Since September 11, 2001, our nation has been at war. Upward of 150,000 troops are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. And they have suffered losses. In Iraq, over 4,000 servicemen have died, and far more have been injured. While it can be argued that our forces—armed and diplomatic—are making progress defeating our enemies and helping our friends, many battles lay ahead of them, and the final outcome of the war is uncertain.
I think of this situation when I reflect on Jesus’ seventh beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matt. 5.9). A long, honorable line of Christian theologians has interpreted this verse, alongside Matthew 5.38–48, as requiring Christians to be pacifists. But their pacifism is a minority report. The mainstream of the Christian tradition teaches that unjust aggression must be met by just and judicious counterforce. It has codified its thinking about warfare in the Just War Doctrine, which governs both when a nation can go to war and how it should prosecute that war.
In his book, When God Says War Is Right, Darrell Cole lists criteria that must be satisfied before warfare can be engaged. These are commonly known as jus ad bellum requirements. (Jus ad bellum is Latin for “justice toward war.”) Those criteria include:
1. The war must be engaged by the proper authority,
2. for a just case,
3. with the right intention,
4. when war has become the only way to right the wrong,
5. and there is a reasonable hope of success in the endeavor.
He also lists criteria for how warfare should be practiced. They are commonly known as jus in bello (“just in war”) criteria:
1. not consenting to intrinsically evil practices in the war’s prosecution,
2. granting noncombatants immunity from attack,
3. undertaking specific missions with proper intention,
4. and using means that are proportional to the ends sought.
Christian theologians agree agree that these principles should govern how Christians think about war in general, but they do not agree on their application in the current Iraqi war. For example, some believe that the United States had the proper authority to invade Iraq “unilaterally.” Others argue that only the Security Council of the United Nations has that authority. Indeed, it seems that you can find Christian thinkers using each of the just war criteria on both sides of the debate.
Why, then, do I mention these criteria? First, as Christians, our choice is not between uncritical support and unthinking criticism of our nation’s wars. We have biblical and rational benchmarks to judge whether and how our nation should go to war. Second, while a judicious use of force is sometimes necessary, it is not the only tool at our disposal. Peace is not merely the reduction of conflict, but the introduction of wholeness into a conflicted situation. A soldier can accomplish the former, but someone else is needed to accomplish the latter.
We will turn to that Someone tomorrow.