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Pacifism vs. Just War Theory

An old friend of mine recently brought this subject to my attention with an essay that discussed the film, Prince of Peace, God of War by John Campea. To get this conversation started, click here to download or watch it right here:

Now, if you've taken time to watch the film, you probably already have an opinion on this subject. I must confess, I am still searching for answers because I have heard plenty of good arguments on both sides of this issue. I wish I could post my friend Scott's rebuttal to this film but it is rather long (if you are on facebook, join the group Trail Blazer Ministries and add me as a friend, I have Scott's essay posted).

With a quick Google search on the Just War Theory, I found the site which has a bunch of information that I found very hard to disagree with. This site has been helpful for me to understand that not all Just War Theorists are the same as Campea's film might suggest:

"Just war theory is not a settled doctrine. It is a field of critical ethical reflection. That's why there are as many just war theories as there are just war theorists. So, rather than allow traditionally accepted (yet highly contested) theoretical principles dictate what is required to justify the use of armed forces, let your first lesson in just war theory be one which you teach yourself in a simple introductory exercise of reflection: Start by thinking of a paradigm case or prime example from history which strikes you intuitively as being an instance of an ethically acceptable, or perhaps even laudable use of armed forces. And ask yourself what makes it so. If you can neither think of a single example in history, nor imagine any possible future instances of the justifiable use of arms, then you may be an absolute pacifist. If you cannot think of a single ethically condemnable act of warfare, and you "love the smell of napalm in the morning," then you may belong to the realpolitik camp. If you can think of some limited class of ethically condemnable instances or forms of warfare, and your head is swimming with great examples of ethically acceptable and even laudable warfare, then you may be a relatively hawkish just war theorist. If your head is swimming with historical examples of condemnable warfare, and you can think only of a relatively limited class of ethically acceptable instances, and few or no laudable ones, then you may be a relatively dovish just war theorist (like me). The theoretical task of the just war theorist is to figure out what sets the ethically acceptable and laudable examples apart from the rest."

I suspect we have one at least one of each of these (in relation to the above definitions) in our little Thursday morning study, which will no doubt lend to a lively discussion. My own personal leanings are proabably more towards the relatively dovish JWT. Blogger Ricky Carvel makes a statement about this film that coencides with Bruce's discussion last week on how different believers approach the bible,

"The most striking difference between the two sets of theologians was their point of reference. All the 'pacifist' theologians used Jesus as the basis of their position, all the 'just war' theologians used the Bible as their basis. This, once again, made me consider the way believers approach the bible - is the whole thing the equally valid Word of God, or is Jesus himself the Word of God and the bible merely the book that points to him?"

I feel that this subject is very important to understand in our current situation at home in America and in our exploits around the globe.

Alright, this is incredibly long but I felt that my friend Scott made some good points for consideration after viewing this film:

Si Vis Pacem, Fac Bellum: A Review of and Response to the Documentary, “Prince of Peace, God of War”

Friday, February 27, 2009 at 11:27am
I don’t ordinarily write these sorts of Facebook notes. Usually I try to keep them pretty lighthearted. But lately I’ve been feeling a little bored – maybe needed to do a little mental calisthenics. Anyway, this is a topic I care about quite a lot and I figured it’s not often I get to review a movie on it, so I may as well take advantage while I can. Given the spatial limitations that come with Facebook attention spans, I’m not going to fully develop my views on Just War theory or my arguments concerning the movie. If discussion ensues, the points that need elaboration will be developed as needed. As a policy I don’t tag anyone in my notes, so I’m keeping that up here, even though this note is tied to another note by Travis Cooper. Finally, even if you are not really “up” on this topic, I encourage you to watch the video and maybe read up on the topic. I believe it is important for Christians to have well-informed opinions about both sides of this issue. If anyone would like clarification on any of the points or would like to comment, as always your comments/questions/critiques are welcome.

