Can Christians ever support war? That’s the question we take up with special guest Preston Sprinkle, author of the widely praised book Fight. It’s a lively, feisty discussion of an important issue and we hope you listen in.
If you want reading from the other side, Nigel Biggar’s In Defence of War is worth considering. (Disclosure: he’s my advisor.) You can see my own thoughts on it here.
If you enjoyed the show (AND ONLY IF), leave us a review at iTunes. If you didn’t enjoy the show, let us know and we’ll work to make it better. Or we’ll ignore you. And if you want to subscribe by RSS, you can do that here.
Finally, as always, follow Derek, Alastair, and Andrew for more tweet-sized brilliance. And thanks to Timothy Motte for his sound editing work.
[…] this week’s episode of Mere Fidelity, Andrew, Matt, Derek, and I are joined by Preston Sprinkle to discuss the topic of […]
I really enjoyed Preston’s book, and have historically been instinctively sympathetic to just war theory, but I found the discussion a bit frustrating to listen to.
I would have loved a more systematic discussion about:
1. How would Matt and Derek reconcile deliberate killing with the command to love one’s neighbour? Is the command suspended in certain situations or is killing them the most loving thing to do (in which case how can this be the case)?
2. Even if one grants that Just War theory is right, is there any war that we can point to that has in fact been Just? Matt seemed to feel that the theory can be separated from the concrete reality but if there are no actual examples of wars that have fulfilled all the criteria of a Just War in fact as well as in theory then the point is moot. Matt said that he was worried about the negation of the structures of this world, but surely Just War theory, strictly applied, also has this effect. This comes close to the point that Preston makes in the appendix to his book; the Just Warrior becomes functionally pacifistic.
3. What is the NT basis for saying that Christians do not need to obey the same ethical requirements when acting as part of government as they do in their private life? If it is legitimate to kill someone if I am ordered to by my government, what else is it legitimate to do when ordered by government – are sexual or other acts of violence legitimate when ordered by a government for the sake of imposing its will on another people or maintaining order in its own borders? If not, then why not?
4. If a follower of Jesus had been ordered by Rome to crucify the other of Jesus’ followers who were persecuted by Rome, the actual authority in question in Romans 13, then would it have been legitimate for him to do so? If not, then why not given that the state was exercising its peacekeeping authority?
Thanks for the questions. I’ll try to be brief and hopefully Matt will weigh in with something more intelligent on his end. He’s more the expert. Or perhaps Alastair as well.
1. I think the love command is quite broad and includes love of more than one neighbor. It may be that to love one neighbor, or indeed, a host of neighbors, I may have to use violence against another in order to prevent him/her from harming my other neighbors. It’s counterintuitive to kill the neighbor you’re supposed to love, but it’s at least as problematic to let your other neighbors be killed as well. I don’t know if I’d go this far, but it could be argued that love might include restraining your neighbor from incurring further guilt upon themselves by using necessary force.
2. That’s a complex question especially because I think it’s a bit confused. In every war at least one of the actors will not be just in its reasons, so you can’t declare the entire war just. But can one of the main actors be just in engaging in it? Yes, I suppose so.Fighting the Japanese after they bombed us seems provoked and justified. Fighting Hitler’s onslaught seems justified. Then again, Just War theory is a lot more than a couple of principles to justify getting into a fight. It also has rules for how a war may be conducted. It is true that it’s likely no belligerent has ever fully lived up to them, but that’s true of just about any set of norms for any activity from parenting to business. We don’t wholesale reject the notion of parental norms or business ethics simply because nobody’s managed to pull them off perfectly. They still stand as checks and ideals that inform and hold our actions accountable to God’s justice.
