Summary: A sermon that explores three different views of war that Christians have traditionally advocated: The Christian Pacifist View, the Augustinian "Just War" View and the Christian Realist View (advocated by the author).
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
The Christian and War
"War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always evil. -Jimmy Carter
I very reluctantly find myself addressing a situation that like you, a few months ago I wouldn’t have dreamed at all possible. War. We find ourselves as a nation at war. Many of us huddle around our TV sets at night to learn the latest events that have occurred in the Persian Gulf War. Stephen Crane, the American novelist best known for his book, ”The Red Badge of Courage, once referred to war as "...the red animal...the blood swollen god." All of us agree that war is the most monstrous and hideous device of a nation’s foreign policy. It robs us of the lives and contributions of our youngest men and women, it incurs tremendous debt, it fuels inflation, it wrecks devastation and destruction upon the lives of people and the environment. Those are the most obvious results. But war does equally destructive work on the inner psyches of its participants. It fans the flames of hatred in the combatants and the survivors of the victims, it sparks arrogance and nationalism in others and it slowly destroys the moral consciences of the nations that participate in its blood lust. There are no victors in war, only combatants. It is the hidden, almost unnoticeable, effects of war on our moral conscience to which we must be especially alert. Someone once wrote that "Truth is the first casualty of war." I would submit that the first casualty of war is moral conscience. Let me offer you an example from one of our most vulnerable members of society: our children. The other day in the newspaper I came across this story entitled "Coonskin Warrior." "At Disney World in Orlando Florida, a 9 year old boy wearing a Davy Crockett coonskin cap pretended he was holding a rifle Sunday, as he entered the Middle East section of "It’s a Small World." The little boy began to ask everyone, "Where’s Saddam Hussein? I’m gonna take out that sucker." But impressionable children are not the only ones who can have their consciences marred by war. It is much too easy for we adults to approach this tragic war as if we were viewing the Super Bowl. Admittedly, as terrible and tragic as it is, war is exciting. Like looking at the scoreboard for the scores of two teams, we often look at the cold statistics on our TV screens to tell us whether we are winning this contest: How many planes we have shot down in comparison to their planes; how many people we have lost in comparison to their casualties. It is very easy to become anesthetized to the horrors of war. The reality of war raises some very serious questions for us as Christians. How should a Christian view war? Are all wars wrong? Can there be a just war? These are some of the questions I would like to use to guide us in our enquiry on the Christian and war. Historically, there have been two major views or traditions that have flowed down to us through the centuries on how a Christian should view war: 1)the Pacifist View and the 2) Just War View. These two quite different views of war have been in opposition for centuries and are today at the heat of controversy over our involvement in the Persian Gulf Conflict.
I. Let’s begin with the Pacifist View. This was the dominant view of the church in the first, second and third centuries. Today many pacifists are involved in the anti-war rallies that
have been breaking out across the nation. Christian pacifism can be found to be rooted in the words of Jesus who said, "Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat; let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles...Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you...As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them" (Matt. 5:39; Luke 6:27).Christian pacifism argues that war is always wrong. There can never be any grounds justifying a war and the Christian must never be involved in war or any similar violence. War is wrong because it violates the sixth commandment "You shall not kill." Because all human life is sacred, war profanes the sanctity of life. War is always evil. To use an evil means to combat evil does not produce a good. As Gandhi once said, “You cannot fight fire with fire. You must fight fire with water." We cannot fight evil with evil. We must combat evil with good. War then is never an option for the Christian, for it is contrary to the spirit and teachings of Jesus which can be summed up in the words, "You must love your neighbor as yourself." I have to tell you that I personally find Christian pacifism the most attractive option. I greatly admire people who are