Is it necessary for Christians to be pacifists? A simplistic view would say, “Thou shalt not kill. Jesus went as a lamb to the slaughter. Non violence is the only way.” However, a distinction must be made between spiritual and temporal conflict. Certainly when a Christian is faced with an attack because of his faith his response should be that of willing martyrdom in imitation of Our Lord.
Temporal aggression is a different matter. If someone holds a gun to my head and says, “Deny Christ and live.” I say, “Pull the trigger.” If he holds a gun to my daughter’s head to rape her I get my gun out and shoot. There is real evil in the world and it is irresponsible and cowardly not to fight that evil actively. Happily, the Catholic Church outlines the criteria for a just war. There’s a good discussion of it here.
The CCC para. 2039 says: “The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
there must be serious prospects of success;
the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
Nevertheless, the actual decisions and actions in war are never easy and tidy. Human ego and greed and lust for power complicate the matter on both sides. Just wars are rarely executed with total justice. Mistakes are made, lives are lost. Innocents suffer. War is horrible however you look at it. Engaging in war is always a serious and desperate decision, and we mustn’t shy away of criticizing the abuses that happen in war even if they happen on our side. Especially if they happen on our side. On the other hand, we can’t allow the messiness of war and the possible abuses in war to deter us from engaging in the conflict altogether.
Is it possible for Christians to be pacifists? Yes, but pacifism is only an option for some Christians, because others are willing to die for that freedom, and pacifism is not possible if it means opting out of the conflict altogether. The greatest Christian pacifists are the ones who serve in the front lines as chaplains, doctors, nurses and medical assistants.
I’m not an immediate fan of Barack Obama, but his speech in Sweden was solid and good. He pointed out the hard truth that there are definite evils in the world and that they must be confronted. One of the greatest problems with modern Europe is that too many of their ruling elite seem to hold a naive pacifism about the evil to the East which amounts to moral cowardice. When I lived in England I was amazed at the ability of educated English people to turn a blind eye to the horrific crimes of extremist Muslims and their increasing anti American feelings because we were doing something about it. If you have any doubt about this, just do a little online research about the Taliban.
On this blog I have sometimes given the impression that I am opposed to the war in Iraq and was against Bush and Blair. This is not the case. What I was opposed to was the details of the matter: the abuses that our troops perpetrated, the illegal questioning which seemed to go on, the duplicity about our real motives, the apparent conflict of interests when companies in which political leaders had involvement were awarded major contracts. I wasn’t so much opposed to the war as I was the way in which it was carried out.
In my opinion, the worst threat to our church and culture today is not being militant, but being milquetoast. Jesus said, “I am the Door” but that doesn’t mean he wants his followers to be doormats. While we should be as harmless as doves and believe in the goodness of all men and give them the benfit of the doubt, we should also be as shrewd as serpents and watch out for evil and confront it wherever we find it–especially in our own hearts.