Thoughts on War

As a nation we are in the midst of a difficult time as we, with other nations around the world, try to determine what the best course of action is in dealing with Iraq. The issue of course is do we respond to the situation in Iraq with continued diplomacy, or are we to the point where force must be used. And as Christians what should our position be?

For me this question of diplomacy or force has been at the forefront of my thinking for several months now.

As I learn more about the Iraq situation, from the media, and friends of friends who have intelligence jobs, I continue to reflect on whether war is the proper response or not. Maybe you too have had difficulty coming to a conclusion about what makes sense, and what is God's will in this particular situation.

I don't have absolute answers to this question, but I hope as I raise some thoughts and ideas on the issue this morning, that perhaps we all can be more intentional in our reflection on the issue.

I'm personally torn between wanting to follow a path of non-force, while at the same time realizing war may be the only way to rid the world of an evil and hateful dictator.

As I've reflected on this issue I have turned to the Bible for guidance, I've also looked at our denomination's social principles, and I have studied war from a moral and ethical perspective.

In the Bible we learn from Matthew that Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." And certainly making peace is preferred over war at all times. But when does peacemaking include war, or does it?

The Bible also tells us to learn the whole truth in settling our conflicts before we resort to any kind of action, and I couldn't agree more. (Joshua 22: 11-34) We must have complete understanding of a situation before we respond, so we don't over react or under react.

The Bible speaks of how God used wars to punish nations, especially in the Old Testament. The Bible also lists humane rules for war (Deut 20), speaks of civil war (Judges 20: 1-21) and addresses war as a divine judgment (Isaiah 8). As an instrument of God's judgment, the Bible sees war as both moral and necessary in some cases.

The armies of Assyria and Babylon as well as the army of Israel are called God's instruments in the Bible, in each case called upon by God to punish evil. A modern parallel would be the use of war to destroy Nazi, Germany, and thus put Hitler's evil to rest. We learn from 2 Samuel (5: 19-25) that in times of war David fought his battles the way God instructed him to. Cleary some of David's wars were sanctioned by God.

And it's important to realize that in each case of war, David asked God if he should engage in war or not, David always followed God's instructions carefully if war was the answer, and in all cases David gave God all the glory, meaning he wasn't going to war to simply build up his personal kingdom or himself.

Ecclesiastes 3: 8 states, "there is a time for war and a time for peace."

Christians throughout history have recognized that the formulation of a doctrine of war, or approach to war, is a theological and biblical exercise based upon the interpretation of numerous passages in the Bible (cf. Eccles. 3:1, 8; Matt. 5:44; 24:6-7; Acts 10:1-23; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:2; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). How these passages are interpreted defines the position one takes.

Through careful reading of the Bible we begin to realize there are no quick answers, because the Bible offers many references to peace, and it speaks to the use of force.

Unfortunately there is no "red letter" doctrine of war found in the Bible. Therefore the issue isn't "what's the Bible's view of war" but rather, "what view best interprets and reflects the biblical passages regarding war?"

Our own denomination takes a position on war as stated in The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, which states: "We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them."

Our social principles also state, "Persons and groups must feel secure in their life and right to live…we denounce as immoral an ordering of life that perpetuates injustice. Nations must feel secure in the world." And we support the efforts of the United Nations.

As you can see our Social Principles state we want to pursue peaceful solutions and we don't want to use war as a normal instrument of foreign policy, but when all avenues of peace have been exhausted, force, or the threat of force, may be the only answer to prevent continued oppression, abuse, and bloodshed.

The issue becomes knowing when have we exhausted every avenue of peace, without comprising our Christian values or convictions.

So the question this raises is does a time come, that for the sake of peace, war is an acceptable option?

As we watch the news we see many who protest against war. Many of my colleagues have spoken out against war in no uncertain terms, and I understand and respect their point of view, because certainly a peaceful solution to a problem is preferred over war.

But the situation we are dealing with in Iraq, and with the threat of terrorism around the world, is much more complex than a simple black and white answer. We live in a gray world, where absolutes are not always appropriate responses.

