Abolishing War? An Appeal to Christian Leaders and Theologians

By Stanley Hauerwas and Enda McDonagh

As Christians called to serve the Church in differing Christian traditions we appeal to our Christian sisters and brothers to join a campaign to abolish war as a legitimate means of resolving political conflict between states and within them. Although our appeal is addressed to the Christian community, we believe that many people not part of that community may want to join.

This appeal, drawing on the teaching and example of Jesus Christ, wishes to engage all Christians in a serious conversation about the Christian and moral acceptability of war. Indeed it wishes to draw all concerned human beings into the examination and development of alternatives to war. God has created all for the Kingdom of Peace. Only in such a comprehensive enterprise can the appeal’s final goal of actually abolishing war have any chance of being realised. We hope those committed to upholding the doctrine of just war defence will join us in examining the case for the abolition of war. The defenders of just war have also a stake in making war unnecessary.

To many theologians this call for the abolition of war will appear presumptuous (who are these people anyway?). To others it may seem theologically flawed and in practice futile. Yet with John Paul II’s phrase from Centesimus Annus, “War never again,” ringing in our ears and with Tertullian’s succinct summary of early Church teaching before our eyes: “The Lord in disarming Peter henceforth disarms every soldier,” we face the basic challenge that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the destructive powers of this world, were radically overcome. It is loyalty to the example and teaching of Jesus Christ which summons Christians to renounce war and to seek with the wider religious and human communities to develop alternatives to protect the innocent, to restrain aggressors and to overcome injustice.

Christian attempts at justifying war from the fourth century onwards have always been intellectually and spiritually vulnerable and politically inconclusive. It is very doubtful if any war during that period satisfied the traditional criteria of jus ad bellum and jus in bello. In more recent times Christian leaders who still endorse the concept of a just war are finding it increasingly difficult to see how the criteria of last resort, non-combatant immunity and proportionality could nowadays be met. In current official Church documents and theological analyses there is a discernible unease with the applying of “just war theory” and even greater unease with its Christian authenticity.

Why do we make this appeal now? We do not think that the horrors of modern war are the primary reason. Neither do we believe that because people are so enlightened today that they will more readily respond. These considerations may be supportive, even persuasive reasons for many people. We call for the end of war now because this time like all time is under God’s judgement. There is no time like the present (or the past) to say again in John Paul II’s words, what has already been said by God in Christ, “War never again.”

We have no illusions that our call for the abolition of war will bring an immediate or even quick end to human massacres. So we are phrasing the appeal in terms that invite dialogue and promote serious conversation and analysis among Christian leaders on the Christian roots of this peace project. We hope to involve university faculties in the theological and secular sciences, as well as research institutes in a better understanding of the causes and consequences of particular wars and in the search for peaceful alternatives. The results of such work should reveal to a wider and (non-)Christian public that war is immoral and unnecessary.

Such a programme calls for energetic and lengthy conversation; the kind of conversation that becomes a process of conversion for all; conversion of Christians to the anti-war dimension of their own faith and conversion of others to the peace-making potential of their fellow human beings. A hard road lies ahead and one strewn with intellectual, ecclesial and political obstacles. Yet Christian hope must be that this foolishness of God will confound the worldly-wise by persistent witness to peace, by the creative development of peace-making attitudes and structures and by achieving non-violent resolutions of particular conflicts.

There are encouraging human precedents for the larger hope. It was once assumed that slavery was part of “the natural order” and that those calling for its abolition were utopian dreamers. We are well aware that disguised forms of slavery still exist, but no one thinks aloud that it can be justified, or that a public profit may be made from it.

We know that what we call war will continue in various guises also, but we trust that Christians will no longer be tempted to affirm war’s necessity or to seek its justification. Let the twenty-first century be for war what the nineteenth was for slavery, the era of its abolition. May God grant that Christians give the leadership to achieve that.

[Ed. Note: This appeal is also posted, along with numerous related items, on the website of the Holy Cross International Justice Office, a project of the Catholic Congregations of the Holy Cross, at: http://www.holycrossjustice.com/IraqOpposeWarOn.htm]

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