CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Is it Ever Right to Kill?

Sep 11, 2006

What does it mean to be pro-life? There is some confusion as to what the term implies. If a person is opposed to abortion, must that same person also be opposed to war, or the death penalty?

Indeed, religious conservatives tend as a whole to be anti-abortion, but also pro-death penalty and pro-just-war theory. Some on the religious left argue that to be consistently pro-life, you have to oppose all these things.

But there are other mixes: many of the secular left who are pro-abortion are also anti-war. And they are happy to denounce pro-lifers for what they perceive as inconsistencies on their part. A case in point is an article that appeared in the Canberra Times on August 21, 2006, later reprinted in onlinopinion.com (as “Embryos versus soldiers,” 8 September).

Ben McNeil, a lecturer in environmental issues at the University of New South Wales, takes the pro-life camp to task for opposing abortion but not opposing the war in Iraq. In his blurb it says he has “expertise in the global carbon cycle”. He may have that, but he does not seem to have expertise in moral reasoning or clear thinking.

His argument is brief and slight: “Particular politicians always seem to bring the sanctity of life issue to the forefront of the stem-cell debate. But if they supported the moral argument for the war then they must also support the moral argument for stem cell research.”

He continues: “To avert the reign of terror and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, those in favour of the war in Iraq argued that the human sacrifice of soldiers was a worthy and necessary initial cost to save many more lives in the future. Surely the same sacrifice principle is central to the debate over stem cell research?”

And he notes that some religious groups are, in his view, more consistent here than politicians like Tony Abbott: “The Anglican and Catholic Churches, however, have been more consistent in their views, opposing both the war and stem cell research. This gives them a respected stance in the debate.”

What are we to make of this argument and others like it? Are the critics right? Does one have to oppose all killing to be truly pro-life and not be hypocritical?

The answer to these questions depends in part on how we define our terms. For example, what do we mean by killing? Of course any court of law worth its salt makes fundamental distinctions here. Murder is not the same as accidental death. Manslaughter is not the same as self-defence. Courts and laws recognize that not all killing is the same, and that not all killing is wrong, or of equal moral censure.

And many of the world’s great religions also make such differentiations, such as Judaism and Christianity. Indeed, go back to the sixth command. It literally says, “you shall not commit murder”. It does not proscribe killing. This is for the simple reason that God authorizes killing on various occasions, including the death penalty, the judgment of Canaan, and self defence.

So religious critics who argue that Christians must oppose all killing are simply wrong here. The Bible does not enjoin that, nor should we.

And just war theory, as it has developed over millennia, argues that defensive wars and wars to stop aggression can be morally justified. Pre-emptive strikes are a more difficult case, and people can argue over the merits of whether intervention in Iraq was justifiable. But Christian tradition has long recognised the right to kill under certain circumstances. And that is usually done by the state, not the individual. Thus governments have a right to implement the death penalty, to raise up armies, and to arm police forces. And individuals may have a right to self defence in certain circumstances.

Thus McNeil makes some conceptual errors here, and muddies the waters when more clarity and nuance was required. But there is another major error that needs to be addressed here. McNeil argues that if some soldiers can be sacrificed to save many people, why not sacrifice some embryos to possibly save many people? Several things can be said about this.

First, he may be unwittingly conceding some ground here to the pro-life camp. If the early embryo is just a clump of cells and not a person, then there is no sacrifice being made. So his analogy falls down completely. There is only sacrifice if the embryo is indeed a person, a very young member of the human race. Does McNeil believe this? If not, he needs to come up with a new argument.

Second, he makes a monumental error of judgment here by seeking to equate the two. Australia does not have conscription (at least not now). Thus every soldier in the army (and by extension, in Iraq) is there by free choice. Individuals volunteered to join the army, knowing that this would mean being willing to sacrifice one’s life for one’s country. It is all voluntary, all volitional. There is nothing of the sort happening with the hapless embryo. He or she is being destroyed without permission or consent. This runs against the basic ethical code of medical research: patient consent is always crucial, and obviously an embryo cannot give consent.

Thus the analogy is without substance, and McNeil’s whole argument comes down like a house of cards. As such, he will have to try much harder if he wants to add anything of substance to this important debate.

www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=4881

[915 words]

45 Responses to Is it Ever Right to Kill?

  • That is a well put and logical argument Bill.

    Benjamin Soderlund

  • Bill, I agree with Benjamin. He describes the argument as well put and logical. I would add that I will be using it as an example to show what proper analysis is.
    Stan Fishley, Wantirna

  • Just wondering where in the Christian scriptures it says we can kill in self-defence? Did not Jesus say “if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other also”? And to keep relying on Old Convenant texts when Jesus fulfilled the Old and changed so much, is dangerous exegesis. In the very passage where he said he fulfilled the Old, (Matt 5) he gives 6 specific examples of how he changes things in that fulfilment, (the rest of chapter 5) and one of those very examples is now to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. I am not convinced Bill – if we really believe in the sanctity of life (because all humanity is made in the image of God) then there is a logical consistency that we would be opposed to killing (not just murdering) but killing as well – from the embryo to the Sadams. God is still on his throne and he can do as he pleases. But us imperfect humans? And to say “I am killing because God wants me to” is the oldest excuse in the book to justify all kinds of evil. I agree that some people are hypocritical in their support for abortion and opposition to capital punishment, but likewise people are (I am still convinced) hypocrites in their support for capital punishment and opposition of abortion. Jesus in John 8:1-11 demonstrated opposition to the implementation of capital punishment that was demanded by Moses very law in our Old Testament. He got the woman off the punishment. Jesus changes so much! We live as followers of Jesus, not as followers of the Old Covenant.
    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Thanks Jim

    No I am not a hypocrite. I have written on these topics elsewhere. There is both continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments. What are you suggesting Jim? Do we Christians just follow 27 books of the Bible (NT), and throw out the other 39 (OT)? Or do we just follow Matther 5-7?

    As to God taking care of us: He has also told us that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. (John 14:15) Those who trust God work for a living, as they are instructed in 1 Timothy 5:8. For a man not to work, yet expect to eat because he was “trusting God” would actually be to defy God.

    So here you are talking like a Calvinist (God is in control and he can protect us if He wants, so we should do nothing about it). But elsewhere you talk like an Arminian (eg., social justice: it is up to us, not just God alone, to work to make this world a more just and humane place). So which is it?

    Concerning self-defence, yes the Bible clearly allows it. Consider especially Exodus 22:2,3 for starters.

    Of course resisting an attack is not to be confused with taking vengeance, which is the exclusive domain of God (Romans 12:19). That seems to be the point of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount passage that you refer to. He is warning against taking personal vengeance. He is not repudiating any OT command (he does not say “It is written”, but “You have heard it said”. There is no OT command to hate your enemies.) And many scholars feel that “if anyone strikes you” is an idiom for personal insults, rather than a physical attack.

    And it is Jesus who said that his disciples should arm themselves (buy a sword – Luke 22:36). This is not nullified by Matthew 26:52-54. Jesus had a mission to perform, and Peter was not to prevent it. And Jesus did not tell him to throw his sword away, but simply to put it back at his side.

    Jesus never condemns any soldier for being a “killing machine” even though he had a chance to do so, as when he told them what they must do to inherit eternal life (eg, Luke 3:14). He even tells one soldier he has great faith (Luke 7:1-10).

    And the NT is full of military imagery. If killing were absolutely wrong for the believer, much better images could have been selected. The truth is, the Bible does not teach that killing is never allowed.

    Thus if you want to argue that all killing is wrong, you may, but then you can no longer claim to be following the Bible as your guide for ethical behaviour. Both Testaments sanction killing (not murder) so I will follow Scripture here thanks.

    And John 8 may not so readily be used to say that capital punishment should be abolished. If anything, Jesus is affirming the strict requirements of OT justice here (according to Deut. 22:22-24 the man was also to be included in the punishment).

