Our government is in the process of making some tough decisions about the war in Afghanistan. There are several ideas on how to deal with a country riddled with tribal conflicts and pervasive instability. One idea is to send more troops—as many troops as nearly half of Rockdale County’s population. With that many troops embarking oversees in addition to the thousands employed, Christians should consider how to be politically engaged during this time of war.
The complex relationship between Christians and warfare began when the Roman emperor, Constantine, made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. At the time, tribal groups from the East threatened the very fabric of the Roman Empire and encroached on its territory. It turned out that thousands of Christians, now suddenly able to worship freely, made for a formidable force indeed.
Nevertheless, Christians debated how to reconcile war with the teachings of Jesus, some of which commanded believers to not kill, much less be angry with one another (Matthew 5:21-22). How were Christians going to engage in battle with an ethic like that?
Enter St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the most influential theologians of the early church. He came up with this little thing called the just-war theory, which basically outlined a set of circumstances that, if met, permitted Christians to go to war.
Just-war theory continues to guide how Christians think about war. I remember back when President George W. Bush made a case for going to war with Iraq in 2003 he basically cited in so many words the just-war theory. Many Christians went to war willingly, some without even considering the negative implications of war on the Middle Eastern world.
Years later, we are still debating whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just. Christians are divided, and there does not seem to be any end in sight as to the propagation on views ranging from all out nuclear proliferation to extreme pacifism.
In The Future of Faith in American Politics, Baptist ethicist David Gushee writes, “It is not too simple to say that our nation is constantly fighting wars and that as we do, we are constantly assessing those wars according to some version of just-war theory.”
We have to just agree to disagree on this one.
What I think we can agree on is that God calls Christians to be truth-tellers, many of which reflect directly on our Christian witness.
One truth is that all humans are made in God’s image. Torture, unilateral arrogance, and intimidation belittle others in the global community and are not becoming of a nation that prides itself on family values and moral authority. Just warfare implies precision and great care, with as little civilian casualties as possible.
If you think this is obvious, then just remember Blackwater’s dismal record regarding civilian loses, Blackwater being a company headed up by an outspoken Christian.
Another truth is that Christians can biblically support what Glen Stassen calls just peacemaking. This means helping Afghanistan and Iraq build healthy infrastructures by instilling trust-building measures, focusing on dialogue-driven conflict resolution, and enacting human rights initiatives. The focus emphasizes preventative policies aside from military ones.
Lastly, being a truth-teller means keeping our leaders accountable to making decisions that are in the best interest of the global community, of which all Christians are a part. In effect, it’s up to us to remind our leaders of their promise to keep their eyes on the ball, the ball of peacemaking.
My father had a saying: “You live by the gun, you die by the gun.” The justification for war will always be debated and wars often fought, but truth-telling must be assertive in demanding obedience to God’s will and the laying down of guns for humanity’s sake.