Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism I: Getting Started

   We are exploring a biblical case for or defense of Christian pacifism.  To get started, we need to define our terms and approach to the problem.  First, this is a biblical case for Christian pacifism, not the only way the case can be made from Scripture.  There are a variety of interpretations and approaches to Scripture held by Christian pacifists–and a number of legitimate ways of laying out the case.  This is simply the case I am making and the approach I, as a Christian pacifist who has long studied these matters, have chosen to proceeed.

Second, this is a biblical case.  Although bypassing debates over terms like “inerrancy” or ‘infallibility,’ I will be writing with the assumption that most readers are Christians who hold that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are uniquely authoritative for both the doctrinal convictions and also for the ethics or moral practices of the Church, both collectively in its gathered life together and individually as members.  Protestant Christians generally belong to Reformation or post-Reformation groups which confess the Scriptures as the supreme authority, sometimes even saying the ONLY authority, in these matters.  Eastern Orthodox Christians place the Scriptures within the interpretive framework of the early ecumenical councils of the undivided Church, especially the Apostolic and Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creeds, and the Definition of Chalcedon.  Roman Catholic Christians hold that Scriptural authority is part of the twofold teaching authority of the Church Magisterium, the Teaching Church, along with ongoing church tradition as embedded in councils and papal pronouncements. (Under certain very limited circumstances, Catholics hold that the pope can and does teach ‘infallibly.’) Some Quakers and some Pentecostals view the authority of the Scriptures through the authority of the living voice of the Holy Spirit discerned within the local church.  But all Christians have the Scriptures in common and I will appeal to those books which all consider canonical or forming the teaching norm of the Church universal.

For this reason, though some references to historical scholarship will be made from time to time, I will not here be trying to reconstruct “the historical Jesus” behind the four canonical Gospels, nor engaging in a “quest for the historical Israel” different from that presented in the historical accounts of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.  This study is not aimed at scholars, but at ordinary Christian laity.  I assume that if I cannot show that the Bibles they actually read point to pacifism and nonviolence as a Christian norm, it won’t matter what case could be made to academics. I may from time to time alert readers to matters they may want to pursue in-depth in other works, but I have to keep my attention on the goal:  understanding the Biblical message as calling for nonviolence and pacifism on the part of all Christians.

Defining some key terms in this study: 

  • Christian: refers here to all who make the earliest Christian confession, “Jesus is Lord,” whose faith in God is mediated by Jesus, and who seek to follow Christ.  “Christian,” means “Christ-follower,” and before the earliest believers were called “Christians” at Antioch (Acts 13:1) they were simply called “Followers of the Way [of Jesus–as opposed to the Way of the Pharisees, Zealots, one of the Greco-Roman mystery cults, etc.].  So, in this study I am not writing to those who, as Clarence Jordan used to mock, simply want to admire Jesus, but to those who sincerely want to follow in the Way that he opened up.  “Christian” in this study does not mean someone who had a certain religious experience (whether they call it being “born again,” or by another name), but then live just like their non-Christian neighbors, but those who realize that being Christian involves addressing claims  that Jesus Christ makes on their lives.  It will be the burden of this study to show that living without violence or revenge or waging war is one of those claims on the lives of Christians. Engaging in the pursuit of justice and peace is another strong claim Jesus makes on our lives. So, negatively, we avoid killing or violence, and positively we work for justice and peace.
  • Violence is defined in this study as “using force or the threat of force to overwhelm the will or violate the rights or bodily integrity of another human being.”  Questions of violence to property or to animals or other living things will be bypassed in this study.  But mental or psychological violence is covered in our definition by means of the threat of physical violence.  For more on this definition see, Glen H. Stassen and Michael L. Westmoreland-White, “Defining Violence and Nonviolence” in Teaching Peace: Nonviolence and the Liberal Artsed., J. Denny Weaver and Gerald Biesecker-Mast (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003).  Update:  Mark Congdon thinks this definition needs to change “or” to “and.” I’ll think about that. He may be right.  But we need to separate the definition of violence from arguments about whether or not it is right or wrong. After all, Just War Theorists will agree that war is violent; it involves shooting, bombing, stabbing with bayonets, etc.  Nevertheless, they would argue that, under precise conditions and terms spelled about by JWT (many of which are now codified in both U.S. and international law), these would be justifiable (they claim) to prevent conditions they would think of as even more evil.  Likewise, there may be some things that would not technically count as violence under the definition given–such as assisted suicide, perhaps, that one would still want to argue are morally (and maybe legally) wrong.  We need to define violence correctly, but then also argue for it being wrong.  The article cited goes into far more detail and is more philosophically precise. Here, we are just getting our bearings for a biblical argument on pacifism.  There will be many “borderline” discussions and “grey areas,” but the main argument against war or terrorism, violent coups, spouse or child abuse, etc. will be clear.  Once we have moral clarity about the general direction of the life of discipleship as Christians, we can worry about “grey areas.”  But we don’t want special pleading–to say that “I don’t believe in violence but I do believe in X, therefore X is not really violent.” We need to separate the definition of violence (whether or not that definition needs refining) from the argument about an action’s morality so as not to hide some types of violence behind definitions.
  • As such violence is distinguishable from two related terms force and coercion.  Force refers to any power to set an object or a course of events in motion.  Coercion refers to all practices that pressure others to take actions or refrain from actions against their own desires.  Violence always involves coercion and usually involves force, but not all force or coercion is a form of violence.  If I swing a baseball bat, it always involves force, but it is only violent if my intended target is my neighbor’s head rather than the spheroid thrown by my neighbor called a “baseball.”  However, if I poison someone without her knowledge, I have not used force, but my action was still violent.  Similarly, if I insist that my children do their homework when they would rather not, I am being coercive, but I am not being violent just by using my moral authority as their father (nor is Kate when using her authority as mother to achieve the same end). If I threaten to lock them in a closet otherwise, or beat them into submission, my coercion has been violent.
  • These distinctions may seem petty, but they are important.  Many have objected to Christian pacifism by claiming that it does away with authority (and thus is always anarchistic) and that Christian pacifists are hypocrites if they discipline their children.  That is not so.  Some pacifists are against spanking, but not all. (My own objections to spanking do not involve the claim that spanking is always wrong or always child abuse–but that the difference in adult strength is so great, and adults are usually angry when they employ spanking, that abuse is always a strong potential outcome.  Once I grabbed one of my daughters by the arm to prevent her from running into an oncoming car.  I did the right thing. My action, though forceful and coercive, was hardly violent. But I still accidentally bruised her arm.  So, I refrain from spanking because I do not trust my own strength when angry. I do think that parents for whom spanking is the USUAL form of punishment are failing as parents, even if they manage to spank in such a way as to not be abusive.)
  • Consider other examples: If someone is attempting suicide by jumping off a bridge and another prevents this by tackling the jumper, the rescuer is being forceful and coercive, but not violent–not even if they injure the jumper in the rescue.  Workers in a mental hospital who practice safe methods of restraint against a violent patient are not being violent, but if they fight the patient they are being violent–defensively violent, but still violent.  Nor are intentions everything:  If a pilot accidentally releases his bombs over a wedding, we still call the resulting carnage violence.  The argument being made in this study is that Christians are forbidden violence (and commanded to engage in practices of justice seeking and peacemaking), NOT they are forbidden to ever use force or coercion.
  • Nonviolence is a term that has evolved in meaning. It once meant only refraining from violence.  It has evolved to mean, and I use the term here, to refer to active practices against injustice and war that are not themselves violent.  Examples of such practices include:  strikes (if the strikers remain disciplined and nonviolent), boycotts, demonstrations, walkouts, nonviolent protests, symbolic actions, work slowdowns, general strikes throughout a nation, fasting (under certain conditions), etc.  We will see numerous such examples in Scripture and history throughout this study. Nonviolent direct action is a form of conflict, of struggle against injustice. It is not passive or submissive or cowardly. It is an alternative to flight or fight, to submission or armed, violent, resistance.
  • Conflict resolution or conflict transformation refers to a series of evolving practices for peacemaking in the midst of conflict, including in the midst of war or armed violence.  These practices are distinct from the practices of nonviolent direct action, but they are not in tension with them. The practices include negotiation, cooling off periods, etc.
  • Pacifism refers to the ideological conviction, often religiously rooted, that all war and violence is morally wrong and may not be used even as a “lesser evil.”  In this study, I refer to Christian pacifism, the claim that Christians (Christ-f0llowers) must attempt to live without violence, especially without lethal violence, and, positively, to engage in practices of nonviolent struggle for justice and peacemaking.  For this reason, at a minimum, Christians must refuse to go to war or to prepare for war by serving in national militaries (or by serving in armed militias or guerilla groups, for that matter).  (The question of police work is more complex than can be addressed here, but it cries out for more attention.  See further Tobias Winright, “From Police Officers to Peace Officers,” in The Wisdom of the Cross:  Essays in Honor of John Howard Yoder, ed. Stanley Hauerwas, Harry J. Huebner, and Chris Huebner (Eerdmans, 1999, repr. Wipf and Stock, 2005).  This is based on Winrights unpublished Ph.D. dissertation in Christian ethics from Notre Dame, which I hope will be published in full in the near future.)
  • Nevertheless, as we will see, the major thrust of the biblical message is not on what we should refrain from doing (violence, making war), but on what we should be doing (working for peace and justice).  This point has come to have wide agreement beyond Christian pacifist circles.  Christian pacifists and those from the “Justifiable War Tradition,” are beginning to agree on a set of normative practices in Just Peacemaking.  I have discussed those in depth elsewhere on this blog. I may refer to them again at the end of this study, but not in detail.