    And if Matt 5 is your favourite text in this regard, then you should no so readily dismiss Matt 5:17.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks for your thoughts Bill. I am not pursuaded that you have shown that the New Testament allows us to kill. I dont disagree that police forces are necessary in any society (for the sake of keeping society safe and functioning). In fact, in Jesus’ day, the Roman presence in much of the world, was really a police force role. On the edges of the empire there were wars being fought, but most soldiers in the Roman army, stationed in subdued territories, were acting as police forces. When John the Baptist (not Jesus, as you claim) spoke to soldiers about what they must do, we can see into that a little. On a broader issue: your use of some scriptures is a bit worrying to be honest. To use Luke 22:36 to justify Christains using violence in self-defence is particularly disturbing. The context tells us why Jesus told Peter to bring a sword along to the garden: the very next verse says “For I tell you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me: ‘And he was numbered with transgressors’.” Jesus knew that he was to be considered a sinner, a transgressor. He was fulfilling a prophecy and had to “look like” he was hanging around with sinners – sinners carry swords, in this particular passage. Not Godly followers of the Lord of Lords. So when Peter goes to use it at the garden, in self-defence, Jesus rebukes him. And you are right: Jesus did not say “throw it away”. He said “Put it away.” But again Bill, you leave out a bit. Jesus said: “For all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” That is rather telling, isn’t it? You highlight that Jesus had a mission to fulfil and had to die on the cross and so he did. But that is not said in the garden to Peter. What is said, is “he who takes up the sword will die by it.” So you are not addressing what is actually said, here. And reinterpreting it to fit your preferred view (that Christians can carry weapons and use them in self-defence). And finally, your approach to John 8:1-11 is very disturbing. Are you really suggesting that Jesus would have agreed to have both the man and woman stoned to death, if the man had been brought to him as well? Have I read you right here? That is not the flow of the story or the nature of Jesus in the gospels. You are changing Jesus to be just like people who want capital punishment Bill. I thought we were meant to try to change ourselves to be more like Jesus.
    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Thanks Jim

    But you err in equating violence with force. We can all legitimately use force, while violence is to be eschewed. You acknowledge that police can use force. But can’t you as well? If a rapist enters your home and attacks your wife, will you stand by and do nothing, arguing that the police can use force, but not you? So will you then be complicit in the evil action of rape by refusing to resist it? Please explain your understanding here.

    I did not proof text Luke 22, I simply meant that it was a passage that needed to be dealt with in this discussion.

    And while probably no one has a complete grasp on how we are to understand all of Matt. 5-7, my main point was that contrary to the usual custom of dragging someone off to court because of a personal insult, Jesus was here pleading for non-retaliation: that is, to not go through with the law court, but rather take the insult, which was a big ask in such a strong honour/shame culture as first century Palestine.

    The Sermon on the Mount is part of the Christian ethic, but not all of it. It must be understood in the context of all of the NT, indeed, all of Scripture.

    As to John 8, of course it is not part of the original gospel of John, but a later addition. So if you seek to use it as a chief pillar against capital punishment, you will be on wobbly ground. But having said that, the point is Jesus nowhere says the law is wrong. He nowhere implies taking up stones is wrong. And he may well be following the procedure of Mosaic law that says a case can be dismissed when witnesses lack integrity. Thus he in effect gives permission for the stoning to begin, provided the right conditions have been met (which were not). He is in fact upholding the law here, not denying it.

    He is making a point about judgementalism and taking the law into one’s own hands. I did not say he was arguing that both should be stoned. But I do not see a denial of the divinely-appointed death penalty being made here.

    Plus there are related questions. To what extent could Jews then even carry out the death penalty under Roman rulership? Were the accusers also witnesses of the crime? (Deut. 17:7) And there is no explicit mention of Jesus forgiving the woman here, only to not go on with this sinful activity

    Lastly, a little thought exercise. In the light of your rejection of any sort of self-defence, tell me which of these four scenarios is wrong or sinful? 1. A tree is falling down and you must use force to defend yourself from being hurt by it. Is that OK? 2. A man has temporarily gone insane and is whipping around a baseball bat, hurting you and others. Can you use force to protect yourself, defend others, and disarm the madman, so you and others are no longer hurt? 3. An assailant attacks you with a baseball bat. Can you defend yourself and seek to disarm or immobilise your attacker? Or must you just take the beating, and possible death? 4. A terrorist bomber is about to detonate his explosives in a crowded school. Can you legitimately seek to stop him in this, by use of force, and protect yourself and the children from the massacre?

    Since you are the one who seems to be absolutising the wrongness of self-defence, I would appreciate which of these, if any, you think are acceptable from a Christian standpoint.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks for taking the time to respond again Bill. I dont think you have really addressed the unusual use of various NT scriptures that your earlier comments made. I still see no mandate in the New Testament to take up weapons as disciples of Jesus, to use in self defence. The verses you used were used wrongly, out of context, and ignoring clear surrounding qualifying material.

    And you seem determined to push me into an extreme positon, so that it is easier to ignore my comments. I have told you before Bill, that I am not a 100% pacifist, but I think Jesus was, and I am not one because I am still not like Jesus perfectly. I wont pretend that my less than Christ-like life is really the Christ-like way to live.

    You and I both know that throughout church history many Christians have been 100% pacifists. And some people have watched their families be killed rather than deny Jesus, and rather than use violence to prevent it. Are you saying that they were deluded or immoral? The Anabaptists, or the Amish or the Mennonites or many others? Should the apostle Paul have used violence to prevent himself being arrested? Or should the other Christians used violence to prevent it, or to rescue him? What of the women arrested before Saul became Paul? Should the church have risen up and fought to have them rescued?

    You ask me extreme and emotive questions instead of addressing the Scriputes and Jesus in particular. To answer one of your scenarios: I am pretty sure that I would jump in and probably kill an intruder who wanted to hurt or kill my family members. But I dont know if that is the highest way to live as a Christ follower. Let me ask you an extreme and emotive scenario: If you are held down by some strong men, and they threaten to rape and kill your wife unless you deny Jesus verbally and clearly – what would you do? Now this is not a question of self defence. You are pinned down and cant fight. This is a question of whether or not you can deny Christ. I dont think you would want to deny Jesus – in theory – am I right? But you just might, in practice, and then repent of it later. Maybe. I suspect I would be very tempted to do just that. But again, some people in history have not denied Jesus and they and their loved ones have suffered greatly for it. Well, extending that idea: some people have also found that to use violence against another human being (made in the image of God) is just not an option no matter what the consequences. It is as bad to them as denying Jesus is to us. It is as bad to them because it is effectively denying Jesus, to deny imitating him. To not love their enemies. To not turn the other cheek. It is the same as saying “I deny Christ and his way.”

    Now as I said, Bill, I am not a 100% pacifist. I dont think it is really debating a question to try to pigeon hole me with extreme scenarios. Nor is it good debate technique, to try to justify using violence by painting extreme and emotional pictures. Rather than emotional scenarios, lets keep grappling with scripture.

    And I dont think I have ever said that “force” cant ever be used. I do see a difference between the two (force and violence) though of course it is grey and they overlap. (Jesus used force the day he cleansed the temple). It is not a black and white debate and I have not meant to give anyone the impression that I think it is. But in reading Jesus in the gospels, he is much more the pacifist than the man of violence. He is much more the one calling on us to imitate him, than to take up swords and be like those in the world. He let his enemies hurt him. He did not retaliate. He calls on us to be like him.

    Let me take up the discussion about John 8. Jesus would not have wanted the man and the woman both stoned. The actual content of the passage does not follow the argument you try to develop. Jesus no where says “I would just like to affirm that we must fully obey the law in all ways and an injustice is happening here today because only the woman is here. So let her go.” No. He says “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” That is a very overarching statement. It is burying the ability of people to actually implement capital punishment because no one can claim to be without sin. This is profound. And has huge implications that you are not acknowledging, on the whole capital punishment debate.

    And to say “the passage was not in the original text” is not the whole story either. To be more accurate, it is not in some of the early manuscripts, but is in others. What does that mean? Did it not happen and it is a fabricated story so we can ignore it? No. What it means (according to most commentators) is that maybe John Zebedee did not write it, but one of the early disciples copying Johns gospel put it in, so that we would not lose that story over time. Virtually everyone agrees that it probably did happen (it sounds exactly like the Jesus we see in all the other stories of the gospels – brilliant answer, grace flowing towards sinners, etc). So the truthfulness of the story is not in question, just who authored it. And God in his soverignty oversaw the writing of the whole gospel so that it is what he wants us to read and apply. Just as an editor added the last chapter of Deuteronomy and it is not Moses writing, but it is still God inspired scripture, so too John 8 is God ordained and inspired, despite who wrote it.

    I am not sure we are getting very far in this discussion Bill. You probably think I am not hearing you, and I am feeling like you are not hearing me. But hopefully anyone reading our comments will sift all that we are both saying, and prayerfully reflect on the issues. (Me and you too hey!)

