On a recent Reason Magazine blog called “Hit and Run,” Jacob Sullum asks the tough question of why it’s wrong to kill an abortion doctor if the killer truly believes that abortion is murder? Why would Christian groups, Sullum wonders, denounce the murder of abortionist, George Tiller?
Sullum asks what might appear to be logical questions, but it also seems that he didn’t do much to research the issue before posing them. My cursory look at Christian ethics and the Bible, for instance, shows that there is no way in keeping with a Christian worldview to justify the killing of an abortion doctor by a lone actor outside the duly constituted law.
Still, Sullum asks some salient questions and offers some pointed remarks and they deserve to be addressed.
He begins with this:
Yet if you honestly believe abortion is the murder of helpless children, it’s hard to see why using deadly force against those who carry it out is immoral, especially since the government refuses to act.
Good question. He also wonders why it is wrong to kill an abortionist based on the “inherent morality of killing in defense of innocent children.” He then says following the law is no excuse as he recalls that the official, Jew hating law was inherently immoral in Nazi Germany. So he feels that it isn’t “sufficient to note that killing Tiller was against the law” based on the possibility that the law could be so morally in the wrong. Certainly a good point.
He finishes with the central question:
But how is it possible to believe that fetuses are people with a right to life yet also believe that using deadly force to defend that right is wrong?
Sullum’s questions based on what he sees as the possibly inherent morality of killing an abortionist came to him after seeing the unanimous agreement by Christian groups abhorring the Tiller murder and universally denouncing it.
Curious, I thought I’d take a look to see how a Christian viewpoint might be defined.
One of the most commonly cited Biblical passages that addresses man’s law and a Christian’s duties in connection to it is Romans 13:1-5.
Submission to the Authorities
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
Also, in First Peter 2:13-17, we see a similar exhortation.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
The Bible seems to maintain that the law of man was not to be violated by its followers. In most cases man’s law was to be suffered and followed. God and Jesus meant to create a kingdom of heaven, not of the earth, so Christian rules and mores are not necessarily meant to overshadow man’s duly constituted authorities.
Further, there are several instances of capital punishment being imposed on criminals in the Bible and several places where the crimes that will bring such a penalty are listed. In Numbers 35:31, for instance, the Bible says: “… you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.” Clearly a murderer was meant to suffer death as punishment for his crime and no “ransom” could be made to absolve him of his actions.
On the other hand, perhaps evil laws are not to be followed by Christians and this brings us back to Sullum’s point that some laws can’t be followed as they are too evil. In Acts 5:29, for instance, the Apostles asserted that obeying God’s law “should” be more important: “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” So, there is some precedent to say that Christians might decide not to observe man’s laws.
But ignoring laws or not following them is different from implementing your own. There is nothing I can find where the Bible commands an individual Christian to serve as the punishing arm of the state or some vehicle for revenge. (Remember Romans 12:19 that says: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”)
The final word here is that a Christian ethic posits that men are subject to man’s laws and willfully violating them is not a Christian thing to do — but for extreme cases, and then in a more passive manner than not. Additionally man’s duly constituted law is the sword of punishment and punishment should not be carried out by the individual going off on his own hook. Christians do not take the law into their own hands.
So, in answer to Jacob Sullum’s tough question, killing abortionists IS wrong. It is also quite in keeping with Christian practice to suffer under pro-abortion laws without taking the law into one’s own hands to end the life of a doctor committing abortions. The law says that abortion is legal, only the law may impose the sentence of death, and the individual is bound by those facts under a Christian worldview.
It is not an inherently contradictory position to say that abortion is murder yet to also not advocate the killing of abortion doctors. After all, does any citizen feel it is his personal duty to go kill a gang member than shot an innocent kid on the street or do we all imagine it is the duty of the police to arrest and the courts to convict such a killer? The death penalty is still supported even as individuals do not see it as their own, personal duty as to carry out the sentence.
Like the death penalty, abortion is in the hands of the law and a Christian’s duty is to abide by the law. Work to change it through peaceful means, yes, but abide by it nonetheless. So, the fact is, killing an abortion doctor is just as wrong as the abortionist’s actions of killing innocent babies. Regardless, though, is not an individual’s duty to punish the abortionist. That power resides in the state.