Apologetics and Genocide

Brice Laughrey
10 min readNov 9, 2023

Apologetics was a big part of the fundamentalist traditions in which I was raised. I often mention how righteousness was equal to “rightness,” which was “right knowledge.” Apologetics was the ultimate display of one’s right knowledge; it was everything that mattered all rolled into one: mastery of one’s doctrine, functional knowledge of scripture (i.e. useful for “giving a defense,” teaching, correction, etc.), and evangelism. I think I was in my late 20’s when I first started to recognize how misleading the entire field of Christian apologetics really is.

Christian apologetics is one of the most effective tools for self-justification in fundamentalist Christianity. It’s often used to create protective bubbles of misinformation that help Christians rationalize a lack of love, ignore dissonance, and marginalize voices and experiences, all of which contribute to toxic theologies. That’s where we find the intersection between apologetics and genocide, and it’s not as radical as it might sound.

What Is Apologetics?

According to Google, apologetics are “reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine.” Christian apologetics refers to arguments in justification of doctrines and theologies specifically relating to expressions of Christianity.

In my experience, Christian apologetics is often presented as a defense of Christianity, as a whole, or of a particular, overarching expression of Christianity (e.g. Catholicism or Churches of Christ). Functionally, however, Christian apologetics is almost always a defense of a particular doctrine or theology. This lines up with what many conservative Christians are taught: that it’s necessary to justify our beliefs and convince others that our beliefs are true.

Growing up in Churches of Christ, if you asked me what differentiates Churches of Christ from Baptists, for example, it would always come down to specific doctrines. Apologetics were employed to defend those particular doctrines (e.g. is baptism essential for salvation).

Are Christian Apologetics Bad?

Christian apologetics can’t be boiled down to a “good vs. bad” binary; this is a matter of honesty. Many Christians simply aren’t honest about what apologetics does, and that allows it to be weaponized against both Christians and non-Christians, alike. While many non-Christians are able to walk away from Christian apologetics, many Christians are held captive and manipulated by it, which often leads to all kinds of violence against non-Christians in the name of God.

Remember: the goal of apologetics isn’t to prove what is true. The goal of apologetics is to convince somebody that what we think is true is true. The difference is subtle but significant. It’s about a person being able to persuade you that God is a certain way even if they cannot prove that God is that way. Christian apologetics doesn’t necessarily care what is true; Christian apologetics cares what it can convince you is true.

As I mentioned above, Christian apologetics can be especially harmful when the nebulous concept of righteousness (divorced from justice) is tied to “rightness.” When that happens, passages like “be ready to make your defense” ( 1 Peter 3:15) are made to say “be ready to convince people that what you believe is true.”

When I was young I was raised in conservative, Christian congregations where apologetics was everything, because right knowledge was everything. You had to be right in order to be righteous, and so to convince yourself and others that you are right regardless of what the facts say was a pinnacle of righteousness, and so we took passages like “be prepared to offer a defense,” and we made those say “be prepared to convince people that what you believe is true.”

Apologetics and Truth

Unfortunately, when convincing others of our beliefs is our primary concern, we stop asking ourselves if what we believe is true, and we start assuming that what we believe is true. I heard somebody put it like this: we stop asking, “ Is it true,” and instead, we ask, “How might this be true?” That is, how could this be true? We can see the distinction in how many Christians live.

There’s dissonance in a lot of Christian theologies that pits sin and consequences against love and grace. Many Christians claim that God is love; Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection bring forgiveness and healing; and the Holy Spirit nurtures new life and transformation, but many Christians live lives ruled by fear, contempt, and violence, conforming to societal expectations of success, marginalizing minority groups, rallying around shared hatred, etc. all under the banner of being anti-sin. In other words, Christians often stop asking if our lives reflect God’s grace and love. Instead, the question becomes one of justification; how can we make scripture work to justify our current lives? How might scripture justify our prejudices, greed, tribalism, hatred, and violence?

To put it another way, Christian apologetics helps us ask, “Who is my neighbor?”

Killing In the Name Of…

I think most people understand that killing to satisfy our own desires is a problem. It’s why most societies have laws against murder. We seem to recognize that no single person (and not all groups of people) should be able to enact violence whenever they want. Yet, there are people dying by the literal thousands in Palestine right now, and that’s just one place out of the entire world. How can that be?

Simple: they’re being killed in the name of something. The world is enthralled with a genocide in progress, and while I think most people would say genocide is bad, we find thousands upon thousands of Christians using apologetics to justify the position that killing (and even occasionally genocide) might not always be bad. They are using apologetics to ask how might we make it true that what we are doing to other human beings is justifiable in the eyes of God?

Passages like 1 Samuel 15 get brought up, where Saul is instructed to attack Amalek and he’s given this order: “do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” People go to Old Testament passages where the Israelites are moving into the promised land, and God instructs them to wipe out entire peoples. They go to passages that talk about the vengeance or wrath of God or about God destroying God’s enemies. They go to places like Revelation that talk about enemies being consumed by heavenly fire.

They go to passages that show that maybe sometimes it’s okay to commit genocide, and instead of asking is it good to commit genocide, they ask how might it be good to commit genocide. Instead of asking should we kill children, they ask how might it be okay for us to kill children.

In order to ask those kinds of questions, a person has to turn off their humanity; a person has to cut off their compassion and their empathy. That’s much easier to do when we’re killing in the name of God/Christianity/righteousness.

