Monday, April 21, 2008

How Christians Ought to Talk About War ( or In Defense of Systematic Theology)

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.


farisfam1 said...

You're a communist.


Andrew Faris said...

Shut up, Dad.

Carrie Marie said...


so funny.

These are good questions to ask. Usually I just fight for my position of "no war". But then people ask me those hard questions: "What if someone comes in and robs your house, and wants to kill your family...If the only way to stop them was killing them, would you not stop them?"
How are we to answer that?
I usually say some sarchastic remark about God's sovereignty and Him being big enough to stop me and my family from dying if that is His will. Would I rather die than kill someone who doesn't know the Lord? Yes. But will this play out if I am ever in that situation? I don't know.

Or what do I tell the Christian who is overseas fighting for our country? That I don't support what he/she is doing? How can I say that?

It's a hard issue.

But I will say, the more I pray about the whole political situation as Christians, I have taken the stance of not voting for anyone. Ya, ya, I hate being so apathetic, but I cannot vote for someone who is okay with abortion, and I cannot vote for someone who is okay with continuing in the (specifically) war in Iraq.
Have you read Claiborne's book, "Irresistable Revolution"? You should.

Andrew Faris said...

I haven't read his book, but frankly, I'm firmly anti- your non-voting position at this point.

I made a point of not outright stating my point on this too much (though I hardly think I've hidden it well), but I lean just war, but primarily on a utilitarian basis.

Again, the Iraq War is a bad test case because it is so complicated. World War II is a better one, because if there ever was a just war, it was that one. I look at this in a utilitarian sense: perhaps a large number of Americans die if we do go to war, but perhaps many more Jews die if we don't go to war. So is my goal to save American, German, or Jewish lives? Or is it to save as many human lives as possible, regardless of race?

This is also why I am a single issue voter: 1.5 million babies are killed through abortion a year. We've lost a few thousand American lives in Iraq. So when I vote for McCain (which I will), I am basically hoping to save tons more lives than I lose, regardless of what I think of the war.

It's easier to think about this "lesser of two evils" vote if we polarize the candidates more. What if McCain ran against Hitler? I'd vote for McCain. What if Obama (whose politics I hate) ran against Hitler? I'd vote for Obama. And I wouldn't have to think about it.

And at 1.5 million babies killed per year, that's one Holocaust per presidential term.

It's strange to me that all these folks so keen on social justice (and I'm not trying to be condescending to you here Carrie) think they don't want to vote, when that is one major way to potentially carry out social government through structures that are already existing and powerful. It seems like an obvious, easy way, and I'm not really sure how it compromises our primary citizenship in the Kingdom instead of in America.

That's what I think for now anyway, though Britt has caused me to rethink some of this some for the sake of a consistent ethic of life, so we'll see.

Oh, and I haven't read Claiborne, but I'd like to.

Carrie Marie said...

You should read Claiborne.

And I am kind of sad that you mention the lives only of the "1.5 million" aborted babies...and few American Soldiers. First of all, I don't want to compare the numbers, because all of the lives lost are heart breaking (even if the casualties from war are significantly lower), but we cannot forget all the innocent (and some not so innocent) lives of the people living in Iraq (and various places).

You know, Claiborne went over to Iraq to protest the war there (which is a bit extreme, but whatever), and the people would come to him and ask why "our Christian God" wanted them all to die. He thought this was strange, seeing as us Americans think that "their god" is the one who wants US dead (which is true in the extreme sense). He inquired more about this and realized that what everyone in Iraq had seen was President Bush telling the world that God had told him to go to war (which happened, just in case you dont remember). So basically, God told Bush to invade their homes and kill a lot of their family and friends. Anyway, this is my emotional way of telling you not to forget about the lives lost over there.

My other problem with McCain is that he isn't very social justice minded, at all, and the Republican party oftentimes turns their backs on helping with poverty, and world hunger etc. I know we can get into quite a theological debate on this whole issue, and I actually wrote an article for the Chimes in September calling attention to the fact that poverty and world hunger should be first and foremost the church's problem (but not many people are doing anything about it), but I think that the government should have a role in this, and with McCain in office, that's not going to happen. And if we want to talk numbers...the number of people which die from hunger on a monthly basis would dominate the number of yearly deaths from abortion (not that this makes one better than the other).

And as far as this war in comparison to WWII...well, I know you aren't wanting to start that discussion, but I mostly agree with you about "just war"...but this war right now is definitely not based on justice (key word, "based).

And I do sort of agree with you about not being a "single issue voter", but then I would definitely vote for Obama...because the only issue that I can't agree with on is the abortion thing...every other thing I am down with, especially his "universal" healthcare plan (which isn't exactly like a "universal" plan that most people think of), you should read more about it, I think it will definitely help. So basically, there is absolutely no way I would EVER even CONSIDER voting for McCain, because of everything he stands for (except pro0life)...but I just won't bring myself to vote for Obama or Clinton because of the abortion issue. Gosh I love these conversations.

Oh and also, I could be totally wrong about this stuff...I am still growing as a person... ;)

Oh and one more thing...before I was a Christian, I was a staunch Republican. And then when my heart met with Jesus', I just couldn't line up with 95% of what the Republican party is all about...I think it's weird that as soon as I took the focus off of me, and on loving others, I turned more "liberal" as some would call me. Who would have known?! :)

Jenny said...

Hi Carrie!

Good, thoughtful stuff - thanks for your comments!

I'm completely with you when it comes to the importance of pursuing social justice. I'm also a really staunch Republican (I think I'm actually growing stauncher by the day.)

I'm curious, what is it about McCain and the Republican party in general that makes you think they're not very social justice minded?

Carrie Marie said...

Hi Jenny!

Andrew just told me that you commented on here for me...I thought he completely took his blog down, so I haven't checked it until now.

Thanks for the feedback. :)

It's not so much that McCain comes right out and say, "Don't help anyone...I don't care about social justice issues.."
In fact, I just read an article in the NY Times about some of his ideas for the poverty in America. Though the NY Times didn't shed him in the greatest of light (big surprise), it was still nice to hear some of his ideas.

What it comes down to for me is the whooole big picture. His stance on immigration laws are a little too tough for me, his ideas for healthcare are no good, and the way he (and the Republican party) is a big fan of supporting the oil companies and China, really turns me off. All of these combined is (what I believe) is not helping the middle and lower class families.
BUT, I would definitely consider myself a person who would prefer more of a universal, socialized government. I hope that doesn't freak you out too much... ;)
Who knows...I could change...this is just the way my brain is leaning right now in my life.

ps, I hear you are Jeff Bruce's must be totally legit!