I think we will end this first installment here so as to refrain from making these too long for busy readers to follow.  The next installment, then, will deal with two more “getting started” questions:  “Why Does This Study Begin with Jesus and the New Testament?” and “How Ought Christians to Read the Old Testament?” From there we will begin our biblical studies.

October 3, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Biblical exegesis, convictions, death penalty, discipleship, ethics, Hebrew Bible/O.T., Jesus, just peacemaking, just war theory, New Testament, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, theology, violence, war | 20 Comments

Afhganistan Could Derail Obama Like Vietnam Derailed LBJ

The old expression is “Afghanistan is where empires go to die.” Ask Alexander the Great.   Ask Genghis Khan.  Ask the British.  Most recently ask the (now defunct) Soviet Union which spent 10 years in Afghanistan before breaking up.  The Soviets started trying to get out of Afghanistan during year 6. We have already been in Afghanistan 7 years (although at much lower troop levels and not engaging in constant battles) and are poised to try a “surge” strategy–in a nation twice the area, with double the population of Iraq–and divided not just into Sunni, Shi’ia and Kurds, but into numerous hostile tribes who could care less about the government  in Kabul.

During the campaign, I didn’t say much about Obama’s desire to increase troops in Afghanistan.  As a pacifist, I opposed the war from the beginning, but knew after 9/11 that there was very little chance of stopping military action in Afghanistan.  A President Al Gore (provided he allowed 9/11 to happen) would have gone after the al-Qaeda training camps and the Taliban sheltering them no less than President Bush did.  No one who could have been elected in America would have acted much differently–and most of the governments of the world were behind us.  The mission was limited: Get Osama and his cohorts.  Set up a framework for Afghans to form their own democracy based on their own ancient traditions.  Offer material aid and reconstruction and get out of the way.  The invasion of Iraq changed that:  allowed Osama to escape and took resources away from the fragile government in Kabul, allowing  the Taliban to regroup.

But the answer is not to add more military.  Fortunately, the Washington consensus that it is the right strategy is coming undone.  Not only peaceniks like myself, but more and more foreign policy types, from across the political spectrum, and including top military, are now saying that there is no military solution to Afghanistan.  We need a rethinking of strategy and goals, and to plan and endgame and exit strategy–while there is still time.  Otherwise, Afghanistan could derail everything Obama wants to do to rebuild and green our economy–and, in fact, it could bring down our entire system as it has so many others.

Fortunately, people are no longer shy about telling the new president to GET AFGHANISTAN RIGHT! as a new website put up  by bi-partisan foreign policy types against escalation puts it.  Read their analyses at the link.  Then, do as I have done and send the link and your opposition to escalation in Afghanistan to Whitehouse.gov and State.gov (the State Department). 

I did see hints in Obama’s speech yesterday that he is aware of the quagmire Afghanistan can be.  He no longer was talking about “ending one war that should  never have been waged to win another,” but talked about forging “a hard peace” in Afghanistan.  He consults with military leaders today about ending Iraq (keeping a campaign promise to begin the withdrawal on day 1), but Afghanistan will also be on the agenda–and General Petraeus is among those who have claimed that there is no longterm military solution to Afghanistan.

