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What is the Role of the Church Regarding War?

April 24, 2013

After looking at just war theory, pacifism, and the newer concept called just peacemaking, a believer can wonder what the correct choice is. Pacifism feels right from a Biblical view, yet just war theory seems right from a societal view. Most do not know enough about just peacemaking to give it a proper consideration. Most would agree a new approach is needed. Anyone who has been through combat is ready to see something better. Everyone who has lost a family member to war knows a better response would be an honorable thing. So here is a bit of ‘thinking out loud’ on these ideas.

While the American church has benefited and flourished from the Constitutional protections of the civil government, the church should not be bound to the government in an unholy union. “American culture-conforming Protestant individualism needs correction by an understanding of churches as discerning communities.”[1] The church is to be the city on a hill (Matthew 5:13-16) illuminating a different way of life. Scripture does turn civil affairs to the government but prescribes the followers of Jesus to abstain from those activities which conflict with the prescriptions of scripture. This could be described as a healthy tension between the church and government.

Pacifism has typically been a reactive stance. Usually this stance retreats from the world or stages protests in effort to change things. This group has many academics that teach and author excellent material. The just war theory is also a reactive stance. While the creators of it intended it to be used to prevent war, in the current world situation it has been perverted into a checklist of sorts to justify military action. The true position of change is the just peacekeeping position.

Just peacemaking is a proactive position which continually works towards defusing conflict, with the understanding it may not always work. This concept has room for both the pacifist and the just war theorist to work together. It is also a position which understands the reality of the situation: not every armed conflict can be prevented and nation-states have the right to use for in their defense. This group could be considered “peacemakers” and their work is Kingdom work (Matthew 5:9). They work with the hope of not only preventing war, but righting wrongs and creating a better place for future generations.

America is involved in two longstanding stalemate situations, the Cuban embargo and the ceasefire with North Korea, which could benefit from just peacemaking. For example, look at the national relations between America and Cuba. This standoff has been ongoing since the Kennedy administration. While the initial reasons for the standoff have been resolved, the embargo and travel restrictions have held firm. To what end? The rest of the free world has moved on, while America nurses a decades old grudge. There is no need for this. Just peacemaking would bring both sides to the table and open conversations. Admissions of wrongdoing from both sides would be shared and forgiveness given. While the governmental situation in Cuba may not be ideal to American standards, why not work towards a peaceful and mutual resolution? After all, the embargo should have been considered a failed solution years ago. It has changed nothing. It is time to try a new approach.

National or governmental hubris frequently interfere with these efforts. Just peacemaking requires both sides to repent of their wrongs and offer forgiveness. Many governments, including our own, do not like admissions of wrongness. They feel it shows weakness. In reality, admitting guilt is a colossal sign of strength. It demonstrates self-awareness and a national conscience. In some cultures, there is a necessity to win something in the conversation, lest you appear weak and can lose power in government.

Another thing is each side needs to attempt to learn what the grievance of the other party is. If they can discern a legitimate grievance, can the grievance be addressed without armed conflict? If so, each side must work towards that end. At times, the grievance is something unchangeable. They then need to see if this grievance is a difference in national philosophies, and if it is, can they live with this difference without conflict? This is a sort of ‘agree to disagree’ solution which may not be ideal, but is better than war.

A peaceful solution will not be found every time, but at least there was an attempt to genuinely work for peace. Any faith can join in this effort – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Agnostic, and Atheist. Each can have a chair at this table. Peace making does not need to start at a head of a nation, but can grow from a grass-roots type of movement. Each person can make a difference. If you are interested in learning more about this concept of just peacemaking, or your desire to find resources about it, check out Just Peacemaking Initiative at http://justpeacemaking.org/.

In the end the church role is neither to be a cheerleader of the government nor should it sit on the sidelines. It should be an active peacemaker. At times that will mean it will cheer its government for wise choices, at other times it should be a prophetic voice crying for unjust actions to stop. This is a Biblical imperative for the church. Go forth and be peacemakers.


[1] Glen H. Stassen. Just Peacemaking: the New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2008. 30

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