President Obama is not Christian enough for some mysterious reason even though he’s a professed Christian. Mitt Romney is not Christian enough because he’s Mormon. All kinds of litmus tests are established for when its ok or not ok for our national leaders to step outside of Christian wisdom and thought.
Recently, several candidates have taken a calculated step away from classic interpretations of Christian doctrine and ethics in at least one key area: war. Is it OK or not OK for our leaders to step outside the Christian faith on what should be one of the most central issues of our time?
At a weekend engagement with a Texas VFW, our fine governor distanced himself from Sixteen hundred years of accepted Christian practice, saying, “We must renew our commitment to taking the fight to the enemy, wherever they are, before they strike at home.” Having tried to blatantly establish himself as the “Christian” candidate of choice in his August 6 prayer “Response,” it can’t go unnoticed how novel an idea preemption is!
Indeed, herein lies the problem. The novelty of preemption should not be lost on Christians who come from nearly any and every branch of Christianity, including: mainline, evangelical, Pentecostal, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox - all of whom have no room for preemptive strikes in their accepted doctrines of either Christian pacifism or Just War Theory.
Here’s a little refresher course in how we Christians have fought, and not fought, for the last 2 millenium. For the first 300-400 years of our history, Christians were largely pacifists and abstained from military service. After the Constintinian shift which attempted to ”christianize” empire, theologians sought pragmatic ways to restrain violence and “fight fair.” The very concept of fighting fair would have been anathema to the early church, but nontheless, they developed tried and true rules for establishing what came to be known as a “Just War.” These principles have, with few exceptions, guided mainstream Christianity ever since. Here, according to justwartheory.com, are the basics:
- A just war can only be waged as a last resort.
- A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority.
- A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause. Further, a just war can only be fought with “right” intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
- A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success.
- The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace.
- The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered.
- The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.
So let’s be clear: there is absolutely no way for a pre-emptive war to be called a “Just War.” It’s a new thing, with zero support from the great ones like Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, etc… No one save the embarressing Crusaders (who even Wheaton College and Campus Crusade for Christ distance themselves from now) and perhaps the German Church have tried to Christianize preemption. So is it OK or not?
Perry is, unfortunately, not the only powerful politician (current or potential) who is trading his faith for a war ethic with little or no resemblance to the classic Christian thoughts and rules. Recent debates have brought out strong voices for war with Iran, claims that we need to do “everything necessary,” and strong militaristic language that echoes the drumbeats preceeding Shock and Awe. A former VP is touting for all to hear how torture needs to proudly be the new normal in American policy. Perhaps its just a sign of the times that our current President, as hawkish and war-minded as any, absurdly won the Nobel Peace Prize. His policies are as wrong as his receipt of the award.
One thing is becoming ever more clear: no matter who wins in November 2012, the myth of redemptive violence will live on.
How do you, dear Christian readers, feel about having one of your most ancient and sacred theories (Just War) trampled as if it were nothing? What does it mean when we cease trusting accepted Christian practices as normative? Do we today have the right to stray from the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors? When do Presidents have the moral authority to step outside of Christian wisdom and thought? And, when they do, who is willing to hold our candidates accountable on this key issue like we hold them accountable on various other issues?
As someone commited to making peace through peace and not war, I do not hold as most Christians do to the Just War Theory. But it makes sense to me that if you’re going to hold to a theory, you should hold to the theory. Particularly when lives (so many lives!) are at stake, and trillions of dollars, and our own moral health. Shouldn’t we be more commited than ever to those Christian convictions that have guided us? Now is not the time for novelty. Now is the time to make peace.
If I could just find a candidate willing to step away from Just War in the other direction, my vote might become a little more clear.