Here is a major opportunity for peacemaking organizations.  We need to help change direction here early before the Obama administration becomes invested in particular policy strategies for Afghanistan.  I don’t want America to be an empire (although we have certainly acted like one in recent history!), but I also don’t want our ship of state to founder on the shoals of Afghanistan.  It’s time for whole new approaches.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | just peacemaking, just war theory | 1 Comment

Index of Posts on “Just War Theory”

Basic Principles of Just War Theory

The JWT Case Against the Invasion/Occupation of Iraq, 1

The JWT Case Against the Invasion/Occupation of Iraq, 2

Internal Weaknesses of Just War Theory

Military Veterans, Peace Groups, and the U.S. Debate on Iraq

Interview with a JWT Peace Blogger


The Watada Case and Just War Theory

July 16, 2008 Posted by | just war theory | 2 Comments

Vets Peace Groups Transform U.S. Iraq Debate

votevets1.jpgI have long maintained that peace groups, including faith-based peace groups and pacifist churches, need to work with military veterans, especially those involved in military-related peace groups.  Many of these military and veterans-related groups are NOT committed to nonviolence as a way of life (although some are–Veterans for Peace is composed of military veterans converted to nonviolence). Most follow some form of Just War Theory and/or celebrate military culture in a way that makes many traditional peace churches and pacifist Christians squirm.   Tough. Get over it and get to know these folk as real human beings.

Look, the simple fact is that very few nations (Finland and Costa Rico are exceptions) are doing without standing militaries in the near future.  The U.S. has a national culture that celebrates an independance achieved by a military revolution.  Our national narrative (somewhat inaccurately) celebrates our military as the defenders of all our cherished freedoms. We honor military service as among the most patriotic and selfless ways of service.  None of this is going to change overnight. So, if peace groups want to make a serious impact on foreign policy then, above all, they must not seem contemptuous of the military.  Rightwing militarist policies win over more peaceful, or even more realistic, policies time and again by the simple tactic of making peace groups look and sound “anti-soldier.”  They constantly paint opposition to militaristic foreign policy as failure to “support the troops.”

Traditional and faith-based peace groups can work with military and veterans-related groups to transform this debate–though differences between pacifists and just war theorists will remain.  The picture relates to this article about Iraq veteran Jon Soltz and the organization he leads, VoteVets.org  which played a major role in the 2006 elections and is seeking both to help members of Congress take a stand for ending the Iraq war and to play a major role in the 2008 elections, especially in helping elect progressive Iraq veterans.  But VoteVets is not the only such organization.

Perhaps the most pacifist/nonviolent of these military veterans peace groups is the aptly named Veterans for Peace.  A national organization founded in 1985, VFP is composed of U.S. military veterans who have dedicated the rest of their lives to working for peace and justice through organized nonviolence.  Some came to be converted to a form of pacifism during or after their military service.  Some are repentant of their former lives.  Others in VFP are quite proud of their military service, but want to make sure that U.S. military forces are used only in defense and in the highest standards of U.S. and international law and the protection of universal human rights. 

Perhaps the oldest of these military-related peace organizations is Vietnam Veterans Against War (originally “Against THE War”) which started in 1967 with 6 vets marching in a peace march in full uniform.  Perhaps the most famous member of VVAW is U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), whose testimony in the “Winter Soldier” hearings before Congress in ’67 gave the nation its first view of VETERANS arguing for withdrawal and an end to U.S. involvement in Vietnam.  VVAW is still working for peace, for an end to wars of “choice,” and for veterans rights.  It was VVAW which organized the Vietnam Agent Orange and Responsibility Campaign in which U.S. Vietnam Vets, often themselves Agent Orange victims, work to get the U.S. government to take responsibility for this chemical weapon (defoliant) and its side effects–and also travel to Vietnam to help their victims of Agent Orange.

Military Families Speak Out breaks the traditional “culture of silence” in which the families and loved ones of military members are intimidated to keep silent about the crass and reckless ways their loved ones are sent into harm’s way, to kill and bleed and possibly die for selfish or narrow reasons.  Another organization with the same focus, Gold Star Families for Peace, is composed of the families and loved ones of those who have died in the war and/or occupation of Iraq.  Such families (who are given gold stars and a U.S. flag when they would rather have a living loved one!) are often paraded before the public to drum up support for continuing the war.  GSFP defuses that exploitation to prevent its use against real debate about policy alternatives.  GSFP’s most famous (and controversial) member is, of course, “peace mom” Cindy Sheehan.

Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) is modeled on the older Vietnam Veterans Against the War and also has ties to Veterans for Peace.  Membership is open to anyone who served in the U.S. military (active duty, reservist, or national guard) since 9/11, but especially those who served in any part, even support, of the invasion and/or occupation of Iraq.  Veterans for Common Sense, like VoteVets.org, wants to be seen as a mainstream organization, not a part of a peace counter-culture. VCS is composed of military veterans who opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq and who believe that terrorism and other threats to the nation can only be successfully opposed by a sensible foreign policy that respects international law, cooperates with other nations and international organizations, and vigorously defends the human rights of everyone, including national enemies and suspected or captured terrorists. 

These organizations, and possibly others like them, have the potential of transforming presidential and Congressional races, debates in legislatures, the way the media covers military-related stories and peace-activism stories, and even the social culture of mainstream America.  That last transformation may not be as dramatic as pacifists would like (at least, not in the short run), but the transformation will be larger and longer lasting WITH the involvement of such groups than without them.  Traditional peace groups, especially those which are church-related and/or faith based, need to have as much contact and cooperation with these and similar groups as possible–and without delay.

August 30, 2007 Posted by | foreign policy, human rights., Iraq, just war theory, politics | 10 Comments

A Just War Case Against the Iraq War, p. 2

Remember, in its strict form, the form which has most thoroughly informed post-WWII international law, Just War Theory begins with a strong presumption against war.  Meeting the criteria is expected to be difficult, so that nations which value the rule of law are pressured to find alternatives to war as often as possible. (The U.S. is in the habit of calling nations which do NOT value the rule of international law “rogue nations,”–until it’s our turn to want to violate international law. Then, we talk about said law being a violation of our national sovereignty, or even of being “quaint” in a post-9/11 world.)

I. Ius ad bellum–criteria of justice in deciding whether or not to go to war.

1. Legitimate authority.  Since there is a presumption against war, only those with the legal authority to declare war, authority tied to responsibility for the public good, may authorize war.  In the U.S., the right to declare war is reserved in the U.S. Constitution for Congress, not the president. Article I, sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution enumerates the powers of Congress and includes the power to declare war.  A major legal question of the war with Iraq is whether the “authorization to use military force” given by Congress to Pres. Bush in late 2002 meets this criterion or whether only a formal declaration of war will do it. I am not a constitutional lawyer, but I think the latter because the Framers of the Constitution believed that the Executive Branch was more likely to want to go to war for frivolous reasons. They vested the power to declare war in the Legislative Branch in order to make it more difficult for presidents to go to war.  I do not see anything in the Constitution which allows Congress to pass the buck–as Sen. Byrd (D-WVA) pointed out at the time. (Note: Lest my contention seem partisan here, I should point out that presidents of both parties have violated this.  Bill Clinton’s ordering NATO bombing of Kosovo in the ’90s violated this just as much as did Bush’s invasion of Iraq. At the time, I argued that while the Lewinsky affair was probably not really impeachable, this constitutional breach really was a “high crime” for which Clinton deserved to be impeached. But, since he was in the midst of the impeachment trial over his sexual habits at the time, the more serious matter–from a global perspective–of his military adventurism was ignored.) 

