Convert Or Kill

Earlier this month the patriarch of the "Duck Dynasty" clan, Phil Robertson, went on Sean Hannity's FOX talkshow to share his views on ISIS– the terrorist organization responsible for the brutal genocide taking place in Northern Iraq. 

He claimed the only solution for this crisis was to "either convert them or kill them". 

I want to say, right off the top, that I like Phil Robertson for his folksy charm and strong family values. I went duck hunting for the first time last Saturday and wondered if the other guys were using Duck Commander products. After I failed to shoot anything I wondered if my bad shooting had anything to do with not having my own Duck Commander products. I'm not writing this to be critical of Phil Robertson– in fact, I think Phil Robertson unveiled an ideological honesty worth examining. I think Robertson, in his own down-home sort of way, was getting to the heart of the matter– and if we dismiss his comments for their insensitivity, we miss an opportunity to examine the very nature of peace.

Responding to Evil

Brian Zahnd wrote, "Are Caesar, Attila, Saladin, Hitler, Al-Qaeda, ISIS exceptions to what Jesus taught about loving our enemies...or are they the test?"

When we look at the atrocities committed by ISIS, including the beheading of children, it becomes very easy to move into retributive justice. In fact, if you aren't tempted by the desire to punish these barbaric murderers, you either don't have a soul or you're a stoic god.  

In the midst of the chaos, retributive violence seems right and fair. But Jesus commands us to love our enemies. This command is unreasonable, impractical, and it runs contrary to our most sympathetic instincts. We've been trying to avoid living this way for thousands of years– drawing up exemptions and exceptions to Jesus' command like the very Sadducees who tried to trap Jesus in the first place.

Oftentimes, just to leave the command of Jesus out there naked without any interpretive spin invites its own criticism. The most common two objections are brilliantly responded to here. But what I want to do is examine the inverse: what if there is an appropriate, redemptive violence we have a right to, as Christians? When do we have a right to be violent, and why?

Getting from Here to There

Firstly, most Christians have non-violent intentions. They believe that the way of Jesus is the way of peace, and on a personal level, they avoid violence as much as they can. 

But if Christ endorses violence in the most extreme, limited cases, then what would those be? What would give us permission to draw the sword? 

These two criterion are the most extreme I can rationalize, where a violent response would be a reasonable "last resort" because you have no other option:

  1. Your enemies have sworn to kill you

  2. Nothing can change their minds about killing you

That really gets to the heart of the matter, doesn't it? You're backed into a corner. It's kill-or-be-killed. 

That kind of thinking inspired the Crusades.

If you have permission to kill your enemies when they swear to kill you and refuse to repent, then how do you respond if you want to preserve your life? ISIS wants to build an Islamic caliphate devoted to their violent interpretation of Islam. The Seljuk Turks were invading tolerant, diverse areas and establishing a "fanatical" Islamic caliphate before the First Crusade, too.  These are the stated objectives of those calling us enemies.

If violence is meant to be a last-resort to protect yourself, then the only solution you have is to convert them to your mostly-non-violent way of thinking– or you kill them before they kill you. 

The real question: Is "Convert Or Kill" the way of Jesus?

There are many Christians I deeply respect who would say "yes" to this question. And there are texts which can be interpreted to support this "yes". I think Peter would've said "yes" in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the lynch mob came to arrest and kill Jesus. In fact, some speculate that Judas was trying to force Jesus into this "Convert or Kill" mentality– by provoking the government to arrest him, Jesus would finally be forced to begin a violent revolution and overthrow Rome.

Jesus didn't live by this ethic, though. He made a different choice.


He chose to die in the hands of his enemies, because He loved them more than He loved His own life.

Were the early apostles martyred because their concealed weapons were confiscated? Or did they refuse to respond violently to unjust oppression?

Are Christian martyrs today merely tragic victims who should have been armed? Or does their blood cry out from the ground to demand forgiveness?

You don't have to agree with this extreme way of thinking to consider yourself a follower of Christ. But the skeptics are right: sometimes violence is unavoidable. If they won't convert, would you rather kill or be killed by your enemies?