Archives For Just War

Brian_-_September_30__2008Pope Francis has called for today to be a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. Catholic or not, at a time when Christians are diffused over so many different communions and traditions, Pope Francis offers a helpful singular voice of faith, a Christ-like perspective that transcends national and cultural distinctions.

There’s absolutely no defensible Christian reason not to do exactly what Francis calls Christians to do. I’ve now been at my present congregation long enough that youth I once saw dressed awkwardly for their confirmation are now wearing uniforms. I don’t want to see them wearing flags, as palls. As for their parents, this is more than an academic, theological question for me.

Francis’ is the loudest Christian voice reflecting on the Church’s vocation in times of war.

Popular author, Rachel Held Evans, has this piece in which she also counsels prayer and fasting.

Mark Tooley, at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, has this one, in which he concedes more than counsels that Christians can pray for peace.

Meanwhile, Brian Zahnd, a pastor and author in Missouri, has this post, essentially urging Christians to be a prayer for the world.

The distinction is important.

While I can’t say I’m a fan of Rachel Held Evans, I do admire the openness with which she wrestles the Christianity of her upbringing. My lack of fandom probably owes only to the fact that, unlike her, I grew up neither Southern nor Evangelical. I’m also aware that minus Fleming Rutledge there’s a paucity of female theologians referenced on this blog so I feel badly that I’m being critical now.

Nonetheless…in her post, ‘When It’s Too Big,’ RHE commends prayer because the Syrian issue is too complex and the right ‘solution’ too elusive. Because it’s ambiguous what Christians should do, the least they can do is pray.

I’m likewise reticent to critique Tooley’s post because I don’t want to be excoriated on the IRD blog the same way Rachel herself was a time ago. Still, reading ‘Syrian War and Churches’ you’d conclude Tooley thought Christians were just foolish people except that he’s one himself.

‘Syrian War and Churches’ lauds the Archbishop of Cantebury’s support of Syrian intervention because it meets Just War criteria, which, in its lack of any defined, measurable goal, it most definitely does not.

Let’s never mind the inconvenient truth that Just War Theory has NEVER prevented Christians from engaging in war. That it hasn’t suggests Just War Theory is less about discerning how Christians should navigate their dual commitments to State and Church and is more about providing a logical pretense for doing what you were going to do anyway- whatever the State wants you.

The sweeping way Tooley dismisses non-violence as a legitimate form of Christian witness is a post for another day, as is the way in which his defense of Just War Theory is replete with the fingerprints of Consequentialism.

Like in RHE’s post, Tooley allows for the role of prayer but scolds that Christians should not keep their faith from being serious about the solutions that may or may not be necessary when it comes to war.

Though they’d never want to share the company, Tooley and RHE both share the assumption that its the calling of Christians to find the right solution and contribute towards it.

Clearer put, they assume its the job of Christians to make the world come out right.

Brian Zahnd, on the other hand, gets right what I think both Tooley and RHE get wrong.

To the charge, which echoes Tooley’s post, ‘We have to be realistic’ Zahnd writes:

Being “realistic” does not exempt us from faithfulness to Christ. If we tell ourselves that Jesus has called us to “change the world” then we quickly find ways to justify our violent means. But Jesus doesn’t call us to change the world — he calls us to be faithful to his ways of peace. If in our faithfulness to Jesus we happen to change the world, fine, but our first call is to remain faithful. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, not because this is an “effective tactic,” but because this is what God is like.

To the counter that sometimes violence is necessary, Zahnd replies:

If we think violence is a viable option you can be sure we will resort to it. If violence is on the table, imagination is out the window. First century Jerusalem could not imagine any other way than violent revolution against the Romans. Jesus could. Jesus not only imagined the alternative, he embodied it. On the cross. And he calls us to follow him. If we don’t know (or refuse to know) the things that make for peace, we march blindly toward another fiery Gehenna.

Zahnd’s internal monologue goes on:

“You’re not being practical.”

