The Return of Christian Terrorism
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North regretted that he was too late to deter Hill from his “terrible direction” and chastised Hill in an open letter, published as a booklet, denouncing Hill’s views as “vigilante theology.” According to North, biblical law provides exceptions to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13), but in terms similar to just-war doctrine: when one is authorized to do so by “a covenantal agent” in wartime, to defend one’s household, to execute a convicted criminal, to avenge the death of one’s kin, to save an entire nation, or to stop moral transgressors from bringing bloodguilt on an entire community.
Hill, joined by Bray, responded to North’s letter. They argued that many of those conditions applied to the abortion situation in the United States. Writing from his prison cell in Starke, Florida, Paul Hill said that the biblical commandment against murder also “requires using the means necessary to defend against murder—including lethal force.” He went on to say that he regarded “the cutting edge of Satan’s current attack” to be “the abortionist’s knife,” and therefore his actions had ultimate theological significance.
Bray, in his book, A Time to Kill, spoke to North’s concern about the authorization of violence by a legitimate authority or “a covenental agent,” as North put it. Bray raised the possibility of a “righteous rebellion.” Just as liberation theologians justify the use of unauthorized force for the sake of their vision of a moral order, Bray saw the legitimacy of using violence not only to resist what he regarded as murder—abortion—but also to help bring about the Christian political order envisioned by the radical dominion theology thinkers. In Bray’s mind, a little violence was a small price to pay for the possibility of fulfilling God’s law and establishing His kingdom on earth.
For most of the rest of us, even a little violence is a price too high to pay for these fantastic visions of Christian politics and for America’s recent return to Christian terrorism.
Mark Juergensmeyer is Professor of Sociology and Director of Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the winner of the Grawemeyer Award for his book Terror in the Mind of God (UC Press). He is the editor of Global Religions: An Introduction and is also the author of The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State and Gandhi's Way: A Handbook of Conflict Resolution, both from UC Press.