    God bless mate. Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Thanks Jim

    But I certainly did not intend my questions to be offensive in any way, so apologies are offered if offence was taken, as none was intended. I thought they were perfectly legitimate questions, in order to gauge where you were coming from. I certainly did not consider them to be “extreme and emotive,” nor was I trying to “pigeon-hole” you nor push you in a corner. Instead, the questions reflect scenarios that happen in the real world quite often, and I was just using them in a genuine and honest attempt to see what you really believe on this issue.

    As to your counter scenario, in my view you are simply mixing chalk and cheese. In your hypothetical, both options are horrible. No one would wish to be in that situation. Thus in your scenario we have a definite case of choosing the lesser of two evils.

    But my examples are radically different. In my four scenarios I do not see any great moral or Scriptural dilemmas. In my understanding of Scripture, all four scenarios are no-brainers. Not only would I choose to take action in all four cases, I would have no qualm of conscience and no regrets in any. There would be nothing for me to repent of in any of those scenarios. I would feel completely justified in taking defensive action, and see no ethical problem in doing so. Thus, in my view, your example is an apple to my oranges; it is a category mistake.

    You see, I do not have a problem with self defence, and I do not see God having a problem with it, nor Scripture. It is obviously problematic for you, however, thus your strong reaction to my questions.

    And I have been grappling with Scripture all along, its just that you don’t like the way I interpret Scripture. We appear to use differing hermeneutical frameworks in which we come to this debate. You seem to see much more discontinuity between the OT and the NT, and much more discontinuity between the words of Jesus and the other NT writers than I do, that’s all.

    And I am glad that you have admitted that on occasion force can be used and self-defence is not always evil. That is all I was really trying to establish. I do not mind that you hold different views than I do, and it was not my intention to arouse your emotions, nor to make you be defensive in your position.

    Of course you have now upped the ante with what many would consider a pretty radical new understanding of the doctrine of inspiration. If John 8 is in fact not found in the best and earliest manuscripts, that raises the question of whether it was in fact part of God’s inerrant and inspired word, the original text. If you are now claiming that any text added later is equally inspired, then we have a whole new debate on our hands, and a worrying one at that.

    The issue is not that Jesus might have said it (it is likely that he did), the issue is what God intended to be part of Holy Scripture. It has nothing to do with authorship or redaction, but what the final and closed word of God should be. That is the real issue. I hope you are not suggesting that sayings attributed to Jesus elsewhere, say, in the Gospel of Thomas, are equally inspired?

    My original point was simply (and I restate it and rephrase it here), if this pericope is not in fact established by the manuscript evidence, then if it were one of your main planks in your argument against capital punishment, you would be on less secure ground than if you appealed to other texts.

    As to your charge of how poorly I am handling the biblical text, I will leave that for others to decide.

    Whether we are in fact hearing each other or not is a moot point, but as you rightly note, if nothing else, readers might find some value in the discussion, so I for one do not see it as a waste of time.

    Blessings,

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill. There are so many things that we could talk about.

    I dont agree with your apparant view on inspiration. You did not address my comments on Deuteronomy, so let me expand them here. If Moses did not write the last chapter of Deuteronomy, but it was added later, then is it also to be tossed out of the Bible as you seem to want to do with John 8:1-11? Or are you accepting that Moses did not write the whole book of Deuteronomy and the unknown author was the inspired one? If you accept Moses’ authorship but still accept the last chapter of Deuteronomy, you are not being consistent in your desire to reject John 8. An editor besides the orginal author, can also be used of God to preserve His words for us.

    And to be fair: only some of the early manuscripts dont have John 8:1-11. Other early ones have it. There is a possibility that someone copying the gospel early in the manuscript tree, either accidently left it out, or left it out on purpose (not likeing the implications of Jesus’ radical rejection of stated words from Moses’ law). And then that copy without the story, got copied, while at the same time earlier copies got copied too. So two versions of John circulated and we really dont know for sure if it was in the original or not.

    In other words, either it was in the original, and got dropped and then different manuscripts circulated, or it was not in the original and in was added by an early copyist.

    My point is that either way, the story is still with us and it is in the New Testaments that we buy and read. They all have it there and some put the footnote: “not in some original manuscripts.”

    But God is bigger than all that and I would have thought you would have believed that the whole Bible is the word of God. I would have thought that you would have taught that God soverigny preserved the documents in the form they have reached us, to get us what he wants us to have and use. If you can start dropping the bits that dont fit your preferred views, you are the one opening up a hornets nest for finding excuses to eliminate parts of scriputre that dont sit well with anyone. You would have to drop out lots of phrases and words, and sentences from all over the NT to be consistent to this new rule: if any deemed “reliable” ancient manuscripts dont have it, drop it out! We do not do that to dozens of verses and words and phrases Bill, that are also under the same question mark, in those same ancient manuscripts, and I think you know that. And if you have devised a clever hermeneutic rule to ignore parts of scripture, maybe the next person will think up an equally clever rule to ignore other parts of the New Testament. Why cant they? Forget God’s providence in providing us with it all. We can be really clever and work out ways to ignore parts.

    So better than tread that path, lets accept all the Bible as we have it and try to understand it in all it says. And so we are still left with the fact that Jesus said “He who is without sin, cast the first stone”. He did not say: “I am letting you go today, because the full details of judicial process have not been implemented properly.”

    The best you can really do, in such cases, is simply admit that some ancient manuscripts dont have this word, or phrase or sentence, or paragraph (or almost a whole chapter, like Mark 16) – and then ask: but since God preserved it for us, how do we understand it?

    I wont tackle every thing that comes to mind but there is one other thing I have seen you do on a number of occasions that I would like to mention. You use the line: “you are comparing apples to oranges” to get around really grappling with some questions. You dodge whole questions with this strategy of finding some big or small difference between your scenario and another scenario, and then feel that no more needs to be said. You unpack a perceived difference, rather than grapple with the issue, and your percieved differences give you some kind of rationale to then drop the topic.

    The fact is much more needs to be said and explored. So what if there are two horrible scenarios in the picture I painted. (You did not say, by the way, which one you would do). But there are from a pacifists point of view, two horrible scenarios with your earlier scenario as well (remember: you asked me what I would do if someone came into my home to rape my wife). Two evil scenarios: I let it happen, or I fight and perhaps kill the intruder. You might want to say that you have not painted two terrible scenarios, but from a non-violence point of view, you have done exactly that.

    Your later picture of a tree falling in the forest of course is no big issue. But your kill a terrorist to stop them setting off a bomb picture presents difficult options for some.

    You did not answer my question if you think that the pacifists of Christian history were stupid or immoral for letting their families be killed rather than deny either their faith or the tenents of their faith. Or if the early Christians in the book of Acts were mistaken for not fighting to prevent the arrest (and we think execution, if Pauls “I am the worst of sinners” means what most think it means) of both men and women who were Christians. I guess I will end with a request that you tackle that one in your next reply.

    Thanks. Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Thanks Jim

    (I am aware that we are both violating my rule about keeping comments short!)

    As to your main concern, I am afraid you continue to confuse two separate issues, so let me once more try to explain. Discussions about the original manuscripts, and what should be included in the word of God, has to do with the issue of canonisation and the science of textual criticism. We try to discover as best we can what the original text is like, knowing that we do not possess the original documents. Thus textual criticism. This is not identical to the question of inspiration.

    I already said I do not have a problem with redactors. They have obviously been used in the Pentateuch and elsewhere. But that is a different issue from the doctrine of inspiration. God could certainly use redactors to help give us the final form of his word.

    To put it another way, inspiration has to do with how God delivered to us the final and authoritative word of God, as found in the original manuscripts. Textual criticism, in part, has to do with determining just what those original manuscripts are.

    All I have said about the pericope found in John 7:53-8:11 is that the manuscript evidence for it is very weak indeed. I also conceded that it may well reflect a genuine activity of Jesus, but it should not be considered a part of the Christian canon. Thus I do not see it as the inspired word of God. If that bothers you, then you need to interact with the vast majority of NT scholars who have argued such a case.

    I do however see the closing chapter of Deuteronomy as being part of the inspired canon, simply because of the lack of problems concerning manuscript evidence as we find with John 8.

    I repeat that you are welcome to try make a biblical case for pacifism, but if this were the main passage you use to build it on, your case would be less secure and authoritative than if you relied on other (canonical) texts.

    As to your comment, “I would have thought you would have believed that the whole Bible is the word of God,”, of course I do. But you continue to miss the point, The real issue is, just what is the word of God, as contained on the original manuscripts? I fully believe in everything that we have good evidence for considering to be part of the original manuscripts.

    And with all due respect, when you say “If you can start dropping the bits that dont fit your preferred views,” your comments are really descending into farce. As I said, the overwhelming majority of NT scholars do not consider the pericope in question to be a part of John’s original gospel. Are you really suggesting that all of these scholars are simply dumping the passage because they do not like its theological implications?

