A friend recently asked me about the morality of killing an attacker. The story he used to highlight the question was the reported death of an ISIS leader killed at the hands of a woman the jihadi had enslaved in the group’s sex-trade. I could not get the web-link my friend supplied to work, but I did an independent Google search for the story. The story seems unverifiable, and the following link even suggests that it might be ISIS propaganda: http://www.examiner.com/article/woman-kills-isis-commander-captured-iraqi-female-made-into-sex-slave-retaliates
We just don’t know if the story is legitimate, but it doesn’t matter. I am going with the assumption that the story is true because the theme of abusers and using violence against them is not isolated. I am also going to assume that the killing occurred in defense, not vengeance. Revenge punishment or killing is specifically forbidden in Scripture (which is why I am against capital punishment), but defensive action is a knottier problem. There are evil people in the world, and there is no doubt that they intend to prey on others. The question remains, “Is it permissible to use violence to stop them from carrying out injustice?”
It’s a tough issue, and I have to qualify everything with an, “It seems to me… .” I don’t speak definitively with THE Christian perspective (as if there is only one), but rather as one voice among many. That being said, I side with the woman who shot her would-be attacker and slaver, and I say that with serious reservation since I am against both guns and violence. Furthermore, while I don’t think Jesus would kill anyone, it is clear from the biblical text that God’s patience with humanity does have its limits (although it is unknown what determines when, precisely, God has had enough. If the impending genocide of Native Americans, Jews, Cambodians or Russians -under Stalin- didn’t qualify, then… well, go figure).
But back to the alleged slaying of a militant sex-slaver. There are several relevant themes in play here. There are Jesus’ teachings about turning the other cheek, giving a robber or arbitrary order from an overlord more than he or she demands, etc. (Matthew 5.38-41). Similarly, we have the example of Christ who offered himself up as a sacrifice despite the fact that he could have easily made heads roll and kicked major ass at any point that suited him. He chose the way of passivity and self-destruction rather than defend himself. That is a powerful statement to say the least. However, Jesus wasn’t in it “only” for self sacrifice. He was in it, because he knew the unquantifiable good that his sacrifice would bring. It was a horribly difficult (but worthy) trade-off for him.
For a different perspective, there were many times in Jesus’ ministry when he stirred up the jealousy and hatred of the day’s religious big-deals, and the text says that “they” sought to kill him. It wasn’t Jesus’ time, however, so he easily danced through their traps. You could say that he stealthily “fought” their efforts until his appointed time, and even then, his execution was at his discretion. He retained choice. This was not the case for the would-be target for sex-slavery. She did not have a choice as far as complete control over the situation went. Unlike Jesus, she didn’t have the option of easily evading those who would hurt her. Similarly, it doesn’t seem that her passivity would yield a greater good if the crime were allowed to proceed. The salvation of others was not on the line. Stated another way, her suffering would be gratuitous. In fact, if she had not successfully resisted, she would probably not be the last victim of this criminal. In that sense, her violent resistance -rather than passivity- yielded the greater good.
Finally, I think we should consider the only time we see Jesus get angry in a way that lead to violence: the temple cleansing. This story has multiple attestations, and can be found in Matthew 21.12-13, Mark 11.15-17, and John 2.13-17. Essentially Jesus finds a marketplace in the temple courts that is serving to separate temple-goers from their money. You may know the story. Jesus pretty much loses it, knocks over tables and uses a whip to drive out the capitalists.
But what if we were to up the ante, and make it not greedy money-changers and animal-sellers in the temple courts, but slavers (sex-slaves or otherwise)? I’m pretty sure Jesus would have been just as aggressive if not more so. The original whipping and overturning of tables was for the sake of preserving integrity on holy ground, not the subjugation and abuse of disenfranchised people, so I cannot fathom that Jesus would be any less motivated to knock heads together in a slavery situation. He would be pissed. But would he kill people? Probably not.
Throughout Scripture, we see both the Father and the Son advocating for the weak and marginalized, be they women, children, orphans, widows, the sick and the old. In our day and age, that would surely include “illegal” immigrants and those who identify as LGBTQ as well. As a Christian, I am convinced that we people of faith are mandated to stand up for these folks, even if that means that we take up “the sword” when oppressors turn violent. The problem, of course, is that humans are very good at rationalizing what qualifies as appropriate purposes for violence and what qualifies as “just war” or “wars of justice.” We see blood spilled over land, money, resources, power and prestige, and these are all sinful and surely variations of abuse. It is only when we use power to fight for REAL justice and protection of the weak that qualifies as honoring God. Killing a person (as a last resort) to stop injustice and systematic abuse seems appropriate to me in a fallen world, even if it is not ideal.
Thanks for reading me.