Posted by: vwbusguy | October 29, 2009

My trouble with Just War Theory and Pacifism

 

I need some input on this one.  I’m wrestling with a Christian worldview on warfare.  There have been two dominant historical positions on Christianity and war (though not all Christians abide by either):

Just War Theory:  Founded by Augustine, sets rules for when it is right to go to war (such as mass genocide), how one should enter a war (public announcement through proper authority), and how a war is to be fought (such as not targeting civilians or torturing)

Pacifism: Avoiding war entirely and seeking peaceful, nonviolent solutions (as championed by Martin Luther King).

(There is an extension to both called Just Peacemaking)

 

While the above views both ideally seek to make peace and not war, and deal with the question of what exceptions, if any, there are to war and how one should act during war-time, it is hard to find contiguous biblical backing for either.

Pacifists often point to Jesus’ Sermon on the mount, where Jesus says: Blessed are the Peacemakers (Matt. 5:9) and When stricken, turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39) as examples of Jesus emphasizing peace and indeed, much of the lifestyle shown in the Sermon of the Mount is one that deflates unjust situations and dramatically ends conflict.

But does this mean that where Christians are practicing that we should then find peace?  Not necessarily.  In fact, in many cases we find the opposite effect.  Consider that in the same book, a few chapters later in Matthew 10, Jesus is warning the Disciples about the reaction the world will have to them, that they will be hated and persecuted (Blessed are the ones persecuted for righteousness Matt 5:10).  The climax of chapter 10 is where Jesus says: “I have not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt 10:34)

What does this mean?  When we are stricken, turn the other cheek, walk an extra mile, give them the shirt off our back, but this is not for peace, but for conflict?  John Wesley comments on this:

“Whosoever shall deny me before men – To which ye will be strongly tempted. For Think not that I am come – That is, think not that universal peace will be the immediate consequence of my coming. Just the contrary. Both public and private divisions will follow, wheresoever my Gospel comes with power. Ye – this is not the design, though it be the event of his coming, through the opposition of devils and men.”

Therefore by being faithful followers, instead of creating peace, it often creates discord.  Should the Christian have to choose between making peace or being faithful to Jesus?  Certainly there have been times where these have been in conflict, and surely it is also inevitable that the polarizing nature of the Gospel, “Brother against brother” (Matt 10:21) will in many cases have the effect of creating relational and even political conflict inside and between nations.

 

For Just War Theory, the problem seems to be more rooted in the Old Testament.  While we have many examples of such things in many books, nothing in the Old Testament is as damaging to the Just War Theory as the book of Joshua, where after crossing the Jordan, God commands Israel to wipe out the nations of Canaan, and in a brutal way:  Leave no man, woman, child, pet.  How they decided to go to war, how they began war, and how they carried it out were all violations of the Just War Theory.  Now it is our duty to reconcile that God was with Israel in Joshua and yet is the same God as represented by Jesus.

Perhaps the answer is to step back and ponder God’s sovereignty.  God has a right to judgement and perhaps there is much about Canaan we do not know, such that God was using Israel as a means of judgement.  It is also difficult to understand to what extent God intervenes or doesn’t when considering when and what nations go to war.  But we are not called to judgement in such a way. 1st and 2nd Kings shows what happens when man tries to decide such things.

Just War Theory may serve as a tool insofar as it uses criteria that are somewhat objective and seek peaceful ends.  And as far as they can go to prevent another Holocaust as what happened to the Jews in World War II or Rwanda in the 1990s, I should hope to find Christians rising up to condemn injustice everywhere and to calm down existing conflicts.  For even if we take the stance that God declared judgement against other nations in the old testament, it still shows God loves justice, and we should work to halt injustice everywhere we can.  My end point is that perhaps Just War Theory or Pacifism may serve us practically as long as neither become idols in themselves, and as long as neither seeks to discredit the historicity of Scripture to fit its own ideology.

 

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Responses

  1. In view of your study, I think you’ll find these interesting:

    http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2007/03/13/war-a-christian-understanding/

    http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2007/03/30/questions-about-war/

  2. If you are interested in exploring this topic, I would suggest doing some reading on what the early Christians understood Jesus to say on the issue before centuries of human tradition were added to the argument. Two great resources for that are

    The Early Christian Attitude to War by John Cecil Cadoux available here:
    http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=648

    and

    Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up? by David Bercot


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