No, I am not.

“You’re being foolish.”

It depends on whose lens you’re looking through. I grant that there are ways of looking at what I’m saying as foolishness. But I also insist that to live Christlike in a Caesar-like world is to risk being called a fool or worse.

What Zahnd gets right that others miss is that Christians are not called to solve the world’s problems, to offer solutions as though with our worldly wisdom and worldly ways we can bring the Kingdom of God ourselves.

Rather, as Jesus said right before he ascended to the Father, we’re called to witness to the Kingdom.

That’s a very different proposition.

When Jesus leads his disciples up to the Mt of Olives in Matthew 25, they ask Jesus: When will temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of the coming age?

Rather then answer them directly, Jesus responds with a series of parables about what kind of people his People should be in order to anticipate the coming age.

And the setting for all of this is the Mt of Olives, the place where Jews believed God would begin to usher in the new age (Zechariah 14.1-5).

Jesus predicts destruction, he takes them up to this mountain that’s loaded with symbolism- so why wouldn’t the disciples ask: ‘What will be the sign?’

Because the setting is the place where Jews believed God would end this age, to read the parable that follows rightly you have to go all the way back to the very beginning of scripture, to God’s original design, and God’s promise for a New Creation.

The Hebrew word for that harmony is ‘shalom,’ a word the New Testament translates as ‘peace.’ But it’s not just a sentiment or a feeling of tranquility. It’s restoration. Throughout scripture God’s judgment is against those who work against shalom.

Shalom is not just an abstract theme of scripture; it takes tangible form in the Torah where God lays out Israel’s special charge to care for the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the sick, the poor- whether they’re on the inside of community or the outside of the community because, as Leviticus says, ‘they’re just like you’ (19).

Implied in the Jewish Law is the reality that the stranger and the widow and the orphan and the poor lack an advocate in this world. They are a sign of what’s broken in creation; therefore, God intervenes for them by calling Israel to labor with him in establishing God’s shalom.

This partnership between God and God’s People- this is how God puts creation back together again. This is what the Old Testament is about.

Then, in the New, God becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ to model shalom for us. Until God brings forth the New Heaven and the New Earth he calls the believing community to embody in every aspect of their lives the shalom that is made flesh in Jesus Christ.

The works of mercy listed in Jesus’ parable- they’re not just a simple list of good deeds.

It’s a summary of what God’s shalom looks like.

This parable isn’t a superficial reminder to do good to others. It’s a description of Israel’s vocation, a vocation taken on by and made flesh in Jesus Christ.

This parable is Jesus’ final teaching moment before his passion begins. It’s the equivalent of the end of John’s Gospel where Jesus breathes on his disciples and says: ‘My shalom I give you.’

The point is not that we will be judged according to our good deeds per se.

The point is that we will be judged by the extent to which we embody Christ’s life.

The point is not that our faith or beliefs in Jesus have nothing to do with how we will be judged.

The point is we will be judged by the extent to which our faith in Christ has allowed us to conform our lives to witness to his way of life- which is the life God desired for all of us before Sin entered the world.

Ask yourself: who is it that welcomes the stranger, loves their enemy, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, brings good news to the prisoner?

This is a description of Jesus’ life.

The sheep in Matthew 25 are saved not because of their good deeds.

The sheep are saved because they’ve dared to witness to the life that redeems the world.

The sign of the new age that the disciples were asking about?

The sign of that new age are a people bold enough to embody the life of Christ. That’s why Jesus tells this story.

When we say that Jesus is the only way to the Father, we don’t just mean our belief in Jesus is the only way to the Father.

We also mean Jesus’ way of life is the only way we get to the Father’s love.

Scripture doesn’t teach that after we welcome them the stranger will cease being strange to us or that our differences are insignificant.

Scripture doesn’t teach that by loving our enemies our enemies will cease to be our enemies.

Scripture doesn’t teach that by visiting the prisoner we’ll convince the prisoner to swear off crime.

