In a discussion the other night over a Crossan and Borg video series on Jesus, Paul and the Roman Empire, the question of justifiable violence came up. The majority of the people in the room seemed to think that there was never a good reason to use violence, that Jesus and men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King have presented us with the counter-intuitive examples of victory through peaceful and non-violent means. Some seemed to think that violence itself was not the issue but something else was the cause of this violence – anger, fear, pride, greed – perhaps all.
Over 60 years ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer agonized over whether to take part in the assassination attempt on Hitler. He eventually joined the plot, but believed that his part in taking a life was sinful (though he trusted that God would have mercy on him). I feel that to not take part in the assassination would have been the sin. Hitler had to be stopped, any way, any how. The reasons are too obvious to state.
Then yesterday in church someone brought up the passengers on United Flight 93, who died while trying to recover their hijacked plane, a plane intended as a guided missile headed for the White House. These people sacrificed their lives so that others might live. Like Jesus did.
But, it occurred to me, not exactly like Jesus. Because to take back the plane they most definitely had to engage in violence. I seriously doubt if they attempted to reason with their captors, at least not for long. They most likely understood that they would not live through the struggle (although they were on borrowed time already). And I doubt if they were too very much concerned about the safety and welfare of their terrorist captors. Violence was their only recourse. Thank God they had the courage to take action.
Can any Christian say that this was in some way wrong – in some way sin? And back it up?