Christian Pacifism and Just War Pragmatism – Part 2

This post is continuing from a previous post examining the article from the First Things journal called “The Pacifist Temptation” by William Doino Jr. that defends Just War theory against Christian Pacifism. In the previous post we looked at the earliest records of Christianity’s relationship with the Military, in this post we’ll look a little more at the pragmatic argument for the “Just War” theory. Just war theory doesn’t depend usually on in depth theological thought, or on the basis of the early Christian practice. Rather, generally the defence of a Just war theory is on the basis of Pragmatism. Back to the Article “The Pacifist Temptation” William Doino Jr. says:

But neither the Pope nor the Cardinal had the frankness to tell the simple truth: that if pacifism had prevailed among civilized leaders, especially in the modern age, there would be no international “peace” conferences to speak at, for totalitarianism would have long since conquered the world, and every person of faith or conscience would either be dead or in a concentration camp.

This is a pragmatic and political argument, not a theological one. However, this argument assumes something that we cannot assume. It assumes that Nation States are moral arbiters, which a Christian can support, in an action that would normally be contrary to Christian ethics, for the sake of the greater good. The greater good being civilization, or something of the sort. The problem with this is it flies smack in the face of one of the most central aspects in the Gospel as laid out by Paul in Galatians 3:28:

28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

The implications of this text is that a Christian no longer must have a socio-national allegiance, there is no Christian state, there is no Christian version of the Caliphate, nor is there a Christian version of the Nation of Israel (as a political state). There is only the ecclesia, which is not a national state, but rather a community of believers. As soon as one ties Christianity with a specific culture, civilization, nation or whatever, no matter how much that culture, civilization or nation has been shaped by Christianity, then you no longer have the Pauline gospel, instead you have just another national cult.

The conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity brought with it the idea of a Christian State, or a Christian Nation, this idea is not found in the earliest Christianity or in the New Testament. Once you accept that there is, or can be a “Christian State” you will, by necessity, have to come up with some kind of Just war Theory, since a Nation State cannot really exist without some kind of a military. The problem is there is no such thing as a “Christian State,” there is the ἐκκλησία, and then there is the κόσμος, which includes the State and its ideologies.

The go-to scriptures of the Just war Pragmatists are always texts like Romans 13:1-7. However, they don’t seem to have read the texts before and after that passage, which is about submitting, not joining or supporting. Romans 12:9-21, lays out clearly Christian ethical obligations, it says in verse 17 for example:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

And in verse 19-21:

19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

So how does that tie into what Paul says immediately afterwards in Chapter 13? If you read Chapter 13:1-7 closely, you’ll notice that Paul always talks about the authorities in the third person, the assumption is that the “Authorities” are an outside force. This makes sense, given that there probably wasn’t any Christians during Paul’s time in positions of civic Authority. The implications of this is that this passage really only deals with the question of whether or not a Christian is to revolt against a civic authority, not whether a Christian is to support or join one.

Paul also says that the authorities are a terror, not to good works but evil ones, a Just war theorist using that passage to support the theory would have to be very careful. This text would apply both to a Liberal Democracy as well as to a Totalitarian terror state, in its own context it would have been applied to the Roman Empire, even under Emperor Nero’s persecutions. The Biblical record makes it clear that in the past God has used unjust and evil nations in order to accomplish something, that fact does not mean that those nations are Just, or righteous, or something that God would want his servants to support. The same concept has to be included in an exegesis of Romans 13:1-7.

William Doino Jr said that had every civilized leader been a pacifist then every person of faith would be either dead or in a concentration camp. Any calculus that would lead to that conclusion ignores the basic fact that the Church belongs to God, it doesn’t belong to any State. Christianity survived centuries of Roman persecution, it didn’t need an army to survive then, it doesn’t need one now.

Christian Pacifism and Just War Pragmatism – Part 2

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