A year ago, Ben Witherington weighed in on the Amish massacre:
I’m afraid Witherington reminds me of the parties which the Bernsteins used to throw for the Black Panthers—immortalized by Tom Wolfe’s satirical prose.
“This friends is real Christianity. Christians do not retaliate. They do not seek revenge, for the Bible says that vengeance should be left in the hands of the Lord. In fact they do quite the opposite. They offer forgiveness even to their tormentors.”
i) Here he fails to draw a basic distinction between vengeance and self-defense. Self-defense isn’t vengeful.
ii) And is this “real Christianity”? Is it really Christian for fathers and husbands to lay down their arms so that violent men can rape and murder their wives and children with impunity?
How is this any truer to Christianity than Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse blood transfusions to a family member in critical condition, or Hillbillies who die of snakebite in a church service?
No doubt it’s sincere. All three groups are being true to their convictions. Yet that doesn’t make their actions true to Scripture—but only to their distorted understanding of Scripture.
“So I stand with the Amish and I stand with Jesus.”
How does he stand with the Amish? Does he milk cows for a living?
“Not all the armies who ever marched have had the power or effect on history of that one single and solitary life, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, on all of humankind going on now for over 2,000 years.”
i) Well, that’s true, but that’s’ because you and I aren’t Jesus. I hope Witherington doesn’t suffer from a Messiah-complex.
ii) In addition, it overlooks the fact that a number of wars were fought in the last 2,000 years to preserve Christian freedom of expression. If we never fought back, the knowledge of the gospel would be eradicated from the earth.
“Long ago Jesus said to me and to us all "take up your cross, and follow me". The Amish understand that that is an invitation to lay down your weapons and be prepared to die rather than fight for what you believe. They understand that love and forgiveness are stronger forces than death and destruction. They understand that forgiveness breaks the hideous cycle of violence.”
i) Does it? Is that what God told OT Jews as they entered the Promised Land? Just forgive the Canaanites and that will break the hideous cycle of violence? Would the Canaanites and Assyrians and Babylonians unilaterally lay down their arms and plant daisies if only unconditional forgiveness were extended to one and all?
ii) Of course, there is a sense in which pacifism breaks the cycle of violence. If one side doesn’t defend itself, it will be annihilated. And that will put an end to the violence—since there is no one left to kill.
“That's what a real Christian life can and will do. And yes friends, it takes a lot of courage to stick by these principles in the age and culture and world we live in.”
How much courage does it take to be Amish in the America?
“Make no mistake. Revenge and retaliation come natural to fallen human beings.”
True, but what about justice?
“Some years ago, Mother Teresa was crossing the Allenby Bridge into the Holy Land from Jordan. She was stopped of course by Israeli border guards, who troubled to search this diminuitive little nun. They asked her ‘have you any weapons?’ --a ridiculous thing to ask a nun. ‘Oh yes’ she said boldly. ‘I have my prayerbooks.’ And she held them up.”
Well, that’s real sweet. What does Witherington think would happen if Israel unilaterally disarmed? How would Hamas and Hezbollah and Al-Qaida and Iran react?
How many days or weeks would it take for Israel’s enemies to kill every Jewish man, woman, and child?
“The Amish have said this week that they have felt uplifted by the prayers of millions who have been told about this story. Prayer--- now there's a dangerous weapon that can change the landscape of the world.”
i) Well, that’s true up to a point. But if prayer could bring peace to the world, why hasn’t it done so by now?
ii) Indeed, doesn’t Witherington believe in libertarian freewill? So, from Witherington’s perspective, God couldn’t answer that prayer even if he wanted to. So if human freedom renders many human beings impervious to persuasion, then the only way to stop them is to shoot them.
“This I know for sure. This world is run by a God who answers prayer, not by a God who calls us to other sorts of arms.”
Really? Didn’t God order the Israelites to execute the Canaanites?
“This world is run by a God who died for me on the cross and shouted out with his dying breath about those who were tormenting and killing him ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’."
Did Jesus actually say that? This is quite deceptive on Witherington’s part. As a NT scholar, he knows perfectly well that the textual authenticity of Lk 23:34 is suspect.
“My point is this. We desperately need the voice of peacemakers in the choir of our country.”
