"I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe."
- Martin Luther on trial
I teach Church History at Veritas Academy in Phenix City. I let the class watch a movie this week called "Kingdom of Heaven," starring Orlando Bloom. The movie is about the conflict between Christians and Muslims between the 2nd and 3rd Crusade.
The main character, Balian (fictionally based on a historical figure), begins a reluctant hero, but soon becomes the defender of Jerusalem against the beseigeing Muslim army. Balian's arch-rival, however, is not Saladin, leader of the Muslim forces. Rather, it is Guy de Lusignan, the leader of the Knights Templar, who is determined to start another holy war against the Muslims. Guy is married to the princess of Jerusalem and is biding his time until her leprous brother, the king, departs to leave the position vacant.
At a key point in the movie, Balian is in a position to have Guy and his cohorts put to death. Bailan would then marry the princess and become the next king. Not only would this prevent Balian's own death, but also the impending holy war in which Jerusalem is sure to fall to Saladin. It is but "a little evil to accomplish a greater good." Taking his knightly oath to heart, Balian refuses to take part in such a scheme. When prodded to reconsider, he nobly speaks of the kingdom of heaven, "It is a kingdom of conscience, or nothing."
The movie raises a good question. Is it ever right to do wrong for the greater good? Or do we spoil the "greater good" when it is acheived by the wrong means? As I watched the film, I wanted Balian to kill his enemies. It would have spared the pain and destruction of thousands of Christians and Muslims alike. But I was wrong. That would have been the easy way out. Balian's way was unquestionably and incomparably more arduous, but it was pure. And though the battle was indeed lost, by God's grace many people were spared. And so the question for me is this: would I ever be willing to sacrifice my conscience for the "greater good"?
I pray not, though Jerusalem fall around me. When that time comes, may I be able to say with Balian the words that would later come from Luther, "Here I stand. I can do no other, so help me God. Amen."