Christian Nation series: secret exceptions to “thou shalt not kill”

Christian Nation series: secret exceptions to “thou shalt not kill” July 10, 2023

"THOU SHALT NOT KILL" by Vincent Kluwe-Yorck is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
“THOU SHALT NOT KILL” by Vincent Kluwe-Yorck is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Christian Nationalism, the belief that America is (or should be) a Christian nation, is at times in love with “thou shalt not kill.” At other times, killing is not only tolerated, but commanded. Is this part of our founders’ vision for America?

In this series (go here to read the series in full),  we’ve been addressing the compatibility of Christian Nationalism’s love affair with biblical documents – specifically, the Ten Commandments – and America’s founding documents. Author Andrew Seidel, constitutional attorney and atheist, argues in The Founding Myth that America’s founding documents actually stand in opposition to the Bible.

5TH COMMANDMENT – a personal matter

Thou shalt not kill (KJV).  Exodus 20:13

Many churches offer teachings that expand on the commandment. For example, First Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Corning NY proclaims,

Human life is the crowning gift of God’s creation. We are not to end human life through murder, abortion, euthanasia or suicide. 

Western Christians have individualized our faith walk to the point that it has become almost irrelevant. “My personal relationship with God,” “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” “Jesus, you are my everything.” “Where will you spend eternity?”

In this context, if I do not kill any individuals, I am good to go. If I can stop another individual from “killing” an individual (i.e. having an abortion), good on me.

Such a myopic view of life and death enables us to ignore the bigger picture: we as a nation are responsible for the killing of massive numbers of people.

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Killing sprees

Of course, American history includes the massacre of millions of indigenous peoples, as well as the slow-motion killing of Africans brought here against their will to be enslaved. Our wars have killed many millions more; our foreign policy is often lethal.

We bring death to our own people when we withhold healthcare from those who can’t afford it (soon I’ll devote a few posts to this topic); we bring death when we refuse to regulate guns; we bring death when we ignore problems like homelessness and drug addiction…the list is long. Empire is brutal. Racism is ruthless.

Because we see issues instead of lives, we don’t see that we’re breaking the commandment, “thou shalt not kill.”

This should be unacceptable to Christ followers, but many of us would rather forget these pesky facts. As long as we are in denial, the bloodshed will continue.

God and capital punishment

But actually, the Bible shows us a God who seemingly has little regard for lives outside the tribe. He killed the firstborn sons in Egypt (Exodus 11-12), ordered multiple genocides as the Israelites conquered their “promised land” (book of Joshua), killed entire families for the sins of one member  (Joshua 7) – and vowed to punish children for the sins of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents (Exodus 20:5). This is just a partial list.

The writers of the Hebrew (Old) Testament gave a whole list of offenses that were punishable by death (references here), including:

  • Homicide (excluding negligent homicide)
  • Striking/attacking/smiting one’s parents
  • Cursing one’s parents
  • Witchcraft and divination
  • Bestiality
  • Worshiping other gods
  • Violating the Sabbath
  • Adultery
  • Male homosexual intercourse (there is no biblical legal punishment for lesbians)
  • Blasphemy
  • A non-Levite “encroaching” on the Levite task of setting up or taking down the Tabernacle
  • Promoting the worship of other gods (if an entire town is swayed by such people, the entire town is to be put to death and destroyed)
  • Defiantly refusing to accept a court’s ruling
  • Maliciously giving false testimony accusing another person of having committed a capital offense
  • Rebellion against parents
  • A newlywed woman who is accused by her husband, and found to be not a virgin
  • Intercourse with an engaged/betrothed virgin girl (if she could have cried out for help and did not, she is killed as well)

Skim through that list again. Notice how many of these rules protect authority (especially male) and cultural norms.

But maybe this pattern of ruthlessness –  along with an assumption that Scripture is inerrant – explains why many Christians don’t seem to mind America’s violent foreign (and domestic) policy, and insist on moral absolutes in our land.

If God “did it,” “it” must be right, so we can “do it” too. If we are a Christian nation, we can impose it on our entire country.

There’s one problem: our nation is built on freedom – to speak our minds, to live as we like (without harming others), to believe (or disbelieve) as we choose. While the United States is empowered to forbid actual killing, the rest of the above list can not be capital offenses. And no one can be punished for the offenses of another.

As Andrew Seidel, author of The Founding Myth, says,

The American justice system and government, and perhaps our entire society, rest on the principle that people are personally responsible for their actions. We depend on the ability to hold people accountable.

There is much more to be said on the subject, so once again, I will divide this commentary into two parts. Next time we will look at Jesus’ take on “thou shalt not kill,” and discuss the idea of moral relativism.

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FEATURED IMAGE: “THOU SHALT NOT KILL” by Vincent Kluwe-Yorck is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

About Kathryn Shihadah
I was raised as a conservative Christian, and was perfectly content to stay that way – until the day my stable, predictable world was rocked. A curtain was pulled back on conservative Christianity, and instead of ignoring the ugliness I saw, I confronted it. I began to ask questions I never thought I’d ask, and found answers I’d never expected. Old things began to fall away, and – behold! – the new me has come. What a gift to be a new, still-evolving creation. I found out that it’s better to look at the world through Progressive Lenses, with Grace-Colored Glasses.  You can read more about the author here.

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