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Jun 24, 2009


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Travis Greene

I would lie to the SS officer too.

But part of the problem with "living in the tension", which I agree with mostly, is that I think it sometimes relies too much on our ability to know what the outcomes of situations will be.

Another problem is, if we agree that as much as history zig-zags, doubles back, and meanders, it does in general have a direction (King's moral arc of the universe), shouldn't some things that were once part of living in the tension become totally unacceptable?

Paul, for instance, lives in a world where slavery is simply a fact of life, and he undermines it (Philemon) while seeming to accept it. He lives in the tension of the world he's in, which I agree he had to do. But at some point (long before slavery was actually abolished in the West, I think), slavery moved from "ambiguous reality of the fallen world" to "totally unacceptable". We can point to similar trajectories for women and other issues.

So won't this happen for our ambiguous issues? Might we be moving past the point (or already well past it) where war is ambiguous, and just war theory a "best we can do" response to the fallen world?

Michael W. Kruse

"...it sometimes relies too much on our ability to know what the outcomes of situations will be."

Bingo. Even if things turn out well, we can't fully appreciate the outcomes of options we didn't choose. For example, the American Civil War ended slavery ... a very good thing. But was there a better course that might have actually ended slavery and bypassed the 100 years of ensuing segregation and turmoil ... not to mention the carnage of the war? Who knows?

I'm inclined to agree with you that in the broad sweep of things there is a trajectory toward the Kingdom. But in any locale, or even globally, there can be retrenchment that spans a lifetime or even generations. Three steps forward and two steps back ... sometimes with very long steps.

As to the last paragraph ... a firm maybe. :-) My judgment is that we are not there. But as Stackhouse said earlier. The presence of differing views in ambiguous contexts may be a blessing, not a weakness. Both the need to participate in war and the reminder of the call to nonviolence are witnesses of the church that press in on us, hopefully tempering our actions.

I think the next post on Stackhouse's four considerations will give us more food for thought.


In the SS "test" there are not just 2 choices. There are a least 3.

1. Tell the truth
2. lie
3. Ignore the SS in a form of passive resistance.

I once saw WF Buckley use this test on Firing Line with the folks from East Tenn. that were challenging public school reading texts back in the 80's.

One of their criticisms was that some of the stories made lying acceptable in some cases. The parents said it was always wrong.

Buckley argued that lying might not always be wrong and asked about the SS. The parents said they would not say anything even though it mean that the ss would kill them.

Buckley was left speeachless for a few moments. That was pretty amazing. And why the show sticks in my mind.

Travis Greene

Yeah, but if you ignore the SS, they'll kill you, search your house, and kill the Jews you are hiding. That's the crux of the ethical dilemma. Lie or some number of people will be killed.

I agree that there are frequently far more options than "kill or be killed" ultimatums, and a large part of our call as Christians is to find creative solutions. Thus, the call to non-violence is not simply a negative call (don't be involved in war) but a positive call to creative engagement with violence issues. I would add that my personal belief is that when it really comes down to it and other solutions are not available, the correct answer for Christians is "be killed".

Michael W. Kruse

Stackhouse pulls out the generic SS scenario as symbolic example of decisions that must be made at the extreme edge. Most of us rarely have to make many such radical decisions, if any at all, in our lives. We would have to supply more details to the scenario to have a detailed discussion based on it. Generally speaking, I agree with Travis that we need to be ready to lay down our lives for others even as we look for creative solutions.

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