There is a second element in “legitimate authority” since the founding of the United Nations.  Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution says that any international treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory share Constitution’s status as “supreme law of the land” in the U.S.  Article 51 of the United Nations Charter allows individual member states to use military force only in self-defense and then only until the Security Council can take measures to restore peace.  Since the U.S. is a member state, and since Iraq neither attacked nor threatened the U.S., it needed the approval of the U.N. Security Council to invade Iraq. There is no provision for a member state to unilaterally undertake to enforce Security Council resolutions by military force.  So, even if the Congressional “authorization” was legitimate, the U.S. did not have UN approval to invade and therefore, the criterion of “legitimate authorization” was not met. If you hear some opponents of this war call it “illegal,” this is probably what they have in mind.  But the purpose of a formal declaration of war by appropriate authority is not legalistic nit-picking, but it becomes the last chance for the enemy to sue for terms of peace.

2. Just Cause. This has always ruled out going to war to expand territory (as Germany and Japan did during WWII or the U.S. did in wars with Native Americans and with Mexico, etc.) or for revenge (e.g., “this is the guy that tried to kill my dad”) or to control another nation’s resources, etc.  But as international law has developed, especially since WWII, the causes that have been considered severe enough to justify the horrors of war have narrowed to two:  A1. If attacked by another nation, there is the inherent right to self-defense.  This is the reason that the Bush administration constantly tried to link the government of Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, either directly or through links to al-Qaeda.  These were repeatedly disproved, but the refrain was repeated so often that even as late as 2004, polls showed that most U.S. citizens believed there were direct links between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. The propaganda was effective, aided by a cooperative “news” media, as Bill Moyers’ shows in “Buying the War.”  A2. If a nation is in immediate danger of attack (not fear of attack at some vague later date), it may launch a preemptive attack as Israel did in the Six Days War. This is why the administration tried to say that Saddam Hussein had biological and chemical weapons and was in the process of obtaining nuclear weapons. This claim was also false and was known to be false in 2002.  B. Humanitarian intervention. One may engage in cross-border warfare to stop genocidal actions.  Apologists for this war often point to Saddam Hussein’s brutal tyranny and his genocidal attacks on the Kurds and his use of chemical weapons against Shi’ites during the war with Iran.  But this would have been a just cause for war AT THE TIME, not years later.  When Hussein did his horrible chemical weapons attacks, the U.S. was selling him the weapons and blaming the attacks on Iran. Remember Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam?  In 2002, when the Bush administration was urging invasion of Iraq, the Kurds had long been protected by a “No Fly Zone” of U.S. and British air patrols that prevented the government of Iraq from even entering Kurdistan, never mind harming Kurds.

Some say that the bar for just cause is lower in the case of Iraq because Saddam spent 10 years trying to violate terms of the cease fire at the end of the Gulf War.  But many nations do this. The U.S. also violated those terms in placing CIA spies among the UN weapons inspectors–which led to the end of the weapons inspections in 1998.  Only the UN Security Council could decide if violations justified renewed military action. No member state can decide to enforce UN resolutions on its own or with a “coalition of the willing.”  The U.S. has never decided to enforce all the UN resolutions against Israel’s occupation of Palestine, nor did we ever decide to invade South Africa to stop apartheid. Nor are we invading Sudan to stop the genocide of Darfur, although this would meet just cause.    The Just Cause criterion was not met in the case of Iraq and the case given to Congress and the U.S. public was based on deceptions.

3.  Right Intention or Aims.  The intention or goals of the war must be just and limited–to secure the common peace of nations.  Here, it is difficult to judge because the Bush admin.’s stated war aims changed constantly during 2002 and even since.  IF there had been a legitimate threat from Iraq, the aim of “disarming Saddam” militarily would have fit this criterion, but not the aim of “regime change.”  If Saddam had been still committing genocidal actions, then the aim of “regime change” would have been justified, but this was not the case.  Wanting regime change so that Iraq would lead the way to Arab democracy (social engineering on a global scale) is not a justified aim.  Of course, control of Iraqi oil fields (the latest law  being forced through the Iraq parliament gives massive profits from its oil fields to foreign, especially U.S., companies!) is definitely not a valid war aim.  If oil was the true motive for the war, then the criterion of right aims is clearly not met.

4.Probability of Success.  Because the horrors of war are so great, JWT has always judged that it is unjust to ask either the people of the enemy nation or one’s own people to go through them unless there is a high probability of success.  “Success” must be judged in likelihood not just of military victory over the enemy forces (few doubted the ability of the U.S. forces, even alone, in defeating the Iraqi forces of the Hussein government), but in terms of meeting the aims of the war and its aftermath.  For this reason, the Bush admin. in 2002 constantly said that Iraq would welcome us as liberators, denied that there would be much chance of Sunni vs. Shi’ia fighting, denied that the chaos of occupation would serve as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups, denied that there would be a long occupation afterward, and denied that the war would cost much.  All these things were warned about, but were ignored by the Bush administration.  It was clear even in 2002 that the probability of success was low–and the constantly shifting war aims (“mission creep”), made this lower.

5. Proportionality The conflict must not do more harm than the good it can reasonably expect to achieve.  This is closely related to the criterion of reasonable chance of success. How much environmental damage? How much suffering to the civilian population? How much is the conflict, however justified, likely to destabilize the region? Will long-simmering hatreds rise to the surface?  Will this war make other wars more likely? What damage will this do to the social fabric of the country/ region?  Will engaging in this war make it easier or harder for the nation to achieve other or even related aims (such as international cooperation in reducing terrorism)?  This is cost/benefit analysis. Is it likely that the costs (monetary, human, spiritual, social) will be less than the gains that can reasonably be expected from the war aims?  Although not everything can be predicted beforehand, it is clear that the Bush administration did not calculate proportionality very well. (Remember Rumsfeld saying that Iraq could fund 90% of its own reconstruction through oil sales? Remember the general fired for giving an estimate $200 billion–which we have now long passed?) It ignored repeated warnings about the likelihood of negative consequences. Instead, it projected a Neo-Con pipedream of a brief, almost harmless, war which would quickly result in a democratic Iraq leading the way in spreading democracy throughout the Middle East.  Administration officials who raised questions were demoted or fired.  Others who raised questions were subject to various forms of intimidation.  Patriotic fervor replaced any calculation of proportionality.

