Is There a Christian Attitude toward War?
- Tuesday, August 15, 2006
The difficulty with a selectivist position is that it denies us the possibility of finding an easy answer. (Also that we make judgments on what is just and what is unjust but our human judgment are not always the right assessment.) But as believers, we must be discerning. At times we may be called to stand behind the king. However, our prophetic calling demands that we do so with open eyes, and remain critical of the abuse of power. Our priestly role demands that in addition, we pay attention to the spiritual and physical needs of people, and do what we can to relieve suffering.
War is obviously a difficult and confusing reality to face. Some have turned to the Just War theory (which is selectivist in essence) as a guide for believers' facing the prospect of war. It is worth commenting on the main points of this theory, expounded on by St. Augustine in the fourth century CE. First, war is justified when it serves to protect innocent civilians from an invader. Second, the implementation of justice sometimes demands that we engage in war. Third, individuals do not have the right to carry out a war; this is the job of legitimate governments. The fourth criterion is perhaps of most importance to us. War must be carried out in the most just way, and not only with just cause. The ends do not justify all means. As we have already noted, even during war we are called to be prophetic and priestly. Accordingly, the maxim "in war as in war" does not stand (for more on the Just War criteria, see Geisler 233-234).
One of the challenges facing the work of reconciliation is the different viewpoints Israeli and Palestinian believers have towards war. The Palestinian Christian community has been heavily influenced by the Anabaptist-pacifist approach. This has partly to do with the fact that Middle Eastern Christians have historically existed as a minority, and as such have not been heavily involved in imperial wars. Under Ottoman rule, for example, Christians often avoided being drafted into the military. Palestinian believers have faced difficulty from their own community due to their pacifistic tendencies. Moslem Arabs consider this passive stance to be a betrayal to the Arab people.
The early Messianic movement displayed similar minority-pacifist tendencies. However, recent decades have witnessed a change in this regard. Especially since the 1980s, the Israeli authorities have been more accepting of Messianic believers, allowing their participation in a wider variety of offices including service in elite military units. In addition to these favorable circumstances, the Messianic body has been more influence by North American Evangelicalism, which generally does not hold to pacifist principles. As a result of both influences, Israeli believers tend to have a more positive outlook towards involvement in the military. The difficulty with this position is that Israeli believers face numerous moral dilemmas during their military service. Some of the demands made by the military may come in direct contradiction with the soldier's faith.
The differing Palestinian and Israeli approaches to war have been a source of tension. Palestinian Christians find it hard to understand why Israeli believers are so willing to serve in the military, and are even proud to do so. Israeli believers, for their part, do not feel that it would be right to separate themselves from military duty, which is mandatory for all citizens. It is obviously very difficult to carry out the work of reconciliation in light of these differences of approach, which are all the more heightened during our present state of war. Our natural tendency is, of course, to stand with our people since we understand them, hurt with them, and live in their midst.
However, since we are engulfed in our own communities, and hear the news as it is broadcasted from our particular viewpoint, we find it increasingly difficult to relate to those on the other side.
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