    Your other points I believe I have responded to, although of course you do not seem to like my responses.

    As to the early Christian pacifists, I do not accept you false dilemma of them being either “stupid or immoral”. They were neither. I would simply argue that they had an understanding of the biblical text which differs from mine. I am thus happy to say that I agree to disagree with them on this issue.

    And I fail to see how it follows that if some Christians did not intervene in the arrest of Paul that they had some sort of absolute commitment to pacifism, and/or that we should too. That seems to be a non sequitur.

    Finally, a main point of disagreement I have with pacifists (but not the only one), is that they tend to elevate the Sermon on the Mount over much of the rest of Scripture, while I would say it needs to be assessed in the context of the rest of Scripture. Matt. 5-7 should not take priority over other passages, but must be understood in the light of other passages.

    As I say, I am content to agree to disagree with you on these matters.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • H Bill

    a few comments.

    1) I would not base a biblical case for pacifism on John 8 alone or even primarily. It is a good bibilcal text to add to the discussion and also to use to argue against capital punishment, but it is not the only text (as you note).

    2) I do not hold to discontinuity between the gospels and the rest of the NT: the rest of the NT is pacifist too (just read the book of James and see his indignation at people who take up arms to address injustice and wrong doing! Or consider Revelation and the Christians response to the beast in chapters 13 and 14).

    3) Your distinctions between inspired original autographs and copies and editorial additions have left your readers in a dilemma, I suspect. You seem to give the impression that there are now some parts of scripture that are not part of the inspired original autographs (like John 8 1-11, probably, and Deut 34), but are nevertheless, true accounts of what happened, [so far I agree with this] but then – you contend that we dont have to follow some of these passages teaching or example and we dont want to include them in material we might apply to our lives [sorry – I dont agree with this].

    4) No bible editions that I am aware of and certainly no bible editions we encourage Christians to read, leave out the “disputed” verses, words, phrases, and paragrahps. If your contention is true, why on earth are we still getting the bibles printed with all these “un-useable” sections in them? How confusing for the average Christian who does not read commentaries, or even read footnotes in their editied bible versions.

    5) At the end of the day Bill, no matter how much we try to define terms and talk theologically about inspiration, canonicity, early manuscripts, redaction and copyists, – at the end of the day, we have the Bible as preserved by the soverign providential hand of God, and the material in it is there for a reason: to guide us and teach us. Our challange is to handle it well, in a way that honours God and in a way that matures us as believers and makes us more Christ-like.

    6) More Christ-like…. that kind of sums it all up in the end. What would Jesus do? How would Jesus respond? How can I live more like Christ? Let’s not forget the primary thing we are about: growing in Christ – being more like him.

    Thanks for the rigorous and (I trust) worthwhile debate Bill. I am happy to let you have the last word, so I wont keep writing back after this entry. Thanks for being open enough to have this debate at all. Some Christians would be quite terrified to discuss such things.

    God bless – Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Thanks Jim

    I do not really want a last word – you are free to keep going – but just a few quick thoughts. I am not sure how a plain reading of the NT as a whole, or of James or Revelation in particular, will result in the discovery of an argument for, or doctrine of, pacifism.

    Questionable parts of Scripture are clearly labeled as such, (not with a footnote), for example in the NIV, as in the beginning of Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11, etc.

    As to “What would Jesus do?,” that can be helpful as a general guide for Christians, but only to a certain extent. It would not help me determine whether I wear white or black socks today. But you would reply, ‘I am referring more to major ethical issues here’. But even there it is limited.

    On the issue at hand, you would argue that a person following Jesus would not resist evil. But someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say he was doing exactly what Jesus would do, in seeking to stop Hitler though the attempt to assassinate him.

    So again, we agree to disagree. But if this discussion helps others to sort out their thoughts somewhat, then it has been a useful exercise.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I was not going to keep going, but your introduction of Bonhoeffer requires a response.

    As much as I admire and respect that man, I believe that he made the single most monumental mistake of his life when he decided to take up the weapons of the world, in his fight against Hitler.

    The scripture says “the weapons of our warfare are not caranal”; “my kingdom is not of this world.. if it was of this world my disciples would fight, but it is not of this world”; and “he who lives by the sword will die by the sword”.

    Bonhoeffer was compelled by love, but chose a non-Jesus response. The first disciples for 300 years saw their friends and families killed for the faith by different evil emperors at times over those centuries, and they never counselled to fight or try to kill the evil leaders. It only comes after Constantine. The Jesus response (like the epistle of James says) is to prayer, and to endure suffering.

    James in his epistle, is appauled when people boast that they dont commit adultry, but they kill, and James says that friendship with the world is enmity with God and he calls on people who justify wars and fighting and killing, to repent and wash their hands and cleanse their hearts and fall on their faces before God and turn their laughter into mourning. It is very much a pacifist epistle! I did my 50,000 word, masters thesis on the epistle of James, and I entered it wondering about liberation theology (since James gets used sometimes to justify such) but I ended concluding that liberation theology is the fartherest thing from James mind as he councels peace making; anti-war; anti-killing; holiness; long suffering; prayer; not copying the ways of the world to redress injustice; and practical aid for the suffering.

    The challange is to be able to live at that higher level of Christ-likeness.

    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Thanks Jim

    This does not have to be the last word; you are welcome to continue if you wish.

    The three passages you cite all have to do with the spiritual means of promoting the faith and living the Christian life. Thus all have to do with our heavenly citizenship, but none directly with our earthly citizenship requirements.

    We are members of both communities, and our obligations as Christian citizens in this world are not always identical with our obligations as citizens of God’s kingdom.

    Thus believers are never to use force to propagate the faith, and we battle spiritual powers with spiritual weapons. But that is a different matter from how I live out my earthly citizenship, and my obligations to maintain justice, on both a personal and social level.

    Thus from my perspective none of these verses can be used as an argument for a doctrine of complete pacifism.

    And Dietrich and I would disagree with you that he was being un-Christ like here. He was fully convinced he was being like Jesus, and was carrying out his biblical obligations of being a citizen of this world. I agree with him.

    As to the early “pacifism” of the Christian church, there are a number of responses one can make, but perhaps too long for a comment, so I will have to draft an article on that. So stay tuned.

    And I again fail to see how the book of James can be construed as a document or argument for pacifism. I do agree with you that liberation theology cannot be deduced from James (or any other biblical text, for that matter) but probably not for the reasons that you would give.

    And nobody disagrees that we should all be as Christ-like as possible. The disagreement arises as to how this is expressed and made manifest as we fulfill our obligations to be citizens of this world, while also maintaining our heavenly citizenship.

    Thanks again,

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • You know Bill, I keep citing verses and you keep explaining them away – and not very convincingly.

    I could keep offering more and more verses (Bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse; love your enemies; and then the James 3 idea: the wisdom of earth is not the same as the wisdom of heaven, and the wisdom of heaven is very much about peacemaking; and Jesus: blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God; etc etc etc – and these just off the top of my head.)

    I have cited many and could cite many more. But you just keep saying things like: “these passages you cite all have to do with the spiritual means of promoting the faith and living the Christian life. Thus all have to do with our heavenly citizenship, but none directly with our earthly citizenship requirements.” Sorry mate, but I just dont accept that. There is no such teaching in the New Testament that says anything like that. You are not citing any scripture for such a claim, you are citing a human made rationale to ignore Jesus’ most demanding claims on our lives. There is no “opposites” in the way we relate to God and the way He wants us to relate to people around us. To make such a distinction is yet another clever way to try to ignore the plain meaning of the text.

    And at the end of the day, you have not provided a New Testament arguement for your position that Christians can/should carry weapons and use them in self defence. You have not provided us with any scriptures that stand up to scrutiny, and the only one you tried to provide was taken from its context (where Jesus told Peter to take a sword to the garden – to fulfil the prophecy that Jesus had to be reckoned as with transgressors).

    So you can continue to ignore passage after passage and verse after verse, and you can keep arguing that “Christians can use weapons in self defence” as much as you like, but really, at the end of the day, where is your New Covenant evidence for such an Old Covenant attitude? You forget to fulfil the Old in Jesus Christ. And that brings us right back to where we started.

    Clearly we are not convincing each other! But I have enjoyed the debate. Thanks again for having it.

    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • PS – sorry I forgot to add one last comment:

    You made this statement above: “Dietrich [Bonhoeffer] and I would disagree with you that he was being un-Christ like here [in trying to kill Hitler]. He was fully convinced he was being like Jesus, and was carrying out his biblical obligations of being a citizen of this world. I agree with him.”

