War is one of the ugliest and damaging of all human behaviors. Many atrocities are committed against enemies in times of war. However, while most people do not encourage war, they may endorse it under certain circumstances. Many see warfare as an inevitability in a diverse world; a necessary evil. People of all genders, races, ages and religions have participated in warfare throughout the ages. Christianity has been involved in its share of warfare since its earliest origins 2000 years ago (Charles, 1-2). Of course, there are many Christian denominations, and they sometimes do not see eye-to-eye is where “good” Christians should fall on the issue of war. There are three major positions that Christianity has taken throughout the years, and they are in many ways antithetical and hypocritical to one another, including Pacifism, Just War Theory, and the Holy War (Gomes, 3-4). Many heated debates have and continue to divide many devout followers, Church leaders, and Religious scholars in determining which position is the most Christian and reflects the teachings in the New Testament and goal of doing as Jesus would do. The reality of the situation is that war is ugly and it should be avoided at all costs, especially when there are peaceful alternatives that are not being implemented, however, that position may not prevent the enemy from harming you and yours and could lead to their harm; in which case, there are times when war is the last, but necessary, resort. However, the different positions on warfare has led to great bloodshed among followers and their enemies and set precedents for future believers. These differing viewpoints have and significant impacts on The Church and its perceptions and places in history.
While the Old Testament of the Bible is full of plagues, divinely ordained murders, and a great deal of warfare; many were endorsed or spearheaded by the devout believers in these biblical tales. However, once the New Testament began much of the perspectives on warfare, violence, and what it is that God expected from his believers began to change. When Jesus became the father of Christianity he presented an air of religious reflection that leaned towards a pacifist perspective. Of course, we cannot forget, that Jesus was considered a threat to the existing Jewish orders and from other political and royal rulers of his ancient world, which meant that he was seen by powerful people as a problem, so his place in history and religion was questioned (Delahunty 3-4). However, it is, also, fair to say that there are points and statements made in the Bible that do contradict one another, which has contributed to a varied view on what exactly is the position of the Church on warfare, which is reflected by Church actions throughout history and the logic behind warfare taken up and supported by the Church.
Pacifist perspectives and edicts can be found throughout the New Testament. Most people are familiar with the famous statement, “turn the other cheek,” became the representation of the new Christians of the Ancient World. There are a number of passages from the bible that exemplify and support that viewpoint. In Romans 12: 18-19, “Beloved never avenge yourselves” and in Matthew 5:9, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Jesus continued that belief when he insisted that his disciples not act out violently to save him or free him after his arrest. However, this pacifist perspective did not always benefit the Christians living in the era of early Christianity. Christians were rounded up and used as entertainment in arenas filled with lions or crucified for being heretics against the stronger controlling forces, like Rome. Their belief in remaining passive even in the fact of brutality and torture they would not be swayed. This says a great deal about the strength of their faith, but it also, leaves Christians as the victims of others in a world where warfare is inevitable and unending reality. Pacifism was the trademark of the new Christianity that was evolving in the era (Charles 34).
Just War, is something that evolved through different interpretations of the Bible. Much of these changes in the years of the Just War theory were spawned due to the changes that Christianity made as it became the major religion in the Roman Empire, and, of course, set the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church we know today. The Bible speaks of acknowledging that warfare is an inevitability is numerous, including, Matthew 24:6-7, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. .” and Matthew 10:34, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” The ideas behind the Just War theory essentially support the view that while war should never be the first solution to a problem and all endeavors must be made to avoid violence and warfare, yet, when all avenues have been expended, then, sometimes war is justifiable, even among Christians (Orend 1). In order to understand Just War theory better it is best to review its three major parts.
Jus ad bellum: This aspect focuses upon the justification for entering into a war to begin with. You must have just cause, right intentions, proper authority, that it is the last resort, belief in likely success, and, finally that the act will reap greater rewards than it losses (Orend 1).
Jus in bello: This aspect focuses not on the act of war, but how one conducts themselves during a war. The warring parties must follow all international laws, never harm civilians, restraint shown in the necessary violence needed to accomplish the goal; no more no less should be shown, must treat prisoners with respect, and never employing unnecessary and uncontrollable forces, like biological weaponry in the modern world (Orend 1).