Scripture doesn’t teach that in feeding the hungry the hungry will show appreciation to us or that in caring for the needy we won’t find the needy a burden to us.

The Christian life isn’t being ‘realistic’ as the world defines it, and it’s not about solutions to creation’s problems.

It’s about witness to a different reality; it’s about a witness that anticipates and ever so slightly contributes towards the New Creation.

In a world of violence and injustice and poverty and loneliness Jesus has called us to be a people who welcome strangers and love enemies and refuse the sword and bring good news to prisoners, feed and cloth the poor and care for those who have no one.

An alternative.

Not a solution.

And so Zahnd and Francis are absolutely, urgently right. Prayer isn’t what you do when the realistic solutions are elusive and its not what you do after you’ve gone about realistically solving the world’s problems.

If God raised Jesus from the dead, the prayer of an alternative community is the most realistic thing there can be.

 

Unknown-1With military action against Syria increasingly looking like a foregone conclusion, I’ve heard lots of chatter on NPR and elsewhere about the separation of powers and what authority the constitution does and does not afford the President when it comes to war- concerns that must have been in hibernation during the previous administration.

When it comes to Syria, I’ve heard liberals making liberal political arguments and I’ve heard conservatives making conservative political arguments. What I haven’t heard much of is Christians making Christian arguments.

While I’ve have substantive problems with the Christian Just War tradition and have been open about being a closet Mennonite; nonetheless, Just War theory remains arguably the most dominant Christian tradition with respect to war.  For that reason, perhaps it’s helpful to outline its parameters and then you can discern how intervention against Syria fits the bill.

Below is a synopsis I wrote with Dr Barry Penn Hollar:

Just War theory was “borrowed” from the Roman Stoic tradition by Christian theologians, like Augustine and Aquinas, who gave it a distinctly Christian orientation. The development of this tradition reflects the changing context of Christian faith and witness.

By the fourth century, the Christian expectation of Jesus’ imminent return had waned. The church was no longer a persecuted minority in a hostile Roman empire. Indeed, soon after the emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, Christianity became the official religion of the empire and, at least nominally, Christian religion enjoyed majority status.

In such a context, it may have been inevitable that Christians came to recognize military participation as a legitimate expression of discipleship.

Now that the instruments of earthly authority were in their hands (rather than dripping with their blood!), they inevitably asked about the appropriate use of those instruments in the service of order and justice.

Not surprisingly, they came to feel a sense of responsibility that was not theirs before and to question whether prayer was an adequate Christian contribution to the welfare of the empire as they had believed earlier.

What developed over the centuries was a set of criteria for determining when it is appropriate for those in authority to go to war (just ad bellum) and what moral restraint should be shown in the waging of war (jus in bello).

The starting point for thinking about when it is appropriate to go to war was the idea of legitimate authority.

Only those with authority (from God?) for public order could wage war. Private violence, or violence in the service of individual interests continued to be condemned, but war as instrument of those charged with responsibility for public order and justice was recognized as morally appropriate.

Prior to the democratic revolutions and the development of democratic ideas about legitimacy, there was a strong presupposition of individual obedience to the authorities.

The authorities decided when war was just; individual citizens obeyed.  Matters are complicated somewhat by modern ideas about governmental authority arising from the consent of the governed.

In a democratic society, broad public support for war is not just a practical matter; since the legitimacy of the government depends on the consent of the governed, some would argue that war without broad public support is not waged with legitimate authority.

The just war tradition insisted that war could only be waged for a “just cause” and not simply to protect and promote the interests of some party or even of the nation as a whole.

Surely, war cannot be waged for the purpose of building or expanding an empire.  In the words of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic rights of whole populations.”

As well, the tradition insists that a nation can only wage war with a “right intention,” that is, motivated by the just cause and with the goal of achieving a just peace.

War fought out of hatred for the enemy and when expressed justifying causes are merely a mask for ulterior interests and motives is ruled out.