A new documentary by director John Campea called “Prince of Peace, God of War” is starting to get some attention and discussion amongst Evangelicals. Campea, a former Evangelical (and apparently former minister) and currently active member of the blogosphere, claims to have been perplexed about what the Bible has to say about war. He was driven to interview various members on each side of the debate – Christian Pacifism vs. Christian Just War Theory – and says that the interviews with Just War Theorists only solidified his prior leanings in the Pacifist direction. I encourage everyone to actually watch the documentary prior to reading my response below so you can judge for yourself whether or not I am being fair to Mr. Campea. Follow this link to watch the video either streamed or in downloadable form:

I want to respond to eight separate issues from the film:

1. The “History Lesson” portion of the film starts by discussing the Constantinian Shift (when Constantine converted to Christianity and Christianity all of a sudden had power in Rome, thus forcing some re-thinking of Christian doctrine). Now, I’m not much of an historian, so I can’t really discuss the intricacies of the Constantinian Shift in detail. The real problem I have with this section is this view that roughly says Augustine only came up with his views on Just War as a result of his desire to appease Rome and to justify Christian participation in the military/war. With respect to Christians being able to serve in the military in contradiction to the previous 300+ years of pacifism in the church, Bruxy Cavey says, “Constantine - he needs help….and so there are some theologians that are willing to help him find ways of doing an end run around this central, core teaching of Jesus.” Campea writes, “In 410 AD the fall of Rome shocked the empire. Many critics blamed Christianity and its pacifistic beliefs for the weakening of the state. In response, Augustine taught there were times and circumstances in which a Christian could participate in the military and if need be, kill. His teachings laid the groundwork for the Christian Just War theory.” David Williams says simply, “Augustine is the theologian of the empire.” The viewer is left with the impression that Constantine convinced/forced/used Augustine to change Christian doctrine in order to allow for Christian participation in war (I doubt that David Williams actually holds this view, but I think Campea uses what Williams says in support of it, which is the real problem). If you watch the video and don’t get this impression, then kudos to you – you need not read this section. It’s the impression that I got, and am therefore going to respond to it.
(a) My first response to this is that no evidence for this point was ever actually presented. Augustine certainly said nothing like this when he was first formulating the ideas. In fact, Augustine made his theological purposes and sincerity quite clear in his Confessions. Furthermore, Augustine was highly influenced by Plato in his philosophy, so given that Plato (along with Cicero) is considered a founder of the secular Just War tradition, it should come as no shock that Augustine would come to this view apart from imperial influence. Where did this information come from? Are there historians who share this view?
(b) My second response is in dealing specifically with this notion that Augustine was doing Constantine’s bidding. While never explicitly stated in the film, this seems to be the view that is supported – everyone interviewed credits Augustine as being the one to come up with Christian Just War theory, Cavey’s quote above says “some theologians” are willing to “help him [Constantine] find ways of doing an end run around this central, core teaching of Jesus.” Well, if Augustine is credited with the creation of the Christian Just War tradition, then those “theologians” Cavey is referring to must be Augustine. If this is what was intended (though, I’m willing to be charitable and say…maybe it wasn’t? Though I don’t know how it wouldn’t have been…poor editing?), then it is patently false. Constantine died in 337. Augustine was not born until 354 and didn’t begin work on The City of God (from whence come his thoughts on Just War) until 413.
(c) Lastly, and most importantly, even if this stuff about Augustine were true, why would it matter? The argument is a complete non sequiter to the actual discussion. Even if Augustine had sinister reasons for contriving the doctrine, it doesn’t follow from that that the doctrine is false. At no point are any of the historic philosophical and theological formulations of the doctrine, whether by Augustine or Aquinas or Locke or Grotius or anyone else dealt with and shown to be false – rather all we are told is that Augustine had ulterior motives in creating the doctrine and that none of these theologians are equal in authority to Jesus (tip o’ the hat to Tony Campolo for that).

