During World War II, the teachings of those who were nonviolent were misconstrued, as they are today, by war-supporting theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr gave a "spiritual" backbone to the people who wanted spiritual justification to go to Europe and fight Hitler. This stance made him a popular prophet for the people and their leaders.
In the process, Niebuhr misunderstood nonviolent people. He presumed they were arguing "that nonresistance, or forgiveness, is a means of overcoming evil in an enemy." Nonviolent people are still stereotyped as believing we can win victory over the enemy if we just love.
G.H.C. MacGregor answered that argument in a lengthy eight-page article in Fellowship, June 1941, Part 2. "The disciple's aim in nonresistance is not to overcome evil in another, but to discipline his own life and make it more worthy of the Kingdom." MacGregor's teaching is just as relevant in our time as it was in the time of World War II. The people of God are supposed to live lives worthy of the Kingdom. Whether these lives transform those around us is not up to us. We are not the Holy Spirit; we are only followers of Jesus trying to live faithful lives, even when it comes to his tough teachings.
We can have victory over the enemy if we love everyone, but the nonviolent individual and the war supporting individual are talking about two different enemies and two different victories, one physical and one spiritual. To the follower of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus on loving our enemies and turning the other cheek do not concern an earthly victory, although that has proven to be the outcome at times. Earthly victories are not our focus when confronting evil; our focus is to be faithful to following Christ no matter what the situation or the cost involved. We choose to follow Jesus no matter what the outcome will be.
During the midst of Hitler's tyranny, there was a powerful essay published in Fellowship, September, 1940. I imagined reworking it into an essay about killing Osama, hence the title of this post, but I just did not have the creative power. I will let it stand on its own. I pray that it will impact you the way it impacted me. And in my heart I am guilty. I might not have killed Adolf Hitler, but I have killed Osama bin Laden. If you have joined me in that crime, may God have mercy on all our tainted souls.
I Killed Adolf Hitler
By J. Carson Pritchard, a minister from Rhode Island
I have made several attempts on the life of Adolf Hitler. I remember the times--most of them--and most of the places. Naturally Hitler denies that I have killed him or tried to kill him. Hitler denies my attempts in the very best possible way; by refusing to die. I remember the first attempt I made on his life. Hitler remembers that time well. We were both younger then. He was a corporal. The Central Powers were making their last great stand. I tried then to take the lives of all the Hitler family--father, mother, cousins, all. I tried to take the life of his leader, the Kaiser. Considering the thoroughness of my plans and attempts they should all have died. They didn't. The last time I made an attempt on his life was a few Sundays ago about 11:15 in the morning. Several Sunday school superintendents had tried earlier in the day but they were as unsuccessful as I. That is; we killed him, but he refused to die.
I murdered him in my heart. I presume that my prayers lacked point; they did not lack fervor. My prayers must have been of such small bore that they were ineffectual in murder. The power behind them probably wasn't strong enough for such long range work; had I been nearer with just the Channel between instead of the whole Atlantic ocean I might have been more successful. My prayers should have found their murderous way into his heart. As it is the murder remains in my heart just as a dud shell remains in the barrel of the gun. Sometimes the explodes in the barrel and kills the gunner. I tried murdering him in 1918. I failed then. I have failed again 22 years after. My prayers must be dud.
I'm not confessing murder because I haven't murdered him--yet. No one can find a single dead body. They have to find the body before they can try a man for murder. They couldn't even get me for attempted murder because they wouldn't find an instrument of violence in my hand. This prayer gun is so much like a pop gun. I would just be laughed out of court. Anyway, I'm a pacifist and besides that Hitler is still alive.
I don't murder people in cold blood. I don't seem to be able to murder them in the heat of spirit either. I had this murder in my heart in 1918. I couldn't get it out of the barrel then. I tried to aim that murder at the Germans then. Instead of getting it in their hearts it didn't even get in their hair.
I've even tried to learn German. I thought that our God, being an English speaking god, might not be well enough informed about the real needs of those fine German people who have been corrupted by their leader. I learned a few of the simpler words of German before I gave that up. Now that they have German gods over there I may be able to do them more damage. The Jews will keep Yahweh informed. The English will keep the Anglican god informed. Now if I can draft the German speaking God we may be able to hit them a crushing blow. We should be able to blockade their source of spiritual supply.
I had quite an argument with a man about all this. He is probably a German himself or else in their pay. He was condemning my prayerful warfare on three counts; (1) that I was supposed to be a neutral and should not engage in such attempts until I declared my prayful war, (2) that I was an avowed pacifist and this murderous hope was incompatible with my pacifism, (3) that Germany had a real score to settle with the British and since England made the rules years ago Germany was playing its own game by its own rules. This man is wrong as you can see. I excuse him on two counts; (1) he is not well informed and, (2) as I said he may be in the pay of Germany (in their Fifth Column, or is it Sixth?) or else he is a German.
He was a Lutheran and as he had a great regard for Holy Scripture too, I thought I would justify my prayful warfare by a quotation from Scripture which clears up this whole matter. So I referred him to Matthew 9:4 which says that I should do the works of my Father while it is yet day. Now anyone with the least imagination knows that a German victory would be equivalent to night. The sun would set on the British Empire and all that we hold of value. Too, we know that the will of God is in this case. I turned to that verse for him. I had made a slight error! That verse was John 9:4. Before I could make that little correction he had me read Matthew 9:4. It says, "Wherefore think ye evil in your heart"? I couldn't see any connection whatever between that and needing to get Hitler out of the way of peace. Our argument broke down then into one on Biblical criticism.
But right now, I've got to do something before this murder spreads further over my body. It's like a disease that runs its course and then settles in the extremities of the human body. It was in my heart. It spread to my mind. Now murder may be settling this very minute in my fingers. Then I might have to confess a moral suicide instead of this moral murder!