War What is it Good For?: When is it right to go to war?
The intersection of nationalism and Christianity has always intrigued me. What place does being a citizen of a country have in relation to our citizenship in the Kingdom of Christ. This intersection gets particularly interesting as it relates to issues like immigration, and especially war. Throughout the history of the church, Christians have tried to think through war and when it is good and just. Now of course war is only at best a necessary evil that is the result of a fallen and broken world, but within that world how should people, and more specifically how should Christians think about war?
Initially, it may seem difficult to reconcile something as horrible as a war with Christianity. After all the central ethic of Christianity is love, Christians are commanded to “turn the other cheek,” and to “not kill.” But what if an evil army is inflicting massive harm on innocent people, what if a dictator has the vision of taking over the whole world and killing any human who wasn’t of a particular race? Is there any justification to stop such an army or dictator through war?
Western thinkers and more specifically Christian western thinkers have proposed “Just War Theory” which includes, “the right to go to war,” and “right conduct in war.” This line of thinking goes all the way back to St. Augustine (354-430) who wrote in his classic City of God, “They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’” By the time of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) the church had begun laying out criteria for a Just War. Thomas Wrote:
First, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. (Proper Authority is first: represents the common good: which is peace for the sake of man's true end—God.) Second, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain (for example, "in the nation's interest" is not just) or as an exercise of power (just cause: for the sake of restoring some good that has been denied. i.e. lost territory, lost goods, punishment for an evil perpetrated by a government, army, or even the civilian populace). Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence. (right intention: an authority must fight for the just reasons it has expressly claimed for declaring war in the first place. Soldiers must also fight for this intention).
Recently the Catholic Church has summarized a Just War or “legitimate defense by military force" as necessarily fitting into these four criteria:
First, the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain. Second, all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective. Third, there must be serious prospects of success. And finally, the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated (the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition).
My own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has never formally systematized a justification for war and has ever urged its members “toward peace” in any formal meeting. At the 1940 Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, Maryland Southern Baptists passed a resolution that basically allowed Southern Baptists to disagree on whether bearing arms was just and good. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the official confession of the denomination only minimally speaks to war saying:
It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.
The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.
On September 3rd, 2017 Kim Jong-un of North Korea set off a nuclear bomb under a mountain in Korea. This was a signal to the world that the Kim regime was armed with nuclear weapons and whether we have acknowledged it or not, we have all been a little less safe since that time. Kim Jong-un has regularly made threats to South Korea, Japan, and even the United States. President Donald Trump has made some threats of his own though saying to the United Nations, “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea, ‘Rocket Man’ is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” We don’t know what tomorrow will hold for North Korea, the United States, or the World but it is a good time to be thinking through it.
And so tonight a group of men are gathering at my house at 7pm for the Think Through It Forum. We are serving smoked meat, sides, and drinks; and we’ll be sitting around to discuss this idea of Just War. Obviously, I will be thinking through this as a Christian but all are welcome to the discussion. War What is it Good For?: When is it right to go to war? We’ll see you tonight at 7pm as we think through it together.