Jus post bellum: This is the final aspect and it refers to what transpires as the war ends and the period after. The conclusion should be sure to address the concerns that led to war in the first place. The punishments experienced by enemy soldiers, leaders, and civilians needs to be considered and appropriately proportionate. Finally, rehabilitation must be enacted in conquered lands, which will benefit them in the long run (Orend 1).
Again, Just War theory is considered to be a humane and logical means of approaching and in some ways civilizing the necessity of war. The presentation of Just War is seen as a way to make warfare more businesslike. As if adding more rules and regulations, requiring restraint on violence, and justifying the reasoning behind war, somehow made it less destructive and un-Chrisitan-like (Orend 1). However, as many Christians moved out of the idea of perpetual pacifism and into an idea where Christians will only be “pushed” so far and only turn so many cheeks before they will eventually strike back. This, of course, in a violent and harsh era, made Christians something more formidable.
However, the greatest justification of war, the most Just possible war, is the Holy War. As it sounds, a Holy War is a war fought, not just for land, control or profit, but because it is something that God requires of them. The bible speaks of this in Romans 13:4, “he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. “ These Holy Wars are fought in the name of spreading the ideas of the Christian God and the teachings of Jesus. A wrongdoer is whomever is determined to not be good in the as a Christian judges such things, making wrongdoers and enemies not just opponents, but evil, enemy of God. Such a war can be the most difficult to overcome because success and failure of each and every member is a success or failure in the eyes of God (Charles 2). The Holy War reared its “ugly head” in the Middle Ages. Most people are familiar with the Crusades, led by early Western Europeans, they sought to spread the world and enforce the conversion to Christianity for the betterment of the religion as a whole. Despite the fact that the Christians were once persecuted for their faith, the Holy Wars seem somewhat hypocritical with the bible and the origins of the faith (Hashmi 124). Religious wars can be the hardest to overcome and breed tolerance, in fact; it can have quite the opposite effect. The Crusades made the Church something to be feared, and in a Holy War it becomes much easier to justify a greater disregard for the enemy because they are spirituality less than they are. This level of superiority and power changed the Church for all time.
War is never going to be the best solution and it is always going to be a harsh, bloody, destructive, and downright vile no matter what justifications that one assigns it. However, a purely pacifist stand will never be received well and will not prevent others from taking advantage of your nonviolence and peaceful position. That said, Holy Wars, use religion as an excuse to do violence and to conquer; after all it is easier to live with the violence you commit if you know that it was done because God and Jesus want you to. In fairness there are many passages in the bible that can be used to justify or deny the good and evil, the right and wrong, or the positive and negatives of participating in violence and warfare. Again, this is a huge reason why it is very difficult for modern denominations of the same faith have a difficulty seeing eye-to-eye, no doubt there have been similar issues in the past. That said this leaves Just War theory the “necessary evil” that must be accepted by society then, now, and in the future. If war is inevitable, then the least that Christians can do is to make every effort to make those acts of war are warranted, the length of fighting short, and a level of dignity and respect shown in warfare is paramount. In the end, it would be nice if warfare would be something of the past, but even today the religious differences continue to plague mankind and likely will in the future.
Charles, J. Daryl. Between Pacifism and Jihad: Just War and Christian Tradition . InterVarsity Press, 2009. 1-192. Print.
Delahunty, Robert J., and John Yoo. "From Just War to False Peace." Berkley Law Scholarship Repository. 13.1 (2012): 1-47. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3192&context=facpubs
Gomes, Keith J. "An Intellectual Genealogy of the Just War: A Survey of Christian Political Thought on the Justification of Warfare." The Small Wars Journal. 130. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=10&ved=0CF4QFjAJ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fsmallwarsjournal.com%2Fblog%2Fjournal%2Fdocs-temp%2F80-gomes.pdf&ei=cduIVPW9ENTYoATtpIDYCg&usg=AFQjCNFOGVgotuqu4_AVmoylraY5SlO0qA&bvm=bv.81657216,d.cGU>.
Hashmi, Sohail H. Just Wars, Holy Wars, and Jihads: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Encounters and Exchanges. Oxford University Press, 2012. 1-456. eBook. <https://books.google.com/books?id=0XpXJ9wgj2EC&dq=scholarly articles History of Christianity: Pacifism, Just War, & Crusade/Holy War&source=gbs_navlinks_s>.
Orend, Brian. "War." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. online: 2008. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/war/>.