3. The issue here, among others, is one of proper authorization. This is a principle we recognize in most areas in life. I may not discipline or punish random children in the street for misbehavior. Why? Because they’re not my children. I don’t stand in the proper relationship of authority to them as I would with my own child. One action is appropriate for me in relation to my own children as their parent, which is not appropriate for me in general to all children. That might not be the best example, but police are another analog. They are allowed, indeed, deputized to carry out duties in uniform that when off duty, or once retired and off the force, it would be wrong for them to do. Why? Because they’ve been authorized to carry out particular offices, not as private citizens, but as representatives of the State. A random citizen walking up to someone and putting them in handcuffs and detaining them takes on a different meaning precisely because they have no authority to do so. In something of the same way, Christians are not authorized as individuals, or as representatives of the church to execute the Lord’s justice vengeance (Rom. 12). And yet, there is a body that God has authorized to execute limited justice with the sword in history according to the rules and norms of justice and that is the State (Rom 13). If the Christian becomes an employee of the State, she is now acting, not merely in her own personal capacity, but as an agent of the body that God has authorized to do such sorts of things. This is precisely where some of the Just War norms come in. The state as an agent of God’s justice can be held to a standard in their activity. Because it’s not simply about “imposing its will on another people or maintaining its borders” at all costs.That’s a sorry misunderstanding of things.
4. No, it would not have been because the State is not acting in accordance with justice. It was exercising it’ peacekeeping authority unjustly. A child might ordinarily obey their parents who have been given authority over them and yet disobey them justly when they are abusing their parental authority (commanding them to dishonor God, lie, cheat, etc.). The fact that some parents are immoral fools, or simply imperfect, does not negate the general principle that parents have the right and duty to educate and discipline their children.
I hope this clarifies things a bit.
Thanks Derek. I confess, my responses may well have been a bit confused. I think this is partly because I find Just War theory confusing but I also think that there are assumptions underlying both sides that are not shared by the other and which make it difficult to avoid talking past each other. So at times I ask a question about an individual Christian (‘he’) and you answer about the state (‘it’). I’m less interested in theories of statecraft and more with how I should teach and counsel the individuals in my church about what they should do. This may reveal another assumption about the extent to which it is advisable for Christians to play a part in government. With that in mind, is it OK if I clarify my earlier points and push back on where I think you have spoken past them?
On 1. The main area that I think we may operate with different understandings is whether it is possible always to obey what Jesus said in this life or whether there are circumstances in which one has to disobey in order to elect the lesser of two evils. Your response to (1) is, I think, a case in point. If I have understood correctly you argue that there are circumstances in which it is impossible to love both my neighbours and so I elect to love the innocent by killing the aggressor (acknowledging that it may fall short of loving the aggressor to do so). That is a well established line of moral reasoning and one which the Ancient Eastern churches recognised by, for example, denying communion to one who has killed for two years and prohibiting priests from acting violently (check out Timothy Ware’s ,’The Orthodox Church’ for a fascinating account). Attractive though it is, I don’t understand how it is consistent with Jesus’s instructions in the gospels which appear not to admit exceptions and to be predicated upon the living of a radically different ethic to the rest of the world and which brings the world’s condemnation. That ethic is implemented by my giving my own life in defence of another, but not by taking life in defence of another. In short, I don’t think I am permitted to excuse myself from loving someone in any circumstance (leaving aside the suggestion that I can love them by stopping them incurring more judgment which raises a whole bunch of questions about judgment and accountability).
On 2. This is where I don’t understand Just War theory in practice on two counts. If, in practice, no war is fought in a way consistent with Just War theory then how is it ever morally or ethically right for a Christian to participate in it? Or is it incumbent upon the individual to say which military actions he or she will or will not participate in? At a theoretical level, for example, there may well have been a Just War rationale for Britain declaring war on Germany in 1939 in defence of Belgium. But Britain’s conduct of that war was certainly not consistent with Just War theory (for example the bombing of Dresden). What then was a Christian soldier supposed to do?
The comparison to good and bad parenting does not seem valid because parenting is a moral good in itself which (as far as I am aware) there are no Scriptural prohibitions against. By contrast, for Christians violence against enemies is explicitly forbidden in Scripture (in Matt 5-6 and Romans 12). Our starting points are therefore different: parenting is something that everyone should do if they are able but can be done in unacceptable ways; violence is something we should never do unless in JWT an exceptional case can be made out. Once it is conceded that the exceptional case is never made out in fact then we are simply left with the prohibition.
