Just War just doesn’t make sense.

One of the primary distinctive’s of the Anabaptist movement, is our adherence to the idea that peace is at the heart of the gospel. We take Jesus at his word in the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 5:33-48 (ESV).

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In opposition to this very literal understanding and working out of this text, is a doctrine known as the “Just War” doctrine. It was developed in a time when the church was becoming more accepted in the Roman empire and was trying to deal with the reality that Christ’s peace teaching don’t mesh well with an empire that needed armies; armies that would crumble if all the Christians refused to fight.

As outlined in section 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the four primary components of this theory are:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

— the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

— all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

— there must be serious prospects of success;

— 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.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

The thing I find amazing about this doctrine, is that it virtually assures that no war can ever be qualified as “just”.

To their credit, both Pope John Paul II and his successor Pope Benedict XVI have denounced both Iraq wars as unjust. On January 13, 2003, before the first gulf war began, Pope John Paul II said “War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations” . . . “War cannot be decided upon . . . except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions.” A few months later, two days before the war began, he again said “There is still time to negotiate; there is still room for peace, it is never too late to come to an understanding and to continue discussions.”

The current Pope has also expressed his opposition to the war. When he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he said “reasons sufficient for unleashing a war against Iraq did not exist,” in part because: “proportion between the possible positive consequences and the sure negative effect of the conflict was not guaranteed. On the contrary, it seems clear that the negative consequences will be greater than anything positive that might be obtained.”

In other words, both men decided that these wars did not meet the criteria for a just war and therefore, Catholic servicemen and women, should not take part. Unfortunately, there was not a mass exodus of Catholics from the service. Why? Because a) centuries of just war indoctrination and a history of churches not being particularly rigorous at applying the just war principles, has led us to see the world in black and white, good and evil and if your nation says go to war, you go to war. And b) because nationalism has replaced religion/faith as the top priority in Christians lives. We believe that since our leaders and governments have been put in place by God and that we live in Christian nations, if our leaders say go to war, they must be right and our church leaders, curiously enough, are wrong (or we don’t even listen to them and ask their opinion).

Something I find simply amazing is that reading through those four points in the just war doctrine, I really wonder how any war could be found to be just. I think especially of point four: “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.”

Given the existence of thermonuclear devices that can destroy the planet, let alone a country, how could our involvement “not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”. If a soldier from the “good side”, just one solider, rapes and murders someone, is that really less evil? What is less evil? Christ said to “love your enemy” – what about Christians? What about the American/British/Canadian Christians who shot and killed German/Russian Christians in World War II? Members of the same spiritual family are killing each other because they are putting the earthly allegiance ahead of their spiritual one.

How about the fact that if Christians simply embraced Jesus’ peace teaching and not just war/nationalistic thinking, Hitler would not have had many people to put into an Army. Most of them were Christian’s. Church going, bible believing Christians – who were intensely nationalistic and brought up on Just War.

Further, if we had loved our enemy, we would not have imposed such horrible reparations on Germany after World War I. These conditions destroyed Germany’s economy and virtually guaranteed the World War II.

The very existence of Just War theory, despite those church leaders who take it very seriously and apply it with the utmost gravity, ensures that some will just forget to compare a particular situation against the four very strict conditions and thus we end up in wars that are unjust, by the very conditions the doctrine sets out.

We need to reject nationalism and return to being a part of God’s Kingdom before we are American, Canadian, German, or British. There were good things to come out of Christendom, but we need to reject this error of Christendom and re-embrace the peace teachings of Christ. It is not for His church to kill, murder, or otherwise cause suffering or show hate to their enemy (some will say there is a difference between killing and murdering, but I respectfully disagree and see no such distinction in the teachings of Christ – or the Scriptures).

The early church father Origen wrote “For we no longer take up ‘sword against nation’ nor do we ‘learn war anymore,’ having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader, instead of those whom our fathers followed . . . Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited”.

Just War, just doesn’t make sense.

To remember, is to work for peace.

[EDIT – May 22 1730hrs] To make this clear, the peace position asserts that nations have the right to bear the sword and protect their interests if necessary. Anabaptists simply state that the teachings of Jesus preclude Christians from taking part in such actions. They should not be members of any government unit that requires, as a central part of their job, the possible application of violent and deadly force.

One thought on “Just War just doesn’t make sense.

  1. Just posted a brief reflection on the same “Love Your Enemies” segment of the SotM. Too often we despair of that kind of perfection, but that’s only because we forget who it is that makes us perfect.

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