Jeremy Pierce and I have been having a long discussion in the comment thread on my post Doug ridicules Christian pacifism. Here I want to bring out one issue which came up in his most recent comment. In an earlier comment he had written:
It’s simply a moral principle that we should protect others
and I had replied:
This is where I fundamentally differ from you, especially if in doing so we kill or wound a third party. I’m not saying it is always wrong to do so either, but there is no sense in which this is a moral imperative for all, where the others have not been specifically entrusted to our care. To go beyond this is to be a “meddler” [referring to an earlier discussion of 1 Peter 4:15], as so well defined by you as “an enforcer of morality in places where you have no authority to do so”. So, yes, protect your own children, and play the hero when you see a mugging if you like (but don’t deliberately shoot the mugger dead), but it is not your responsibility to protect the children of Iraq.
To this Jeremy responded:
I have very strong resistance to the claim that I have no responsibility to treat the people of Iraq as my neighbors. Just because they don’t live next to you doesn’t mean they don’t count as neighbors in the sense that Jesus had in mind in the Good Samaritan parable. He deliberately chose a case of a foreigner helping an Israelite, indeed a foreigner most Israelites wouldn’t have seen any responsibility toward.
But does the parable of the Good Samaritan imply that as a Christian I should abandon pacifism and support armed intervention in Iraq? I don’t think so.Yes, the people of Iraq are my neighbours. But I note one important point here: in the parable, the Good Samaritan did not intervene by force in any way.
Jesus could have told the parable such that the Samaritan comes across the traveller while he is being beaten up, intervenes and kills the robbers, or at least drives them off by force, and then deals with the victim.
But Jesus chose not to tell this alternative version of the story. And it is clear why. For it would go right against his teaching not to resist an evil person (Matthew 5:39). Indeed there is nothing anywhere in Jesus’ teaching to suggest that the duty to love one’s neighbour implies a duty, or even a right, to intervene with force against any third party. The reason for this should be obvious: the third party is also one’s neighbour, and the Christian duty to love includes loving one’s enemies. I suppose a casuist or a philosopher might argue that we should love our own enemies but Jesus doesn’t actually tell us to love other people’s enemies, but it should be obvious that Jesus meant that we should love everyone. And how can loving someone be consistent with using violence against them?
Now I would not take this principle so far as to teach that it is wrong to physically restrain someone from attacking someone else. I’m not sure that there is a Christian duty to do so, but this is not wrong in itself. However, such restraint must always be with much less than lethal force, for otherwise one is putting oneself on the same level as the attacker.
So, let us indeed remember the parable of the Good Samaritan, which teaches our duty to love everyone, even those of a despised foreign nation. So we should love all Iraqis, and not just those who we consider innocent victims. But, just as the Good Samaritan brought no violence but only healing and restoration, so should our intervention, personal or national, be non-violent but healing and restorative.