2. This bit by Tony Campolo was essentially the whole argument given by the pacifists in this documentary – roughly, “I can’t see Jesus killing someone, therefore Jesus would never kill someone. So, if Christians are always supposed to do what Jesus would do, we have no business ever killing someone.”
(a) For me this argument ignores any notion that Jesus may have acted differently in order to fulfill his specific mission in our world. When Jesus came to earth would he have ever killed anyone? Maybe not – but that wasn’t his mission on Earth. His mission was to proclaim himself as Messiah, be killed, and be resurrected in order to make atonement possible and triumph over sin and death. As far as I can tell there was only one instance in the gospels where conventional rights theory would say Jesus was justified in acting in self-defense, and in that instance to have acted in self-defense would have violated his mission. Given his mission, however, I also cannot picture Jesus having become a professional baseball player. He would have never had time to do all his proclaiming of himself as the Messiah (and probably would never have been crucified due to fan outrage), so being a professional baseball player probably would also have violated Christ’s mission on Earth. Now, does that mean that no Christian should ever be a professional baseball player? No – it simply means that WWJD is not a good basis through which to view ALL ethical controversies.
(b) The simple fact is this – Just War theorists use the words of Jesus to justify their position as well. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is one of the most important principles behind Christian Just War theory. The Just War theorists bring it up in the documentary. The pacifists don’t have a monopoly on the teachings of Jesus.
(c) Why can’t the Just War theorists simply bite the bullet here and say that maybe Christ would have killed? John portrays very violent apocalyptic images of Christ in Revelation. Christ showed that he was capable of righteous, potentially violent anger by throwing over tables in the temple. And we simply don’t know what He would have done in situations where defensive homicide would be justifiable, but would not also violate his mission on Earth. What if Jesus was put in a position where a crazed band of outlaws broke into His home to kill Joseph, James, Joses, Judah, and Simon, and rape Mary and his sisters (no offense meant to my Catholic friends here)? My bets are that Jesus would not have let it happen. Who knows? Maybe he would have used some of His divine powers to paralyze the attackers instead of killing them. Maybe he would have simply thrown a fireball at them, Ryu-style. Maybe he would have killed them. No one really knows. Anyone who claims to know the answer is not being honest with what we can know from the text.

3. The pacifists argue for complete discontinuity between the OT and the NT with respect to wars being commanded by God in the OT but being forbidden by Christ in the NT. They cite scripture like Heb. 8:13, Heb. 10:9, Gal. 3:13, Rom. 7:4-6, John 1:17, Lk. 16:16, and Matt. 5:38-39 as evidence. A few points on this:
(a) First, Campea claims Just War theorists use OT wars as evidence for their position, followed immediately by one of the Just War theorists (Stanley Fowler) explaining why this argument doesn’t work for the Just War tradition. This should give pause to the viewer – why would the Fowler be rebutting his own argument? Could it be that this is not actually an argument that thoughtful Just War theorists rely on?
(b) Fowler’s response is absolutely correct – OT wars prove too much. Yes, they show that the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures is okay with war at points, but they also show that Just War principles are not followed in those instances where He is recorded as commanding them. However, it does not follow from the fact that these texts are problematic for the Just War position, that they are not problematic for the pacifist position. Pacifists don’t get a pass simply because Just War theorists don’t get a pass.
(c) Lastly on this, if war/violence is seen as immoral for the NT church, then why are OT war heroes venerated to the extent that they are in the NT and by the NT church as a whole (including, I’m sure, all those interviewed for the pacifist position in the film)?