Losing Empathy

I have three children of my own. The only way that I can look at videos of a child trembling in trauma because he has just survived the bombing of his neighborhood is to turn off my empathy as a parent. If I don’t turn off my empathy, I can’t help but grieve for his parents and for him, because I can imagine what I would feel like if that was my child. In order to be a Christian who uses apologetics to justify a belief that it’s somehow okay to kill a child and to bomb their family, I have to become hard in my heart.

Christian apologetics can make that “good.” We can call it tough love. We can say we’re tools for manifesting God’s wrath against the wicked. We can say it’s love for our children that necessitates a hardening of our hearts toward the children of our enemies. We can call it collateral damage or talk about how that child or that pregnant woman was holding a weapon. We can put limitations on God’s love by emphasizing God’s hate. We can say God can’t resist the need for “justice” and therefore killing our neighbors is sometimes righteous. In the end, these are all ways of avoiding the real questions: do we really think it’s okay to kill children or to commit other atrocities?

Do we really believe that there is justification for the things we do to our neighbors? Do we really believe that it’s a reflection of Jesus to do harm to our neighbors? Do we really believe that loving our neighbors as ourselves is conditional? Do we really believe that loving our neighbors as ourselves is a momentary thing? Do we really believe that we only have to love our neighbors as ourselves sometimes? Do we really believe that “you shall not murder” is only sometimes a commandment of God? Do we really believe that “do not seek vengeance” is only sometimes God’s advice?

If these are the things we believe, we should be honest about that. Instead, we often try to make it seem like we always believe in the sanctity of life and the imago dei, even while we hurt the people around us.

We try to make it seem like we really do care that children are dying, even while we sign petitions to allow it to happen — even while we vote into office leaders who will make it happen. We like to debate whether abortion is murder but pretend that Palestinian children are just collateral damage. We like to pretend we care that innocent people are dying indiscriminately and without cause, even while we support the systems that make it happen. We like to claim that we love our neighbors, even while we pull from scripture to justify the way we ignore and disenfranchise our neighbors. We like to believe we aren’t racist, even while we hold up racist systems. We like to believe we aren’t misogynistic and patriarchal, even while we continue to support the abuse of women and the diminishing of women’s voices. We like to believe we aren’t elitist, even while we talk condescendingly about people who have less than us. We like to believe we care for children even while we ignore the thousands of children struggling to eat in our own country every day.

Closer to Home

For the last 3 years, public schools in Nevada have offered free breakfast and lunch to all students. Somebody finally decided there were enough starving children in Nevada that we should do something about it. Think about that for a minute; it’s 2023, and this has only been a thing for a few years. Before the last few of years, children were literally coming to school and going home hungry, because their families couldn’t afford food.

This is the reality we live in, and it’s not a secular reality. It’s a Christian reality. In Christian communities, every day, right now, in 2023 there are Christians doing apologetics to justify not feeding starving children, not housing their homeless neighbors, not clothing naked people freezing to death in the winter…

The temperature in Las Vegas has finally dropped below 80. The high is 65 today, and it’s windy. It’s cold enough to put on a coat, and there are thousands of people living under this city who may not survive the coming winter, and we don’t even get snow, here. We can sit around as Christians and pretend we love our neighbor and pretend it’s their fault that they’re dying and pretend we’re justified in turning a blind eye, but at the end of the day, what we think the Bible says doesn’t change the question: do we think it’s good? Is it good to let our neighbors suffer and die in the cold? Is it good to let children starve just because they’re not our children?

Self-justification Isn’t Enough

It’s not enough to say that somebody in the Old Testament committed genocide, so it should be okay, sometimes. I don’t think for a second that I know anyone who actually believes that. I don’t believe for a second that I know anyone who actually believes that just because Solomon or Samuel or David went out and killed women and children at some point that we should be allowed to also. Good people don’t believe that, not really.

Why do we pretend? Why do we do the theological gymnastics? Why do we do the apologetics? To help us sleep better at night? To help us ignore the fact that other people are doing these very things in the name of God and calling it righteous?

I think it’s well past time Christians stopped pretending that just because we can make something seem true doesn’t make it actually true. I have three children that I want to grow up in a world where they don’t have to wonder if their neighbor feels like it’s okay to shoot them, and I think love demands that we consider that reality.

I claim to believe that Jesus loved the world so much he would rather die for the sake of forgiveness and mercy and grace than choose violence. I believe my neighbors are worth saving. I believe my neighbors aren’t just the people standing next to me when I go home. I believe my neighbors are every human on the planet Earth. I believe human beings are made in the image of God. I believe children are worth saving. I believe that it is always wrong to kill a child. I believe that it is always wrong to take vengeance instead of seeking justice. I believe that it is always wrong to kill people indiscriminately and claim that it’s for the sake of self-defense. I believe these things, and I am not going to sit here and try to justify atrocities in the name of God just because I can twist my words and do the theological gymnastics necessary to make it seem good.

I don’t want to answer the question “how might this be true.” I want to answer the question “ is this true,” and my question to you is this: do you think that it is true that God is pleased with the killing of innocent people and of children? Do you believe that God is pleased with letting people starve to death, freeze to death, die of medical conditions that are completely treatable, or be murdered by there neighbors? If God isn’t pleased by violence against our neighbors, let’s stop pretending that God is.

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Originally published at http://breakingbreadtheology.com on November 9, 2023.



Brice Laughrey

Owner of Breaking Bread Theology and co-founder of 1310 Ministries. Currently living and worshiping in Las Vegas, NV.