Recently evangelical commentator James Dobson, opining about the Ukraine War in his newsletter, endorsed assassinating Putin, recalling the failed assassination attempt on Hitler, and echoing Senator Lindsey Graham’s suggestion.
“Some murderous tyrants need to be “taken out” to save innocent lives. That, at least, is my view,” Dobson said. He did not explain how to kill Putin or by whom. Citing the “brilliant commentator, Mark Levin,” a radio talk show host, Dobson said the U.S. has surrendered to Putin’s nuclear blackmail and “apparently decided that Ukraine must not be allowed to win.” Dobson calls WWIII “unthinkable” but “nuclear blackmail can also be terrifying.”
So what are the alternatives? Dobson doesn’t say, although Putin’s assassination presumably is a solution. Dobson warns: “Blackmail will be used again. Next in line would be Eastern and Western Europe, Britain and the U.S.”
Dobson admits: “Do I have an answer for the territorial ambitions of tyrants? Of course not!” But he says his analysis is based on “what I am hearing from people I trust,” whom he does not name, except for Levin. He does not trust the U.S. government, saying: “Most importantly, I don’t think our President has a clue about international affairs. I don’t trust our military leaders, either. They are busily trying to make the Pentagon more politically correct and in line with corrupt leftist ideology.”
So Dobson, other than assassinating Putin, offers no proposals but rightly is “convinced that Almighty God is active in the affairs of mankind,” while adding “we are entering what has been referred to by biblical scholars as ‘end time events.’” He expects the “Rapture will occur along with the other events that were foretold in Scripture by the prophets of old.” Dobson concludes by urging prayer, as he should.
But his overall message is fairly incoherent. Should America defy what he describes as nuclear blackmail and help Ukraine defeat the Russians? Should America help assassinate Putin? What would be the repercussions? Or should we just wait for others to kill Putin? What if nobody does? How does Dobson know we are entering end times events? Does international conflict, which has always existed, necessarily signal the end times? Does such resignation suggest that we should not attempt policies that might avert calamity? Should Christians work for solutions or just prayerfully prepare for the worst as God’s will? Most Christians in the world don’t believe in the Rapture as Dobson defines it, which is a doctrine developed in the 19th century. So how should they respond to his comments? What if current U.S. and Western policies to arm Ukraine and heavily sanction Russia actually succeed in preserving Ukraine, defeating Russia and maybe even ultimately overthrowing Putin? Is good news possible? Might God intervene? Or is God already intervening, through Ukraine’s courage, and in countless ways we cannot see?
Dobson’s commentary illustrates why Christian ministry leaders should be restrained in commenting on public affairs especially geopolitics, for which they typically lack expertise and vocation. Their expertise and vocation are in theology, spirituality, morality, salvation. Dobson is by training a family psychologist and gained acclaim for his Christian counsel about family issues. I fondly recall 30 years ago listening in Sunday school to his videos, which were about family dynamics and morality, not about international relations.
Church and Christian ministry leaders should respect the boundaries of their calling. Their followers see them as spiritual authorities, but their authority is not vocationally political. Christian leaders or commentators who believe they are called to address national security and international relations at least should immerse themselves deeply in the issues and try to address them publicly with both an awareness of God’s sovereignty and a humility about human ability to discern the details of God’s purposes among nations. They should also study what Christianity has historically taught about statecraft, and its limits, and not rely exclusively on contemporary political commentary.
Dobson’s support for killing Putin, for example, invites serious Christian theological and ethical reflection. Should Christian leaders call for assassination and under what circumstances? How does such a call from them contribute to positive outcomes? Bonhoeffer is routinely cited, but he was not a public Christian leader and covertly offered spiritual support to the anti-Hitler conspiracy. I’m unaware of U.S. Christian leaders in WWII who publicly backed killing Hitler. The non-pacifists among them presumably saw Hitler as a fair target in war but did not see constructive purpose in their public declaration. Rightly or wrongly, U.S. and British political leaders did not publicly or even covertly, advocate Hitler’s assassination. They presumed, in hindsight somewhat unfairly, that Hitler’s replacement would be no better. Religious leaders may have had a similar calculation.
No doubt most Ukrainians vigorously hope for Putin’s demise by any means, although I’ve not heard any senior Ukrainian church leader specifically back assassination. It would certainly be understandable if they did, but they likely understand the restraints of their priestly office. They pray for their people but leave the war and its politics to others.
All of us who pray for Ukraine’s survival and victory also hope for God’s timely justice for the author of the present evil. Such justice might include assassination. It at least includes his overthrow by persons who are hopefully more sensible and at least somewhat less monstrous than he. Whatever Putin’s eventual demise, we will gratefully pray, Thy will be done.