Monday, April 20, 2009
All You Need Is Love
When I was a youngun in the 1960s, Peter Max and his psychedelic art was all the rage. Why am I thinking of Peter Max? Glad you asked. It's because some of the Emergent Church folks always conjure up images of Haight-Ashbury in my mind whenever I hear them heckling those of us who hold to a more traditional view of doctrine and praxis.
Today, there is a debate going on over what constitutes "torture," and whether engaging in "enhanced interrogation techniques" in rare cases is always wrong. I think it's an important discussion and one that should not be given short shrift.
I haven't been much of a fan of torture, especially when it's been used in church history to punish those who have doctrinal differences with the established power of the day -- be it political or religious. However, I struggle with the issue of its permissibility a bit more when it involves terrorists who will stop at nothing to kill mass numbers of people. What sparked this struggle of late might surprise you.
On other blogs where the Emergent Church and other church controversies get discussed, the back and forth is usually along the lines of what "loving your neighbor" means. To some of the EC folks, criticizing their doctrine and methodology constitutes being "unloving." I have noticed that some in this movement appear to adopt a lot of 1960s flower-power ideas, i.e. complete pacifism. This view applies to criminal justice, the death penalty, conduct of war, and a host of other areas. Those who oppose any use of coercion do so on the grounds of biblical commands to "love your neighbor" and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Now, here is where I begin to wrestle with things.
It is one thing for me as an individual believer in my personal relationships to "love my neighbor." It is one thing for the church to show God's love as it reaches out to others with the Gospel. However, when we are talking about the government and the nation-state, the very fact that the state bears the sword for a reason implies that force is needed sometimes to restrain and defeat evil.
The way some of my evangelical lefty friends speak, it seems that any use of force whatsoever would be a violation of the biblical order. Just what are you to do with captured terrorists? Let them loose? Play chess with them and give them hot Lipton tea until they're convinced that you're nice enough to let them confide in you?
Okay, that was a bit sarcastic. I find the Pollyanna attitude of the Jimmy Carter types and broadbrush treatment of Scripture difficult to deal with. Having said that, I don't want to knee-jerk in the other direction and dismiss any command about how we are to treat other human beings. But it is difficult for me because of the separation in roles of the individual versus the responsibility of government. It is one thing for me as an individual to take on the role of Torquemada, but another thing for the state when dealing with people who are out to kill us.
And yes, it's a slippery slope. Once you sanction the idea of torture or limited coercion, you open the door for its use by people, governments or leaders who might not have your scruples.
May the Lord grant us His wisdom as we speak out on this issues, and may we ever have the mind of Christ. The same Lord who tells us to love our neighbor is the same Lord who sanctioned stoning people to death for violating His law in the Old Testament. Let's be careful how we handle His Word.