    Bill: (1) Bonhoeffer would never have said “I am being like Jesus in trying to assassinate Hilter”. You will not find any quote from him that says Jesus would have actually participated in an assassination attempt on a sinful person. You are claiming far too much here. He would have said that his assassination attempt on Hitler was his own personal outworking of how he felt he should live in the world as a disciple of Christ, but he claimed nothing more than that subjective rationale.

    And (2) I totally disagree that Jesus would have said that the answer to Adolf Hitler was to blow him up with a bomb – and to have Christ’s disciples participate in such an action!

    Bill: You are justifying terrorism, and claiming that Jesus would approve and even participate. You are way off track here.

    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Thanks Jim

    (These lengthy comments are breaking every rule in the book!)

    But we have been involved in an exercise in theological discussion. Theology involves more than producing proof texts. It involves assessing the whole counsel of God, and seeking to make sense of it in a unified and coherent fashion.

    Is there one clear NT verse commanding self defense? No. Is there one clear NT verse saying we should work against racism or pollution? No. Does that mean these are unbiblical activities? In fact, the NT does not give us any direct and clear teaching on the subject of war. (Indirectly it speaks about war in the last days, and war always being with us, etc.) So the argument from silence can cut both ways.

    And a possible NT passage for self defense remains in Luke 22: 36-38. There are several possible interpretations available here, but one legitimate possibility is the permission to make use of self-defense. If you don’t like that interpretation, fine, but stop going on about how I have no biblical legs to stand on here.

    And there is, as I already mentioned, a clear OT passage: Exodus 22: 2,3. I see nothing in the NT that would abrogate that. But again, it is more than offering passages from here and there. I see both Testaments calling believers to exercise justice in this world.

    As I already mentioned, a believer may choose to not retaliate when attacked. But it seems clear from the whole of biblical revelation that he has a moral obligation to prevent evil and help see the establishment of justice. He would be obliged, for example, to resist the rape of his wife, or be involved in other such actions. Thus I can turn my own cheek, but I am not asked to turn my wife’s cheek, or the cheek of my neighbour who is under attack. I have a responsibility of care to protect my neighbour, and in refusing to see the requirements of justice met here I would be implicated in evil. I would in effect acquiesce to evil, even encourage it.

    As such, the expression of my love for my neighbour will in fact be different from how I express my love for my enemy. Loving my enemy does not mean letting him do injustice to my neighbour, while I idly stand by. Sure, the state has been set up for this responsibility primarily, but I see no reason why a principle as established in Exodus 22, for example, is no longer viable here. Or do you even view something like a citizen’s arrest as unbiblical and immoral?

    In this regard, many – including Francis Schaeffer – have spoken of being able to love an enemy soldier, even while fighting against him on the field of battle. I know that will bend your head out of shape, but as I keep saying, I think there is room to move here,. But you seem to assume you are absolutely right here, and will allow no leeway whatsoever.

    And Jesus himself didn’t turn the other cheek when he was struck, but rebuked his striker (John 18:22, 23). Paul responded in a similar fashion, instead of offering his other cheek (Acts 23:1-3). Were Jesus and Paul therefore being unbiblical here, or was there understanding of Matt. 5:39 different from that of the pacifists?

    You say: “There is no ‘opposites’ in the way we relate to God and the way He wants us to relate to people around us.” No difference whatsoever? So you fully reject the notion that we are indeed citizens of two different spheres or kingdoms? That would in effect place you in the theonomist camp. Are you saying therefore that everything that is sinful should also be illegal (lust, idolatry, etc). If you say no, there is a distinction here, that is exactly what I am trying to say. So you have got me really confused on this one Jim.

    As to your remark about my “human made rationale” I am not quite sure what you mean by that. I trust you are not suggesting that I am somehow fleshly and carnal in my handling of Scripture, while you are somehow spiritual and righteous in your use of it!

    And I don’t think I have ignored passages raised by you. I have simply understood them and explained them differently than you have, and you have not found that to your liking.. And I could also argue that you have omitted dealing with various concerns and passages I have presented.

    Finally, you keep putting words in my mouth. I have never said we are commanded in Scripture to use weapons to defend ourselves. I have simply been trying to make the case that my understanding of the totality of biblical revelation does not lead me to see how self defense in principle is wrong, sinful or unbiblical. That is the only point I have been seeking to establish all along. So please stop the straw man argumentation here. But thanks again for your thoughts.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Ah yes, Jim Reiher, the candidate for the pro-gay-marriage Green party, which has an official platform of warfare against unwanted unborn babies, claims to be a “pacifist’ when it comes to removing mass-murdering despots like Saddam. Ah well, whether babies are shredded by the abortionists’ knives, or Saddam’s opponents by his paper-shredding machines, the Greens love to protect the “rights” of the shredders.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Bill made a good point that was independently made by a Ukrainian Orthodox priest who was basically evangelical in thinking: he was angry with Jimmy Carter for turning the cheek of the whole free world in the face of Soviet agression. Conversely, dissidents in the Soviet Gulag like Natan Sharansky (né Anatoli Shcharansky) were most encouraged by Reagan’s forthright denuciation of the Evil Empire and willingness to WIN the cold war.

    There is nothing in Jesus’ words that would make him a cross between Neville Chamberlain and Karl Marx, despite what leftist pacifists like Mr Reiher would like. He indeed blessed the peacemakers, not pacifists, which is a huge difference. Pacifist appeasers in the 1930s are the ones largely responsible for WW2, while Reagan’s willingness to build up strength the Soviets could not match actually ended the Cold War without firing the shot. Reagan, not Chamberlain, was the peacemaker.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Thanks yet again, Jim

    My point was simply that Bonhoeffer felt he was doing his Christian duty here in seeking to stop Hitler. He believed that not to have taken action would have been a dereliction of his Christian responsibility. That is all I really meant to communicate.

    As to “justifying terrorism,” I of course have to totally reject your notion of moral equivalence here. Seeking to equate actions to stop a murderous dictator with terrorism is quite incredulous.

    Do you really believe that a Christian pastor who did not like the torture and murder of 6 million Jews and millions of others, and thought it better to try to take one life than to allow wholesale mass murder was a terrorist? If so, your understanding of biblical morality is obviously quite different to my understanding.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Jonathan

    While jaw-jaw may be preferable to war-war (diplomacy over military action), at least chronologically, there is a time and place for combat. The appeasers may present themselves as peace-makers, but often appeasement is the surest way to war. Neville Chamberlain and the appeasers in the 1930s did indeed contribute to the Second World War. They have the guilt and blood of millions slaughtered on their hands. There was plenty of evidence available of Hitler’s plans for evil, yet it was ignored or rationalized away.

    In the same way the appeasers today are ignoring the clear statements and plans of radical Muslims who hate the West and intend to destroy it. If the appeasers get their way, a whole lot more blood will be spilled. And of course the biblical notion of peace does not mean the mere absence of hostilities. Peace with justice is the Scriptural concern, a concept which is often lost on the peace and appeasement crowd.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • About the pericope adulterae, As Hebrew Christian scholar Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum points out:

    Now verse 7 has usually been misunderstood to mean that what Jesus is saying is; “Unless you are sinlessly perfect, you shouldn’t judge people.” So if you are sinlessly perfect, then you can go ahead and cast the first stone. If that’s what Jesus was saying here, he was violating the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law did not require sinless perfection for punishment to be carried out. If that was the basis under the Law then no-one under the Law could be executed by anybody, and the Mosaic Law clearly mandated execution for specific sins. So for him to say that only if you are sinlessly perfect can you cast the first stone, he would be violating what the Mosaic Law taught.

    But that’s not his point at all. His point is this in conjunction with the writing with the finger. Yes, the Mosaic Law did say; “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Yes, the Mosaic Law did say that if you violated the commandment you had to be stoned at the mouth of the two or three witnesses. You had to have those two or three witnesses, but this they have because they claimed she was caught in the very act.

    But that’s not all that the Mosaic Law demanded. The Mosaic Law also said, it is the witnesses at whose testimony someone is being executed, they must be the ones to cast the first stone. But that’s not all. In Exodus 4 and Exodus 17, it’s also pointed that the witnesses at whose word someone is being executed, they must not be guilty of that same sin. The point that Jesus is making is this. If you are a witness, and you are innocent of this same sin, then proceed to cast the first stone. And guess what happens. One by one, they squirrel away, implying that they were not innocent of this same sin. And perhaps standing among them is the one with whom she was caught in the very act. This was the one time effort they made to get Jesus to violate the Mosaic Law. It failed miserably. They don’t try this trick again. From here on in they go back to the old course where they accuse him of violating the Mishnaic law, but not the Mosaic Law.