6.Last Resort.  Because the horrors of war are so great, war must be the last resort.  All other means for achieving the right aims of the war must be tried first and have been demonstrated to fail.  In this case, UN weapons inspectors were finding that Saddam was already disarmed from WMDs and would have been able to achieve any legitimate security aims through the most intrusive inspections regime the world had ever seen.  The Kurds were protected by a no fly zone.  Even if we admit “regime change” as a legitimate war aim, this could have been achieved without war.  There were high-level negotiations between the European Union and Saddam Hussein that would have resulted in his going into exile and abdicating the presidency of Iraq, but to make this work, the U.S. had to agree that if he did go into exile we would not invade.  We would not make such an agreement and this removed the incentive for Saddam to abdicate.  In my posts on just peacemaking, I show some of the “resorts” that are being developed that can be expected to be tried before war is the last resort.

II. Ius in bello–Conducting a War Justly.

1. Discrimination: One must distinguish between civilians and soldiers, between combatants and non-combatants.  No weapon or tactic which deliberately targets civilians is legitimate. (This rules out all terrorist tactics.)  In war, civilians and non-combatants will be killed. In modern war, they become the largest percentage of casualties.  JWT allows for this, although it presses for the development of weapons and tactics that will reduce civilian casualties.  JWT also recognizes that in some situations, such as insurgencies and guerilla warfare, it is VERY difficult for soldiers to distinguish combatants from non-combatants. JWT, for instance, is why so many generals worldwide joined the campaign to abolish and outlaw landmines–a campaign the U.S. has resisted.  But any tactic or weapon which makes civilian deaths likely, is forbidden. In my view, the “shock and awe” city bombing of Baghdad, hoping for a quick surrender, violated this criterion.  I also believe that the 2nd battle of Fallujah violated this criterion. In general, U.S. forces were not good about protecting hospitals, etc.  British troops, having years of training (sadly) in Northern Ireland, were generally better, at least in the initial invasion and early occupation.

Discrimination also means that enemies who have surrendered are no longer fair game for attack. They must not be tortured or treated in any way inhumanely, whatever they have done, notwithstanding. The Abu Ghraib scandal, and other examples show that this was not taken seriously by the U.S.  When Alberto Gonzales (now the U.S. Attorney General, but then the White House Chief Counsel) generated a memo claiming that the Geneva Conventions in this regard were “quaint and outmoded,” he set up conditions in which discrimination would be violated.  Nor, is it the case that waterboarding is not classified as torture:  After WWII, the U.S. tried several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding and we tried some of our own for the same thing during the Vietnam War.  All forms of degrading treatment are forbidden by both U.S. and international law. No exceptions–including exceptions for “harsh interrogation,” or because the latter is not a signatory to the Geneva Conventions.  We have, in the past, penalized other nations for using these kinds of excuses.

2. Proportionality.  This principle returns in the conduct of the war, which we already saw in judging whether or not to go to war.  There cannot be any “destroying the village to save the village” (Gen. William Westmoreland claimed this in Vietnam.) Any weapon or tactic used must do the minimum amount of damage possible.  Again, I believe “shock and awe” violated this.

For these reasons, I believe that the invasion and occupation of Iraq clearly violated the standards of Just War Theory–not to mention the higher demands of gospel nonviolence.  There is a correlary to JWT:  selective conscientious objection. It is the moral duty to refuse to serve in an unjust war (even at risk of prison or death) and, in a war fought for just reasons, to refuse any order that would violate ius in bello rules of war (even at the risk of a field court martial and imprisonment or execution).  But few churches which endorse JWT prepare their members for such possibilities. People who follow their consciences in this regard (e.g., Lt. Watada in the current conflict) are vilified rather than honored.  This undermines the ability of JWT to actually function as a curb on the conduct of wars.  I hope this exposition helps Brent of Colossians 3:16 and others.

April 27, 2007 Posted by | Iraq, just war theory | 10 Comments

A Just War Case Against the Iraq War, p. 1

No, gentle readers (all 3 of you), I haven’t abandoned my commitment to gospel nonviolence. Not at all. Like John Howard Yoder, I consider interacting with JWT a necessary ecumenical discipline of conversation with fellow Christians. Brent, over at Colossians 3:16, has started a thread on this topic.  I commented on it, but just as I don’t like hugely long comments in my blog posts (sometimes longer than the original post), I try to abide by that on other folks’ blogs. So, I am making the positive case against the Iraq War on JWT grounds here and linking back to the discussion there.  So, for the purposes of this post, I am bracketing all my exegetical and theological objections to Just War Theory as a Christian doctrine. Brent asked for wide-open comment, but respectful, of course.

Now, one reason that two people, equally committed to JWT, can look at the same war and draw different conclusions is because JWT comes in at least 2 forms which I have boringly labeled “loose” and “strict” forms for lack of more creativity in labeling.  The “loose” form, arguably the older form of the tradition, sees war as just one evil among many, but not particularly bad. It expects wars as a matter of course and, seeing Christian ethics as being done for the ruler (emperor, prince, president as “decider,” etc.), expects most wars–at least most wars desired by the nation or leaders the ethicist supports–to pass JWT muster.  The “strict” form sees war, especially modern war, as an incredible evil and sees the purpose of JWT to make it difficult (if not quite impossible) for nations to wage war legally.

As JWT has informed the development of international law, that body of law has tended to go with the stricter form. Especially since WWII, the majority of JWT thinkers have tended to enunciate a strict form of JWT, even if nations have not acted accordingly.  For instance, the Nuremberg Principles arising out of the trials of Nazi leaders at Nuremberg call any initiation of war except under threat of imminent attack, a Crime Against Peace. Many Nazi generals who had no part in atrocities (and so were not guilty of war crimes) or in the Holocaust (and so were not guilty of crimes against humanity) were nevertheless found guilty of crimes against peace for leading troops in the invasions of Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc. instead of refusing orders to do so even at cost of their lives. (For one application of the Nuremberg Principles to Iraq, click here.

Just War Theory developed slowly over time, beginning with St. Augustine’s adaptation of Stoic philosophy to the Christian norm of agape love (in a Constantinian arrangement that assumed that the Sermon on the Mount couldn’t be practiced except in private life).  I won’t go into all that here. For those interested in seeing that development, I recommend the following: 

Cahill, Lisa Sowle. Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory (Fortress Press, 1994). Also excellent for tracing the development of Christian pacifism from the 1st C. to the 20th C., too.

Johnson, James Turner. Ideology, Reason, and the Limitation of War: Religious and Secular Concepts, 1200-1740. (Princeton University Press, 1975).

_____. The Just War Tradition and the Restraint of War. (Princeton University Press, 1981).

_____. The Quest for Peace:  Three Moral Traditions in Western Cultural History. (Princeton University Press, 1987).

Russell, Frederick H. The Just War in the Middle Ages. (Cambridge University Press, 1975).

