In the last three days, three different students have approached me with questions about the war in Iraq.
If the war was meant as a swift response to our own loss in 9/11, then why did we attack a country with no known ties to Al-Qaeda? If the war was meant to safeguard the U.S. from future attacks, then why did we invade a country that had no means with which to carry out such attacks (weapons of mass destruction)? If Pat Tillman was a hero, then how do we explain our government’s cover-up of the fact that he was killed by his own trainees (not insurgents)?
I’ve avoided answering questions like these that focus on this specific conflict. The real issue isn’t whether this war is just (or unjust). Instead, Christians must consider whether any war can be justified.
Jesus introduced a new ethic in Matthew 5, when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
For almost 300 years, Christians were so united in their acceptance of Christ’s message that they refused to fight for their country, in rebellion against it, or in their own self-defense. Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity in A.D. 312 changed all that as the Roman ruler made the cross of Christ the banner for Rome’s military conquests.
Before A.D. 173, there was no such thing as a Christian soldier. By A.D. 417, the Roman army only accepted Christians (Christian Attitudes Toward War, 1960).
This acceptance of the “just war” led to the Archbishop of Pisa writing of the crusades that Christians triumphantly proclaimed Christ while riding “in the blood of the Saracens up to the knees of the horses.” Apparently, Muslim infidels and Christian soldiers alike failed to appreciate the irony.
Jesus taught that we should turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who mistreat us, love those who have given us reason to hate them. He taught that even hateful anger is evil.
Here are some quotations from early Christian leaders, who believed Jesus knew what he was talking about:
Tertullian (150-225): “Christ in disarming Peter ungirt every soldier . . . . Shall the son of peace, for whom it is unlawful to go to war, be engaged in battle?”
Justin Martyr (c. 165): “We who were filled with war and mutual slaughter and every wickedness have each of us in all the world changed our weapons of war â€“ swords into plows and spears into agricultural instruments. We who formerly murdered one another now not only do not make war upon our enemies but gladly die confessing Christ.”
Clement (c. 200): “If you enroll as one of God’s people, heaven is your country and God your lawgiver. What then are his laws? ‘Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. To him that strikes thee on the one cheek turn also the other.'”
Maximilianus (c. 295): “I cannot serve as a soldier. I cannot do evil. I am a Christian.”
Lactantius (c. 304): “It can never be lawful for a righteous man to go to war.”
The real issue isn’t whether this war is just (or unjust). Instead, Christians must consider whether any war can be justified.