So here's something I'm tired of: anti-war Christians (a position I respect) defending their anti-war stance with the simple "Jesus said to turn the other cheek and love your neighbor" argument (and here I refer to people who are anti-war in principle, not just anti-Iraq-war specifically).
The most recent Relevant magazine has a pretty fascinating section where 8 or so prominent Christian thinkers (including Brian McLaren, N. T. Wright, Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, and Chuck Colson, et. al.) give their thoughts on various issues in the church and culture. All frustrations with the fact that McLaren has never actually answered a question in his whole life aside ("Brian, do you want to eat at In-N-Out or Chipotle tonight, hunny?" "Dear, you're asking the wrong kind of question- we need to move above these polarizations and look at food in a more inclusive way; we need to form a dialogue between the Mexican and American cultures and the food they produce..."), many of the answers were relatively thoughtful, if a little Christian-culture-trendy. Even a couple of McLaren's "go above the question" answers had some insight that I had to be careful not to immaturely dismiss just because of who they came from.
That said, I was just shocked at how many of these folks wrote off war in a way that came off nothing short of shallow. I constantly read, "Jesus would not have gone to war. Jesus was about peace and love." And of course, they're not completely misreading Jesus- Jesus was (and is) about peace and love.
But then, so is the God who commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites. In fact, Phil. 4 calls that God the "God of Peace." And unless we deny the full deity of Christ and the unity of the Trinity (whether you want to restrict yourselves to those horrible canon-within-a-canon theological categories or not), then we must say that the Jesus who talked about loving your neighbor as yourself also talked about slaughtering the Canaanites. Come to think of it, didn't he get that "love your neighbor as yourself" business from Leviticus (you know, that book in the God-of-Canaanite-slaughter-authored Old Testament)?
My point is this: give Christian just war theorists a little credit. They read the Gospels too. They know what Jesus said about loving neighbors and turning the other cheek. I promise- they aren't skipping that part of the Bible. I am not even really arguing a position; I am arguing that we need to argue better.
So let me suggest a few principles that we need to address/keep in mind for this debate:
1. Don't just say, "Jesus was about self-sacrificial love, so war is wrong." This argument is totally oversimplified, and, as I've tried to say above, is bad systematic theology. Of course, I know systematic theology has fallen on hard times, but you have to reckon with the whole counsel of Scripture on this issue. There's just no way around that.
2. If you do use the "Jesus was about self-sacrificial love" argument, develop it better. Do not just say it and leave it at that. Christian pacifists certainly can appeal to Jesus to argue their point, but not if it is this simplistic. Be thoughtful.
3. Related to the first two, if you are a Christian pacifist, please explain the God-ordained slaughters of the Old Testament. Tell me what pacifism amounts to exactly (was every war in history necessarily evil, or is it only all war now that is necessarily evil?). Further, if you are a Christian just war theorist, tell me how I as a Christian could shoot someone who I am supposed to love and forgive unconditionally. There are difficult questions for both sides, and they should not be written off.
4. Don't start with the Iraq War- there are just too many ins and outs not related to just war theory itself. Start with the theory of a potential just war, attack or defend it, then apply those results and other thoughtful criteria to the Iraq War specifically.
5. Be gracious. This is true of any argument, but this is one of those that gets pretty charged. Just because someone believes in the possibility of a just war does not mean that he is a "shoot first and ask questions later" warhawk. Just because someone is a pacifist he is not necessarily a liberal sissy. Listen to each other.
6. Don't be a reactionary. It's cool to be a Christian Democrat now, probably large in part because people like questioning dominant assumptions. But do not just vote Democrat on an anti-war basis unless you can really honestly defend the position.
7. Don't be unthinking. It's easy to be a Christian Republican, probably large in part because it is the dominant assumption. But do not just vote Republican without thinking about having a consistent ethic of life.
Oh, and the systematic theology thing- I think that might partly be a pet peeve. But I do think this is a good example of a time where jettisoning systematics and "embracing tension" would make Christian ethical decision-making darn near impossible.