Living Faith: Do ‘just wars’ exist?By William Tamulonis
Should the CIA continue remote-control drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists? How involved should the U.S. be in the Syrian civil war and the infighting in Libya? What about a preemptive strike against the Iranian nuclear program?
How does a nation, or an individual, decide if, when, and how to engage in acts of war? There are sincere, God-fearing people all along the spectrum of opinion, from pacifists who believe it is never right, to activists who feel duty-bound to obey their government. In between are selectivists, who are willing to participate only in wars that are justifiable.
Fight or flight?
“Just war” theory has developed over the course of history, with theologians, philosophers, lawyers, and politicians making contributions. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas outlined one of the more complete and systematic “just war” models. Many of the rules are codified in international laws such as The United Nations Charter and The Hague and Geneva Conventions.
The criteria for a just war include: having just cause and right intention (e.g., self-defense, defense of other innocents, to redress a wrong, or to re-establish peace); being a last resort (all nonviolent options must be exhausted); being declared by a proper authority with public declaration (not by unsanctioned individuals or groups); having a reasonable chance of success, the end being proportional to the means used (not producing evils worse than those eliminated); and using weapons that discriminate between combatants and noncombatants.
In their book Faith and Force, David Clough and Brian Stiltner observe that questions of war force people of faith to “come to terms with what it means to love their neighbor, protect the widow and orphan, and recognize God’s providential ordering of human affairs through political authority” all at once and when the requirements might conflict with one another. Not all reach the same decision. Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer abandoned his pacifism to join a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Gandhi stayed his nonviolent course that drove the British out of India.
The high stakes are why as faithful citizens we should keep well-informed, examine our consciences, seek counsel, and pray that our nation’s leaders will do the same and act with wisdom.
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