On 3. The underlying assumption here is that authorisation by government removes the moral restrictions upon the individual Christian. If the state can, for example, authorise me to slit someone’s throat or blow their limbs apart with explosives, I wonder where the limits of what the state can authorise are. Perhaps they are inherent in Just War Theory but if killing is permissible in the name of the state to maintain order (not its borders) then I still don’t understand what limit there can be on what I am permitted to do in the name of my government.
On 4. I was not asking whether the state was justified in executing Christians (it plainly was not). I am interested in what an individual Christian soldier should do when presented with a warrant for the execution of another Christian whose activities have been deemed to be seditious and is to be executed on the orders of the proper authorities acting in their policing function. It seems bizarre to me that the Christian should accept that it is ethically proper for him to execute the apostle because he has been authorised to do so by the state. Yet the only alternative I can see for Just Warriors is to set up the individual as the final arbiter of whether a particular policing action or military intervention is right or not. This seems to me almost entirely unworkable: how can the individual know the basis for the apostle’s conviction and sentence (or, for a soldier, the order he is given to kill civilians or other soldiers).
I fully accept that unworkability is not the final word. But it seems to me that a major part of the Just War case is that nonviolence does not work in practice and so if there are serious practical problems with Just War itself that goes some way towards limiting the force of its argument.
I’ve been on the run the past 48 hours and am traveling today, so this may be quicker than you deserve! But let me say a couple things:
1) “The main area that I think we may operate with different understandings is whether it is possible always to obey what Jesus said in this life or whether there are circumstances in which one has to disobey in order to elect the lesser of two evils.” This presupposes that killing a person is always an evil. That’s exactly what the just war tradition denies, though. How is killing a person compatible with loving them? How is any kind of punitive judgment which inflicts a lesser amount of pain or deprives someone of certain capabilities (such as the capability to determine the course of their own lives) compatible with love? Killing someone is an extreme form of such restrictions, to be sure, but it’s not obviously different in certain important respects. Additionally, I’d point out that for Dante, love is compatible with a hell where people are tortured endlessly. In fact, love motivates eternal judgment on his account of the world. So it seems to me one would have to do more than simply posit that they’re incompatible. (Also: Biggar’s book helpfully demonstrates that hatred of the enemy is not even close to the main motivation soldiers have in war. Instead, it’s defending their own comrades and “brothers.” Whatever else you might think about it, American Sniper demonstrated this well.)
2) “If, in practice, no war is fought in a way consistent with Just War theory then how is it ever morally or ethically right for a Christian to participate in it?”
Again, retreating to the generality is not helpful. The question is whether and in what respects certain wars invalidate which aspects of the just war theory. Move away from the parenthood example and consider our court system. Does every legal trial end up dispensing justice appropriately? Are there structural problems, in fact, which may inhibit the execution of justice? Yes and yes. Does that then entail that a “theory of the courts” is invalid, or that we should simply get rid of them altogether? The imperfect execution of a sound theory does not invalidate the theory, just like a pacifist who picks up a gun in a moment of rage doesn’t necessarily demonstrate that his pacifism is false.
“Or is it incumbent upon the individual to say which military actions he or she will or will not participate in?”
It clearly is, which is why just war advocates defend conscientious objectors, and have even begun defending selective conscientious objection as a legitimate moral possibility. A Christian who thought a particular action was unethical absolutely should recuse themselves from it, and be allowed to do so.
“But Britain’s conduct of that war was certainly not consistent with Just War theory (for example the bombing of Dresden).”
You move from “Britian’s conduct,” which is a global claim, to one specific example. Much–probably most–of Britian’s conduct in WWII was compatible with just war theory. As was America’s, up to but not including their use of nuclear weapons.
3) “The underlying assumption here is that authorisation by government removes the moral restrictions upon the individual Christian. If the state can, for example, authorise me to slit someone’s throat or blow their limbs apart with explosives, I wonder where the limits of what the state can authorise are.”
This simply presupposes that killing is inherently morally wrong.