Walters, LeRoy Brandt. Five Classic Just War Theories: A Study in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas,Vitoria, Suarez,  Gentili, and Grotius. (Yale University Press, 1973).

For the modern tradition of Just War Theory, see:

Brough, Michael, et al., eds., Rethinking the Just War Tradition (SUNY Press, 2007).

Elshtain, Jean Bethke, ed. , Just War Theory: Readings in Social and Political Theory.  (New York University Press, 1992).

Friedman, Leon, ed., The Law of War:  A Documentary History. (Random House, 1972).

Johnston, James Turner. Can Modern War Be Just? (Yale University Press, 1985).

Miller, Richard B., ed., War in the Twentieth Century:  Sources in Theological Ethics (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992).

Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. 4th ed. (Basic Books, 2006).

To compare the development of JWT to various Islamic concepts of jihad, see;

Johnson, James Turner and John H. Kelsey, Just War and Jihad:  Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions. (Greenwood Press, 1991).

I have previously spelled out the principles of just war theory here. Tomorrow, I will revisit that post with more pointed application to the U.S./U.K. invasion of Iraq.

April 26, 2007 Posted by | Iraq, just war theory | 4 Comments

Peace Blogger Interview # 5: Lee McCracken

Welcome to the 5th installment in our series of interviews with the folks in the Christian Peace Bloggers blog-ring.  For the previous interviews in this series, see #s 1, 2, 3, & 4. Up today is Lee McCracken who runs the blog, A Thinking Reed.   Welcome to the interview, Lee.

MLW-W:  Let’s get right to it. How would you describe yourself? 

Lee: In the words of my blog description: a thirty-something mainline Protestant, political outlier, aspiring vegetarian, heavy metal aficionado, husband, and coffee addict. (Not necessarily in order of importance). I grew up in western
Pennsylvania and attended college there. I pursued graduate studies in the Midwest, and since then have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia, and now Boston.

MLW-W:  I’ve been an “aspiring vegetarian” before and found it quite difficult. But what is a “political outlier?” I’m not familiar with that term. 

Lee: That’s just my way of saying that I don’t really feel like I fit in anywhere on the current American political landscape. Philosophically, I’m pretty conservative, but I think contemporary political conservatism is more or less a disaster. But nor do I think of myself as a liberal or leftist.

MLW-W: I think many readers of these interviews, and not just those in the U.S.,  could make similar comments.   Shifting topics, tell us about your family. 

Lee: I’m married to my wife of six years and we have two cats; I’ve got one older sister who’s married and has two adolescent boys, who all live in the same town where we grew up, as do my parents.

MLW-W:  What do you do for a living?  When not working or blogging, what do you like to do? 

Lee: I work in the editorial department of a large publishing firm. In my spare time I like to spend time with my wife, enjoy the outdoors, read books on theology, philosophy, culture, politics, and even the occasional novel, spend time with friends, and enjoy the cultural offerings of the Boston area.

MLW-W: How did you get into publishing? 

Lee: The way I personally got into it was by applying for an entry-level position as an editorial assistant. I had just come out of grad school studying philosophy and had essentially no experience in the corporate sector. While being an editorial assistant isn’t the most glamorous (or high-paying!) job in the world, it provided a stepping-stone to better things.

MLW-W:  Tell us something about your faith. How long have you been a Christian? 

Lee: I’ve been a convinced and practicing Christian since about 2001.

MLW-W: That’s pretty recent to be as well-informed as your blog shows you to be. You must not be kidding about reading theology!  Of what local congregation/parish are you a member? If your local church is part of a denomination, what is it? 

    Lee: I attend the Church of the Advent in Boston (Episcopal), often called the “flagship parish” of Anglo-Catholicism in the

MLW-W:  You mentioned that you have been a practicing Christian only since 2001, but some people come back to the churches of their childhood.  So, were you raised as a cradle Episcopalian? Have you ever been part of a different Christian denomination or tradition? 

Lee: I was baptized in a Reformed church and attended Presbyterian and Methodist churches during my childhood. From about age 15 to 25 I was more or less completely unchurched. My wife and I have been members of several Lutheran (ELCA) congregations since we’ve been married, but we started attending “The Advent” shortly after moving to Boston in the summer of 2006.

MLW-W: How did you get into blogging?   What do you like about it?  Are there problems you see with blogging? 

Lee: Blogging seemed like the ideal way to spare my long-suffering wife my political tirades and inflict them on an unsuspecting world instead. I also initially saw it as a way of “thinking out loud” about various things I’m interested in. One problem I see with blogging is that there’s a temptation to write with more certainty than one genuinely has. What begins as a tentative and exploratory project can quickly become polemical.

MLW-W:  How do you relate your faith to issues of peacemaking? What sources of strength have you found? 

Lee: I think for me the most important resource provided by my faith has been a certain critical distance over the last six years as we see our nation launching into what our rulers have called a generation-long “war on terror.” I see the role of Christians to be, in part, one of asking tough questions and questioning the assumptions that a lot of modern statecraft takes for granted. Christians of all people should be able to critically examine their own motives and not neatly divide the world into the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness.

MLW-W:  How do you think Christians can foster such critical distance from unthinking nationalism? We know that this kind of national idolatry has been a problem in other times and places in church history, most notoriously during the Nazi period when most German churches and pastors uncritically supported Hitler and turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the sufferings of the Jews. So, what kinds of practices could churches adopt which would help to immunize them against such nationalist fervor and help them be able to pose such critical questions to the nation-state?

Lee: I think Christians need to be reminded that our first allegiance is to God. One way of doing that is to learn the Christian story as the most important story of our lives, rather than the story of any particular political entity. As a liturgical Christian I find the church year with its seasons and feasts to be a good way of learning this story and beginnning to see ourselves in its light.

Another obvious issue is to be better connected with Christians around the world and try to understand how our nation’s policies affect them.

MLW-W: I have been stressing the second part of your answer for some time.  I think U.S. Christians have less contact with Christians around the world than ever before.  It used to be that furloughing missionaries regularly toured local churches in their denomination while on furlough and taught about their host culture (along with drumming up financial support). They also often arranged for representative leaders from their host culture to visit U.S. churches, too. Since most mainline Protestant denominations have been fielding fewer missionaries and instead mostly providing financial support to indigenous leaders in various former mission fields, that contact is much smaller.  I think that one result has been that U. S. Christians usually know only what the mainstream media propaganda tell them about other cultures. Combined with the fact that most Americans are not fluent in any other language than English and many are remarkably uncurious about the world outside our borders, and we have a people that is ripe to believe any nationalist propaganda that comes down the pike.  It’s a very scary situation.

