Should Christians Participate In Military Conflict?

Recently during a conversation on serving in the military as a Christian I was reminded of an argument I wrote sometime ago against the idea that Christians should avoid war or armed conflicts. Here is an excerpt from a paper that critiqued Stanley Hauerwas’ views on a few notable subjects related to Christian living where I discuss the ways Pacifism misses the mark in being a truly Biblical view.

Hauerwas and War

What is required is not simply discovering new contexts to sustain martial virtues, but rather an alternative history. Precisely this God has offered through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Such an alternative is not an unrealizable ideal. No, it is present now in the church, a real are alternative able to free our imagination from the capacity of war.[1]

            I now turn to a second issue with Hauerwas’s views, in how they are played out in his pacifistic views. This may seem like a strange area to write about in view of my purpose to write about Christian living but I think it has implications on what it means for a Christian to work in the world. Hauerwas views war itself as a great evil indeed it is “the manifestation of our hatred of God.”[2] As a result Hauerwas claims a Christian should refuse to participate[3]. The extent to which a Christian should not participate is not really clear from what he has written but a thought experiment may help to see the extent that living out this stance may take. If, as Hauerwas argues, justified killing, by which he means any killing including a just war or even killing a burglar who will kill ones family if not stopped[4], is never actually justified and is always and totally evil. Then just as a Christian should not work for or in any way promote a brothel, we as Christians should abstain from any military position, police position or any organization that provides direct support for such agency. In any case this would mean a vast number of jobs in society would be Christian-less. Hauerwas’s views of an organization needing to apply Christ’s principles such as non-violence prior to a Christian being able to accept a job has even greater issues though, that I hope will become apparent as I lay out an argument for the Biblical approval of war in general. Due to space I will only address the Bible’s approval of war as an option and will not address what is or is not a just war.

            Hauerwas’s understanding of war is developed from a misunderstanding and misapplication of Christ’s Passion. It contradicts the Biblical approval of war and it is a misunderstanding because it mis-characterizes the cross as God’s ending violence in the world rather than the implementation of an age of grace. Concisely I disagree that Hauerwas’s view is Biblical because:

1. Jesus’s call to non-violence always had to do with personal vengeance.

2. Christ said the majority would not follow Him[5]

3. Christ said He would physically come again to rule, and that wars will continue until He returns. [6]

4. Christ and His followers taught in scripture that even a corrupt and violent Roman government was God’s agent for good bringing justice with a sword.[7]A sword is not for riot control or simply to instill fear especially for the Romans. It was, plain and simple, a means of killing. 

5. Jesus, John the Baptist and Jesus’s disciples all interacted with centurions and even led several to Christ, yet not one was ever condemned for their military service or told to leave it behind. This in spite of their instructing prostitutes and tax collectors directly to leave their sinful lifestyles behind.

6. Therefore, war in the hands of government can be used for God honoring purposes. 

Hauerwas argues further that appealing to Jesus lack of condemnation of centurions is an argument from silence. This is why I would not hold this as the primary argument. However it is a significant confirmation when added to the general Biblical approval and acknowledgement of the good of war. The silence here would seem to be a fairly loud silence.

            Removing Christians from such a vast array of jobs in the world also seems to contradict several Biblical principles:

1. Paul’s advice a Christian should remain as they are. Meaning in the job they originally are in. [8]

2. Our call by Jesus to be lights and salt and the scriptural call to be in the world but not of the world. [9]

When asked about this, Hauerwas has commented he would approve of Christians being in those positions if that government gives up the idea of killing ever being justifiable[10]. Again this goes against Jesus, Peter and Paul’s clear stance, in scripture, that even the Roman government, the great persecutor of the church, was using the sword for good, ordained in a sense by God. A final point I would like to develop from this response of Hauerwas is a crucial point. Hauerwas believes we define everything around us by narrative and the language available within that narrative. For Hauerwas this seems to be behind a major part of his objection, how can a Christian be in two narratives at the same time? (Natural law and Christ’s.[11]) This view leads to a kind of idealism that Christians should not be involved in the world unless the environment is completely Christ honoring, he expects that it is reasonable to expect governments to take on a Christ-like attitude and to bring about a kind of world peace where killing has ceased at least in some major way prior to Christians serving in roles that have to do with war or justified killing.

Finally as a logical appeal, there is a need for war and Hauerwas is certainly too idealistic. Some major tragedies may surface this point, during WWII millions of Chinese were killed under orders from the Japanese government, in Nanking the numbers were well over 200000[12] in that city alone. The travesties committed by the Japanese soldiers go beyond the imagination in evil including the killing competitions of pregnant civilians and the violent and random rape then murder of women in the streets[13]. In Nazi Germany we all know how 6 million Jews were systematically killed by Hitler and his men and neither the Japanese slaughter nor Hitler’s extermination showed any signs of stopping if not for war. War and bombs and the efficient killing of those who would not surrender ceased these travesties. In recent times I don’t need to go into detail of the rape and murder of innocents by ISIS, if it were not for bombs and bullets killing justifiably at the hands of various government’s orders then the killing would have went on and become more inventive until their cause was fulfilled. We would do well to remember these travesties and the good war can do when applied correctly in a world that “does not know the Father[14]“. Scripture in fact affirms that nothing about the cross is meant to fully cease the need for that kind of war, until Jesus’s return, and as Christians we would do well to agree with scripture. 

[1] Hauerwas, Stanley. The Hauerwas Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001. pg 423

[2] Hauerwas, Stanley. The Hauerwas Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001. pg. 421

[3] Hauerwas, Nigel Bigger and Stanley, interview by Justin Brierley. Unbelievable? Just War vs Pacifism – Nigel Biggar & Stanley Hauerwas (November 8, 2014).

[4] ibid

[5] Matthew 7:13

[6] Matthew 27, esp verse 7

[7] John 19:11, Romans 13:1-5, esp verse 4, 1 Peter 2:13-17

[8] 1 Corinthians 7:20

[9] Matthew 5:14-16

[10] Hauerwas, Nigel Bigger and Stanley, interview by Justin Brierley. Unbelievable? Just War vs Pacifism – Nigel Biggar & Stanley Hauerwas (November 8, 2014).

[11] Hauerwas, Stanley. The Hauerwas Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001. Pg 392

[12] Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking. Basic Books, 2012.

[13] ibid

[14] John 17:25

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