A legitimate authority with a just cause and right intentions must engage in further moral reflection before going to war.

It must be certain that war is a “last resort.”

Put differently, if there are other means (diplomatic pressure, boycotts, embargos, etc.) for defending the just cause and achieving a just and stable peace that could reasonably be expected to work, they should be tried before going to war.

We must also ask whether there is a “reasonable chance of success.”

It is not right to go to war—that is, to pursue a policy that inevitably involves death and destruction—if one has little or no chance of winning the war and, more important, achieving the just peace one seeks.

Finally, one must ask the question of “proportionality.”

Even if we win, will we have done more harm than good.

These final three critieria all involve great wisdom and prudence. They are not matters about which one can have mathematical certainty; they are matters of moral wisdom about which well-meaning people will disagree. This is especially true of proportionality.

Imagine one has a just cause (saving the citizens of Dafur, for example) and the military might necessary to defeat the forces promoting the evil injustices that appropriately cause moral outrage.  “Proportionality” suggests that it might still be wrong to go to war because the harm one would have to inflict to achieve the cause outweighs the good one could do.

The just war tradition also places moral limits on war.

Its two traditional criteria are “discrimination” and “proportionality” (with a slightly different meaning than before).

War is moral, says the Christian just warrior, only if civilians are never intentionally targeted.

Extreme care must be taken even to avoid “accidental” civilian deaths, what in contemporary parlance is euphemistically called “collateral damage.”  (Remember, hidden behind that phrase are the dead bodies of children, women, and old men killed “accidently,” but dead nonetheless!)

Proportionality in this context points to the just war claim that even in a justified war fought discriminately, one should use only the level of force necessary to achieve one’s legitimate objectives.

Even enemy soldiers are neighbors who must not be killed unnecessarily.

 

09battle-pic-articleLargeThis rant cum historical excursion has been brought to you by the article I read today in the NY Times, The Holy Grail of Battle Re-enactments. 

Being in church work, I’ve gone paint-balling a few times.

Truth be told, I’m not a half-bad paint-baller. I’m not much of a strategist and I’ve got subpar aim but that’s ameliorated by my base desire to win and my rather high threshold for a hot pain that comes in the form hickey marks.

I never considered joining the military but paintballing confirms the USA lost out on an at least one gutsy commando.

On one hand at least, paint-balling with church folk is instructive.

It gives you a brief, if pretend, glimpse into which members of your flock just might be willing to lay their lives down for another.

It shows you which church people need only a momentary whiff of the chum of victory to go bat-ass crazy on an erstwhile friend.

And it reveals- or confirms- which of your would be Jesus followers are actually cheaters in Flanders’ clothes.

We’ve actually had to kick adult chaperones out of the game for cheating against children.

And shooting said children (sometimes their own children) after the whistle.

At close range.

In the face.

Or close to the border of their huevos.

(I know adults are constantly trying to recover their youth, and while the fountain of youth remains elusive, I do know paintballing is where adult men go to recover their juvenile adolescence.)

So religiopaintballing is not with out its edifying uses- I forgot to mention its ability to make an ordinary pastor look, if not cool, legit.

Nevertheless, on each occasion I left the ‘arena’ feeling infected with a low-grade moral confusion about this vicar of Christ’s participation in and de facto affirmation of faux bloodletting.

Each time and every time I’ve left feeling that paintballing is not a little like pretending to beat your wife or kick your dog. For a small fee and ammunition cost.

“Put your sword away!”
-Jesus addressing Peter in the Garden of Gethsamane

The conundrum:

If violence is counter to the way of Christ then does paintballing mock the One who would have us turn the other cheek?

Or, if Christ would have us put away the sword does pulling out an air-powered paint gun that cannot kill constitute an acceptable alternative?

Almost like Guerrilla Theater?

I’ve always felt a similar but more urgent strand of this moral quandary when it comes to war reenactments.

