A Christian Approach to Theories of War by: Jack Huckleberry 28 July, 2009 In both the world at large and the church

today there is essentially a choice of two philosophical positions to take when it comes to the subject of war – just war theory or pacifism. This paper will explore these two positions and measure their value and credibility as stances to be used by the Christian faith community, using the Bible as a standard. But before we go any further let’s establish some jargon to be used. In this paper a “Christian” in the context of describing an individual shall be considered a person who honestly and earnestly seeks to live their life modelling the example of Jesus as outlined in the Bible. This is as opposed to the person who simply “goes to church” because it’s the “right thing to do”, “a guaranteed ticket to heaven”, or from any other self-serving, passive, or ignorant motivation. Additionally, the word “church” shall, as opposed to its conventional use as a building where Christians gather, be used here as the body or assembly of Christians all over the world; a meaning which is more scripturally accurate. To be sure, the Church in its true form is a mystical entity, the physical expression of Christ Jesus in the world today and through all time, composed of all who truly live for him (evidently, some expressions of church in contemporary culture fall far short of this description, so discretion is necessary to discern the two expressions of Christian - as those who make up the church - noted above). The first philosophical position to be surveyed is called just war theory. Developed over a period of time and influenced by a combination of fourth century Christianity and classical Greco-Roman values, it can be said to have been developed primarily by Aristotle, Cicero, and Augustine. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2005) Just war theory operates under the principle that so long as a certain set of criteria have been met, participation in a war can be considered ethically justified, and from the Christian perspective it is then acceptable for a Christian to participate militarily.

As cited from the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2005),
Just war theory can be meaningfully divided into three parts, which in the literature are referred to, for the sake of convenience, in Latin. These parts are: 1) jus ad bellum, which concerns the justice of resorting to war in the first place; 2) jus in bello, which concerns the justice of conduct within war, after it has begun; and 3) jus post bellum, which concerns the justice of peace agreements and the termination phase of war.

We’ll now look at the rules regarding each of these subdivisions in sequence: Jus ad bellum applies mostly to heads of state, as they are the ones who make the decision to go to war in the first place. There are at this time six standards which must be met within jus ad bellum. Failure to account for any of these standards results in war crimes. The standards are as follows: 1. Just Cause - self defence or defending of others from external attack, protection of others from, brutality and aggression; 2. Right intention - a state must fight for the just cause (ulterior motives must not be present, only seeing the problems of just cause righted); 3. Proper authority - usually specified in that country’s constitution; 4. Last resort - only after exhausting all plausible, peaceful alternatives may a country go to war; 5. Probability of success - a state may go to war if it can foresee that doing so will have a measurable impact on the situation; 6. Proportionality - the state must, prior to going to war, weigh the universal good expected to be accomplished against the universal evils expected to result. Jus in bello, the second subsection of just war theory, can be said to imply “justice in war or right conduct in the midst of battle” (ibid.). Jus in bello can be further subdivided into two categories: internal jus in bello, which concerns the rules a state must follow in regards to its own people during time of war with an outside state, and external or traditional jus in bello, the rules for states to observe concerning enemy forces. Internal jus in bello refers to basic standards of justice and protection for the state’s internal civilian population in the midst of war. Surprisingly, it has happened in the past that some crimes of war occurred against an army’s own civilian population. Examples are ethnic cleansing, genocide, and mass rape (usually against a weak and unpopular minority group.)

External jus in bello has six principles usually applied to the commanders, captains and soldiers making up the military. They are required to obey the following: 1. Obey all international laws on weapons prohibition – relatively straight forward, examples could be biological and chemical weapons 2. Discrimination and Non-Combatant Immunity – soldiers must seek to only fire on enemy soldiers and structures/resources that directly aid the enemy in their illegal actions. Care must be taken to minimize civilian casualties. 3. Proportionality – Soldiers must exercise restraint with regards to the use of force, ensuring it is only the amount necessary to acquire their objectives. 4. Benevolent quarantine for prisoners of war (POWs) – enemy soldiers who surrender are no longer threats, can cause no more harm, and so must be treated well and fairly as individuals no longer engaged in aggressive action. Any kind of mistreatment is not permitted. 5. No Means Mala in Se. – Actions such as mass rape, genocide, forcing captured soldiers to fight against their own side, treachery – these are all considered unacceptable means of conducting warfare. 6. No reprisals – the tendency to return violations of these rules with more rule-breaking in order to “teach a lesson” is prohibited. The third and final subsection of just war theory is jus post bellum. This criterion applies to the final stage in a war, when the actual fighting is stopped and the aftermath is to be determined. Jus post bellum “seeks to regulate the ending of wars, and to ease the transition from war back to peace” (ibid.). The following are seven proposed principles for jus post bellum: 1. Proportionality and Publicity – The peace settlement should be fair and just, and must be made public, 2. Rights Vindication – the settlement should ensure the return of the rights originally violated or taken which prompted the military action in the first place, 3. Discrimination – A difference needs to be maintained between the civilian population and the commanders and officers of the defeated side. the innocent should be ensured of fair treatment and the continuance of “regular life”,

