Is a War Ever Just? Kent’s perspective

As a Christian, let me begin by saying I’m not a big fan of Saint Augustine. He was a dogmatic guy who liked rules and determining who was good and who was bad. He followed this through with providing guidelines for when war is justified. His teachings have continued to guide Western approaches to war to this very day.

Augustine lived in the 4th century when Rome had lost its control of the world and was quickly falling to other powers. The question of moral values in war were immanent for him. Augustine identified two aspects of war that required moral justification and guidelines:
-The right to go to war (Jus Ad Bellum)
-The right sorts of conduct in war (Jus In Bello)

The right to go to war concerns the justification that a nation must give in order for it to have a moral right to wage war on another. Augustine laid the basis for four main criteria:
1. Just Authority – is the decision to go to war based on a legitimate political and legal process?
2. Just Cause – has a wrong been committed to which war is the appropriate response?
3. Right Intention – is the response proportional to the cause? i.e. is the war action limited to righting the wrong, and no further. When people speak of “mission creep,” this condition is the relevant concern.
4. Last Resort – has every other means of righting the wrong been attempted sincerely so that no other option but war remains?

The conduct of war is a matter of moral concern. It teaches that violence must be proportional and that there must be a determination between combatants and innocents…Hence we have ‘smart bombs’ and ‘strategic drone strikes’. In reality however innocents die and their deaths are sanitized as ‘collateral damage’.

It has been said that the first casualty of war is truth. If we are open to going to war then our opponent becomes ‘the other’. To an extent we must minimize the humanity of another if we are willing to take their life. Within my Christian tradition followers of Jesus were pacifists through the 3rd century (until Emperor Constantine had his conversion on a battlefield). Prior to Constantine and later Augustine, Christians were known for refusing to serve in the military believing that the taking of a human life was a sin.

Constantine took the trappings of Empire and co-opted the teachings of Jesus. Augustine followed suit. The rest is history. And, its been a slippery slope since. Dr. King gets to the heart of the matter when he says: “Violence begets violence”. True.

In our current political season so called Christians like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump talk about ‘carpet bombing’ and ‘using strategic nuclear devices’ to bring our enemy to their knees. Polls say that their angry rhetoric energizes many. Yet, the truth is that war leads to war and violence leads to violence.


About Kent Harrop

I am bi-coastal...I was raised in New England (Rhode Island) and for twenty years 1994 - 2014 served as pastor of First Baptist Church McMinnville, Oregon. In May 2014 I moved with my wife Tricia back to New England and serve on a team of ministers at the First Baptist Church in Beverly, Massachusetts. I love the beauty and geographic breadth of Oregon and the north shore of Massachusetts. A growing edge for me is the integration of the contemplative and prophetic life. Tricia and I enjoy gardening, camping and kayaking on rivers and ocean. We have two grown daughters who are strong, smart and adventurous. The purpose of the blog is to explore the relationship between faith and the wider culture. The views expressed here are my own.
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