4) “I am interested in what an individual Christian soldier should do when presented with a warrant for the execution of another Christian whose activities have been deemed to be seditious and is to be executed on the orders of the proper authorities acting in their policing function.”
What should a Christian judge do when presented with a case of a Christian who cheats on their taxes? Is it bizarre to think they should execute the temporal justice that the Christian’s wrongs have incurred? Your example is not simply conscientious objection: it’s sedition, which is a serious charge and maybe a grave moral problem. But it’s not at all clear to me that Christians should be exempt from temporal justice, even in an imperfect and flawed form, simply by virtue of the fact that they’re Christians. Again, that’s simply too broad of a claim to be helpful.
I’d commend to you Biggar’s book.
Thanks for taking the trouble Matt.
I suppose the distinction between killing and other physical touching (even where it appears violent) is finality: restraining someone (even by wounding) might be for their good (and thus loving) through preventing further guilt and enabling rehabilitation; killing them cannot be for their good and thus cannot be loving (leaving aside assisted dying questions).
I don’t follow the point about conscientious objectors unless soldiers are being asked to distinguish between legitimate orders in the course of a war being fought at times “justly” and at times unjustl. I’m not sure that saying I will fly this mission but not that that, and this half of the mission but not that is open to soldiers: surely in practice you are either in or out?
“I suppose the distinction between killing and other physical touching (even where it appears violent) is finality: restraining someone (even by wounding) might be for their good (and thus loving) through preventing further guilt and enabling rehabilitation; killing them cannot be for their good and thus cannot be loving (leaving aside assisted dying questions).”
Yes, except for Christians, “finality” is severely qualified. It’s only final in certain respects: in other respects, the life of the human being continues on eternally. I’d note, too, that even if the punishment does not “enable rehabilitation”, it still might well be justified.
“I’m not sure that saying I will fly this mission but not that that, and this half of the mission but not that is open to soldiers: surely in practice you are either in or out?”
Currently, yes. However, just warriors have been working to change this to provide more selective objections that would enable soldiers more leeway to determine what they do and do not do.
Derek: your answer #1 makes me think of Ivan Karamazov’s line, that “the more I love humanity in general, the less I love men in particular”.
Except for the fact that my example is framed in terms of love for other particulars. :)
I frequently hear JWT-advocates claiming that JWT provides a rich framework for critique of historical and contemporary military actions. I see how this works in theory, but I am frustrated by how I never seem to hear JWT-advocates actually strongly condemning contemporary military actions by their own governments.
This episode didn’t do much to dispel that frustration. (Preston wins points for me in this discussion for the simple fact that he seems to be able to see and identify much more clearly than all you JWT-advocates how much evil American and British governments commit and have committed in their military, police and other violent actions, and how much the “peace” that exists on their soils depends on /in/justice.) I would be curious to press a bit to hear your thoughts about whether the military interventions your governments are currently pursuing are consistent with JWT? Re: the very end of this conversation, what specifically is the witness you think the Church should bear to government at this time with respect to just war?
“I frequently hear JWT-advocates claiming that JWT provides a rich framework for critique of historical and contemporary military actions. I see how this works in theory, but I am frustrated by how I never seem to hear JWT-advocates actually strongly condemning contemporary military actions by their own governments.”
But then, that just presupposes that whatever actions you have in mind are actually unjust, doesn’t it? Expecting people to agree with your analysis of wars and history and the justice/injustice of specific actions when they may not isn’t helpful.
I said in the program that I have grave concerns about our drone program. I could discuss my thoughts on other specific interventions, but I am not much inclined to. It’s quite possible that your “impressions” of just warriors has more to do with you than just warriors. There are LOTS of just warriors, for instance, who are strongly critical of the second Iraq intervention and our actions in Syria. Indeed, Nigel’s book is a unique just war contribution because he actually defends the justice of the second Iraq invasion in certain respects. I’d commend you to it if you want to talk further about this.
