Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Arming the Persecuted?

Yesterday I received a commentary by Peter BetBasoo via the Assyrian International News Agency with a title that caught my eye - "It Is Time to Arm Iraq's Christians."

The article argues that since the governing authorities in the areas of Iraq where the Assyrian Christians live are not providing protection for them, the international community should provide weapons and training for them so that they can protect themselves. The commentary rightfully documents the numerous attacks on Assyrian Christians aver the past two years and argues that not only should the Assyrians be armed but that they should be given a safe-haven to which Assyrians from all parts of Iraq may seek refuge, just as the Kurds, Sunnis and Shittes have.

It would seem that, from a human perspective, that this would make some sense. I might have argued similarly not that very long ago. But that was before I spent the time to work through a biblical understanding of persecution and how Christians are to respond to it from God's perspective.

Now make no mistake; I am not a pacifist in the sense that I would say that Christians should not serve in the military. I believe that believers may do so and have always done so throughout church history. I know that not all would agree with me and that is their right.

However, I do believe that the use of deadly force is mandated in Scripture within rather strict boundaries. I contend that this is not a right given to individuals but falls within the mandate of the duties given to the State. The right to bear the sword is given to the State, not to individuals to wield in vigilante actions. This is especially true for Christians undergoing persecution. All of the passages that call for Christians to turn the other cheek, to not retaliate, and to do good to those who seek to harm you are given to those who are going through persecution. We must take these admonitions seriously and at face value, understanding that it was no easier for the early Christians to write and read these words as it is for us to read them now in the face of ruthless violence. Their temptation to strike back would have just as great as ours. The defense for the persecuted Christian is not found at the end of a sword or a rifle. It is found, first, with the State and, if the State refuses to act (or is actually responsible for the oppression) in the hands of God as the Christian cries out to God for justice. This justice may not come in this lifetime. But regardless of this fact, the believer is never called to respond to violence with violence.

These are hard words. I do not pretend that they are not but I see no other response mandated in Holy Scripture. Should the Assyrians be given self-determination with the authority to set up a government, then by all means they would have the right to bear arms; but not as individuals now. This is not time to arm the Assyrians or any persecuted Christians, however tempting it might be to see this as a possible solution to their plight. Events in Indonesia and Nigeria in recent years should how disastrous a situation becomes when Christians take up weapons against their persecutors. Church leaders in these countries are right when they try to stop such actions. This is not a Christian response. We do not war as the world does. It is easy to trust in horses and chariots (or rifles and rocket launchers); it is much harder to trust in God, isn't it?

(You can order Glenn's book, In the Shadow of the Cross; A Biblical Theology of Persecution and Discipleship, in which he develops these thoughts further, online from The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada, the United States and Australia)


Rebecca said...

Dear Glen,
I really agree with your comments. I think that arming the persecuted would/could be the beginnings of a civil war, and more atrocities commited against Christians. We need to be 'wise as serpents and harmless as doves'Mt 10:16

I see how that applies to the persecuted church, I do not see how Christians can serve in the military and take up arms against possible brethren. I wish you had expanded on this further.


Comfort said...

Hard words indeed, but a true representation of the teachings of He who is our Lord and Master. May the Lord pour grace on all who are undergoing terrible persecutions, to remain true to their Master. It is actually beyond what human hearts can make sense out of. But once a soul has truly come to really KNOW Jesus, with tears, we shall find ourselves saying ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’. Oh for the grace to be much in prayers for our brethren who are suffering so terribly for the cause of Christ!’

Glenn Penner said...

Rebecca, the reason I did not say more about military service per se, is because that was beyond the scope of my blog and also because it seems clear to me that the original context of the NT biblical passages that are typically used to support pacificism have to do with responding to persecution, not military service. The debate as to whether Christians should serve in the military is one that is almost as old as the Church itself and there has never been a universally accepted position on the subject