The Orthodox Position on War

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A great article outlining the Orthodox Church perspective on war in general in light of current events:

Four great pericope’s from this article [emphasis added]:

In his book Contemporary Moral Issues Facing Orthodox Christians, Fr. Stanley Harakas says, “the Church as a whole and its ethical teaching is opposed to war, which it sees as a most terrible evil which nations inflict upon each other. In the strict sense of the word, there is no good war.” From an Orthodox perspective there is no possibility of a just war, as all war is evil and therefore cannot be justified for any reason.

The entirety of the Orthodox Spiritual life requires humanity to be at peace with itself and with one another. The Great Litany is used each time the Orthodox gather for worship. The litany begins with the words, “In peace let us pray to the Lord,” and the word peace appears three more times in that litany alone. During the services of the Orthodox Church the faithful continually pray for peace so that we may live out our spiritual lives in harmony with all of humanity. We are to share God’s peace with those around us and in doing so we imitate the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ and we participate in His work.

From an Orthodox perspective there is no justification for war; even a war of defense is a lesser evil but is still an evil. The Orthodox Church, by faith and practice, believes that peace is normal and just. Therefore, war would be not only evil but it would be non-normative. We are to seek peace in each and every situation. The Greek Fathers wrote about peace in all situations and as such there would be no Orthodox Just War Theory as exists in Western Theological thought.

It is a result of our fallen human nature that there is evil in this world and sometimes violence is necessary to overcome that evil. It is my prayer that a peaceful solution can be found to end this horrific situation in Syria and in Egypt but if peace does not work that hostilities are kept to a minimum.

Anabaptists will share a deep resonance with our Orthodox brothers and sisters on this issue. Though, it should be noted that even in the Latin Church (Catholic), both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI (and I would be shocked if not Francis) posited that it is simply not possible to meet the criteria for a just war anymore, given the weapons available today.

Read the rest of the article here.

St. Augustine on War seeking Peace

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I found this quote from St. Augustine in a collection of his Political Writings (pp. 9-11):

Everyone who has observed the conduct of men’s affairs and common human nature will agree with me in this: that just as there is no man who does not long for joy, so there is no man who does not long for peace. Even those who want war, want it really only for victory’s sake: that is, they want to attain a glorious peace by fighting. For what is victory if not the subjugation of those who resist us? And when this is done, peace follows.

It is therefore with desire for peace that wars are waged, even by those who take pleasure in exercising their warlike nature in command and battle. And hence, it is obvious that peace is the end sought for war. For every man seeks peace by waging war, but no man seeks war by making peace. For even they who intentionally interrupt the peace in which they are living have no hatred of peace, but only wish tit changed into a peace that suits them better. They do not, therefore, wish to have no peace, but only one more to their mind . . .

. . . And thus all men desire to have peace with their own circle whom they wish to govern as suits themselves. For even those whom they make ar against they wish to make their own, and impose on them the laws of their own peace.

Given the great tendency towards war that we have experience in the 20th and 21st Century, what do you make of St. Augustine’s thoughts?

Source: The Political Writings, Gateway Edition, 0-89526-704-7

Mennonites part of faith leaders’ appeal regarding crisis in Syria

MENNONITES PART OF FAITH LEADERS’ APPEAL REGARDING CRISIS IN SYRIA

We urge you to refrain from the provision of military assistance to forces involved in the conflict in Syria. Military involvement will only further escalate an already brutal war and will, in fact, undermine the prospect of negotiations to ensure a just and sustainable future for all Syrians. Rather, the U.S. should call for all parties to cease all military activities in Syria and work urgently to de-escalate the crisis, together with other actors in the region and beyond.
We harbor no illusions as to the difficulties such a process will entail. But we believe it is the path the United States, along with the international community, must pursue if we seek the welfare of all Syrians. We pray for wisdom for you and for all of us as we seek to respond to this difficult and heartbreaking crisis.

Read the whole letter here. There’s a link to the full PDF at the bottom of the letter.

Test everything: Just War and Pacifism

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I’m an Anabaptist, or at least have an anabaptist background that mixes with some other influences. I believe in the historical peace position and hope that I can practice it in everyday life, whether I’m facing an imminent threat or just living a peaceful existence.

Still, I have always had problems with the explanations I’ve received when being instructed in the peace position by my teaching pastor. I know he believes it and lives it, so I don’t think he is being dishonest in the least, but there are some holes in his explanations.

First, we’re told by pastors that there is absolutely no biblical support for the just war theory. We don’t really even discuss it and I find that rather disingenuous. I understand they believe it, but if we’re too honestly engage with those who believe in JWT (even if they don’t understand that’s what it is), we need to actually understand the arguments and not treat them like their just “war mongering, gun happy, fight picking Christians who are destroying all of what Christ is trying to do on this planet and if they would only get “peace” right, the world would be instantly converted and all would be well.”

Baloney. Hogwash. Don’t believe it.

Stereotypes don’t help. Same on the other end who might see pacifist Christians as weak people who just don’t like confrontation or dealing with hard questions and tough situations.

Baloney. Hogwash. Don’t believe it.

Both Christian pacifists and Christian JWT’s, are seeking to follow the will of God and both are looking at the same Scriptures and coming to their conclusions. Positive engagement is the only way forward. A true JWT Christian does not seek war or conflict, but accept that we live in a fallen world and that sometimes violence is the most loving thing we can do in a given situation.

