September 6, 2002
A Just War?
-- James Evans
Momentum is building for a war with Iraq. The Bush Administration has been leaking information to, among other things, measure public opinion and uncover what questions a war with Iraq would provoke.
What questions should it provoke? Should we question anything at all? Does being a loyal citizen and patriot require that we accept without question whatever our government decides to do, especially in a time of war?
This is a hard matter for anyone to resolve and even more so for people of faith, who often have to choose between conflicting loyalties. Christianity has a long standing uneasiness about war. This uneasiness is rooted in the identity and teachings of Jesus. Jesus was, after all, hailed as the Prince of Peace. It was also Jesus who said, love your enemy, and turn the other cheek.
Jesus' identity and teachings have not served to make Christianity a pacifist faith, although there are pacifist sects within Christianity, but it has served to make Christians cautious about war. As early as Augustine, Christian leaders have recognized that war is fundamentally opposed to the ideals of Christianity. If Christians choose to participate in war, it can only be under the most stringent of circumstances.
In order to establish these circumstances, Christian thinkers formulated over time what has come to be known as the Just War Theory.
There are three main features to Just War Theory: just cause, competent authority, and right intent. A just cause includes self-defense or defending a weaker country from a more powerful aggressor. Competent authority refers to those who are making the decision to wage war, that is, a duly recognized governmental body. Right intent refers to the motivation for war. If the intent is merely to inflict harm, seek revenge, or gain some economic advantage, then the cause is not just.
As people of faith facing the prospect of a war with Iraq, an action that will put millions of lives at risk, we must consider the issues raised by the concept of a just war.
No one questions the legitimacy of the American government to make the decision, it's the other criteria that are more difficult to establish. Is our country under a direct threat, or are we dealing with a potential threat, or even a likely threat? In short, do we have a just cause for waging war?
And what is our intent? The stated purpose of the war is to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Is that a legitimate cause? Is any part of our action motivated by revenge for the events of September 11?
If we are to be faithful to the ideals of our faith, before we consent to the killing of our declared enemy, we should strive diligently to be sure our cause is just. If we determine it is not, then we should not pursue it.
Even if we determine our cause is just, we may only submit to war with a somber spirit, and with repentant hearts. No cause is so just that we may kill without sorrow.
James L. Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, AL. He can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.