Just to follow up what Matt said, right off the top of my head I remember one lecture where Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft said that Afghanistan was justified but Iraq wasn’t according to JWT. I’m not saying I agree, but there’s clear example of someone using the principles in order to distinguish between two very recent military actions.
Walzer’s work on Just and Unjust Wars is a major text over the last 50 years and it does exactly that. http://www.amazon.com/Just-And-Unjust-Wars-Illustrations/dp/0465037070
Again, I’m not sure I agree with his analysis in particular, but definitely critiques particular wars.
Thanks for another great episode, guys. I found your blog a few months ago and have really appreciated the deep conversations and pertinent topics. I’m also a fan of Preston Sprinkle and was thrilled that you had him on.
I’d like to offer one contribution on a point that I was hoping to hear but was only addressed tangentially in the podcast. as I’ve listened to more from those espousing non-violence I’ve heard the argument more and more that it may be legitimate for the state to sanction violence in some way (i.e. police force), but that individual Christians should not take part in that state sanctioned violence. This seemed to be where Preston was headed as well.
Often this is used to argue that Christians should not join the military, but it seems that consistency demands that it would also prohibit Christians from joining any law enforcement agency (police, FBI, ATF, etc.) or any governmental position that included authority over law enforcement (mayors, governors, the President of the U.S.). Law enforcement uses weapons and the threat of violence to keep order, and sometimes must act with violence to protect the innocent. Governmental Executives arm those forces, give them orders, and bestow on them the authority and license needed to threaten and use violence. Those who argue for non-violence for Christians (I’m specifically trying to avoid using pacifists at Preston’s behest) have to prohibit believers from holding these positions in order to be consistent.
This is where the non-violence argument breaks down for me. It’s not because I think that literally “Godless” police and governmental institutions would be an untenable and disastrous proposition, though I do believe that. It’s because to abdicate such positions creates a separatism from society that I simply do not see in the NT. Christians in this case become neither of the world nor in the world. This is why I think of all non-violent groups, the Amish are the most theologically consistent. I just happen to think their approach is wrongheaded.
FWIW, I believe in a robust JWT that would have called many if not most of America’s historical military conflicts unjust and against God. I have no nationalistic zeal to defend drone strikes, and I lament the bombing of ISIS even while remaining ambivalent on it’s necessity. I regret violence as much as anyone, yet I cannot eliminate it as a possible means of ensuring justice in the world.
As an amateur just war theorist (just warrior?) — albeit with strong sympathies for (and frustrations with) Christian pacifism — I thought Preston and Andrew made the stronger case here. As Andrew said in his semi-trolling conclusion, “Every time we talked about the Bible we were right — me and Preston — so we win”. I’m not sure I agree with him, but I definitely got the sense here that the pacifists were standing on stronger, Biblical ground than the warriors. The pacifists’ arguments consistently — perhaps even always — appealed to texts themselves, or themes from texts, or Jesus’ and the apostles’ witnesses in the text. The just warriors, on the other hand, seemed much more comfortable making larger philosophical or systematic arguments without paying enough attention to the text of the Testaments. Even the just warriors’ use of Romans 13 seemed to be like that. I’ve listened to almost every episode of this podcast, and this one definitely struck me as one of the few (perhaps the only?) in which (the majority of) you guys definitely seemed to be on the back foot with your exegesis and Biblical theology. (Though that may also be because this may have been the first episode I’ve listened to in which genuine, significant theological differences within the group were allowed to come out.)
I haven’t done that much reading on this topic, but this difference between the two sides — the pacifists mostly making Biblical arguments, the warriors mostly making larger philosophical or systematic arguments — reminds me of an exchange I stumbled upon a few years ago in Studies in Christian Ethics in 2009 between Nigel Biggar (Specify and Distinguish! Interpreting the New Testament on ‘Non-Violence’) and Richard Hays (Narrate and Embody: A Response To Nigel Biggar, ‘Specify and Distinguish’). The feeling I have about this discussion reminds me of the feeling I had about that exchange: Hays was Biblical; Biggar was philosophical.
