The movie, American Sniper, highlighting the life of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, is igniting controversy. Many on the Right are hailing Kyle a hero and defender of liberty, while many on the Left say he was nothing but a killer. U.S. filmmaker Michael Moore actually Tweeted, “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse.” This prompted Sarah Palin to post a response on her Facebook Page complaining about “Hollywood leftists” and adding, “God bless our troops, especially our snipers.”
Of course, Christians have a diversity of opinion, not just about snipers like Kyle, but about war in general. This Saturday on Up For Debate, I’ll discuss those differences with Christian pacifist Benjamin Corey and retired Marine Colonel Keith Pavlischek. In the meantime, I’ve gathered input from several contemporary Christian leaders on the topic, as well as a few from history. I think you’ll find their comments thought-provoking:
Professor of biblical studies at Eternity Bible College, author of “Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence”
“Chris Kyle was an honorable servant, a faithful patriot, and a sacrificial American citizen. He fought for our country; he killed for peace. I was deeply saddened over his death. He was a beautiful human being who bore God’s image. His accomplishments in Iraq are yet another reminder that true peace is not achieved through guns or swords, but through a cross–through a Martyr who conquered the enemy by suffering.”
Karl “KJ” Johnson
Retired Marine and director of C.S. Lewis Institute Chicago
“On one level, I would not hold Kyle up as a model disciple of Christ, given what I learned of him in the film. He seemed at most to be a cultural Christian American. . . . But, Kyle seemed to be a hardcore American patriot who believed that he was fighting for his country. There was interesting dialogue between he and his wife on this notion, that he was fighting to protect her and the country. I believe he set out believing this, but over time his loyalties were to his brothers-in-arms and to his mission. . . . (T)hat’s typical of most servicemen, especially post-9/11. So many see the growing threat of Islam (note, I did not say, radical Islam) and realize that something must be done. But over time, I think we can justify going back over and over again for reasons that have evolved.
On another level, I think Christians have to wrestle with and make up their own minds on Kyle’s service. Pacifists will disagree, but I believe it’s permissible to serve in the military. . . . I think that while just war theory has been misused to justify wrong wars, misuse is not an argument against use. We need a strong just war theory. The only legitimate criticism I might accept is from someone who thinks we entered into the Iraq War unjustly. To be honest, I was hoping we would not invade and that we’d continue to pursue a policy of containment. . . . (But) I still don’t see how you can fault Kyle for fulfilling his service. People who want to lump him in with the Abu Ghraib incidents and those like it are not being fair. There were human rights violations and other war crimes committed, but Kyle’s service does not fall in that category.”
William Bittinger Professor of Philosophy; Peace & Justice Studies at Gettysburg College
“My main response as a Christian is sadness on several levels. In the first place, I feel sorrow for what the spiritual (not to mention the psychological) harm the killing must’ve inflicted on Chris Kyle. We know from studies like Col. Dave Grossman’s On Killing that humans are naturally (and I’d say God-givenly) so aversive to killing that they suffer terribly in both mind and soul when they’re in situations where they’re called upon to kill.
I also feel sorrow that so many of the heroes in our society are, like Mr. Kyle, persons of violence. It may be that violence is sometimes necessary. But it ought to be a cause for sadness and contrition, not celebration.
I feel sorrow that our culture has become so indifferent to Christianity that the producers of the film thought nothing of releasing it on Christmas Day, a joyous commemoration of the Prince of Peace.
Finally, I feel sorry for God, because I believe that human violence breaks God’s heart.”
Professor of Theology, Moody Bible Institute
“When legitimate governments wage defensive wars to fight oppression and defend the innocent, they are acting justly. King David was a fierce warrior and yet a model king of Israel. Indeed, he was the prototype of Christ himself. In the real world where sin and evil are everywhere, the defenders of the innocent are forced to commit violence to save lives. All of our soldiers who act in accord with just war theory are heroes in my book, and that includes the brave men who make themselves targets for the enemy by becoming snipers.”
A Few Thoughts from History
St. Augustine of Hippo
“They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.'”
Founder of the Moody Bible Institute
“There has never been a time in my life when I felt that I could take a gun and shoot down a fellow being. In this respect I am a Quaker.”
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