Q: Some people believe it’s all right to kill doctors who perform abortions. What does Scripture say on this?”
A: The same commandment of God that forbids the willful taking of human life inside the womb also forbids private citizens exacting “capital punishment” on wrongdoers without governmental authority. “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13; Romans 13:9) applies to both situations. One cannot expect a society to recognize the importance of upholding the moral law over against abortion, if the same moral law is evaded by a pro-life advocate trying to be a vigilante.
Those who try to justify the killing of abortionists often fail to consider three important Scriptural principles:
- God has given lawful authorities the responsibility and the right to punish evil-doers.
Private citizens do not have this authority. “He [the government] is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to submit to the authorities. . .” (Romans 13:4, 5). Christians are not to seek their own vengeance upon perpetrators of crimes (Romans 12:17-21). The type of government we have in America does allow citizens to have a voice and vote in changing laws and replacing legislators. This means Christian citizens can and should work within the system to enact just laws, rather than undermine government’s role in carrying out justice. As Christians we are concerned that the basic function of government in protecting life (even life in the womb) is observed, but we also are concerned that proper punishment (even capital) is enacted when warranted. Only in clear cases where the government commands Christians to do wrong, are we to follow the injunction “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
- Our chief goal as Christians is to lead people to repentance and faith in Christ even by the way we respond to acts of aggression (I Peter 2:12).
When some Christians “overreact,” taking the law into their own hands and condoning the murder of abortionists, this can only reflect negatively on Christianity as a whole. When Jacob’s sons conducted a city-wide lynching in order to avenge the rape of their sister Dinah, Jacob rebuked them and said: “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land” (Genesis 34:30).
- We Christians need to remember that we live in two kingdoms—the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of the world.
The first is ruled by the Word of God alone, while the second is ruled by the natural knowledge of God and of the law (Romans 2:14, 15). We want people to realize that God protects the life in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). Yet we also recognize the laws of government are determined by reason and natural law, and not by the dictates of the church. “Therefore the power of the church and the civil power must not be confounded. The power of the church has its own commission, to teach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments. Let it not break into the office of another. . .” (Augsburg Confession, XXVIII). It is also interesting to note that the Apostle Paul did not urge Christians to start a rebellion against government, but rather to pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (I Timothy 2:2). Imagine the chaos that would result, if every time God’s moral law was broken we Christians took it upon ourselves to lynch the perpetrators! We are called to “live in peace with each other” (I Thessalonians 5:13).