4. Punishment #1 – If the defeated side was a blatant, rights-violating aggressor, appropriate punishment of the leaders of the state before an international court for war crimes is expected and appropriate, 5. Punishment #2 – Any soldiers on both sides of the conflict accused of committing war crimes must be investigated and possibly tried, 6. Compensation – Financial amends on the part of the initially aggressive nation are to be expected, subject to its ability to begin reconstruction and avoid new taxes on the civilian population, 7. Rehabilitation – The situation after the war allows for a “retooling” of some institutions in the defeated regime. Things like police and judicial re-training are acceptable options of the defeated aggressor post-war (ibid.). Just war theory today is, and indeed has for some centuries been considered a level-headed and reasonable approach to deciding on the justification for national armed conflict by most Christian denominations in North America and Western Europe. The biblical reasoning for just war theory varies only slightly between denominations and can be summarized in two or three main arguments. One biblical reason for just war theory is the history of the nation of Israel. This is looked to as proof that war and bloodshed is sometimes within the will of God. Throughout the Old Testament Israel both initiates aggression toward and retaliates against aggression from other nations. It is therefore reasoned that, as it is in the Bible, it is therefore acceptable to fight in battle in certain circumstances (catholic 2009). Another reason some denominations justify supporting war is the apparently inherent brutality and lawlessness of human kind. The presence of evil in our species as seen in acts of callous brutality and atrocities and simply cannot be permitted to continue unchallenged. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime are often cited as an example here (ibid.). A third reason used to support just war theory is the concept of government and the law and order it is ideally intended to safeguard and ensure. As the reasoning goes, God is a God of order, and as such has set up the various governments to carry out that order. Therefore, when it happens that evil rears up in the form of an aggressor nation or

oppressive tyrant and works chaos and destruction, the other governments are justified to step in and quell the trouble, thereby restoring order (Baer 2005). What of the other position a Christian or the church can adopt regarding the concept of war? Pacifism is a tradition that was a central part of the church right from its conception. The reasoning and logic used to explain and understand pacifism is a much more subtle undertaking; it requires a more intuitive approach to both the essential character of war and the essential character of the life and work of Jesus Christ. One of the important things for a Christian to think about concerning pacifism as an approach to war is the way in which Jesus conducted himself in his life and death. Being born and raised in Israel in a time of occupation and rule from Rome, it is significant that the teachings of Jesus were largely about love of enemy, as exhibited in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek, Blessed are the humble, Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are the merciful, Blessed are those who seek after righteousness, Blessed are the peacemakers”, etc. (Matthew 5: 3-10) In the culture of his time, it is significant that Jesus did not incite his disciples or the general population he lived amongst to rise up against the oppressive Roman rule, as indeed some of his followers were most likely expecting. Nowhere in the Gospels is there any account of Jesus dispensing anything like just war theory. Jesus accepted the title Messiah, one who was said to come and free the people from their captivity; the King of the Jews, of the line of David, come to restore God’s chosen people. But what is Jesus’ message to the people of his time? “If someone asks for your coat, give them your shirt also. If someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn to them your left also. If someone compels you to walk with them one mile, walk with them two miles. Bless those who curse you, do good to them that spitefully use you, love your enemy.” To love those who are good to you shows nothing, but the love of God will be evident in you when you show love to your enemy.”(Matthew 5:38-44) Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus promote the use of violence, and definitely not killing a person – with one apparent, mysterious exception. On the night he was betrayed he ordered his disciples to bring with them any swords they may have access to.(Luke

22:36) But even then, in the garden as Jesus is being arrested and Peter strikes at the soldier and cuts off his ear, what does Jesus do? He reaches down and reattaches the ear for the man, (Luke 22:51) telling Peter to put the sword away and chastising him, “those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) The teachings of Jesus are teachings of self-sacrifice, of enemy love. Jesus taught his followers to bless those who curse you, to love. (Luke 6:28) Another important factor regarding pacifism is the way that it is not coercive, that it does not necessarily strive to be in any position of power. This echoes the life of Jesus in how he too did not in any way force or impel people: Jesus’ way was a way of peace – culminating in his death – scorned by the ones he came to save. Pacifism does not try to force or compel anyone to do anything with the threat of harm. From the pacifist point of view, there certainly are times when it is essential to take action on an issue of injustice the key factor is the activity we choose to use. For those who profess to model their lives after the example of Christ, violence and killing are not options. These are not characteristics that mirror the life of Christ. A final factor in the position of pacifism is its view of the sanctity of all life. From a Christian perspective life is sacred, a gift from and creation of God. War, in its wanton destruction of nature and killing of human beings, stands in direct juxtaposition to these concepts. Christian are to nurture and foster life, to emulate Christ in his bringing of the good news: to feed the hungry, to house the homeless poor, to remove the yoke of injustice, and to set the captive free (Isaiah 58: 6, 7) – the captive of mental, relational, and spiritual as well as physical captivity. In conclusion, upon closer survey of both just war theory and pacifism, it is clear that, with the life, teachings, and death of Christ as the biblical standard, pacifism is a more Christ-like approach to issues like war and armed conflict. Therefore in the context of the Christian and the Church as the individual and communal expressions of Christ, pacifism should the only stance taken by them on the issue of war.


Baer, H. David. 2005. “The Just War Theory of Peacemaking.” 03 June, 2009. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Journal-of-LutheranEthics/Issues/June-2005/The-Just-War-Theory-of-Peacemaking.aspx Catholic Answers. “Just War Doctrine”. 10 June, 2009. http://www.catholic.com/library/Just_War_Doctrine_1.asp Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2005). “Just War Theory”. 29 April, 2009. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/war/ All quotes from the Bible are from the New King James Version.