Friday, July 21, 2006


A few years ago I wrote a piece in the Winston-Salem Journal on pacifism, just war and holy war. It was at the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, and I was trying to make sense of what was happening, trying to place it all in the framework of Christian history, borrowing from Roland Bainton's (of Yale) classic study, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace (Abingdon, 1960, I am sure long out of print). In the schema, pacifism is described as the dominant perspective of the early church, just war became a strategy (rationalization) post-Constantine, and holy war was the rationale for the crusades. If you can find a copy it is well worth reading.

In the twentieth century most sane people had felt ( following liberal enlightenment thinking) that holy war was no longer an option, with the only alternatives being pacifism or just war. I made the case that pacifism was and is an honored position in the Christian Church, and not only in the historic peace churches (Quaker, Mennonite, etc.). I then outlined the criteria for a just war (try googling just war criteria and see where it leads you). You will find these are the basic criteria:

A just war must have: 1) a just cause; 2) be waged by a legitimate authority; 3) formally declared; 4) fought with peaceful intentions; 5) used as a last resort; 6) have a likelihood of success; and 7) the means used must be proportionate to the ends.

Since the Iraqi war has not met these criteria, and since the current Israeli invasion of Lebanon does not either, we find that we have regressed to a position of holy war. Of course, many would say we have been forced there because of 9/11, the war on terror, etc. Sadly, when war is seen as holy--the good defeating the evil, soon any behaviors are justified---torture, years of unlawful detainment (the sacrifice of the idea of innocent until proven guilty), incredible financial cost and waste, ill-protected men and women sent into battle, illegal wiretapping. These practices are not denied; they are justifed as necessary in the midst of a holy war. And I will repeat a convictionI have shared on this blog in the past: those who serve in the military recognize and bear the true costs of war; those who have made the decisions to go to war are, in general, individuals who had avoided service in the military. If I am wrong here I am open to correction.

It may soon be the case that the only viable option in making sense of the world we are living in is pacifism. I recommend the voice of Elias Chacour, newly installed archbishop of the Melkite Church of the Galilee, and author of Blood Brothers and We Belong To The Land. Perhaps God will be speaking through him in the near future.

And so, let the Christians of the world, in the United States, Iraq, Lebanon, and Israel, pray for peace. Let us read the Sermon on The Mount and ponder its teachings about love for enemies and the blessing that falls upon the peacemakers. Let us honor the sacrifices of the fallen and plead with God that these sacrifices become unnecessary. And let us finally remember that, in the teaching of Jesus, there is no holy war.


Post a Comment

<< Home