Switching gears, do you consider yourself a pacifist? If so, say something about how you see nonviolence (or nonresistance) and its connections to the gospel.  Were you raised a Christian pacifist or did you convert to this view and, if the latter, tell us something of how that came about? 



Lee: I don’t consider myself a pacifist, though I’m very sympathetic to pacifism and have learned a lot from the writings and examples of pacifists.

MLW-W: Do you consider yourself part of the Just War tradition?  How do you connect JWT to the gospel and to Jesus’ command to be peacemakers? 

Lee: I do consider myself part of the Just War tradition broadly speaking. This is the tradition in which the churches under whose authority I most directly stand are situated, and reason and experience seem to me to corroborate this stance.

Just War theory, as I understand it, is rooted ultimately in the call to love our neighbor. Protecting the innocent from aggression can be, in my view, a legitimate function of the political authorities, just as ensuring social and economic justice is. But the rationale for going to war also delimits it; it’s the commitment to protecting the innocent that gives rise to the limitations JWT puts on the conduct of war.

Jesus’ call to be peacemakers is an important part of the gospel and I see the role of Christians to be to press for nonviolent solutions to problems wherever possible. According to Just War theory war should be a last resort, and I believe our polity has failed to take that seriously enough. So, one of the roles of Christians ought to be to press our leaders not to consider war-making a routine tool of policy.

MLW-W: Are you familiar with the emerging ethic of Just Peacemaking? It attempts to find common ground between pacifists and Just War folk by providing real content to the criterion of “last resort,” spelling out what “resorts” should be tried first. There would still be differences between Just War theorists and pacifists if all efforts failed, but this kind of ethic puts the emphasis on what we should be doing actively for a just peace, rather than on when and if we are ever allowed to make war.  

Lee: I’m not too familiar with this line of thought, but it’s definitely something I’m interested in learning more about.

MLW-W:  Well, in that case, I refer Lee and our readers herehere, and here, as well as here , and here .  Switching gears, again, what led you to join Christian Peace Bloggers?  Since joining have you blogged any posts on peacemaking?  Have they gotten any feedback from readers?

 Lee: CPB seemed to me a good way to bring together bloggers of both pacifist and just war outlooks who share a concern about current U.S. policy, especially in Iraq. I see more uniting than dividing pacifists and JWT-ists with respect to issues like preventive war as well as associated issues connected with civil liberties and the treatment of detainees. I think it’s good to have a critical Christian perspective represented in the blogosphere.  I’ve posted several items on war & peace and have received good feedback from readers, some of it critical, which I like.

MLW-W:  Do you read any of the other blogs in the blog-ring? Which ones do you like and why?  Have you alerted any readers to your blog about these blogs (or specific posts on them) which you like? 

Lee: I’m a long-time fan of Avdat, The Ivy Bush, Leaving Münster, and A Conservative Blog for Peace, (and Levellers too, of course!). I like to read blogs that provide a wide range of viewpoints – theological, political, etc. I think CPB has done a great job bringing together voices from across the spectrum.

MLW-W: Those are some good blogs, by some good Christian thinkers. I’m not sure being a fan of Levellers is “of course,” but thanks, anyway. I agree that the blog-ring has brought together a wide range of voices and approaches to peacemaking and started some interesting cross-fertilization of perspectives. It’s caught on much faster than I had any reason to expect.  MLW-W:  Outside of blogging, do you participate in any other peace-related activities or organizations? If so, tell us about them. 

Lee: I’m not much of an activist, but I do try to lend some support to organizations that I think are doing good work. I think one of the more promising recent organizations is the National Religious Coalition Against Torture , which has been spearheaded by theologian George Hunsinger. I happily signed their petition and have tried to use what small influence I have to bring attention to that particular issue. 

MLW-W: That campaign is also one that I have tried to highlight on this blog, along with the recent spin-off organization, Evangelicals for Human Rights and the work of torture-survivor, Sr. Diana Ortiz, and her organization, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International.  Does your local congregation take peace issues seriously? Give us some example, if “yes.” If “no,” what could you do to raise awareness about this in your local congregation? 

Lee: I wouldn’t necessarily say that my parish is active in “peace issues” as such. We have a wide diversity of political outlooks among parishioners from the ultra-conservative to the ultra-liberal, which is actually part of what I like about it. However, we are involved in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization which promotes interfaith cooperation in addressing local issues like health care and urban violence. This strikes me as a good thing both in bringing a faith-based perspective to issues faced by the city, but also in fostering cooperation among Christians, Jews, Muslims and others, which seems more necessary than ever.

 MLW-W: What about your denomination or your church’s wider connections to the Church Universal?  Are peace issues a part of those non-local/denominational connections? 

Lee: The leadership of both the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the two bodies I identify most closely with, were vocal in their opposition to the Iraq War. Both are also very involved in overseas humanitarian projects and promoting social justice which, one hopes, will help uproot at least some of the causes of conflict in our world.

MLW-W:  Have you travelled outside your home nation? How well do you stay informed with global events? 

Lee: I’ve been to Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Italy, and had wonderful experiences in all those places. The Internet has made an unprecedented amount of information from around the world available to anyone with a connection (even if it has also made an unprecedented amount of garbage available). I’d say I get 90% of my news from the Internet in fact. There’s also a plethora of alternative media available online, if you can separate the wheat from the chaff.

MLW-W: What do you think would help folk learn to separate wheat from chaff in either mainstream media or the alternatives available online? 

Lee: This is tricky because most of us have to rely on the accounts of others to know what’s going on – we’re not in a position to be on the ground in Iraq, say. And most people, to be fair, simply don’t have the time to sift through the vast sea of information out there – they’re too busy working, raising their families, etc. For those who have the luxury, I think it’s good to expose yourself to a variety of viewpoints from across the political spectrum as well as to international news. There’s a very noticeable difference between the way certain issues are covered in the U.S. just compared to other Anglophone nations.

MLW-W:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? 

Lee: Just that I’m thankful for the opportunity to participate in this endeavor.

MLW-W: Thanks for participating. Folks, if you enjoyed this and would find more of Lee’s perspectives, be sure to keep checking out, A Thinking Reed.

April 11, 2007 Posted by | blog-ring, just war theory, peace, sexism | 2 Comments

The Watada Case & Just War Theory

Although I am a Christian pacifist, my mentors, Glen H. Stassen and John Howard Yoder, taught me to learn Just War Theory at least as well as its supporters for several reasons: 1) To enlist JWTers support in opposing particular wars; 2) To ask about the adequacy of church practices in preparing Christians in the virtues needed for either pacifism or JWT; 3) To ask about internal weaknesses in JWT and what they might mean for its viability as a “live moral option,” especially for Christians. The case of the trial of U.S. Army Lt. Watada falls into the 3rd category.