    As for authorship, James Patrick Holding argues in Does John 7:53-8:11 Belong in Our Bibles? On a Misplaced Pericope that this was not originally in the Gospel of John, but was a genuine account originally part of Luke’s Gospel.

    But Bill’s comments are pretty standard evangelical fare, and thus perfectly reasonable and don’t deserve the guilt-manipulating criticisms. E.g. the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states:

    Article X.

    WE AFFIRM that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

    WE DENY that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • To get back to this Ben McNeil person, not only is he ethically flawed, but his premise is wrong anyway. The only stem cell research that has actually worked is with somatic (“adult”) stem cells, with over 70 proven cures. Embryonic stem cell research not only treats tiny human beings as objects, but also has yet to provide a single treatment. So the hype by the MMM (Mendacious Mainstream Media) about embryonic stem cells and a virtual news blackout on adult stem cells is not due to a desire to help people but to dehumanize the unborn. See also Stem cells and Genesis.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Jonathan, it is embarrassing and distasteful to read your mocking and spiteful comments about the Greens party that reveal you ignorance about Greens policies. (Baby shredders?) Your willingness to quickly associate me with your extreme and exaggurated comments about Greens policies, to make me appear in as bad a light as possible, is extraordinary.

    We have never met. You have never contacted me. You have never tried to find out what my views might be on the issues you ridicule me about. I thought the Bible and Jesus specifically, exhorted Christians to try first to speak to those they had a problem with. At least Bill and I have a relationship and can therefore have a vigorous debate knowing that at the end of the day we still respect each other. But you have never tried to talk with me. And once again – how ironic – we see more scripture not being used by good Bible believers.

    You are not the first Jonathan. Nor will you be the last. But you really should ask yourself the hard question why you found it so easy to mock me and pigeon hole me publically without ever trying to contact me or get to understand me.

    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Bill – one last entry, and I really will stop writing back.

    If it is ok for Christains to individually assassinate evil rulers who hurt lots of people, (like Bonhoeffer attempted to with Hitler, but failed interestingy) – then why did no one in the early church for the first 300 years, think to advocate that or attempt to do that to the great persecutors of the faith who killed hundreds and in some cases thousands of believers, men and women both? You are presenting your readers with post-Constantine teaching Bill, not Jesus and the early church teaching.

    And Paul and Jesus both spoke to those who hit them, yes, they did. And in the summarised description of what took place we see no record of them literally turning the other cheek. But they did NOT fight back, and their disciples did NOT fight to free them or to protect them. You make too much of one point but miss the bigger one. “Turn the other cheek” most probably means “not to retaliate with violence”. Neither Paul nor Jesus lend support to your preferred position.

    That’s it from me. No matter what you or Jonathan or others say. I wont buy into this any more. What began as a healthy debate has degenerated (especially with Jonathan’s unkind contribution).

    I know I wont convince you personally, (or Jonathan), but maybe others with an open mind will read all this and see that it is much more complex that either or us has really shown.

    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Thanks Jim

    A few general remarks. I think most readers would see in your well-argued comments a fair amount of passion – even emotion – shining through. And there is nothing wrong with that. On issues we strongly believe in, there is a place for both. I too feel passionate about these issues. That is why we are debating.

    You and the Left are passionate about things like social justice, peace, and so on. I and the Right are passionate about the plight of the unborn, the victims of tyranny, etc. It seems all these issues are good things to be stirred up about. All these issues may well be on God’s heart as well.

    So while Jonathan may have been rather blunt in his comment, it obviously reflects his passion as well. Thus I am not sure if the debate has degenerated. It is certainly revealing strongly held opinions that we all carry.

    And his comment seems to raise a legitimate issue here. I know many believers have a legitimate question in their minds about how certain people can in all good Christian conscience belong to various political parties. Christians on the Left – and perhaps you as well – may really wonder how a Christian could be a member of the Liberal Party. And Christians on the Right might wonder how a believer could belong to Labor.

    Let me take this a step further. I am sure many on the religious Left – perhaps you as well – would argue that in good Christian conscience they could never belong to the military, because its practices, activities and worldview seem so un-Christlike and so unbiblical. In the same way, there are many other believers who wonder how one can belong to the Greens, because its practices, activities and worldview seem so un-Christlike and so unbiblical.

    So I think that forms the backdrop to Jonathon’s remark. It perhaps could have been expressed differently, but the concern he raises seems like a legitimate one to many believers.

    Of course on this particular matter, I too have questions and concerns about believers belonging to the Greens. But as I keep saying, I believe there is some room to move here. When people discuss this issue with me, I usually say, ‘I expect people like Jim will make it to heaven one day, and I hope he feels the same way about me!’

    We both are passionate about issues that hopefully God has put on our hearts. God is bigger than either left or right of course, and I do not doubt you reflect some of the heart of God here. I hope you can believe the same about me.

    These are very important issues, and ones that do stir up the emotions. But how we learn to live together as believers, even with such strong disagreements, is the big question. I trust it can and is being done, as hard as it is at times.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Jim, if you have been misrepresented it is incumbent upon you to help your reader (me) hear your side, otherwise Jonathon will appear to me to be right. You have good conceptual tools and you sure can use them. I appreciate your gift of analysis and your ability to write simply and respectfully. So please climb back into the ring.
    If it is part of your argument that you are in the Green party to bring Chrsitian influnce, what are you trying to influence them from, and what are you trying to influence them to? The public has a right to know, thanks.
    Stan Fishley

  • Thanks Stan. This is in response to your specific questions and comments about the Greens (and so diverts away from the discussion on violence and pacifism).

    I joined the Greens for a number of reasons. In a nutshell, it was to: serve God and others; to be salt and light; to seek to be a witness to my non-Christian friends; and to seek to be a postive influence in a particular part of the community. Let me unpack that a bit….

    As a full time lecturer in a theology college, I hardly ever rub shoulders with non-Christians. 7 days a week I am with Christians for much of my life. I felt a real need to get out of that very unreal world, and become friends and seek to be a Christian witness, to passionate, intelligent non-Christians. And I found just that in the Greens (over the years I have also found some other Christians, but we are a minority in the Party).

    I also chose to get political, because of my life long interest in politics (inherited from my dad).

    Why the Greens and not Labor or another party? I like the bulk of their policies the most. As a Christian I found their policies to help the poor, both in Australia and overseas; to help refugees and treat them with justice and dignity; to care for the environment; to work towards justice and equality for everyone; and to oppose the gambling industry; to see war as a last resort; to oppose the sale of uranium; to oppose the nuclear industry for Australia; to promote renewable energy sources; and to seek more transparency and openness in Parliament – for all these big issue areas, the Greens were, for me, the most appealing. And they still are.

    But are they a Christian party? No. Do they oppose the Christian faith. No. They don’t. They tolerate everyone. Are they pro-gay civil unions? Yes (and as a justice issue, it is worth asking why we punish some sin, with inequalities before the law, but not other sin like defacto relationships, or tax evasion, or adultery, etc). Do they support abortion? As much as Liberal and Labor do: they support the current regime in this state and country. Do they support decriminalisation of abortion? Most in the party would say yes, though there is no specificly stated policy on it in Victoria. (And I should add that one can support the idea of not putting the women and doctors in jail – decriminalization – while still opposing the high number of abortions and seeking other means to see the number decline – without the legislative threat of jail. Other pathways to see the number decline could include: alleviating poverty; work on attitudes and values via advertising campaigns that highlight the long waiting lists for adoption, etc.).

    I also joined the party because it has a right to a conscience vote, clause, in the National Constitution which is applicable to every state except NSW. So a Greens parliamentarian can vote with conscience any time on any issue. Not that I would ever expect to resort to it (I really do agree with the overwhelming bulk of our policies). But it is there. And that is commendable.

    I think that the misunderstanding out there about the Greens is incredible and somewhat depressing. Our drugs policy is always misrepresented for example. I worked on the revision committee after the 2004 election, to rewrite the drugs policy for the Vic Greens and we came up with a great policy (that was not too different to the previous one, but less ambiguous in places). We want to get people off drugs. Some Christians dont like some of the strategies we suggest for getting people off drugs (like superivised medical injection rooms for registered hard core addicts who have proven treatment resistant and who are in a program to get off drugs – note that qualification please – not free drugs to anyone wanting them – but help for people in a program to get them off drugs). But our goal is to help people get off drugs. It is NEVER to give out free drugs and get people hooked on drugs. People who oppose our suggested ways to help people get off drugs should not say that we want to give drugs out freely or want to give drugs to children, or want to see people on drugs – all such comments are lies to scare the ignorant away from considering our policies.