Any honest anabaptist struggles with “the questions”: what if my child/wife/husband is being attacked? What if my house is being broken into? What if I come upon a woman who is being raped? What if, what if, what if… we all ask these questions, regardless of what side you’re on of the debate. If you’re not, respectfully, you’re not being honest with yourself.

And why shouldn’t we ask the questions? It’s not as if there aren’t verses where God seems to command or send violence upon people (2 Samuel 12:14-31) or whole communities (Genesis 19).

Consider these verses:

1 Timothy 5:8 But if someone doesn’t provide for their own family, and especially for a member of their household, they have denied the faith. They are worse than those who have no faith.

How do we provide for our family? Food, clothing, safety? Does a man take care of his family if he is not willing to defend it unto death? (Also, what about Ephesians 5?)

Ecclesiastes 3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Psalm 144:1 Of David. Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;

Numbers 32:6 But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here?”

Proverbs 25:26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.

And consider these two pericopes:

John 13:34-35 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Matthew 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Do we love our neighbours by not fighting off an attacker if they are being attacked? Would we not want someone to help us?

These are just a sampling of verses that either seem to suggest violence is allowed in certain circumstances or should at least cause us to ask the question, “what does it mean to love our neighbours in the face of a hostile world?”

The other problem I’ve had with the peace position, and I’ve written about this before, is we just DO NOT KNOW what to do with the Old Testament. Some seem to be flirting with a new form of Marcionism, which I do not condone. So, what to do with it? We believe that both the Old and New Covenants are inspired by the Holy Spirit and all of them together form the Christian Canon/Scriptures.

1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 says 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. So, while we’re not discussing a prophecy per sey, I think it is important to “test everything”. Test it and retest it. The truth has nothing to fear so there is nothing to fear from asking questions.

John 6:60 admits that “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” Jesus teachings are hard, so struggle is intrinsically linked with discipleship.

Note: This does not mean that just because your interpretation seems to be harder to follow, that is necessarily follows that it is true.

In light of all this, my friend Andrew Fulford has written an engaging 7 part series in support of Just War Theory. I am only part way through but so far I am both enjoying it and being challenged by it. I can’t say it’s shaken me from my position, but it is making me ask hard questions beyond what I’ve heard before. Andrew is a scary smart, thoughtful scholar. So while you’re reading don’t give in to stereotypes.

Andrew interacts with philosophy, natural law and yes, Scripture to reach his conclusions. This no doubt will bristle many an anabaptist who generally feel part of our problem is that we’ve been too influenced by Aristotle and the like all ready. The same applies to natural law, most of us don’t like that either (I don’t actually have a problem with it).

Above all else a Christ followers is a servant of the truth and as such we must never stop searching for the truth, no matter where it may lead.

I urge all serious anabaptists to engage with Andrew’s material and be willing to submit your position to the test. I’m going to keep reading and will post thoughts as I go along.

Totus tuus

The NRA’s Myth of Redemptive Violence [reblog]

From a friends blog: The NRA’s Myth of Redemptive Violence

I’ll try to be fair: the myth does make perfect sense when you assume that you have the right to judge everyone else. Once we say that we can decide who should be controlled by force and who shouldn’t, we are not only allowed but also obligated to use force in controlling them. And most people do assume that they – as individuals, as a group (including religious group), as a nation – have the right to judge everyone else.

Tragedy in Connecticut: Preach the Gospel and Pray

I’m sitting here writing a sermon for Sunday. It is advent so following the traditional themes this week I’m supposed to preach on Joy. My process was interrupted with news of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Initial reports say that at least 27 are dead, of which 18 are children. CHILDREN. Not even high school students, it’s an elementary school. Who the hell shoots up an elementary school?

Even though this is almost 800kms away and in another country I have tears in my eyes. My initial response was anger, lots of anger and sadness. Outrage at what has transpired. I don’t wish to make this about me at all, but I need to write something because I’m so angry. This is also not about politics or the debate around gun control – there will be an appropriate time for that and it isn’t now.

First and foremost we need to acknowledge the anger. It’s appropriate to be angry. Innocent young children (and adults) have been stolen from us in the most violent of ways. First we must pray for the victims, their families and all the others personally connected to these events. Pray for the police, fire fighters, paramedics, doctors and nurses who must not only respond to this situation but likely deal with PTSD in the aftermath. As it appears the shooter is deceased, we must also pray for his family and friends who are likely in just as much shock as the rest of us.

I take some measure of comfort in Jesus words when he says “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14) and I put my hope in His love for the rest (1 Tim 2:4).

I’m supposed to preach on Joy this Sunday and I’m not sure how to do that now. Do I forget this happened because it happened so far away? Regardless of the debates about the how and why that will eventually emerge, the only response to this immense evil is the Gospel message of Christ. I don’t honestly know how I’m going to change my sermon to reflect this fresh reminder of evil, but at times like these we need to remind people of the love of our Lord and Saviour, that He grieves with us and that because of Him there is always hope.

Right now we feel the reality that we live in the world of Psalm 22:1-2

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

With prayer and His grace received through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we can move into the world of Revelation 21:4

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Sadly, there’s more evil to come between now and when His kingdom will completely come, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Our response now however is to continue the work of the Gospel and let it illumine the light of the Gospel of Christ to a darkened world.

(I feel better now, thank for giving this space to write through this tragedy.)

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.