A foreign nation launches an unprovoked military attack on another country for the purpose of gaining control of valuable natural resources or to gain control of a strategic military position. This is not the threat of such an attack, but an actual invasion in which force is being used and people are being killed. Do the people of the nation under attack have the right to defend themselves with military force even if that means many of the invaders will be killed? May Christians serve in the military and participate in such deadly force?
What if the Christian is a civilian? In which of the following situations, if any, would you consider it acceptable or appropriate for a Christian to exercise lethal force or to condone such force by a fellow Christian?
- A terrorist group not officially sponsored by any national entity is detected in the act of implementing an attack against unarmed civilians by means of large explosive devices, a nuclear device, and/or poison gas, any of which would result in the death of hundreds if not thousands of people.
- Unknown attackers invade a conference center where a large political rally is being held and kill hundreds of people with machine guns and grenades.
- A heavily armed gunman opens fire in a public setting, shooting people at random.
- An attacker invades a church’s building during a worship service and shoots the pastor as well as many congregants.
- Just as ushers finish collecting an offering, several people armed with knives enter a church service and demand all the money.
- An armed assailant breaks into a home during the night, holds the husband at gunpoint, and proceeds to rape his wife.
- Several husky teenagers surround an older man walking with a cane and demand his wallet.
- Gang members verbally attack a man and his wife on the street, using abusive and graphic language to describe the woman in an obvious attempt to provoke the man into a fight.
- Several men attack, for no obvious reason, another man who is physically fit and active. Using baseball bats, they beat him into the ground and appear intent on continuing the attack.
- A pastor who has had a lengthy and sometimes fruitful ministry to gangs in an inner-city setting encounters a particularly belligerent gang member who is either drunk or high. In the process of hearing the gospel, the gang member both assaults the pastor verbally, mocking Christianity and cursing Jesus, and deliberately insults the pastor with a backhanded slap across the face.
The list could go on nearly indefinitely. The examples cited here are all realistic situations, and all could be illustrated with news clippings from recent years. Such news reports raise the question of self-defense in a very palpable way. Most Christians’ discussions of self-defense focus on military attacks and relate to the validity of just war theory. That is not the focus of this article, though the questions are interrelated. Nor is my present concern with the question of the Christian’s defense against a tyrannical ruler. Rather, I am interested in the more personal question of an individual’s right to self-defense.