Saturday, December 20, 2008

Just War?: Background, Part 1

A few weeks ago I finally finished a book with multiple views on the role of church and state. It was too long a process, but enlightening. I found Ronald Sider’s treatment of pacifism of particular interest as he was defending the Anabaptist position on church/state relations. As I was loitering in a bookstore a few days later a title caught my eye: When God Says War is Right by Darrell Cole. It is a brief book that lays out the theory and application of just war theory in a simple way. I’ll summarize his work and interact with it to a certain degree, but it seems like a good, slim volume that can help me understand this perspective. As a disclaimer, I think I am probably in the just war camp to begin with, but it is certainly not through much contemplation and reflection. Rather, it is probably due to tradition and our Judeo-Christian heritage. Regardless, here goes…

Let’s start with Cole’s definition of just war:
“The classic just war doctrine as articulated by the Church does not view all use of force as evil; rather, it declares that war can actually be a positive act of love entirely consistent with the character of God. Love of God and neighbor impels Christians to seek a just peace for all, especially for their neighbors, and military force is sometimes an appropriate means for seeking that peace” (p. 7).
Cole starts off recognizing the tension that exists when Jesus says to turn the other cheek and love your enemies and yet God, at other places in Scripture, instructs His people to kill – and even does so Himself. Rather than pointing to specific Bible verses (which I hope he gets to later), just war is theologically born – specifically from Aquinas and Calvin.

Sider, and I’m sure others, argue that the early Christians were all pacifists because war wasn’t an option for early believers. Cole, however, seems to give a compelling survey of church fathers who, while they aren’t wild about the idea of Chrsitian soldiers, saw that believers could follow God in this capacity. And those who thought clergy ought not fight still saw the role of Christians to pray for just war.

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