We are here tonight to talk about the ethics of war. Now to some minds this phrase “the ethics of war” will likely cause raised eyebrows. “The ethics of war? What can ethics possibly have to do with war? Isn’t war evil?”
Well, of course it is. War is a terrible thing. The existence and prevalence of war in history is, in fact, ample testimony to the depravity and wickedness of Man. The conduct of war involves the intentional killing of human beings and the destruction of property. War inevitably causes untold suffering. I do not think that any rational person can ever say without qualification that war is good. War is something that we would all rather do without. And as Christians it is our earnest hope that someday God, in his mercy and grace, will beat every sword into plowshares and eliminate war from the face of the earth.
But that day has not yet come. For Americans, who have lived in relative peace and safety for many years, war has become an unpleasant reality recently. We have experienced the horror of September 11, 2001, and we face the threat of more such terrorist attacks everyday. In the wake of this injustice, our nation has begun a war on terrorism that has eventuated in the ongoing military actions in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Though most Americans and most Christians support the general war on terror, questions have been raised about our decision to invade Iraq, and public support for the continuing involvement of American forces there is steadily eroding. So, we may ask the question: “Should we continue to fight the war in Iraq?” And many of us are still asking the question of whether or not we should have gone to war there in the first place.
Yet, there are even deeper questions that remain: “Isn’t war evil? Can there be such a thing as the ethics of war?” Throughout history, Christians have often asked these kinds of questions. We know that Jesus told us to love our enemies and to do good to those who mistreat us. He said, “Turn the other cheek?” How can Christians (or anyone for that matter) condone or participate in war for any reason?
This is the main question that we will address today. Though we may all admit that war is a terrible thing and hope that wars will cease from the face of the earth, may there nevertheless be an ethical justification for war? What, specifically, should be the Christian position on war in general and on the current war in particular? In this lecture, I will defend the view that war is sometimes justifiable, and that when war is justifiable, Christians may ethically participate in that war. Moreover, I will also argue that the war in Iraq is a just war.
Two Christian Perspectives on War
Traditionally, Christians have defended two competing perspectives on the question of war. First of all, though it has been the minority view in church history, many Christians advocate pacifism. For example, such Christian groups as the Amish and the Mennonites have historically been pacifists. Pacifism, of course, is the view that we should not participate in war. War is wrong and so we should not engage in it for any reason. There are several varieties of pacifism, but for our purposes here we will distinguish two forms of pacifism. First, there is universal pacifism. This is the view that it is wrong for anyone, whether Christian or not, to participate in war. Second, there is Christian pacifism, which allows that non-Christians may sometimes morally participate in war, but it is wrong for Christians to participate in war. Most Christians in history have rejected pacifism in all its varieties. They have instead advocated what is known the Just War Theory. On this view, it is recognized that war is generally evil. Nevertheless, it is sometimes just and right for a person, even a Christian, to participate in war. On this view, in other words, it is possible to have a just war, a war that is morally justified. It should also be said, though, that on the Just War Theory...
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