I’ve read that Biggar/Hayes exchange multiple times, including the second round (which if you haven’t read, you should). I have also read Biggar’s attenuated version of it in his book on war. And I will simply say that the description that Hayes is “biblical” while Biggar is “philosophical” is not a good one. Biggar gives clear and compelling reasons why Hays’s reading is not as straightforward as Hays presupposes, and why it rests on certain methodological and, more importantly, ecclesiastical presuppositions that Hays doesn’t actually fully own up to. As Biggar says in the second round (paraphrase), if you don’t presuppose that the meaning of the cross is non-violence because you’re in a pacifist-tradition which shows you that, then the texts don’t do what Hays claims they do.
Thanks for your response, Matt.
Where can I find the second round?
It’s here. http://sce.sagepub.com/content/23/1
Who is enforcing these ethical considerations? Individual Christian consciences? Church bodies? And who is listening? To which voices? At what times?
This whole conversation is absolutely confused. The most that is ever argued is a bare-bones framework that it’s sometimes ok to use violence. As someone who is ‘non-violent’, I grant that. God ordered the Israelites to invade the land. David was a warrior. That’s all good.
But why do we have the warrant to decide? Why does a body have the warrant to make such a decision, and why would any state care?
In fact, according to our modern states, there is only an oath that promises obedience to superior officers and the Constitution. There’s no caveat for Christian conviction. Granted, your argument is not for the American Military-Industrial Complex, but since the audience is generally American, this ought to be taken into account. Shall we be oath-breakers?
And given a governing authority who recognizes Christianity, somehow defined, which opinions matter? Rome? Moscow? Lynchburg, Virginia? All? The Just War tradition presupposes that any military action engaged with has a reasonable expectation of victory. If there is no authority structure in deciding which Christian ethic reigns, then where is military discipline? If there is, how are we any different than the fragmentation of states post-Reformation?
Even the discussion has proved rather determinate that our rationing is corrupt. The Americans were justified to invade Japan on account of the bombing?? What about decades of American trade war on the Japanese? What about unjust Western consensus that the Japanese cannot build more naval ships or they will be punished militarily? To them, it was only a matter of time for the Americans, British, or Dutch to invade due to Japanese surging dominance. Must their people die because they waited?
The Japanese Government and Military were exceedingly evil in their campaign of conquest. But it’s not so open shut. And who was going to judge the matter? What Church? And if FDR and the American government expected an attack on Pearl Harbor, a Naval Installation(!) in the Japanese sphere, should we be dragged into fighting a war for Western control in East Asia?
Romans 13 states plainly that the governing authorities are providentially maintained by God for the execution of temporal wrath, but why is the assumption that Christians should engage in that? Was it just for an Israelite to ride alongside the Assyrians as they demolished Samaria, even if it was God’s judgment?
And a huge part of this discussion hinges on discussions of ‘legitimate authority’. By what standard? In Mexico, the cartel has authority in huge swathes. What makes them illegal? They have real authority. Should a Christian fight for the Mexican cartel against the federal Mexican government? What defines ‘governing’ besides authority and power to execute?
According to some Romans, the Julio-Claudians were an illegal coup of the Republic. Paul doesn’t seem to care either way when he writes to the Romans. Nero was the Imperator, give him respect where respect is due, and know that God is working.
All in all, the real question is: are we praying? Why waste our time in the bickering of the nations, when God has called us to topple powers and principalities by His Word & Spirit. That’s the real war we’re called to be engaged in. This is the battle God has called us to. Why shed your blood for Caesar?
The Just War Tradition is not necessarily wrong, it’s just naive and Pelagian.
Thanks for the comment. I don’t have time to respond to everything, but let me say a few things:
“Who is enforcing these ethical considerations? Individual Christian consciences? Church bodies? And who is listening? To which voices? At what times?”
These are questions that could literally be asked of any moral issue. They don’t do as much to invalidate the just war position as you seem to think, nor are they really objections at all.
“The most that is ever argued is a bare-bones framework that it’s sometimes ok to use violence. As someone who is ‘non-violent’, I grant that.”
You must not be much of a non-violence advocate, since you grant the principle on which the just war tradition hangs!