It’s one thing to usurp God’s sovereignty and ignore Christ’s cross (the sacrifice to end all sacrifices- Hebrews) to participate in the taking of human life when society deems it necessary, just and a last resort. But it strikes me as odd to reenact- with glee and outlandish seriousness- battles our forebears likely wished they didn’t have to fight.

civil_war_soldiers-union_confederateThis winter I even attended a parade for Stonewall Jackson’s birthday so my son could get first rate material for his report on the Confederate hero.

Confederate flags, uniforms, tearful tributes, drums and period authentic artillery were everywhere. When asked, on my iPhone camera, about Stonewall Jackson a costumed reenacter began:

‘Well, you’ve got to remember Stonewall Jackson loved the blacks…’

Like the elder Dr. Jones to Indy when they sneak about in Berlin in The Last Crusade, I said to Alexander: ‘We’re in the belly of the beast, son.’ BerlinRally

Celebrating our forebears’ selfless sacrifice is one thing.

To celebrate by simulation the very they thing regretted having to do is another. I’ve met plenty of folks who participate in reenactments (I’m from southern Richmond after all) and I can say with a modicum of authority that war reenactments have all the moral seriousness of my boys’ playing with their plastic, bloodless, lifeless GI Joe figures.

 

On the other hand, the men and women I’ve known who’ve actually served in a real, honest to goodness war are nothing if not morally serious about what we ask of and from them. We ask them not just to give their lives potentially but to sacrifice their God-given reluctance to kill. For us.

“Pilate deserves our sympathies, not because he was a good though tragically misunderstood man, but because we are not much better. We may believe in Jesus, but we do not believe in his ideas, at least not his ideas about violence, truth and justice.”

-Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace

Across the spectrum of history, Christians have nearly always held war to fall somewhere between ‘always an evil’ (Christian Pacifism) and ‘sometimes a necessary and tragic evil in which we do not glory‘ (Christian Just War Perspective).

I know, everyone likes to cite the Crusades as though that’s the eternal, definitive manifestation of Christian praxis.

It’s interesting how the Crusades get blamed on the evil institution that is the Church when every other war in history would suggest political and economic concerns agitated the Crusades…and Christians went- or were taken- along for the ride.

Speaking of the Crusades:

It’s not the golden egg of an argument people assume because even after having battled the infidels, Christian soldiers were required to do penance when they returned home. After all, even if it was a ‘holy‘ war, by taking another’s life they’d still committed sin.

The NY Times, The Holy Grail of Battle Re-enactments. details the experience, motives and COST (!!!!) behind the peopled participating in the holy grail of war reenactments. This battle simulates, down to loose teeth and concussions, the warfare of Medieval Europe, a time to which I’m sure we’d all like to return. Not.

I’ve gone paintballing enough to know that most of these folks are probably like the hardcore wannabes who show up to paint ball with their own custom weapons, bedecked in expensive gear, and armed with a nickname inspired by Deerhunter. The same guys who don’t realize Deerhunter is meant to be a tragic, critique of the war, movie. images

AKA: Guys without girlfriends.

And sadly, we all know that most fallen soldiers did have girlfriends. Or more.

Here’s the article:

Inside Craig Ivey’s travel bag are objects reminiscent of the Middle Ages.

He has a steel, rounded shield; a five-sided, wooden shield; a red, white and blue surcoat; a protective vest; a wraparound helmet, pockmarked with dents; steel pads to hide his forearms, knees, legs and hands; and a blunt-edged sword designed to inflict pain but not cut. His collection cost about $4,000.

Ivey, a fitness trainer in Atlanta, will use all 60 pounds of the equipment Thursday at an outdoor arena in Aigues-Mortes, in the south of France. He will compete in his first Battle of the Nations, a modern-day, medieval-like combat involving national teams of fighters.

“Everybody thinks I’m a little crazy,” Ivey said, without refuting the perception.

Ivey, 34, is among an estimated 500 participants from 22 countries entered in the four-day event.

