Questions about faith and life

What should be our response to those who murdered innocents Sept. 11?

The steel cross of the World Trade Center after 9/11. Getty Images.

Q What ought our response as nonviolent Anabaptists be toward those who so flagrantly and brazenly murdered innocent Americans and others Sept. 11? (California)

A This question has come to me in repeated and various forms the last weeks. One of our daughters called home soon after the tragedy and commented, “This is all a bit hard on our Mennonite non-violent position.” And so it is. I will confess that my initial reaction was very human. We should obliterate all who planned and carried out this dastardly deed and those who aided the criminals in any way.

But my answer so far has been, “I don’t know what we as a nation should do, but I think I know what we should not do.” I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for those who died and for those left without parents and loved ones. The Bible is clear about my response to them. I need to pray, help as much as I am able and love. The New Testament is also clear as to what my personal response would be to my enemies—“love your enemies.” The Bible is not all that clear about what governments should do with other governments or adversaries who wreak havoc upon a nation. Or is it?

I’ve listened carefully. I’ve heard the myriad of voices calling for all-out war. When I refused to participate militarily in World War 2 and was cursed and threatened, and my peers volunteered or were conscripted for military service, no one outside the Anabaptist camp sympathized with my convictions. I have been rather surprised in this crisis to hear voices of moderation from a variety of sources, many of them based on rationale not necessarily religious nor biblical in nature.

An Afghan living in the U.S. testifies that he hates the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. He agrees that something must be done about these monsters. But he has no stomach for bombing Afghanistan. Those we would kill have already been victimized by the Taliban. He knows firsthand about the half million disabled orphans in Afghanistan. He states that this is a country without an economy and food and home to millions of widows—thousands of whom have been buried alive in mass graves. The land is littered with land mines. The farms were destroyed by the Soviets. He says: “Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Already done.” What to do then? He says bin Laden will only be destroyed by ground troops, and he’s prepared for that.

But then I hear my Indian brother, studying in the U.S. and understanding a bit of what this all means to India and their next-door neighbor, Pakistan. Brother Solomon expresses empathy for the sorrow that runs through our land. He has participated in the prayers during our national mourning. He, too, admits there needs to be a response, but not one of revenge. He has seen the chaos and residue that remains after violence. He realizes that violence begets violence. Violence escalated leads to more injustice. Racism blinds even the eyes of righteous persons. Mennonite John Paul Lederach, a veteran in international conciliation, says in “The Challenge of Terror” that military action to destroy terrorism “will be like hitting a fully mature dandelion with a golf club.” By so doing we would make sure the terrorists would be multiplied.

I read this item in yesterday’s paper: “New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan, who ministered to the wounded and dying in the World Trade Center attack, said Monday that retaliation must have no place in the U.S. response to the terrorist strikes . . . I think that everyone . . . all of us with a sense of justice would say you have to know who is responsible and the penalty must be a penalty invoked with justice.”

But how do you penalize with justice? I don’t profess to have the answer to this question. I do know that we ought also to remember our own actions as a nation—thousands killed and maimed in Hiroshima, 500,000 dead strewn across the sands of Iraq, other children dying daily for lack of medications in countries against whom we have sanctions, corporate oppression in Third World countries. This is not to deny that we offer more aid to a hurting world than any other nation in the world. But we need to impose penalties aware that we also need repenting.

Perhaps we should use as much energy to build an international coalition for peace in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as we are giving to build international coalitions for war. Use international courts of law. Perhaps we should surprise the “enemy” and avoid what they expect—Goliath lashing out against the weaker David, thus destroying their myth that because we are the stronger we are bent on their destruction. There is at least a hint of that in our raining down on northern Afghanistan millions of dollars worth of food.

In some of my more thoughtful moments, I wonder if we ought not leave vengeance to God. He has a way of taking care of sinners. But I doubt that we are patient enough to let him do that in his own time. Then again, somewhere I remember reading about the blessing that comes to peacemakers: “For they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9).

This column was written by Marvin Hein, who, in his “Inquiring Minds” column, answered questions about Bible passages, doctrine, conference policy and other spiritual issues. 


  1. I so appreciate the re-printing of this article by Marvin Hein. I also so miss this type of theology in our current discourse in the MB denomination.


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