“In fact, according to our modern states, there is only an oath that promises obedience to superior officers and the Constitution. There’s no caveat for Christian conviction.”
Um, yes, if you can demonstrate a conscientious objection to a war, you can be excused from participating in it. Also: the 1st Amendment goes a long ways toward being a “caveat for Christian conviction.” Some might even say that is *exactly* what it is!
“The Japanese Government and Military were exceedingly evil in their campaign of conquest. But it’s not so open shut. And who was going to judge the matter? What Church?”
Again, if you want to suspend any kind of moral judgment at all about this world, feel free. Just make sure you argue as vehemently against the courts and the police as you do against all other forms of violence.
“And a huge part of this discussion hinges on discussions of ‘legitimate authority’. By what standard? In Mexico, the cartel has authority in huge swathes. What makes them illegal? They have real authority. Should a Christian fight for the Mexican cartel against the federal Mexican government? What defines ‘governing’ besides authority and power to execute?”
I’d commend to you Oliver O’Donovan’s work, where the question of “authority” is examined in considerable detail.
“Why waste our time in the bickering of the nations, when God has called us to topple powers and principalities by His Word & Spirit.” You realize that comes at the end of a 1000 word blog comment, right? No one is forcing you to spend your time reading this rather than praying.
Here are my counter responses:
-Yes, it could be raised of any moral issue. But this is specifically in regards to the relation of the Church in the World with the Nations. Perhaps this is a question of what the Church is. War is not just another moral issue. It’s determinate of our ecclessiology. I don’t think speculative reason is capable of such an issue when Scripture remains silent.
-You didn’t deny Preston the label, and yet we both affirm that God ordered Israel to invade the land. I am non-violent because the Law of Christ commends me not to be. We war not with flesh or blood.
-An objection to a war, not to orders. You do not have the leeway to disobey a superior on account of your conscience. Just War Theory stretches far beyond initiation (as you know). But I suppose this would circumvent oath-breaking, even if that argument for the 1st amendment would never work in court. But that’s not relevant, so I’ll rest it there.
-This is not suspending moral judgment, it’s not picking sides on account of where we stand in relation to a border. The governments are ordained for the execution of wrath. That is providence. But Assyria was ordained as a whip to chastise Israel. Assyria was also, by the same prophet, recognized as a wicked and evil empire. The Nation-States are in the same boat. We can accept their judgments, but we need not conform or participate.
-I’d rather you commend me to a Biblical theme or trope. I’ll look into O’Donnovan, but the Scriptures do not seem to make the distinction. Authority is established by violence in This Age. Whether it’s the mob, or a coup, or an army, or a class revolt, it’s the exercise of violence. God has maintained this means in the mystery of providence.
-You misunderstood me. I was not referring to our conversation as a waste of time, but fighting a war for the nations. Origen defends the Church by saying the prayers of Christians keep the borders safer than any patrol or legion. I’m not so flattering or inclined to empire as he, but he makes a point. You can save the snark for another comment :)
“-You didn’t deny Preston the label, and yet we both affirm that God ordered Israel to invade the land. I am non-violent because the Law of Christ commends me not to be. We war not with flesh or blood.”
It’s not clear to me that Preston’s view is yours. I take it that Preston’s view is that violence is never justified. If he does think violence is sometimes sanctioned, as in the OT, then he has to deal with the objection that he has a Marcionite reading of the OT that repudiates its utility entirely for Christian moral reasoning. And I’d have the same worry about the way you seem to be framing things.
“-An objection to a war, not to orders. You do not have the leeway to disobey a superior on account of your conscience. Just War Theory stretches far beyond initiation (as you know). But I suppose this would circumvent oath-breaking, even if that argument for the 1st amendment would never work in court. But that’s not relevant, so I’ll rest it there.”
Right. Which is why I said some just warriors are working for selective conscientious objection.
“The Nation-States are in the same boat. We can accept their judgments, but we need not conform or participate.”
Sure. But if what they are doing is just–that is, if what they are doing is morally appropriate–then I think the burden would be on those who think we should abstain to demonstrate why. And there I am left wanting.
