PAUL HILL WAS WRONG
By Bill Sizemore
September 7, 2003
Paul Hill took a shotgun and gunned down an abortion provider. The State of Florida has now executed him for his crime. Some pro-lifers are angry that he was executed and angry that Jeb Bush did not stop the execution. Some consider him a martyr for the pro-life cause.
I am persuaded that Paul Hill was wrong. Here’s why:
I have lectured a couple of times at a pacifist Christian college on the subject, “Why Christians Should Believe in Capital Punishment.” At the end of those lectures, the students were polled and both times about 85 percent of them ended up agreeing with me that capital punishment is, in fact, consistent with New Testament Christianity.
That’s an impressive percentage of students to find supporting capital punishment, especially at a pacifist college, which opposes both capital punishment and the concept of just wars. Part of the lesson from those discussions on capital punishment is applicable to this question: Was Paul Hill right to gun down an abortionist to save the lives of innocent babies?
I always opened those college presentations by reading to the class from the 12th chapter of Romans, a strange place to start. Verse 17 of that chapter says in part, “Repay no one evil for evil.” Skipping down to verse 19, Paul says, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Invariably, the class would look at me as if I had forgotten which side of the debate I was supposed to be on. There I was, trying to find support for a pro-capital punishment position from verses that clearly say not to repay evil with evil, but to recognize instead that vengeance belongs to God, not us.
After acknowledging the obvious inconsistency of my approach, I asked the class to continue reading with me on into chapter 13 of the same book, recognizing that the chapter breaks do not exist in the original text, but were added later merely for convenience.
In those two chapters, the Apostle Paul makes an amazing transition, tying together two seemingly opposite principles. Immediately after his admonition to believers to not return evil for evil, but to allow God to be the One who takes vengeance, Paul says that God has ordained civil government as his instrument for bringing His judgment on evildoers. Of civil government, verse 4 says in part, “…he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” Did you catch that? The civil government acts as God’s minister, meting out God’s judgment on the same evildoers that we as individuals are required to forgive.
The 13th chapter actually begins with an extremely strong and exhaustive statement regarding the source of the authority of civil government: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authority. For there is no authority, except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.”
Who was the governing authority at the time Paul wrote these words? Rome. Caesar and Rome, unquestionably one of the most oppressive and ungodly governments in the history of the world. In fact the book of Romans itself was written specifically to the believers in Rome. So we know to whom Paul is writing, and to which civil government he is referring.
Perhaps such a profound thought requires further reinforcement. Remember when Jesus himself stood before the Roman ruler of Palestine, Pontius Pilate, prior to his condemnation. Jesus had not answered Pilate’s question regarding where He had came from, which apparently upset Pilate. Pilate then said to Jesus, “Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You.”
Jesus’ response to Pilate seems to reinforce the words of Paul in Roman’s chapter 13. Jesus replied to Pilate, the Roman governor, the most powerful civil authority in Palestine, “You could have no power against Me, unless it had been given you from above.”
That’s an amazingly powerful statement. Was not Jesus saying that God Himself had given this Roman, Pontius Pilate, the head of the civil government of Palestine, the authority to crucify His Son? Was He not saying that God, not Caesar, was the source of Pilate’s authority over Jesus’ life or death. (And that the greater sin belongs to the one who delivered Jesus into Pilate’s hands.)
So where does this bring us? It appears that the Apostle Paul strikes a perfect balance in his transition between chapter 12 and chapter 13 of Romans. In chapter 12, it is clear that as individuals we are to forgive those who do evil against us. We are not to take our own revenge, or return evil for evil. We are to allow God to do that.
On the other hand, we see from chapter 13 that all of God’s judgment is not to be delayed until Judgment Day, when every soul will give account to his or her Maker directly, but some is to be executed here and now. What kind of society would we have, if crimes were never punished in the here and now; if all judgment was delayed until eternity? Unbelievers, with no fear of God, would rape, pillage, plunder, molest and murder at will. What would stop them?