So with all this in mind, is there such a thing as a "just war?" Based on my study of moral ethics I have found that there are seven principles or criteria, which define a just war.

The first five principles apply to a nation, which is on the way to war, and the final two principles apply to military forces in the midst of war.

The first principle is Just cause-- Participation in the war is prompted by a just cause or defensive cause. No war of unprovoked aggression can ever be justified. Only defensive war is legitimate.

The second principle is Just intention (right intention)--The war must have a just intention, meaning, its intent must be to secure a fair peace for all parties involved. Therefore, revenge, conquest, economic or political gain, and ideological supremacy are not legitimate reasons for going to war. There must be a belief that ultimately greater good than harm will result from the war.

The third principle is Last resort--The war in question is engaged in only as a last resort. Other means of resolution such as diplomacy and economic pressure have been exhausted, and have not worked.

The fourth principle is Formal declaration--The war in question has been initiated with a formal declaration by proper authorities. Only governments can declare war, not individuals, terrorist organizations, mercenaries, or militias.

The fifth principle is Limited objectives--The war in question must be characterized by limited objectives. This means that securing peace is the goal and purpose of going to war. The war must be waged in such a way that once peace is attained, hostilities stop. Complete destruction of a nation's political infrastructure or economic institutions is an improper objective.

The sixth principle is Proportionate means--Combatant forces of the opposition forces may not be subjected to greater harm than is necessary to secure victory and peace. The types of weapons and amount of force used must be limited to only what is needed to repel the aggression, deter future attacks, and secure a just peace. Therefore, total or unlimited warfare is inappropriate.

The seventh principle is Noncombatant immunity--Military forces must respect individuals and groups not participating in the conflict and must abstain from purposely attacking them. Since only governments can declare war, only governmental forces or agents are legitimate targets. This means that prisoners of war, civilians, and casualties are immune from intentional attacks. These principles are offered, not to spread or promote war, but to keep war in check, if war becomes the response. They are moral and ethical guidelines for attempting to minimize the death and devastation that always accompanies war.

Right now, we as a nation are standing on a very slippery slope. On one side you have those who feel we are arrogant if we take action against Iraq, believing our goal is to spread the American eagle across the globe like the Roman Empire of Biblical times?

And there are those who say we are arrogant if we don't take action, believing if action isn't taken we don't care about our own citizens or others around the world? Clearly whatever decision our government makes will not satisfy everyone. But this is what leadership is all about. Leaders are required to make what they believe to be the right decision; based on all the information they have at the time, regardless of whether it is the popular decision. Leaders ought to seek God's leading in making decisions as well, which I hope our leaders are truly doing.

In my deliberations on our situation, a key issue for me is motivation. What motivates our country's leaders to want to move to war? Is their motivation to gain access to Iraq's oil, and to spread American might over the world?

This is a position many of the protesters against war claim is the case. And I agree this would be an inappropriate reason to use force. Or is the motivation of our leader's to liberate the enslaved people of Iraq and to free the world from a man full of hate and evil, someone who has already demonstrated his hatred towards much of humankind?

And once our government makes a decision, Paul tells us in Romans 13, that we are to submit ourselves to the governing authorities. This means once a decision is made regarding Iraq, we are to adhere to that decision whether we agree with it or not. God ordains the government with the right to promote good and condemn evil. This includes evil that exists within our own nation, or any other country that threatens the rest of the world.

And because God grants this authority, the government will be accountable to God. Not only our government, but all governments, including Iraq. And let us be clear that there is a distinction between individual moral responsibility, and governmental responsibility. As free moral agents, Paul tells us "See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people." (1 Thess 5:15)

Individual Christians should demonstrate Christ's love to those who personally wrong them. But this does not mean that if someone physically threatens us we shouldn't fight back.

Nor does it imply that we shouldn't use physical force to aid another person being threatened. In such situations it would be a greater sin to stand by and do nothing than to help a person who is in danger. Obviously there are many times a country should not engage in war; but there are times when, if a nation does not go to war, the consequences suffered by that nation or the world are worse. Therefore a government has biblical grounds to go to war in the nation's defense or to liberate others in the world that are enslaved.

