I agree, Frederica, when you say today that Jesus was speaking to an oppressed minority, citizens of an occupied country, when he told them to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. One thing that follows from this is that his advice does not directly translate into policy prescriptions for political leaders who have a moral responsibility to act for the common good of their communities. For example, we are commanded to turn the other cheek as to injuries to ourselves, but not to turn the cheeks of the weak and vulnerable when we have a moral duty to defend them. It’s no part of Christian charity, for example, for a mother to stand by and let her child be raped when she could use force to stop the rapist, including by killing him if necessary. When a sovereign state uses military force to stop unjust aggressors from killing its citizens, we have the same moral principle writ large. Hence, Christ told Pilate that Pilate’s authority to put criminals to death came from above (John 19:10¯11), and St. Paul says that the ruler "does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer" (Rom. 13:4). It’s a confusion to think that the same norms apply to individuals acting in their private capacities and to legitimate political leaders acting in their official capacities.

Incidentally, love of neighbor, as applied to the aggressor , also requires that those in charge of the political community act to stop aggressors from perpetrating such crimes. The reason is that love of neighbor means willing what is good for our neighbors, and it is not good for a man that he intentionally kill the innocent, as Hezbollah terrorists do. Murderers harm themselves much more than they harm their victims. It’s an act of charity, therefore, in regard to such people, to use force to stop them from doing such wicked things. As Augustine says, "Not only, then, the man who gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, shelter to the fugitive . . . not this man only, but the man who pardons the sinner also gives alms, and the man who corrects with blows, or restrains by any kind of discipline one over whom he has power, and who at the same time forgives from his heart the sin by which he was injured, or prays that it may be forgiven, is also a giver of alms. . . . Much good is bestowed upon unwilling recipients, when their advantage and not their pleasure is consulted" ( Enchiridion , cap. lxxii). This, I submit, is the correct Christian understanding of the matter.

Articles by Robert T. Miller

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