4. None of the strongest NT texts in support of the Just War position were even mentioned. The texts that were dealt with were Matt. 21, Rom. 13, and Matt. 8. Most Just War theorists will bring up the Soldier texts from the NT. Now, it is true that Campea discusses one of the soldier texts (Matt. 8), but it is also true that he discusses the weakest of all of them for the Just War position. Luke 3 and Acts 10 are both far better examples from scripture.
(a) In Luke 3:14 some soldiers specifically ask John the Baptist what they should do to repent. He responds by telling them, “Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” Now, if war is altogether immoral for the Christian (Richard B. Hays, for instance, has called military recruitment by chaplains a form of prostitution), then shouldn’t John have mentioned something about them needing to get out of the military? James Skillen and Keith Pavlischek point out that (going with Hays’s analogy) this would have been the same as John telling prostitutes who have asked what they need to do to repent, “be satisfied with your pay, and don’t rip off your clients,” without saying anything about the need to not be a prostitute.
(b) In Acts 10, Peter receives his vision, then goes to Cornelius’s house, dines with him, and proclaims to all that the Gospel is for the gentiles. Now, Cornelius is a centurion. Luke makes it abundantly clear that Peter never second guessed Cornelius’s profession. The only thing Peter second guessed was Cornelius’s lack of circumcision. Luke also makes it clear that he, himself has great admiration for Cornelius from his statements throughout about how good a man, and how well respected Cornelius is.
(c) While it is true that by itself Matt. 8 cannot show the acceptability of a Christian being a soldier, it is also true that out of all texts in the NT that deal specifically with soldiers not a single one criticizes the soldiers qua soldiers. In fact, in the cases of Cornelius and the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 (where Gideon, Samson, and David are all mentioned), soldiers are praised as being godly men. These texts, in combination with Matt. 22:39 (and a number of others) give the NT basis for Just War theory – none of them are discussed in the documentary.

5. Much of what is said of Just War theory by the pacifists is quite pejorative and not representative in the least of what thoughtful Just War supporters believe.
(a) Bruxy Cavey accuses JWT of “blindly supporting national war.” The fact is that many, if not most, JWT defenders opposed the war in Iraq. Really, if it advocated “blind” support, then why would there be set criteria for war in the first place? This is just an idiotic statement that betrays the fact that Cavey does not have an adequate understanding of the subject on which he is speaking.
(b) Similarly, Brian McLaren accuses that JWT “believes in redemptive violence, believes in empire.” Believes in empire? Has McLaren ever actually read anything about Just War theory? No action can be taken save defense against an unjust aggressor, any action taken must be a last resort, any action must have just intention (conquest not included). What about “empire” screams Just War? Again, quite underhanded and unfair.
(c) Another time, Bruxy Cavey says of Just War, ““The theory runs something like this…as long as in your individual life you’re being a good Christian, then when you play a role of a soldier…you’re allowed to act more like a soldier than like a person who’s living out the teachings of Jesus.” This doesn’t even approximate Just War belief. JWT says that if you are fighting in a just war, you are doing that which is ethical and are therefore living out the teachings of Jesus.
(d) He says of Augustine, “Augustine is able to encourage the belief that your heart is really what matters, not so much your actions. So as long as you’re loving your enemy in your heart, it’s ok if you’re killing them.” No need to rebut this – the derogatory nature of the statement should be obvious to any objective viewer/reader. These kinds of statements do not reflect real attempts to elucidate what Just War theorists actually believe – rather they serve to misrepresent the opposing position in order to make the pacifist position seem stronger.

6. I find it sad that I even need to address these next two, but the duplicitous nature of the attacks on the Just War tradition are so egregious that they have to be addressed. Campea resorts to the oldest rhetorical trick in the book – he cites a big long quote that sounds as if it supports the Just War position, then moments later flashes on the screen “Adolf Hitler – blah date – 1922”.
(a) Ok, I think we’ve all learned by now that we can find a quote from Hitler supporting any and every view under the sun (well…perhaps other than Judaism and Pacifism). He was a manipulative bastard – he said what needed to be said to convince his audience.
(b) The fact is that he didn’t live up to his own quote. He says, “I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.” I’ll go out on a (not so small) limb and guess that we can all agree that Hitler was not a fighter for truth and justice.
(c) Hitler also quotes Luther to support The Final Solution – does that mean Luther would have supported it? Does that even mean that what Luther believed could rightfully be used in support of it? No. Of course not – prior to the latter parts of his life, Luther made active efforts to go “to the Jew first”. Hitler also quotes Friedrich Nietzsche to support his policies – would Nietzsche have supported Hitler? Absolutely not – the man dedicated much of his life to caring for the wounded and sick.
(d) Bottom line is this – were it not for Christians who believed it was okay to fight and who were willing to do so, the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka and Majdanek and others would have actually been the final solution.

