It is common to say there are Realists and Utopians. Some say the two ends of the Christian and War spectrum are Just War and Pacifism. It’s not that simple as there are significant agreements between both sides and no Christian should want violence.
But it is worth examining what Just War is, whether most wars are “just,” and how Christians are to be involved in war.
We turn again to Eric Seibert’s new book, Disarming the Church.
What is Just War? What qualifies a conflict to be called a “just” war?
The origins of the just war theory are typically traced back to two early church fathers, namely, Ambrose (340-396 CE), who was the bishop of MiIan, and Augustine (354-430 CE), who was converted under the ministry of Ambrose and who became one of the most significant figures in church history. Although neither of these individuals believed it was appropriate for Christians to use violence in self-defense, both believed it was “the obligation of Christian love to defend and protect the innocent third party.” As they saw it, participation in war was not simply a matter of personal conviction. It was not just something each individual could develop an opinion about based on their own conscience. Rather, they believed it was the duty of Christians to rise up and fight when innocent people were being oppressed.The basic premise of the theory is that some wars are just and some are not. For a war to be considered just, it must meet a set of predetermined criteria. If all of these criteria are met, just war theorists believe the war is just and Christians are free to participate in it. If even one of the criteria is unmet, the war is not considered just, and Christians have no right to engage in it. The basic criteria used to determine whether a war is just, as articulated by Walter Wink, are as follows:
- The war must have a just cause.
- It must be waged by a legitimate authority.
- It must be formally declared.
- It must be fought with a peaceful intention.
- It must be a last resort.
- There must be reasonable hope of success.
- The means used must possess proportionality to the end sought.
Then, when the war is actually being waged, the following criteria also come into play and dictate certain rules of engagement.
- Noncombatants must be given immunity.
- Prisoners must be treated humanely.
- International treaties and conventions must be honored.
If these criteria for going to war were rigorously applied, it would effectively limit warfare since the criteria are very stringent and few wars are able to satisfy them all.
Question: Is it ever morally right for a Christian in one nation to kill a Christian in another nation for the sake of one’s nation? Is this a case of rendering to Caesar what is God’s?