Part III – Central Themes for an Evangelical Framework
Chapter 14 – The Ethics of War and Peacemaking.
By Glen H. Stassen, Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Stassen begins by identifying three approaches to violence in Christian ethics: just war theory, pacifism/nonviolence, and just peacemaking theory. While there is considerable debate about which of the first two are is most faithful to Jesus’ teaching, he reasons that the “just peacemaking” supplements these two and brings us to some common ground
The Basis for All Three Ethics: Jesus’ Way of Peacemaking
Stassen begins with the understanding “…that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies that the deliverer who would come would bring peace.” (284) He gives a wide ranging review of scripture. He shows that the Old Testament prophesied about peacemaking being the trademark of the one God would send and that Jesus directly identified himself with that mission. He points to the redemptive power of nonviolent suffering in confronting violence. Stassen reviewed Sermon on the Mount passages to show that Jesus was not teaching passivity but nonviolent confrontation of violence with the intention to bring change. He also points out that during the Jewish revolt against Rome, beginning 66 C.E., Jewish Christians did not participate. At the end of this section he writes, “Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that peacemaking would be a key mark of the reign of God.” (292)
The Eight Rules of Just War Theory
Just war theory dates back to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine in the fourth century. Quoting Arthur Holmes, Stassen writes, “Just war theory does not try to justify war. Rather it tries to bring war under the control of justice.” (292) It is centered in the conviction that in order to justify killing when we know killing is wrong, there must be a very important reason promoting some greater good or lesser evil. Stassen points to some ethicists who argue that there are times when it is morally incumbent to fight a war out of love for neighbor. In any case, Stassen insists that we not loose sight that our ethics about war must be subject to Jesus ethic of peacemaking and doing justice. He encourages every Christian to know the eight criteria for evaluating just wars.
A. Justice in Deciding to Go to War (Jus ad Bellum)
1. Just CAUSE - “The causes that can override the Presumption against killing are stopping the massacre of large numbers of people or stopping the systematic and long-term violation of the human rights of life, liberty, and community.” (293)
2. Just AUTHORITY – Only those with just constitutional authority following a constitutional process have the authority to prosecute a war. International consultation consensus should be sought before declaring war, thus increasing the moral authority for the war and possibly averting needless wars. Going back at to John Calvin, it has also been held that lesser authorities have the authority to depose despots.
3. Last RESORT – Since the fourth century it has been held the war should always be a last resort to stop a greater injustice
4. Just INTENTION – Quoting Arthur Holmes, "The only legitimate intention is to secure a just peace for all involved. Neither revenge nor conquest nor economic gain nor ideological supremacy are justified.” (294)
5. Probability of SUCCESS – There must be a reasonable chance of winning the war otherwise lives should not be wasted.
6. PROPORTIONALITY OF COST – The benefits must outweigh the costs.
7. ANNOUNCEMENT – “The government should announce the intention to make war and of the conditions for avoiding it.” (295)
B. Justice in the Means Used in Fighting the War (Jus in Bello)
8. The war must be fought by JUST MEANS – Noncombatants are not legitimate military targets. Militaries should make every legitimate effort to avoid such casualties. “Terrorism is particularly evil, and the term should be used precisely to name exactly the evil it is.” (297)
Stassen considers it unwarranted to conclude that nonviolence was something particular to Jesus’ day and not our day. He also warns against those who want to call a war just without fully reflecting on the eight criteria. Equally he affirms that,
It is disingenuous to use just war criteria in such a way that no imaginable set of facts would get through the tests; rightly understood, the criteria are designed to distinguish just wars from unjust wars, and to be useful in limiting injustice and violence, in real decisions for and against wars and in fighting realistically. (297)
He concludes this section noting,
Once Christians define just war theory as a way to try to decrease violence and injustice, they receive a second benefit: They are affirming nonviolence and justice. (298)
Stassen points out that the Christian movement was consistently non-violent during the first three hundred years of its existence. Nonviolence “…takes the way of Jesus and the witness of the New Testament as authoritative for our witness.” (299)
Stassen turns to the work of John Howard Yoder that lays out the principles that allow pacifist to support a properly trained and disciplined police force.
- The threat of police violence is applied only to the offending party.
- The police officer’s violence is subject to review by higher authorities.
- The authorized force is within a state whose laws the criminal knows apply to himself.
- Safeguards seek to keep police violence from being applied in a wholesale way against the innocent.
- Police power is generally great enough to overwhelm the offender so resistance is pointless.
These are much different criteria than exist for just war theory and could not be directly applied in an international setting.
Stassen cautions against confusing pacifism with passivism. Pacifism as an active connotation of “making peace.” Yet pacifism is done out of faithfulness not effectiveness. War is not effective more than fifty percent of the time as there is always at lost one loser and sometimes everyone loses.
Finally, Stassen challenges the view of some pacifists that pacifism applies only to Christians. Jesus is Lord of all and if pacifism applies it applies to all.
Just Peacemaking Theory
If pacifism is about “making peace,” then what principles would apply in just peacemaking. Stassen identifies ten.
- Support nonviolent direct action – The efforts of Gandhi, M. L. King, Jr., demise of Philippine dictatorship, Poland, East Germany and nations in central Europe are examples, among others, of nonviolent resistance bringing change.
- Take independent initiatives to reduce threat. – These include the following elements: (1) They are visible and verifiable actions, not promises; (2) are accompanied by an announcement that their purpose is to decrease threat and distrust and to invite reciprocation; (3) do not leave the initiator weak; (4) do no wait for the slow process of negotiations; (5) having a timing announced in advance that is carried out regardless of the other side’s bluster; and (6) come in a series: If the other side fails to reciprocate, small initiatives continue in order to keep inviting reciprocation.
- Use cooperative conflict resolution.
- Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice; seek repentance and forgiveness.
- Promote democracy, human rights, and religious liberty.
- Foster just and sustainable economic development. – Reduction of economic injustice will lessen many of the reasons that generate wars.
- Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system. – Both government and non-governmental.
- Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights.
- Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.
- Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations especially churches.
Stassen closes with this observation,
If just peacemaking fails, is it right to make war, or should we be committed to nonviolence? Everyone needs to answer to that question, because short of the second coming, just peacemaking will not prevent all wars. (306)
It has been my privilege over the years to know a number of people who are committed to complete pacifism, including one gentlemen I knew how was an American pacifist during World War II and suffered for it. I have much respect for this kind of courage and conviction. I am of the Just War view but I guess I would like to see myself as a pacifist (maker of peace) that believes that in some circumstances violence is the least bad option to get to peace.