7. I considered putting this one under #5, but I felt it warranted its own separate point. The final discussion about Just War on the video was about the murder of abortionists. Campea says, “If a Christian says…[we] are called to violence in the face of extreme evil when all other options have failed,…I reply, well, in that scenario then you’re advocating taking a sniper rifle down to an abortion clinic and shooting abortion doctors.”
(a) Campea clearly has not done his homework. First Things (a wonderful publication) did a symposium on this very topic a few years back in which they interviewed a number of leaders from the pro-life movement in light of an individual who had shot an abortionist in Florida. Interestingly, the only people who actually brought up Just War theory in the symposium were pointing out that the principles of Just War expressly forbid this sort of action. The only scholar who even moderately supported it (in some instances) was Robert P. George, and he did so without reference to or justification from Just War theory.
(b) Off the top of my head I can think of at least 3 ways in which the principles of Just War doctrine forbid the murder of abortionists. (i) The actor does not have proper authority. (ii) The action is not a last resort. (iii) The action does not stand a reasonable chance of success at achieving its end.
(c) In the documentary every single one of the Just War theorists Campea interviewed acted as if he were an idiot to even ask this question (and they were right). The fact is that Campea provided no evidence of a tie between these two positions, he showed no Just War theorists who supported murdering abortionists and he quoted no abortionist murderers citing Just War principles. I have never heard a Just War theorist defend this using Just War principles. Campea’s accusation here is as dirty as it gets.

8. Lastly, I will simply point out that Campea makes no attempt at addressing the obvious weaknesses in the pacifist position.
(a) No one in his panel was ever asked if self-defense is allowable in any case – say a woman defending herself from rape and/or by stabbing an attacker (perhaps if all she had was a kitchen knife and no possibility of running away). If they say it is allowable, then how do they justify it? Can they imagine Jesus ever stabbing someone? If it is not allowable, then I can’t imagine they are going to have many (especially female) recruits to their point of view. If self-defense is allowable, then how do they stop the philosophical line of reasoning that sees large-scale Just War as a logical outworking of the right to personal self-defense?
(b) Another question no one deals with is: are you willing to say that humanitarian intervention to stop a genocide – ala WWII – is always a sinful act? If a Christian participated in the liberation of Auschwitz, was he sinning in doing so?
(c) They address precious few of the scriptural arguments from the New Testament given in favor of the Just War position, leaving what many Just War theorists consider their strongest scriptural support out of the discussion altogether.

I believe the bias in this film does a disservice to anyone watching who legitimately desires to be informed on both sides of the debate. There are two sides – both quite ably defended. Am I claiming that there is no legitimate case for Christian pacifism? No – I think there are good arguments (although I ultimately believe them to be unsuccessful, or I wouldn’t advocate the Just War position). What I do claim is that this topic is one that is very serious – after all, the Pacifist assertion is that Christians have no moral right to participate in war and is thus an accusation against anyone that would claim to be a Christian who serves in the armed forces. To treat arguments defending those accused with such flippancy as is done in this film is truly abhorrent. It is incredibly offensive to me that John Campea feels justified in accusing Just War theorists of being intellectually dishonest in their use of Matt. 8, while at the same time refusing to even acknowledge the strongest arguments from the Just War position. He accuses Just War theorists of holding beliefs that almost none of them hold, does not allow them to respond to arguments critical of their position, and quite frankly chooses not to interview any well-known defenders of Just War theory while getting the biggest popular names available in support of pacifism (in McLaren and Campolo). If anyone is guilty of intellectual dishonesty it is most assuredly John Campea.

If you couldn't tell, I think Scott is more hawkish in his JWT views but he did a great job on his history. However, I strongly disagree with him that the Iraq War falls under the JWT category and I would also suggest that we might have to look back more than a hundred years in our history to find a good example of a just war. In my mind the best representation for JWT that we have is symbolized in the Gadsden flag that says, "DON'T TREAD ON ME." The rattlesnake is in a coiled defensive position, not in attack mode. If we were to have a flag today that symbolizes our current strategy of preemptive war, I think it would have to have a rabid pit-bull or something on it.

I really enjoyed this video Ryan. Iraq would be "just war" if they were an imminent threat.
See you guys thursday!

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