reposted from donaldsensing.com; links were valid on original date
The pastor of a very small church in Alaska shot and killed two men Thursday who were breaking into his church. Police said the shootings culminated a long period of break-ins and vandalism. Local residents interviewed cheered the shootings, with some saying it was "God's wrath."
One of the men died at the church. The other, mortally wounded, drove to his girlfriend's house and died there.
Kim du Toit wrote this up and observed, "Sorry, Donald, but this man definitely has The Right Stuff." I assume I am the Donald he refers to. Now I know that Kim knows that trap shooting is my favorite pastime and that I compete in it every chance I get. In fact, I had scheduled myself to shoot in a tournament today, but weather got in the way.
But Kim's post and the news story call renew the debate about the use of force, especially lethal force, by observant Christians and especially by clergy. The story does not say whether the intruders were armed or whether they threatened the pastor, armed or not. An investigation is underway by the district attorney's office. So let us not concern ourselves here and now with the legal question; in fact, let me assume for argument's sake that the DA finds the shootings legally justifiable.
The moral-ethical question has two parts: Is the use of such force by an observant Christian justifiable with a Christian ethic, and if so, is there a higher standard for clergy?
The question is not merely academic, as the controversy shows over the active use of weapons by an Army chaplain in a fierce battle in Baghdad. Within the law and ethic of the US Army, the rules are different for chaplains than for soldiers. They are strictly forbidden by policy to use weapons "under any circumstances," as a chaplain instructor told me (see the post).
In my post about the chaplain controversy, I explained the theological basis for chaplains should not use arms when Christian laity are theologically "clear" to do so. Basically, it is because clergy are especially called to consecrate and offer the Eucharistic elements, the body and blood of Christ. As Prof. Darrell Cole explains (see my posting),
Second [according to Aquinas], it is "unbecoming" for those who give the Eucharist to shed blood, even if they do so without sin (i.e., in a just war). Unlike Calvin, then, Aquinas finds the duties of clergy to be more meritorious than the duties of soldiers. However, this does not mean that, in Aquinas' view, the soldier's duties have no merit. Rather, he employs an analogy to make quite the opposite point: it is meritorious to marry but better still to remain a virgin and thus dedicate yourself wholly to spiritual concerns. Likewise, it is meritorious to fight just wars and restrain evil as a soldier, but more meritorious still to serve as a bishop who provides the Eucharist to the faithful.One may argue that in the civilian arena, the Alaska incident for example, that such concerns do not apply. But I do not dismiss them so easily even though I am now a civilian. In my own mind and faith, I do see a certain incongruity, at the least, between using deadly force and the office of my ordination.
So what would I do if I were to find myself in my Alaskan colleague's shoes?
I would not kill anyone simply to protect my church's property. If I can find any justification for lethal force, within the context of my faith, it can only be to protect life, not property.
In 1999, Larry Gene Ashbrook, armed with two guns, killed seven people and wounded seven at a youth rally at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. No one in the church was armed. Ashbrook killed himself when police arrived.
For me, to permit myself to be murdered would leave my wife a widow and our three children fatherless, with all that entails. Would I have the right, as a Christian, to permit that to happen to my family when its cause is a lawless person? Pacifism says yes, that is what I would have to do. And while I have no real religious compunctions about using lethal force if necessary to defend the lives of innocent others, I admit I am somewhat repelled by the prospect of killing to preserve merely my own life.
I think I would use lethal force if necessary to defend myself from potentially lethal attack, but if the other person did die, I do not think I could continue in the ministry.