Thou Shalt Not Kill

It is written in the Holy Scriptures that one should “subject to the governing authorities.” It is also written “to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.” How have these commands had implications in the life of the Church in specific and the lives of people in general?

Two cataclysmic events would mar the age of inventions, discoveries, human progress and intellect with blood. They would mark the beginning of the 20th century.

The very first of these calamities was the systematic annihilation of Armenian people from Western Armenia in the year 1915 and the second was the catastrophe of the 1940s with the reign of Hitler over Germany and the arrest and execution of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who defied his own government and dared to participate in the underground resistant movement that would plan to kill Hitler by devising a bomb in the plane that was to carry him.

During the horrendous events of 1915, many European and Turk families refused to obey the orders of the Turkish government of the day to inform authorities of any Armenian living among their neighborhoods and decided instead to hide Armenian families at the cost of losing their own lives. After twenty-four years, the same kind of ethnic cleansing would take place when this time French, Dutch, and Swiss families would fervently protect and aid great number of Jews to escape the terrible fate that befell on the people.

However, it is a known fact that many churches and nations at the time decided to “subject to the governing authorities” and never bothered themselves to interfere or even complain about the horrible atrocities and massacres that were taking place. This very disposition leaves me wondering with the following question:

Why did some Christians at the time decide to love their neighbors as themselves and risked their own lives to help those in great need, while others remained ardent believers in pacifism and obeyed the command in the Bible of subjecting to the governing authorities and hence turned their eyes away from the devastating events?

To this day many do not comprehend or understand how a religious man like Pastor Dietrich Boenhoeffer decided to take part in killing another human that cost him his life and was eventually hanged only few months before Germany’s surrender.

Therefore, how are we to understand these two commands from the Bible and if – God forbid – another human disaster falls among us, what will be our stand?