killing said assailant. Similarly, I’d argue that wars of defence, such as the one Ukraine is fighting against Russia right now, is a legitimate war of resistance, a just war. Christians in Ukraine can, I believe, in good conscience, engage in armed resistance to a foreign power that has already committed many war crimes and atrocities on their land. I do find it satisfying that I haven’t heard any pacifists calling for Ukraine to lay down their arms and surrender which I think proves my point. Some wars do need to be fought. Now, how does that square with the teachings of Jesus and sermon on the mount. I don’t want to do a cop-out and say that it is just about spiritual things and individual ethics. But the sermon on the mount does not solve every ethical conundrum we face, from abortion, to the death penalty, to open or closed borders, to mandatory immunization, etc. Sometimes we have to reason within and from Scripture and do what we hope is righteous and good before God and our fellow human beings.

[N.B. First of all, I don’t disagree that nations have a right to bear the sword.  I think Rom. 13 says so. So I’m fine with Ukraine defending itself. That’s not the issue.  The issue is whether Christians have a duty to serve in the military in a role that involves using lethal force against yet another person for whom Christ died.   My answer to that would be no. There is a reason there is a commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’ reiterated and intensified by Christ himself and also Paul.  While I agree that police and soldiers may see it as a lesser of two evils to harm or kill violent persons, what I don’t see is that Christians have a duty to take on such a role.  On the contrary, we are to represent the prince of peace,  who reminded us that those who live by the sword die by the sword.  I also realize that equally devout Christians see this issue differently and I respect that.  But I would see Christians as a preview of the eschatological reality of the new creation where we will study war no more, where swords will be beaten into plowshares, and where suffering, sin sorrow, disease, decay and death are banished once and for all.]


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