I like to strike up conversations with people I meet while traveling. Last Tuesday, on the way back to San Francisco airport, I asked the driver where he was from. “Jordan,” he replied.
In an effort to make a connection, I mentioned that I haven’t gotten to Jordan, but I went to Iran in 2006 and served in Saudi Arabia with the Navy twenty years ago.
“What do you do?” he asked.
“I’m a writer and a speaker. I co-authored a book defending the truth of Christianity called I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.”
“I’m a Christian too,” he said. Then, just as we were pulling into the terminal, he asked, “What do you think about the Iraq war?”
With less than 90 seconds left in the ride, I quickly said, “I think it was the least bad choice we had. Saddam used WMD, invaded Kuwait, and then violated 17 straight UN resolutions and the cease fire. What other choice did we have in a post 9-11 world?”
He didn’t answer the question. Instead, he claimed that Iraq had nothing to with 9-11, and that we just should have gone after the bad guys in Afghanistan. He then said, “Jesus told us to love our enemies.”
Leaving the issue of 9-11 aside, was his inference correct? In light of what Jesus said about loving our enemies, should Christians be pacifists?
I don’t think so. In fact, sometimes the use of force is not only justified, it can be a dereliction of duty not to use force.
First, “loving your enemies,” like “turn the other cheek,” is a command for individuals in personal relationships. It is not a command for governments or for individuals put in grave bodily harm. As individuals we should pray for our enemies and “turn the other cheek” instead of returning insult for insult. Such behavior demonstrates supernatural love aimed at securing the offender’s conversion to Christ. But those commands do not mean that we have no right to personal self defense, nor do they mean that a nation shouldn’t protect its people from other hostile nations.
With regard to self defense, not only does the Old Testament affirm the right to self defense (Ex. 22:2), Jesus himself told his disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword (Luke 22:36). Jesus later told Peter “put your sword away” so Christ’s sacrifice would go forward and the scriptures would be fulfilled (Mt. 26:54). But the very fact that Jesus told Peter and the other disciples to buy a sword shows that its use for personal protection is appropriate. (By the way, Jesus never condoned the use of the sword as a means of religious conversion. It’s impossible anyway. Genuine conversion, by definition, is freely accepted. It cannot be coerced.)
Frank Turek is coauthor of I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, and the author of Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. See more of his work at CrossExamined.org.