That’s where civil government comes in. God has ordained civil government as His institution for meting out punishment to lawbreakers in the here and now. We are not, as individuals, empowered to be God’s avenging angels, as Paul Hill apparently presumed himself to be. That authority rests only with civil government, imperfect as that government may be.
Some would refer to the Old Testament as justification for Hill’s actions. However, even in the Old Testament, it was required that a trial be held before the elders at the gate of the city before lawbreakers could be punished. The testimony of two or three witnesses was required to establish guilt.
Paul Hill’s actions were done without God’s authority. Paul Hill set himself up as the judge, jury, and executioner, and in so doing, he resisted God’s ordained authority and accordingly brought judgment on himself.
Undoubtedly, many pro-lifers have considered the “logical” trade-off that Paul Hill apparently made in his own mind: Kill an abortionist and save the lives of perhaps hundreds of babies, even if you forfeit your own life as a consequence.
One person even wrote to me in defense of Paul Hill and asked rhetorically, I believe: If Jesus was here today, do you think He would just stand by while abortionists killed babies?
Interestingly, and I am cautious in saying this, Jesus is here today and He is allowing abortionists to kill babies. Certainly, He has the power to strike all abortionists dead. He is not exercising that power, however, just as he did not exercise the power He had to call twelve legions of angels to save him from Pilate and crucifixion and wipe out the entire Roman Empire. If Jesus could strike them all dead, but doesn’t, who am I to do so?
Also, there is a larger problem with Paul Hill’s approach. There is no good place to stop.
The abortion provider kills the babies, true, but they do so at a wholesale level only because federal judges have given them the legal authority to do so. So, should someone kill the judges, too?
But wait, those judges are appointed by elected Presidents and confirmed by elected U.S. Senators. Do we kill them? After all, if those elected officials did not appoint and confirm liberal, activist judges to the federal bench, we would not have an official policy favoring abortion on demand in this country.
Also, according to our Constitution, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have the power to refer a Constitutional Amendment to the states to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court and thereby outlaw abortion. They haven’t. Should they be killed, too? Are they not complicit in the matter?
Also, the 50 state legislatures have the authority to call a convention and demand a pro-life amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but they haven’t. Should someone kill them, too? Are they not also to blame?
But wait, one more time, all those politicians sit where they sit, with the authority to act or not act on the abortion issue, only because the American voters put them there. Pro-choice politicians hold power in the U.S. Congress only because the American voters put them there.
Now we’re down to having to kill about half of the American people to get at those responsible for all the abortions going on in this country, and we haven’t even talked about the women who choose of their own free will to have the abortions performed.
Doesn’t this bring us to the real problem, the root of the abortion problem and show us why the fight against abortion cannot be waged with shotguns outside abortion clinics. The battle over abortion is not a physical battle, wrestling against flesh and blood. It is a fight for the hearts and minds of the people of this country.
In a very real sense, the abortion war is a spiritual war. The abortions and the politics of abortion are merely the fruit of the spiritual rottenness from which the rest stems.
Finally, to be sure, there are times when people of faith must defy their government. The Bible makes that clear. If we are forbidden to pray to our God, we must, as Daniel did, kneel in front of a window and pray openly for all to see, and accept the consequences.
If we are ordered to kneel before a false god, we must refuse, as the three Hebrew children did, and accept the fiery consequences, whatever they may be.
If we are ordered to abort our own children, we must refuse and hide them in the bulrushes down by the river, as Moses’ mother did.
But taking the law into our own hands and making ourselves God’s judge, jury and executioner, as Paul Hill did, usurping the authority of a civil government that we have the power to change, is in my own mind, not the righteous way.
© 2003 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
"Also, the 50 state legislatures have the authority to call a convention and demand a pro-life amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but they haven’t. Should someone kill them, too? Are they not also to blame?"