Nota Bene: Yesterday, the judge in Lt. Watada’s court martial declared a mistrial and, because of double jeopardy issues, this may end the legal threats against him. I’ll continue the rest of this post with that in mind, but I think the issues the case raises for JWT remain the same. The mistrial declaration appears to hang on technical violations by the prosecution and not on the issues important here.

Summary of the case: In the aftermath of 9/11, Ehren Watada decided to join the U.S. Army specifically to be part of the effort to defend the nation in the “war against terrorism.” Already a college graduate with a bright future, Watada was not part of the “poverty draft,” but saw himself as a volunteer in a noble cause. Convinced by the Bush administration’s case against Iraq, he joined specifically wanting to be deployed in Iraq. But, during officer training school, Watada learned Just War Theory and how it is (supposedly) embedded in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, specifically in the difference between lawful orders, which must be followed, and unlawful orders, which must be refused. Watada also continued to follow the news and was astonished when no Weapons of Mass Destruction were found in Iraq and, point by point, the Bush administration’s case for the invasion (ius ad bellum, “justifications for the war” in JWT terms which must reach the level of a causus belli, a just reason for the war) fell apart.

By the time Watada’s unit was to be ordered to Iraq, he came to the conclusion that the war was illegal under both U.S. and international law. Therefore, any order to deploy to Iraq was illegal and any orders he would give as an officer in that deployment would be illegal. So Watada refused to be deployed with his unit. Note carefully: He was not claiming to have become a conscientious objector. One can apply for CO status in the U.S. military (I did over 20 years ago when I became converted to gospel nonviolence), although it is harder to win that status during war time. But Watada had not embraced pacifism and had no objection to military service as such. He volunteered to be sent to Afghanistan (which still seemed justified in his view), instead.

He was charged with several counts of missing troop movements, refusing to follow orders, and conduct unbecoming an officer. If he had been convicted (or if there is a 2nd trial and he is convicted), the maximum sentence he could receive would be a dishonorable discharge and 4 years in military prison. (Had his refusal taken place in Iraq, in the war zone, he might have been arrested and flown home for trial, but he could have been given a field court martial and possibly executed on the spot.)

Now, here’s where things get interesting for our purposes: Watada was told that he could not bring up the issue of the war’s legality in his court martial. Nor could he offer his reasons for refusing to deploy in his defense. This tactic is not limited to military courts martial. There have been many cases of civil disobedience in post-Vietnam era U.S. history (especially under federal judges appointed by Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I & II) involving trespass at military bases or attempted destruction of nuclear weapons in which defendants were not allowed to bring up the legality of such weapons under U.S. or international law, nor allowed to cite the Nuremberg Principles in their defence.

Q: Naturally, a jury could decide that someone like Watada was wrong in application, but if judges rule that one may not even bring up the question of an order’s legality, then what is the point of the distinction between lawful and unlawful orders? Deeply embedded in Just War Theory is the concept that unjust wars may not be fought and unjust actions in war must be refused. Is this a “live option” in the U.S. context? If not, can U.S. Christians who hold to JWT join the U.S. military? A “blank check” to the nation agreeing to fight any wars it wants to fight is ruled out by JWT, but is the U.S. effectively asking its citizens in uniform for such a blank check? If so, if adherence to JWT norms is impossible in the U.S. context, can U.S. Christians give it any support? Should they then re-investigate the claims of Christian pacifism?

February 8, 2007 Posted by | just war theory | 17 Comments

U.S. Troops Cheer as Iraqi Troops Beat Suspects


Is THIS the meaning of U.S. “training” of Iraqi troops? How does this help build a democracy that respects human rights? Will the surge’s “clear and hold” tactics simply continue ethnic cleansing? If the Iraqi troops are this much a part of the sectarian violence, just HOW are more U.S. troops going to help? Are we STILL so sure that Abu Ghraib was the work of “a few bad apples?”

January 28, 2007 Posted by | human rights., just war theory | 2 Comments

Evangelical Baptist Calls for End to Iraq War

Although I am not as successful at this as Dan Trabue, I try to cultivate friendships with many people who do not share my theological or political commitments. Put differently, I realize that in real life people do not fit neatly into labels like “conservative,” or “liberal,” etc. One of my more conservative friends is Dave Gushee, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University in Jackson, TN. Dave is a self-confessed “conservative evangelical,” and Southern Baptist who is pro-life and takes conservative views of most bio-medical issues like stem cell research. He has also written in favor of making divorce more difficult, especially based on its harm to children. Dave takes a Stan Grenze-type “welcoming but NOT affirming,” view on “homosexuality” that we have debated vigorously.

But Dave does not predictably line up with the Religious Right: He takes very liberal views on abolishing hunger and poverty (including a support of progressive taxation and universal healthcare), works to expose the racism still prevalent in evangelical circles, is a strong environmentalist (although Dave prefers to speak of “creation care,”), opposes capital punishment and advocates massive prison reform, and is a strong champion of women’s equality with men in home, church, and society. Nor is it your average evangelical Southern Baptist who has written a book on the Holocaust that has drawn praise from Jewish scholars! He was one of the original drafters of the statement of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture . So, Dave is a good example of the way people in “real life” are far more complicated than labels like “conservative” or “liberal” cover. We are strong allies in many areas and have vigorous debates in others.

One area where we have been growing closer is in our views on war and peace. Dave began as a classic Just War Theorist, though with a bent toward active peacemaking. He still hasn’t embraced Christian pacifism/gospel nonviolence, but he has come closer–arguing in recent years that the church should be more concerned to work for peace in all places and times, instead of providing theological justifications for war. Nations will provide their own justifications without help from the churches!

But, not being a principled pacifist, Dave was, like many Americans Christian and otherwise, conflicted at the beginning of the Iraq war. Sensitized by his holocaust research to the horrors of genocidal actions, Dave was very sympathetic with the desire to remove Saddam Hussein from power even though he was uncertain of the Bush admin.’s case for invasion. But, now, Dave argues that the way Saddam’s execution was conducted as a lynching reveals starkly the civil war nature of the Iraq situation. He calls for bringing our troops home, now. “I don’t see how we can justify the death of one more American soldier in the cause of a “democracy” such as the one on display at the execution of Saddam Hussein. Let’s bring the troops home ” says Gushee.

Melissa Rogers rightly notes, “When someone like Gushee calls for bringing the troops home, it seems like a point worth plotting in the shift of American opinion on the war in Iraq.” In other words, this criticism doesn’t come from the “usual suspects.” Polls show that self-identified evangelicals still show more support for the war than any other segment of U.S. society, but that support is fragmenting. Maybe more evangelicals will listen to one of their own like Dave Gushee and demand an end to this war. I hope so.

January 9, 2007 Posted by | Iraq, just war theory, peace | 6 Comments