Skip to main content

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

David Hoekema and I served on the same synodical committee on War and Peace. David’s account of that committee’s work and recommendations is accurate (“From Just War to Just Peace,” April 2017). Important for the committee was answering one of the mandate queries: Is the Just War position still a viable moral set of principles in the light of current realities? The committee affirmed that the Just War tradition has validity for today, but needs continued discussion and clarification because of the changing character and lethality of modern warfighting. David is also correct in noting that the committee recognized the need for the Christian Reformed Church to acknowledge that we can learn much from the peace churches on the strategy and tactics of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and the nonviolent approach to violence and conflict. I agree with him that we have not made much progress in movement in that direction. For which I have much sorrow.

I also have sorrow that the CRC has had limited discussions about how the Just War principles are used in our governance of military force, the lack of acknowledgement of the principle of Selective Conscientious Objection by the Department of Defense, and the increase of both physical wounds (military medicine keeps alive people who would not have survived in previous wars) and psychological wounds of war (especially PTSD and Moral Injury).

I do not know the reason for this lack of conversation on these issues. I will make one conjecture: the all-volunteer military means that only 1 percent of the American society is involved in or affected by the current wars, and the burden of our war fighting efforts is on the backs of the lower economic sectors of our society. CRC membership is not typically representative of that economic sector of our society. In addition, many moral theorists (especially James Turner Johnson) have stated a second reason: that the Just War tradition has been so codified in the international laws of war that it has lost its theological/moral roots. (My experience in the Army has demonstrated that commanders look more to their lawyers on the legality of acts of war then to their chaplains for the moral implications of their actions in war.)

However, this discussion is far from finished. A growing number of scholars have been discussing and critiquing the traditional Just War position and expanding the field for moral discourse. Here are just a few that come to mind: Michael Walzer in Just and Unjust Wars; David Rodin in War and Self-Defense; Jeff McMahan in Killing in War; Brian Orend in The Morality of War; Mona Fixdal in Just Peace; Nancy Sherman in Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers; and Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini in Soul Repair. Brian Orend is one of the first to address “justice after war,” the third and weakest part of the Just War tradition. That is a very significant addition to the discussion. Several of the others introduce the Moral Injury results of war and raise new questions about the cost of war and the questions of Moral Agency.

I would like to mention one other book, Just War Reconsidered by James M. Dubik. Dubik is a retired Army Lieutenant General, a good friend, with whom I have had many discussions. His purpose is to build an account of how senior political and military leaders—those who have war-waging responsibilities—must relate to one another. He and many others address the relationship between all three areas of Just War tradition. We do an injustice to the tradition when we assign agency to the political leaders for “justice before war” and military leaders for “justice in the conduct of war” and the Department of State for “justice after war.” He demonstrates how continued dialogue between and among all leaders as moral agents in war is necessary. The principles of the tradition of Just War can and should be a vital aspect of the moral management of war.

My point is that we in the CRC need to engage in both discussions: with the proponents of nonviolence as a remedy for injustice and with those who enquire into the moral, just conduct of war. Jesus has called us to seek peace, but that does not obviate the reality that until he comes there will be wars and rumors of war. When and if war becomes necessary, we need to wage it with justice and with the goal of restoring peace. One of the principles of the Just War tradition is that going to war must be waged only as the last resort. Peacekeeping and peacemaking can help us push that choice down the road. So let’s talk!


Related article

From Just War to Just Peace

We Are Counting on You

The Banner is more than a magazine; it’s a ministry that impacts lives and connects us all. Your gift helps provide this important denominational gathering space for every person and family in the CRC.

Give Now