    I am also in the party, because I want to be light and salt in that arena of society. I have made some wonderful friendships in the party and had some wonderful conversations with now trusted friends. The fruit of 5 years involvement is showing and it is wonderful. And I should add that I am not in the party to try to secretly change it. I might openly argue in Greens meetings, for some different aspects of some policies, but I have no hidden agendas. I want to serve God and the community and I feel that one way I can do that is politically, in this party.

    Service, not dominance, is the Christian way, I believe. We see real change as we serve and love those around us. Christians are meant to seek to be holy and seek to see the Church become holy, but we are not given a mandate in the New Testament to make Non-Christians appear to be holy when they are not converted! To impose Christian rules on non-Christian unwilling people is to wander away from the New Testament. To serve those folk, to show tolerance and respect, and to love and care for all – that is what wins some over.

    I hope this is helpful. If I had more time I might say this a bit differently, but I trust it gives you a bit of a picture. Thanks for asking.

    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Way up north here in the Sunshine State I’ve been viewing your interchange from a distance.

    Jonathan, it concerns me when you engage in this type of interaction. It disturbs me because I consider that it is an unkind way to disagree with one’s opponents. Also, you don’t have to go to the Greens only to find politicians who support abortion and homosexuality (which I do not support). They also are in the major parties.

    We can disagree with each other (and I’m doing that with you now) but with respect. As a long-term youth and family counsellor, I would object to this type of description in a counselling session. For you to make these kinds of remarks on this public forum doesn’t glorify Jesus – in my view.
    Spencer Gear, Hervey Bay, Qld.

  • Jim,

    On Wild Ones website you state:

    “Gay marriage is a very small issue. Sorry – but it’s not the mountain that some want to make it into. I don’t think Christians should be legislating to make non-Christians live as if they are Christians! What does it achieve for us to enforce Christian morality on people if they are not Christian and if their actions are not hurting other people? If gay couples want to call their relationship “marriage” instead of just “living together” (which they can do now), how is that going to cause the sky to fall? I don’t see it as the catastrophe that some make out. I see the Iraq war as a greater moral disaster that has befallen this nation. The war in Iraq or the theft of the East Timor Oil Wells, reflects a major deterioration of Christian ethics and morals in Australia.”

    Your emphasis does disappoint me as the Scriptures see homosexuality as a very serious issue, but you see it as “a very small issue.” I would appreciate your explanation on how God sees homosexuality as so serious that no homosexual “will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9-11).

    Is your seeing gay marriage as “a very small issue” related to your understanding of the authority of Scripture? Or, is something else involved? I’d sure appreciate your feedback on this as there seems to be a disparity between the biblical emphasis and your views.
    Spencer Gear, Hervey Bay, Qld.

  • Thanks guys

    Yes we are now beginning to stray from the original post. The issue of the Greens is an important one, and one that I and others are concerned about. Perhaps another post will look again at the issue. In the meantime, if folk wish to comment on the original topic at hand, feel free to continue the discussion.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I would point out that this blog is not a youth and family “counselling session”. A frank exchange of views is the norm in this type of forum. Jim as one who has put himself forward as a candidate in politics should be used to robust debate and I would think he is more than capable of defending himself. There were many times when Jesus used frank language in challenging his opponents.

    When the debate on the Christian view of pacifism involves differences in the interpretation of Scripture and it can be demonstrated that one side of that debate has a very loose grasp or interpretation of Scripture in other areas, then it is certainly relevant to point out those inconsistencies. Not only has Jim stood as a candidate for the Victorian Greens, but at the last State election he authored a leaflet entitled “Green & Christian values go hand in hand”! I note Jim also continues with his odd position in the context of Christian involvement in civil government that, “To impose Christian rules on non-Christian unwilling people is to wander away from the New Testament.” Bill has demonstrated many times on this website the absurdity of such a misunderstanding of God’s mandate for civil government. With such heterodox views as these in the areas of morality and government, it’s hard to take any of Jim’s views on pacifism as having any real biblical authority.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Thanks for your contribution Ewan.

    I dont mind rigorous debate. But there is a difference between attacking the person and attacking the argument. If you think it is ok to mock and ridicule and grossly exaggurate and lie about the person and what they believe, then I am sorry, but I disagree with that.

    Also I do not agree with your premise that if a person has what you think is a questionable view on some things, then that same person must be wrong on everything. Good grief! If I say Jesus died for sinners (I do say that by the way), then will you disagree with that because you dont like my preferred Politial position? It just does not hold. You cant write off my thoughts on non-violence just because you dont like them and dont like my views on some other things. Instead – write them off because you have a better argument. And convince me.

    Moving onto your other argument about Christians making the rules for civil government.

    You have to admit, (I hope you will admit) that It is only one interpretation, and then only of broad themes of scripture, that says Christians should try to rule society and make laws for non-Christians to live under. And, I would add, it is a view hard to actually demonstrate in the New Testament. You say Bill has already demonstrated it. Well, can you summarise it here for all of us to consider? You will be hard pressed to show the New Testament basis for such a view. The best you will do is offer some broad reflections that seem consistent with general Christian principles. And of course, that is worth considering. But you have to then admit that there are plenty of other positions that also reflect broad Christian principles.

    It is another interpretation to say (like I do) that the mandate of the church does NOT include making non-Christians live by Christian rules. This is much more easier to show in the Bible. We are meant to be in the world but not of the world. And Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world”. We are called “aliens and strangers” in this world. “Our commonwealth is in heaven” Paul says. And I Cor 5:9-13 is most revealing: Paul says who are we to judge outsiders? It is those in the church we are training and exhorting to live holy lives. Not the outsider. Hebrews 11 reminds us that we look to a heavenly city and not to consider this world our home. Colossians tells us to be heavenly minded. etc etc etc.

    The great irony here is that in this debate I keep trying to have solid scripture discussed, and instead I get told about broad Christian brushstrokes, and a rationale that stems from such. Good Bible believing Christians have to re-explain scripture after scripture, and offer nothing really solid back. Doesn’t anyone else see the irony of that?

    The Medieval Catholic Church tried to run much of Europe for hundreds of years. They justified violence and force. They had crusades, and they introduced the inquisition. Such was the extension of the logic that began with a view that said the church has a mandate to rule the world before Jesus returns.

    John Calvin tried to do the same in Geneva in the 1500’s. By the end of his rule there, people were being executed for heresy as well as adultery and other crimes. He and Luther disagreed on this, and one of the key things they disagreed over was on how relevant it was to try to make Old Testament law as rules for New Testament people and the broader community. (Calvin liked the idea, Luther was not convinced).

    But the church is losing its way when it thinks that its mandate includes forcing non-Christians to live under Christian laws, and punishing them if they dont live up to our rules.

    Now – after all that, I do believe that individual Christians seeking to serve and love others, might enter politics as a response to that. But that is an individual response, not the institutional churches reason for being. And the individual who chooses to do this, will be basing that decision on scriptures such as: the Spirit gives different gifts to different members of the body; love your neighbor as yourself; serve others; etc. It is risky business of course, and a dangerous place to be: there are so many potholes one can stumble into (compromise, lying, pride, jealously, envy, resentment, self-promotion and bragging; corruption, etc). But the “salt and light” argument might lead people to enter the political arena.

    So, at the end of the day: YOU need to show us why the church supposedly has the New Testament mandate to force non-Christians to live by Christian rules. And that we can go the way of the Medieval Catholic church and try to make the unsaved live holy lives (or else).

    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Thanks Jim

    I know it is difficult to make a proper argument in few words, but I must remind you, as I have others, of the need to try to keep comments short if possible, as per my blog rules.

    In a very real sense, laws against murder, theft and lying are all examples of Christians pushing their morality on to others. What are you suggesting? That these laws be dropped, because the Judeo-Christian tradition has nothing to say to non-believers?

    And it seems the ultimate problem with your view is this: trying telling millions of black people today that William Wilberforce was so very wrong to try to impose his Christian morality on to non-believers. It was exactly because of his Christian convictions that he sought to persuade a largely secular Parliament and a largely secular nation that slavery was wrong. Was he wrong to do that Jim?

