Is War a “Christian” Thing?
By: Warner Todd Huston
Is Christianity compatible with war? That is a question that many today feel should be answered in the negative. It is also one that the left in America uses to chide and heave claims of hypocrisy upon the shoulders of patriotic Americans who profess belief in Christianity. But, is war somehow completely against Christian principles?
In this day we are faced with a world wide fascist movement greater than that faced by the â€œgreatest generationâ€ of the 1930â€™s and 40â€™s as extreme Islamists corrupt the ideals and tenets of Islam to attempt to force the world to accept their rule. I say a greater fascist movement than Nazism, not because of the scope of the war involved, for WWII was certainly a larger conflagration, but in the scope of the size of those who accept the ideas of the extremists, one far larger than Hitlerâ€™s Nazism could ever lay claim.
Better and far more intelligent people than I have argued over the “Just War” theory, but I tend to agree with the general premise that a war can be the right action in the right circumstances. Further, I do think that war is in keeping with Christ’s teachings within certain boundaries.
Now, many claim war could not possibly be in keeping with Christ’s teachings by pointing to the Bibleâ€™s admonition in Matthew 5:43-48: â€œYe have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute youâ€¦â€
This might tend to make one think Jesus was a strict pacifist if you do not further look into his works and words. It would also make one imagine that being a follower of Jesus would mean that pacifism should be the highest doctrine to follow. But this ill-informed reading would also be wrong.
Jesusâ€™ entire ministry was one of ministering to the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast of society; it was a search for justice and fair treatment for all men on Earth as well as Heaven. Not manâ€™s justice, of course, but Godâ€™s. Still, his constant theme was justice, none-the-less.
The story of the Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is a perfect illustration of Jesusâ€™ idea of justice. The wasteful son (for thatâ€™s what the word prodigal means) is welcomed back with love and reward for rejecting his past wastefulness and for asking forgiveness. The son who did everything right, though, is seen as petulant, haughty and hateful by his condemnation of his brother. But, the loving Father welcomes his son back with open arms because repentance demands respect and those in need must be given succor.
What does this have to do with war? Didn’t the Father forgive his recalcitrant son? Shouldn’t we similarly forgive all that trespass against us? Yes, the Father did forgive, but the son also repented. The two met in the middle, the son realizing he was wrong and the Father forgiving him.
But, compare this story to Jesus accosting the moneychangers. They did not repent and Jesus cast his fury at their cheating ways. Jesus fought for justice on Earth as well as Heaven. He fought for what was right. So, if Jesus fought on Earth for earthly justice, why should we turn our backs on that same concept while claiming to follow Jesus?
As WWII began, a brilliant man named Reinhold Niebuhr confronted a similar problem in the days prior to the USA entering the war. It was a day when American isolationists were begging to stay out of “Europe’s troubles” and a day when anti-Jewish sentiment was rampant in print and on the country’s airwaves.
Published on February 10th, 1941 and titled “Christian Faith and the World Crisis”, Nieuber pointed out the necessity to reconcile Christianity with waging war on Hitler and “Tojo”. His argument was trenchant and thoughtful and should be read by everyone in this, a similar time of crisis and world strife.
Niebuhr also dwelt on earthly justice. He believed, as do I, that the American way of life offered the best possible form of justice to the average man and the Nazis and Japanese offered the worst, he postulated that it is our duty not to cross to the other side of the street and pretend we did not notice the oppression our neighbors are suffering under.
Niebuhr pointed out that modern Christians were all too often looking to avoid their responsibilities…
Looking at the tragic contemporary scene within this frame of reference, we feel that American Christianity is all too prone to disavow its responsibilities for the preservation of our civilization against the perils of totalitarian aggression. We are well aware of the sins of all the nations, including our own, which have contributed to the chaos of our era. We know to what degree totalitarianism represents false answers to our own unsolved problemsâ€”political, economic, spiritual.
As in his day, Neibuhr describes the isolationist tendencies of too many Americans today. And, unlike the times in which he wrote, we can add the American left into that isolationist camp. Instead of being interested in helping the oppressed of the world, today’s left wants to retreat allowing the despots free reign. But, that free reign will come back to destroy us.
Niebuhr said it better than I ever could:
Yet we believe the task of defending the rich inheritance of our civilization to be an imperative one, however much we might desire that our social system were more worthy of defense. We believe that the possibility of correcting its faults and extending its gains may be annulled for centuries if this external peril is not resolutely faced. We do not find it particularly impressive to celebrate oneâ€™s sensitive conscience by enlarging upon all the well-known evils of our western world and equating them with the evils of the totalitarian systems. It is just as important for Christians to be discriminating in their judgments, as for them to recognize the element of sin in all human endeavors. We think it dangerous to allow religious sensitivity to obscure the fact that Nazi tyranny intends to annihilate the Jewish race, to subject the nations of Europe to the dominion of a “master” race, to extirpate the Christian religion, to annul the liberties and legal standards that are the priceless heritage of ages of Christian and humanistic culture, to make truth the prostitute of political power, to seek world dominion through its satraps and allies, and generally to destroy the very fabric of our western civilization.
You can say “Amen” to that whether you are religious or not because the Islamofascists that we face today will surly take away the liberties and freedoms of even the hardest atheist who wants to just “get along”. We are not just attempting to stop, police-like, the acts of criminals. We are in a fight no less for the very existence of our civilization, our history and the freedoms of all men today as we were in the fight against Hitler and Imperial Japan.
Christians have a duty, like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), to aid those in need. And we certainly cannot sit idly by as the unrepentant attempt to destroy our entire culture, the culture that offers the best justice that man can offer.