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The New Testament is very clear that Christians should love their enemy and turn the other cheek. Similarly, Christians should defend others and stand up against injustice.

These things are somewhat at odds. An idealised Christian behaviour would be to accept mistreatment of oneself over harming their enemy, and easily forgiving grievances. But what about harming "the enemy" who is mistreating someone else? As far as the end result is concerned, should a Christian harm "the enemy" attacking some other "innocent party", so as to protect the weak, or stand by, out of love for the "enemy"? Should the Christian do the minimal harm to the enemy that pushes against the immediate danger to the "third party", or go further than that, seeking more long-term security to the "third party"? Should a "Christian defender" easily forgive crimes committed against the third party out of love to "the enemy", or pursue them to correct the injustice, in favour of the "third party", causing harm to "the enemy"?

Defending "the innocent party", or more broadly pursuing justice, may require doing a lot of harm to "the enemy" (think, for example, in the cases of armed robbery, or intervention in an unjust war), how should a Christian balance these responsibilities?

I'm most interested in a Catholic perspective, but any Christian perspective is most welcome!

2 Answers 2

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Romans 3:8 speaks of "do evil, that good may come".

Romans 3 (KJV):
5 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) 6 God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? 7 For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? 8 And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

Romans 3 (NLT):
5 “But,” some might say, “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for him to punish us?” (This is merely a human point of view.) 6 Of course not! If God were not entirely fair, how would he be qualified to judge the world? 7 “But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” 8 And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it is!” Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.

There are two possibilities to consider:

  • Doing something good has a, possibly foreseeable, bad side effect.
  • Doing something bad has an intended good side effect.

Even though the bad results may be identical, the first action is considered acceptable, while the second action is condemned.

The underlying concept is that it is never right to directly do something wrong in order to achieve "a greater good".
The end never justifies the means.

This is known as the Doctrine of Double Effect, and is part of Cathoicism:

The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. According to the principle of double effect, sometimes it is permissible to cause a harm as an unintended and merely foreseen side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end.

Thomas Aquinas is credited with introducing the principle of double effect in his discussion of the permissibility of self-defense in the Summa Theologica (II-II, Qu. 64, Art.7). Killing one’s assailant is justified, he argues, provided one does not intend to kill him.

Later versions of the double effect principle all emphasize the distinction between causing a morally grave harm as a side effect of pursuing a good end and causing a morally grave harm as a means of pursuing a good end. We can summarize this by noting that for certain categories of morally grave actions, for example, causing the death of a human being, the principle of double effect combines the claim that it can be morally permissible to cause a death incidentally as a side effect of pursuing a good end with a general prohibition on causing the death of an innocent human being for the sake of a good end. The prohibition is absolute in traditional Catholic applications of the principle.

Doctrine of Double Effect (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Some denominations, such as the Amish, hold an extreme view on this, believing that violence is wrong, even when it would result in good. Shooting someone that is about to kill several other people is never justified. Deliberately sinning is always wrong, regardless of motive.

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Let me first rephrase the question to: "How should a Christian balance the 3 responsibilities of

  1. proactively protecting a potential victim,
  2. administering justice, and
  3. loving the enemy"

to bring out the 3 elements implicit in the OP.

The role of government

The short answer is that a Christian works together with legitimate authorities (i.e. government) who:

  1. Creates just law consistent with Christian moral principles, and publish the law so everyone can see and understand
  2. Provisions a police force that can partly be relied upon for responsibility #1 above
  3. Has a fair court system that determines guilt based on the law and metes out punishment to offender for responsibility #2 (justice to the victim), and helps act as a deterrent to potential offender, thus also serving responsibility #1

The role of civil government is well established even since the OT, by God's invested the elders (at the city gate) with the exclusive right to try and punish the offenders after listening to witnesses. There is even a provision against revenge killing by the victim's family if the killing is an accident, by providing sanctuary cities. In the period of Kings, God charged the kings to administer justice (such as the famous judgment of Solomon). In the NT era, this government role is assumed to exist (cf Romans 13:1-7).

Of course in a bystander situation where a Christian witnesses a crime in progress or knows a crime is about to be committed, the laws also provide a mechanism so that Christian can lawfully applies force to neutralize the offender (such as weaken but not killing a robber entering your home with a baseball bat, and then binds the robber until the police comes), or even applies lethal force if needed (such as using a concealed-carry gun to shoot a mass murderer before the police comes). In this way, the Christian helps the victim to do self defense consistent with "turning the other cheek" and acts ON BEHALF of the victim, an act of love of putting oneself in danger for the benefit of someone else.

Proper way to love the offender

Loving means doing what is best for the other, which is NOT the same as "turning the other cheek". The latter is the prerogative of the victim, and even so, it is meant as a voluntary action to forego one's right to be compensated to show God's mercy. Jesus forgave all of us from the cross voluntarily as well, and turned his other cheek to demonstrate humanity's brutality which is the main point of "turning the other cheek", i.e. to shame the offender (us) by confronting us with the RESULT of our sins which then leads us to the realization of how selfish and unlovable we are. Right minded people will learn the moral lesson: they don't want to see themselves selfish and unlovable, so after realizing their horribleness, they will turn to God for help.

Since "turning the other cheek" has to be voluntary, the bystander or the government cannot do this for the victim; the most the government / bystander can do is to do what is best for the offender by neutralizing the threat and then working together with the victim during the court sentencing hearing where:

  • impact statements are read
  • assessing the offender's crime history (first time, repeat offender, etc.)
  • determining whether it is a crime of passion, whether it is negligence, mental illness, is there cruelty, premeditation, hatred, etc.
  • the age of the offender is taken into account (minor / adult)
  • the propensity for the offender to do it again
  • etc.

If by the sentencing phase the offender is repentant, and if the victim agrees to a lesser sentence, then THAT is how "loving an enemy" can be practiced by the government. Similarly, the parole board can determine after a period of imprisonment whether the offender has "learned the lesson". Thus, it is consistent with "loving as doing the best for the other" to aid the offender to have a second chance and to use the punishment as a means for transformation. In this spirit, the Catholic church now advocates government that has enough resources to not give capital punishment, which is yet another form of loving the offender. All of us have hurt others even though most of us do not do crimes that meet the threshold of imprisonment, and loving ourselves means to keep working (with the Holy Spirit's help) to transform us into the image of Christ who is sinless. We love our enemies by giving them the same chance to be transformed.

But if the offender is NOT repentant, not even God will forego the punishment at the end of days; so Christians need to instead protect the society against them by keeping the offender in prison.

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