“-I’d rather you commend me to a Biblical theme or trope. I’ll look into O’Donnovan, but the Scriptures do not seem to make the distinction. Authority is established by violence in This Age. Whether it’s the mob, or a coup, or an army, or a class revolt, it’s the exercise of violence. God has maintained this means in the mystery of providence.”
Oh, right. Playing proof text isn’t how I read the Bible, and it’s not how you should either. If you think that authority “is established by violence in This Age,” then I would even more strongly urge you to read O’Donovan’s….entire canon. Start with Desire of the Nations and move on to Ways of Judgment. There’s enough Bible in both of them to make you happy, and it will make it clear your statement about authority is….woefully inadequate.
“-You misunderstood me. I was not referring to our conversation as a waste of time, but fighting a war for the nations.” I apologize. I took your term “bickering” to include a kind of dialectical engagement. Whatever else war is, it is not “bickering” at all.
-My reading is that physical violence is no longer warranted, just as the sacrificial system is no longer warranted. We are to do battle with God’s enemies, but, to retool a phrase, a bronze sword did nothing to bring about God’s Victory. We’re given a lot of warfare language in the New Testament, but it’s for warring against spiritual darkness. The battles of the OT inform our battle against the real enemies. It’s as Marcionite as rejecting circumcision as being fulfilled as a type.
-I’ll leave this point as an impasse on the reality of things
-Typologically, I don’t think it was Israel’s role to decide what battles Babylon should fight and whether Israel should go to war. I think your framing collapses the tension of being Christian in the World. The Apostles do not give us the tools for this because, I think for them, it was not relevant. Whether Rome was just or unjust was a distraction.
-I didn’t ask for a proof-text! Please! I asked for themes and types. Something to work with and not pawning me off to a book. I will investigate though. Thank you for the recommendation. While I’m not Anabaptist (I am generally Reformed),I commend JH Yoder’s essays in The Priestly Kingdom.
-Wars are many times founded on the bickering of the Nations! Pissing contests on who appears strong have been the MO of a huge portion of the conflicts in the Cold War, let alone other sagas of Human history. I’m using a dismissive and diminutive term because the kings of men are so.
I apologize if my tone in the comments is coming off as punchy. I’m not intending to be stand-offish, only to ‘sharpen iron’ if you will.
In found the discussion on war to be limited. It was limited by the kind of reference made to the Just War Theory which froze the theory in time as if it was supplying the last word. It was restricted by an acontextual reference to Romans 13. The OT references to nations being the servants of the Lord also forgets the context of their actions back then. It didn’t take into full account justice issues in how nations have pursued war or used war to create empires. And it didn’t take into account how citizens could be responsible for keeping their governments accountable.
We should note that other statements on war have followed the Just War Theory. One such example is the Russell-Einstein Manifesto (see http://www.umich.edu/~pugwash/Manifesto.html ). What we ought to note about this manifesto is that it needs some updating because technology is making the accessibility to WMDs inevitable. Thus, a war against a nation without WMDs could result in a later blowback where WMDs are used.
We also need to note the historical and contextual differences between now and the time of the Apostles. Back then, the Church and the spreading of the Gospel was in its infancy. And many of the charges given to Christians had, at least in the back of the minds of the Apostles, the honor of the Gospel. To disobey the authorities could bring dishonor to the Gospel. That is not our context for today. For today, the Gospel is dishonored by either its association with governments that pursue unjust policies or with its silent complicity in the face of evil. Think of how much the Church was silent during America’s use of slavery, practice of Jim Crow, and the ethnic cleansing of America’s indigenous people. We might also want to ask the same of the German Church both during the time leading up to WW II and the time of the war itself.
A Biblical literalist approach does little address these problems. In addition, the reference to God using one nation to judge another is rather difficult to tell now because of the cessation of revelation.
Finally, we might want to study how Martin Luther King Jr. blended adherence to Romans 13 with his social activism to see how we might be called to hold our own nation, including its leaders, accountable.