Three years ago the United States invaded Iraq and quickly toppled the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration justified this act as part of the "war on terrorism," claiming that the Iraqi government both conspired with al Qaeda, which had attacked the U.S. nearly two years earlier, and posed an imminent threat via weapons of mass destruction. To date, neither of these allegations has been sustained, and the real mastermind behind the terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden, remains at large.
In the aftermath of 9/11, a number of Christian peacemakers raised questions about the appropriateness of a "war" approach to dealing with terrorism. These concerns appear now to be spot-on. Of course, such criticisms of war can be expected from those Christians who seek to follow nonviolently the biblical call to work for justice and peace. But some prominent proponents of Christian nonviolence have considered supporting the specific alternative of a "police" approach to dealing with terrorists. As a Christian ethicist with previous experience in law enforcement, I find this curious--because little prior work has been done to explore what such a model might look like and entail, especially with regard to the use of force.
In the January-February 2002 issue of Sojourners, Jim Wallis labeled the terrorist attacks a "crime against humanity" rather than an act of war and suggested exploring a "global police," rather than war, as a means of defending innocent lives and preventing future threats. Similarly, Christian theologian Stanley Hauerwas, in a November 2001 interview with Wallis, indicated that he "would certainly like to start envisioning the possibility of that kind of police force," because such an operation would be a less violent option than war.
Writing in America in July 2003, moral theologian Gerald Schlabach observed that a number of peacemaking practitioners among the historic peace churches "affirm international rule of law as the best framework for responding to terrorism. And that implies international law enforcement mechanisms--that is, policing." In addition to already existing international law and courts, a global police force is needed to find, stop, and apprehend terrorists. Schlabach advocates "just policing" as an approach to dealing with terrorism and a possible bridge between Christians of pacifist and just-war persuasions.
But Wallis correctly recognizes that international policing to protect the innocent, prevent terrorist attacks, and apprehend terrorists "involves using some kind of force," posing a serious problem "for those of us committed to nonviolent solutions." Because lethal force may be necessary if, for instance, bin Laden refuses to surrender without a fight, Hauerwas would stop short of supporting a police approach that required him to "carry a gun."
I CAN RELATE. When I was 19 and trying to pay for college, I applied for job openings at local law enforcement agencies. As a practicing Christian, I wrestled with the question of whether I could use lethal force in the performance of my duties. After I was hired, working initially in corrections and later in policing, this question lingered.
My struggle arose because I found it difficult to imagine Jesus killing anyone. Jesus instructed his followers to love their neighbors, and in the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the Good Samaritan he recast enemies as neighbors. Moreover, Jesus modeled such nonviolent love in the face of persecution, visibly demonstrating how God deals with evil: Jesus laid down his life for others, including his own executioners.
I also knew the Decalogue's commandment "You shall not kill," but I was not sure how to interpret or apply it. Some English translations of the Bible instead say, "You shall not murder." Is this a general prohibition against all forms of killing? Or does it allow for justified exceptions, such as capital punishment, self defense, just war, and policing? …