Full-contact armored fighting events grew out of participation in historical re-enactments, which are largely theatrical and tame. More common re-enactment fighting involves wooden weapons in the United States. The Battle of the Nations, in its fourth year, is the first international full-contact competition of this scale that uses steel armor — a heightened risk factor that has attracted a certain breed of fighters. It has been won by Russia every year.

Many fighters are intrigued by a time when differences were settled by sword fights to the death.

“I’ve always been interested in history and war,” Ivey said. “To be able to get my mind around what it was like back then, I look at it from this perspective: If I lose the fight, that would be me dying out there.”

The Battle of the Nations consists of four fighting formats: 1 on 1; 5 on 5; 21 on 21; and all against all, in which some opposing squads join forces. Winners of each match are decided by which side has the last fighter, or fighters, standing. A combatant bows out when three body parts, which include the feet, are touching the ground. Matches involving fewer fighters are usually over within a couple minutes, while the all-versus-all match can last up to 10 minutes.

Elements of the competition have been borrowed from other sports. The referee, called the knight marshal, issues soccer-style yellow and red cards for rule infractions. Fighters are assigned positions similar to those in American football, like center, guard and flanker.

Jaye Brooks, 47, executive officer of the United States team, described the game strategy partly as keeping adversaries from getting behind a team’s players, similar to hockey and soccer.

Brooks, a senior project manager in Nashua, N.H., recruited a team of 50 fighters, including himself and his son Catlin, 25, for the event. Last year, Brooks said, participants needed to meet only two qualifications to make the squad: paying for a trip to Poland and “having the guts to do this.”

The United States finished fourth of 14 teams in its international debut last year, and 18 of the 29 members from that team returned. The average age of this year’s American players is 37. And while no woman has competed for the United States squad, Brooks said, a women’s division is being considered.

Ivey’s motivation to compete is similar to that of others who are willing to fight, with an understanding that injuries are possible. He described his mind-set as being like that of a soldier.

“If you get hurt, you get hurt,” he said.

A military background is common for the participants. At least a quarter of this year’s United States fighters have served in the military, Brooks said.

Not everyone, including friends and family members, appreciates such enthusiasm for this niche style of martial arts.

“They think I’m a little bizarre,” said Brooks, whose sports background includes football. “But if everyone was the same, the world would be an awfully boring place.”

Brooks’s teammate Bryan Cannata, 42, an information technology specialist in Augusta, Ga., regards armored combat fighting as a natural extension of his interest in the medieval period.

“It’s not something I want to do,” Cannata said. “It’s something I have to do.”

There are rules to the game, but not ones that are restrictive enough to eliminate serious injuries.

Unlike in traditional sports, equipment is inspected to ensure it conforms to a period in history that the particular competition is commemorating, based on historic findings and evidence.

Weapons must be blunted. Stabbing or thrusting, which Brooks defined as repeatedly delivering excess force to the same point of contact, is not allowed. Fighters can hit any region in the “kill zone,” which excludes the feet, back of knees, groin, back of neck and base of skull. Vertical strikes to the spine and horizontal strikes to the back of the neck are forbidden.

Injuries have included dislodged teeth and broken or severed fingers. In the United States, the athletes also undergo baseline testing to check for the possibility of concussions.

This year’s United States team will be accompanied by a support staff of 50 members, including a physician, a psychologist specialized in head trauma, cooks, armorers, knight marshals, squires and a masseuse.

But injury precautions and preventive measures can only do so much. Cannata, who has a background in fencing and martial arts, said, “The potential for life-altering injury is very serious.”

Brooks, who has torn knee muscles competing, will take any punishment that comes with recreating a period in history.

“This is the perfect sport for someone who wishes to participate in one of the roughest sports on earth, has a love of armor and weapons and Western martial arts, and a desire to be as close to being a knight of old as is possible in this modern age,” he said. “Most of us doing this sport dreamt as children of being a knight one day. Who knew we could make that dream a reality?”