But also know that there are times when we don't have to follow our government's decisions, and that's when a government's decision is in clear violation of the Bible. Violations include: (Romans 13: 1-4) ˘ When the government forbids preaching the word of God ˘ When Christians are required to perform immoral or Non-Christian acts ˘ When the government ignores righteousness or justice

I don't know what our government's ultimate decision will be regarding Iraq, but if the decision is made to go to war, according to Paul we ought to fully support our military personnel as they put their lives on the line to make this world a better and safer place for all of us, and for our children and grandchildren.

Even if we don't directly participate in the fighting, we are called to create unity and harmony within this country. This means that if the decision is to move forward with war we need to no longer make our personal opinion a priority, and we need to support the direction our government decides to go in.

So what is my personal opinion on the issue of war?

At this point in my understanding of the situation in Iraq, and my understanding of what constitutes a correct Christian response, I personally support the use of force against Iraq within the bounds of the 7 principles of a just war I mentioned earlier.

I don't believe God wants us to stand by and let Satan just simply walk all over us. I do believe God wants us to stand up for what we believe, and to seek his guidance for our next steps.

In World War II Hitler was committed to the conquest of Europe. He also sought to exterminate the Jewish race from the face of the planet. Those allied against Hitler and his plan engaged in a just war to rid the world of hate and sin. There were good reasons, moral and biblical reasons to go to war against Hitler. It would have been more immoral for the United States not to get involved in that conflict.

Many believe Saddam is the Hitler of our day. To ignore him is morally the same as if we ignored Hitler, or if a police officer simply ignored an assault on someone.

So the question we must ask then, is does our current situation fit the criteria for a just war? Is our country justified in using its considerable military might against Iraq and other terrorists?

Well let's look at what we know already. ˘ The terrorists have attacked United States property and people in the bombings of our two embassies in Africa, the attack on the USS Cole and the attacks of 9/11, and terrorists have been linked to Iraq.

˘ Terrorists have intentionally killed thousands of innocent people throughout the world in the just past two years, and Iraq has used chemical weapons on their own people.

˘ There is a continuing threat of danger to the United States and other countries around the world because of Iraq and their agents.

Romans 13 commands the government to not ignore its role of protector of all those who fall within its care, just as a police officer shouldn't ignore there role of protecting those who fall within there care. We have a moral obligation to help those who are oppressed and are adversely affected by evil. Therefore to ignore such a dangerous threat to our population would be a sin.

You know as a country we have been truly blessed by God, and because of these blessings we have an obligation to bless others. We have an obligation, as a nation under God, to show the world a better way, to help rid the world of evil in accordance with the rule of God, and to help others come to know Christ.

The very fact that we can gather here this morning; the very idea that people can protest for and against things in this country, or openly share different views, was bought for a price. That price is the blood of the many who have given their lives so that we in this country can live according to the rule of God, so that we can live free, and so that we can show others what it means to be a God fearing country.

It's easy for some to sit back in their comfortable easy chairs and simply say we shouldn't do anything when evil hasn't looked them directly in the face. Patience and prayerful reflection in resolution is one thing, but burying our head in the sand and ignoring sin is another.

We must prevent this country, and the world, from becoming a pagan play ground ruled by immorality and sin. I can't believe God would want us to simply stand by while evil and terror gain more of a foothold in this world.

As a nation we prepare for war, but we must earnestly pray for peace. So as Christians we are called to prayer to seek a peaceful end to this crisis, while being mindful to the reality that war may be necessary to protect our international community, and to liberate the oppressed in Iraq.

Our prayers should focus on God changing the hearts of Saddam and his government. And we should pray for our leaders, that they heed the will of God in making what will be life and death decisions.

Make no mistake about it, this is a frightening time for the world, and it's time for all of God's people to rise up against the hatred, sinful, and evil threat we are experiencing.

To this end I challenge all of us, as children of God, to respond to this conflict with an attitude of prayer, in submission to God's will, and with an unwavering dependence on God almighty.


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