Summary of the discussion
We noted the persecution of Muslims (5% of the population) in Burma/Myanmar- clearly being used for political reasons to brand Aung San Suu Kyi as a “friend of Muslims” and reduce her vote in the elections. The labelling of minority groups and others as “foreign” and “a threat to us” is a common political ploy- religion is often the easiest label to use to brand people, and usually has nothing to do with genuine faith.
There is an obligation to support people who are persecuted- but the question is how. Middle-class people can easily be scorned as “bystanders” for refusing, for example, to be tourists in oppressive countries- but are there other options? We know from history that political reactions to refugees can determine the fate of many people- for example Jews were not admitted to Britain from Nazi Germany except in small numbers, and provided they were sponsored, so putting no charge on the taxpayer.
In what circumstances is it acceptable to use force and violence to deal with persecution? In helping oppressed people to defend themselves (if it had been possible to supply more machine guns to the Warsaw Ghetto)? Or the use of government military force to prevent (or at least curb) genocide?
“Thou shalt not kill” is probably more accurately translated “Do not commit murder”- defensive war and capital punishment for some crimes was still recognised (though Rabbis defined the conditions for capital punishment so tightly that it became very rare). Jesus says “Turn the other cheek”, but is this an ethic that can only be applied to personal relationships, and not to government policy?
(In the 1930s Dietrich Bonhoeffer was interested in Gandhi’s non-violent resistance tactics, but the US theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out that Hitler was a very different opponent from the British Raj- and Bonhoeffer later took part in the plots to assassinate Hitler and was executed for it. Quakers in Germany were allowed by their Yearly Meeting to sign up for military service, because all conscientious objectors were automatically executed).
And why does Jesus allow two of his disciples to carry swords into the Garden of Gethsemene (and tell them that there will come a time when they must sell their coats to buy a sword- Luke 22:36)? The New Testament presents a picture of Jesus derived from the faith of the early Church in him- but is this an accurate historical portrayal? Perhaps the truth is rather that he was an apocalyptic preacher, promising the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God, who realised on the Cross that he was mistaken, that God was not going to rescue him at the last moment (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Does such theological speculation simply go round in circles and get us no nearer to deciding what we should do? Paul (the Apostle) says that we do not live under Law but under Grace. Perhaps that means there can be no rigid rules that will tell us what we must do in any circumstance (eg whether it is always right or always wrong to use “reasonable” force to restrain evil)- but that we must do whatever is possible in any situation to build peace, justice and reconciliation. If we say that there are times when violence must be used to prevent worse violence, then we have to recognise that force can never heal relationships.