Last week I asked, “What should Christians do about War and Peace?” Sunday was the 15th anniversary of 9/11, so we talked about these two important responses. Just War and Pacifism. There are other ways to approach the response to evil in the world, but just war and pacifism tend to be the two primary choices. Does the Bible say it is okay for one nation to make war on another? Or should we be a people of peace? Or can the Bible be used to make a case for each side?
Let’s start with Just War. That is the theory that the large majority of people at Faith Church hold to. We turn to Romans 13 and read about God ordaining government to respond to evil, and we surmise that there are ways to practice just war.
Just war theorists suggest that there are principles we should apply as we decided to go to war, and there are principles we should apply when we wage war. So we should have a just cause and use just means for war.
To me one of the most clear examples of Just War is the Allied response to the Axis powers in World War 2. Germany, Italy and Japan were aggressively annihilating people, and Allied powers needed to step in. In other words it was just to go to war.
But wars have been fought that have not used this criteria. I once heard a Christian scholar give a serious presentation saying that the United States Revolutionary War did not meet the criteria to qualify as a just war. Was taxation without representation a just cause? Did the Colonies really exhaust all other methods for peace, did they go to war as a last resort? Maybe not. Maye the Boston Tea Party was actually unjust and Britain had a right to clamp down.But not nearly all war has been just. Here’s another view on that debate.
And yet while we’re on the topic of what Jesus taught, he says in Matthew 5:38-48, that people should love their enemies.
Remember one of the names the prophet Isaiah gave to the Messiah? Prince of Peace.
Remember what the angels said when Jesus, the Messiah, was born? Peace on earth.
Remember what Jesus said to his disciples on the night before he was arrested? Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you.
The Apostle Paul would go on to talk about it quite a lot. One of the most compelling instances was when he said this in 1 Timothy 2:2, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Who was emperor when Paul wrote this? Nero! A tyrant! One who persecuted Christians. And Paul is saying to pray for that guy? “Pray for your enemies,” Jesus said, and now Paul is saying it too. Here the enemy is a guy who brutally slaughtered the Christians. Nero looked a lot like ISIS. He was crazy. He looked a lot like Adolf Hitler.
And so we have this teaching about peace. I live in a place that has a long, long heritage with Anabaptist faiths. The Amish, Mennonites, Brethren churches all hold to the doctrine of pacifism. Pacifism means they believe in peace rather than war and violence. They do not believe that Christians should participate in the military.
If you support Christians in the military, and you are reading this starting to dismiss pacifists, please take a moment to hear them out. I am not a pacifist, so in order to present pacifism to you accurately, I got some help from Mennonite pastor friends in my local Ministerium, and I asked them to explain pacifism for me from a biblical perspective.
One pastor mentioned this quote, and I want you to see if you can guess who said it: “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders.”
Who said this? Guesses?
Adolf Hitler. So the Mennonite pastor responds, “it’s helpful to understand that during World War II, nearly all American and European combatants, both Axis and Allied powers, invoked Christian faith as a rationale to justify their use of violence. We try to paint Hitler as an atheist to get Christians off the hook, but history won’t let us do that.
“Our civil religion has been quite effective at indoctrinating us into a “one right interpretation” of history, politics, and current events, and surprise, surprise, in American civil religion, it turns out that God hates all the same people we do! To put it mildly, this a big problem. If we agree with Hitler and see Jesus as “greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter,” we’re in danger of missing the point of the Gospel: that God extends love to us when we are enemies (through the love of his Suffering Servant, Jesus), and God invites us to, in turn, extend love to our enemies.”
But what about the claim that pacifists will be overrun by bullies? It was clear that Hitler wasn’t stopping until he achieved world domination. Again the pacifist response is interesting.
“Now, pacifism certainly opens one up to charges of naiveté. Who wouldn’t kill one man in order to save thousands? I think the easy mistake we make is assuming that effectiveness is more important than faithfulness. The early church fathers understood this. Clement of Alexandria made it clear that “Christians are not allowed to use violence to correct the delinquencies of sin.”
Very, very interesting thoughts, aren’t they? I would submit to you that most of us who have not studied pacifism have just assumed that it is a weak-minded kind of theology that doesn’t deal with the reality of life. But as you can read, my Mennonite pastor friends have deep substance to what they believe. Let’s not write them off. It very well could be that one day in heaven Jesus will tell us that Christian use of and support for military was wrong. Instead let’s ask ourselves if we have exchanged effectiveness for faithfulness.
In this debate between effectiveness and faithfulness, my friend shared a wonderful story by Wil Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, from their book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony:
The overriding political task of the church is to be the community of the cross.
Sometime ago, when the United States bombed military and civilian targets in Libya, a debate raged concerning the morality of that act. One of us witnessed an informal gathering of students who argued the morality of the bombing of Libya. Some thought it was immoral, others thought it was moral.
At one point in the argument, one of the students turned and said, “Well, preacher, what do you think?”
I said that, as a Christian, I could never support bombing, particularly bombing of civilians, as an ethical act.
“That’s just what we expected you to say,” said another. “That’s typical of you Christians. Always on the high moral ground, aren’t you? You get so upset when a terrorist guns down a little girl in an airport, but when President Reagan tries to set things right, you get indignant when a few Libyans get hurt.”
The assumption seems to be that there are only two political options: Either conservative support of the administration, or liberal condemnation of the administration followed by efforts to let the U.N. handle it.
“You know, you have a point,” I said. “What would be a Christian response to this?” Then I answered, right off the top of my head, “A Christian response might be that tomorrow morning The United Methodist Church announces that it is sending a thousand missionaries to Libya. We have discovered that it is fertile field for the gospel. We know how to send missionaries. Here is at least a traditional Christian response.”
“You can’t do that,” said my adversary.
“Why?” I asked. “You tell me why.”
“Because it’s illegal to travel in Libya. President Reagan will not give you a visa to go there.”
“No! That’s not right,” I said. “I’ll admit that we can’t go to Libya, but not because of President Reagan. We can’t go there because we no longer have a church that produces people who can do something this bold. But we once did.”
We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.
I think a similar case could be made regarding ISIS. The historically Christian response would be overwhelming love expressed through a willingness to sacrifice our status, comfort, and even our lives on their behalf. But we don’t seem to currently have a church—even a Mennonite church—that produces Christians who can do something that bold.” Check the astounding work being done by Mennonite peacemakers in Iraq. There are other organizations doing radical work like this as well.
Where does this leave us?
When thinking about War and Peace consider these principles:
1. Pursue peace in all relationships.
2. Consider peace even in war.
3. If war is waged, it should be just.
Do you have a relationship that is not peaceful not right? What will it look like for you to be a peacemaker?