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Editorials

Two sides

John Peck

Love your enemies. Luke 6: 27-31

This passage profoundly challenges us about when and how, if ever, Christians might be involved in war. If we stop short of absolute pacifism, then we would have to recognize that love of the enemy would require that we are indiscriminate in our mourning for victims of war, so that the death of an enemy soldier or civilian would move us as profoundly as the death of one of our own.

It would mean recognizing, with St. Augustine, that war always involves blame as well as justification on both sides, so that any idea of victory or honour would yield to a stark awareness of what a tragic and sinful business war is for all those involved, even if it is necessitated by the need to defend an innocent party from an aggressor. It would mean not only an assiduous determination to avoid unnecessary killing, but acting out of concern for the future of our enemy's society, freedoms and institutions, to minimise the long-term impact and human cost of war. These are some of the criteria enshrined in the Christian just war tradition.

Given the vast destructiveness of modern war in its weaponry, its economic impact and its social consequences, the corrupting influences of the arms trade and the threat of nuclear war, I do not believe that Christians can justify active participation in modern armed conflict and its related industries, and I do not think the military should have access to Christian schools for the purposes of recruitment except perhaps for non-combatant roles such as administrative and medical duties. It might also mean Christians serving in UN peacekeeping forces, where the carrying of arms is only for the purposes of defending the innocent.

Tina Beattie


Jesus' teaching is often much more ambiguous than may appear from certain well-known texts, and nowhere is this more true than in the question of the moral legitimacy of political violence. If we focus only on the Gospel of Luke we can read how Jesus warned that he had not come to bring peace on earth (12:51), how he drove the dealers out of the Temple (19:45-6) and, more strikingly, how he told his disciples 'But as for my enemies who did not want me for their king, bring them here and execute them in my presence.' (19:27). These passages cast much doubt on the claim that absolute pacifism is the only position a Christian can adopt in relation to armed conflict.

However problematic it has proven to be in application, for more than 1,500 years the just war tradition has helped to resolve these tensions in Christian teaching and still provides a bulwark against the dangers posed by unbridled militarism on the one hand and, more implicitly, by absolute pacifism on the other. I cannot accept the rather scattergun argument that the tradition only had validity in times past; that it became redundant with the dawn of the nuclear age, as a result of the contemporary arms trade, or in consequence of recent wars. The arms trade is as old as commerce itself and war is never less than appalling in any age.

From his dealings with the centurion in Luke 7:1-10, I see no evidence that Jesus shared your antipathy towards the military, even when it was represented by the pagan forces of an occupying power; indeed, Luke's portrayal of the centurion at the foot of the cross (23.47) highlights the spiritual growth that has often issued from the military life, a life that has been the stuff of Christian metaphor since St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Michael Snape