    It is not a question of trying to “force non-Christians to live by Christian rules” as you put it. We are not forcing anything on anyone. Every Christian has an obligation to be good citizen. We thus can share our values and beliefs in a host of ways: in running for office, sharing or views on legislation, writing to MPs, etc. etc. How is that forcing anyone?

    And where are churches doing all this nasty political involvement that you so dislike? All I know of are individuals and parachurch groups getting involved in such things. And I hope you are consistent here. If churches have gotten political, I trust you denounced in no uncertain terms any campaigns they may have been involved with, say over apartheid, East Timor, nuclear issues, and so on. Or is church involvement OK if it is pushing more leftist agendas?

    Believers are welcome to cling to an Anabaptist dualism in this area if they so choose, but I see no biblical problem with Christians standing up for their beliefs in the public arena, and in the political realm. It seems you are simply making a false distinction here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Jim, your view that “the church is losing its way when it thinks that its mandate includes forcing non-Christians to live under Christian laws, and punishing them if they don’t live up to our rules” seems to me to be a theonomic view which is a minority perspective in evangelical Christianity.

    The late Greg L. Bahnsen (died in his 40s in 1995) was an ardent promoter of the civil magistrate enforcing the laws of God (OT & NT). His Reformed reconstructionist view is defended in Theonomy in Christian Ethics (The Craig Press, 1979). He states at the beginning of ch. 19, The Civil Magistrate in the New Testament: “In an important sense the question of whether today’s civil magistrate ought to obey the law of God has received a solid affirmative answer from the preceding investigation [the first 18 chapters of his book]” (p. 365).

    Years ago, I read John Stott’s, Issues Facing Christians Today (Marshalls, 1984) in which I believe he developed a convincing case for the need for believers to engage in “persuasion by argument,” instead of the extremes of “imposition” and “laissez-faire” (p. 50). He bases this on the biblical doctrines of God and man (i.e. human beings).

    God loves justice and hates oppression. God champions the cause of the poor, the alien, the widow and the orphan. In the Scriptures, God makes it self evident that the Christian does all he/she can to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and find the lost.

    I believe it is my role as a responsible Christian citizen to try to convince the people (including politicians) of unjust legislation (as God understands it). I believe it is possible to show from research that these policies are damaging to human beings: abortion, euthanasia (that’s why I publicly debated Michael Moore when he was promoting euthanasia as an ACT politician), gambling, defacto relationships, prostitution, the dangers of “safe sex”, homosexual “marriage”, violations of human rights, environmental vandalism, etc.

    I agree with John Stott’s statement: “We therefore need doctrinal apologetic in evangelism (arguing the truth of the gospel) and ethical apologetic in social action (arguing the goodness of the moral law). Apologists of both kinds are wanted urgently in today’s church and world” (p. 52).

    Spencer Gear, Hervey Bay, Queensland

  • Thanks Bill and Spencer.

    Bill, once again you push me into extreme corners that I have not said, to try to ignore the arguments I have raised. (I have never said that the Judeo-Christian tradition has nothing to say to non-believers for example).

    Spencer is closer to a better answer when he notes Stott’s position about persuasion instead of enforcement. I believe that Christians should live a better example; argue; persuade; convince; demonstrate; be involved and do all these things … that is all appropriate and consistent with Christ and the apostles. But we have no mandate to enforce and rule with secular power. Sorry guys. It’s just not there. It is a post Constantine adaptation of Christianity to the aquiring of secular power.

    Changing tack: A question that harps back a few comments ago ….

    If Bonhoeffer was right to try to kill Hitler (you used the “moral equivalence” argument: kill one to stop the killing of thousands) then why would it be wrong to try to kill George Bush because of the war that he began, which has killed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians? I hope that question horrifies you. It should. Because both scenarios are sinful acts of terrorism.

    And I have been checking into Bonhoeffer a bit more since this debate, and he knew he was sinning in his attempt to kill Hitler. He was angry that he felt compelled to sin. At least he admitted what he was doing was wrong. He would never say (like you have tried to above) that he and Jesus agree that this is a good thing to do – to save more lives. He knew it was an act of sin, but he felt compelled to take that path as the lesser of two evils. But evil it was.

    To allow terrorism by individual Christians, you are opening the door to anachy. Acts of terror forget the Biblical mandate to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. How inconvenient of Jesus to make such demands on us!

    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Of course, Jim Reiher has not demonstrated any “lie” about him and the Greens, or why Mt. 18 applies in this case where he hasn’t sinned against me but adopted a public position that is fair to rebuke publicly.

    Reiher stated: “To impose Christian rules on non-Christian unwilling people is to wander away from the New Testament.” This is absurd: all laws impose morality. The only question is whose morality is imposed. Laws against murder and rape impose morality against murderers and rapists.

    As has been pointed out, at one time, society imposed an evil form of morality on slaves. Wilberforce wanted to impose Christian rules on slave-owners which would protect slaves from them. And after he had won that battle, the Royal Navy imposed Britain’s anti-slavery views on slave-trading nations in what would be called “imperialist aggression” today.

    More recently, Martin Luther King appealed to biblical morality to end discrimination against blacks. He also pointed out that sometimes force was required to protect innocent victims.

    Nowadays, we find secular feminists, including in the Green party, imposing their anti-life morality on unborn babies. It is our Christian duty to impose morality on those who wish to snuff out unborn lives in the name of “choice”, as per official Green party policy.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Thanks Jim

    I think we are not covering much new ground here. And it seems many of my direct questions are not being answered by you.

    As to your Bush comment, yes I am horrified. Horrified at your bizarre moral equivalence. You implied before that Bonhoeffer was a terrorist, and now you imply Bush is one. You equate these two men with Hitler and Saddam. It is indeed horrifying when an ethics lecturer makes such remarks.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Jonathan: your 1st blog entry was full of exagguraton and innuendo and completely misrepresented me and also misrepresented the Greens. It certainly was not accurate comment….

    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Bill – you say I am not answering your questions and I am certain that you are not answering mine. Especially my last one that I made very clear and I was genuinely grappling with…..

    PS – I do not lecture Ethics at my college. I am first and foremost a church historian.

    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Thanks Jim

    But I have exercised a bit of editorial privilege here, and cut you short. As you know, I have given you a very generous run here, letting you post numerous lengthy comments defending your position. But the subject is becoming somewhat repetitious now, and you are not adding much new material to the debate.

    I have said before that this is a topic in which genuine differences of opinion exist, and one which Christians can agree to disagree on. I am aware that different positions on these questions have been held throughout church history. In my understanding, it is not a test of Christian orthodoxy.

    As I say in my blogging rules, if a person wants to follow a topic to his or her heart’s content, they can feel free to set up their own website. As there are many pressing issues which are taking up my time, I will draw this particular debate to a close.

    Hopefully it has helped to set out to the reader differing points of view on some important ethical and theological issues. But as I say, I think there is room to move on some of these questions, although you apparently do not think there is much room to move. Thanks again for your contributions.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Jim

    Ditto with your very long response to Jonathan. Not only have I allowed you to go on at length about the Greens in a previous comment (a generous concession on my part, given the very deep concerns I have about the party), but this is not related to the original post, so it has gotten rather far afield.

    If you two want to debate this amongst yourselves, feel free, but this is not the place for it.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I am enamoured by the fact that people who have had no actual involvement in issues are so quick to take a moralistic high ground and denounce people who do not hold their views as their own.
    For 3 Years I was in the Australian Army and was on active service in Vietnam as an infantry soldier.
    I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord mainly through the efforts and example of an Everyman’s by the name of Bill Ross.
    For 12 years I was a chaplain to the military forces.
    It is easy for people who do not have the pressure of having to go anywhere in the world in defence of of the values that we hold so highly within 24 hours, as these young men may be called to do, and refer to pacifism as being Godly.
    How do you explain to a young man that it is OK for him to go and fight, possibly die, to protect us but he is not viewed as a Christian nor will God accept him.
    Jesus was right when He referred to the leaders of the Israelites as hypocrites.
    We all want the security, but please do not let it affect our Christian views.
    Jim Sturla

  • Hi Bill/Jonathan Safarti,

    Jonathan Safarti above says “But that’s not all that the Mosaic Law demanded. The Mosaic Law also said, it is the witnesses at whose testimony someone is being executed, they must be the ones to cast the first stone. But that’s not all. In Exodus 4 and Exodus 17, it’s also pointed that the witnesses at whose word someone is being executed, they must not be guilty of that same sin.”

    I can’t see his point in these passages. Are they the right Bible references?

    David Roberts

  • Thanks David

    I take it he meant Deuteronomy 4 and 17. Those would be the relevant texts here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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