I’m all for peacemakers. But I don’t see any peacemakers. Instead, I hear a lot of peacetalkers. Talking about peace and actually making peace are two very different things.
“Had I been there on that day, I would have done the following things (I hope); 1) I would have gotten in the man's way and would not have left the room as many did. 2) I would have screamed bloody murder and told the girls to run for their lives. Its much harder to hit a moving target, and he can't hit them all at once any way.”
Isn’t this just precious? He would have raised his voice. Followed by his last ditch appeal: “It’s much harder to hit a moving target.”
I have a better idea—trying hitting a stationary target: to wit, shooting the assailant before he gets off the first round.
“I have no problems with tackling the man and trying to subdue him. But if I kill him in cold blood I am no better than many another murderer. Perhaps you have forgotten that the ten commandments do in fact say 'no murder'. I take it that Moses was deadly serious about that (pardon the pun).”
Unfortunately, this is another mark of his slide into mendacity. Surely Witherington knows the Mosaic law did not equate self-defense with murder.
“Now as for the forgiveness question I quite agree that forgiveness offered is not the same as forgiveness received, but it the obligation of the Christian to offer it, and not just to those who have repented. Notice that Jesus asked God to forgive the tormentors and they were doing the opposite of repenting at the time. So you are wrong--- Jesus actually forgave them. Whether they received it or not does not change that he forgave them--- period. Their reception of that forgiveness is a separate matter. ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the unrighteous.....’ That friends is already forgiveness enacted, not merely offered.”
So why does anyone go to hell? Isn’t hell punitive? Doesn’t the Bible treat damnation as a form of retributive punishment? But if everyone is already forgiven, what is there to punish?
“Jesus said the Mosaic divorce laws were due to the hardness of our hearts. There were plenty of other OT rules like that as well. God requires more under grace than he does under law, and his perfect will is more perfectly revealed in Christ. It is not a question of God changing-- the issue is that we are different now in Christ, empowered by the Spirit.”
Does Witherington take the position that OT Jews were graceless and unregenerate?
“But lets just grant for a moment that killing this person is the lesser of the two evils. Even if this is true, the deliberate killing of the assailant is a sin that still needs to be repented of.”
How is the deliberate killing of an assailant a sin? Where’s the argument?
In the OT, God ordered his people to kill other people. Was he ordering them to commit sin?
For the moment, I’m not debating whether OT ethics apply to Christians. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that that don’t. Even so, was it sinful for OT Jews to comply with God’s command to execute the Canaanites? Should they repent because they obeyed the word of the Lord?
“It may be the lesser of the two sins in this situation, but for sure it is a sin. And I for one am not about to build my Christian ethic on the basis of sin. Neither did Jesus or Paul.”
Here he’s confusing “sin” with “evil.” But in ethics and theodicy, “evil” is a term of art. For example, we may call a natural disaster a natural evil, but there’s nothing sinful about a flood or hurricane or tidal wave.
The lesser of two “evils” is not synonymous with the lesser of two “sins.” In this context, choosing the lesser of two evils is not the same thing as choosing to do wrong—albeit a lesser wrong. To equate these things simply begs the question.
For example, a field medic must choose between amputating a gangrenous limb or letting the patient die of gangrene. He chooses the lesser of two evils—amputating the limb.
He isn’t sinning. To the contrary, it would be wrong be to let the patient die.
On a related thread by a different pacifist:
“Can you picture Jesus dropping a bomb? Shooting an Iraqi?”
i) He’s probably assuming that it was wrong to drop the bomb on Japan. If so, then Jesus wouldn’t commit a wrong. But that begs the question.
ii) As to shooting an Iraqi, I suppose that depends on what mental picture forms in your mind. What about a suicide bomber who’s about to massacre a marketplace full of woman and children and old men?
iii) Didn’t Jesus threaten to kill the disciples of Jezebel? Cf. Rev 2:23.
iv) On a more general note, since Jesus is God, I can picture Jesus doing whatever God does. Didn’t God send the flood? Didn’t he rain down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah? Didn’t he send the Egyptian plagues? Didn’t he slaughter the armies of Egypt and Assyria?
One could multiply examples. So, yes, I can picture Jesus executing evildoers in large numbers. Indeed, he’s done so in the past.