Christians and war

Every new violent international conflict means a resumption of the long-standing debate between proponents of the two historic Christian approaches to war – Pacifism and Just War theory. But neither can offer more than a provisional and incomplete answer because both deal with circumstances that have already gone seriously wrong. A situation where either of these approaches might become necessary already involves a level of evil which makes it impossible for either to be the definitively ‘right’ answer.

This is the start of my contribution to a discussion of war and peace published in the Evangelical Review of Society and Politics (UK), Vol.3, No.2 (November 2009), 9. Five people, including myself were asked to respond to the following question: “Commenting both as an evangelical and as a scholar within your particular discipline, what are you views on war?”

  • Paul Alexander, lecturer in Theology and ethics at Azusa Pacific University, California
  • Peter Dixon, formerly a Royal Aorforce pilot and Chairman of the Armed Forces Christian Union, now leader of Concordis International, a charity involved in conflict resolution
  • Thomas W. Simpson a former officer with the Royal Marines, now studying for a PhD in philosophy
  • Derek J Tidball, formerly Principal of London School of Theology

My own views on war and peace were largely formed some years ago when I felt compelled to actively resist the government’s call to be conscripted to the war in Vietnam. In one sense it was not an easy decision to make (as, potentially, it had certain penitentiary consequences) but, in another sense, it seemed obvious and necessary.

The full article will appear here in a few months. In the meantime you have to access it through  ERSP  but I can tell you it finishes like this:

Just War theory has to consider whether justified violence will not, in the long term, actually produce more violence by legitimating war as a means of resolving problems. And Pacifism has to ask whether it should not revise its argument to the effect that ‘it is better for me to forego my own moral purity for the sake of another and therefore to kill the aggressor and have a bad conscience, than it is for me to allow them to go unchecked and kill another innocent person.’

In the face of these soul-searching but inevitably partial responses to war the only undeniably Christian option is to become active peacemakers. And not merely in reactive mode. It is not peace-making unless it is positive, preventive action, done well in advance of any problem, creating a world in which the possibility of war becomes increasingly absurd. Christian peacemakers will work to reduce the distance between cultures and will overcome the divisive effects of nationalism. In the 1980’s and 1990’s large-scale aid, generosity and cultural interaction between nations (instead of, for example, the provision of weapons of mass destruction to help Iraq in its war with Iran) may well have undercut the motives which led to several wars, and may have saved many thousands of lives and billions of dollars.  It is not only the case that ‘those who live by the sword die by the sword’ but also that, as Dwight Eisenhower said, ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and who are not clothed.’

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

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