Pacifism: Just War and Christian Politics, Part 2

pacifismFrankly, I doubt seriously that many national leaders — even US leaders — give a lot of thought to just war theology when deciding whether to go to war. The churches don’t teach this in Sunday school or preach it from the pulpit, and so national leaders follow their instincts. And as I’ve noted earlier, our instincts are often more trained by nationalism than Christianity. Indeed, we so compartmentalize our thinking that we Christians routinely ignore our Christian values on political questions.

Part of the solution is for our pulpits and classrooms to teach our members how to think about the daily news in Christian terms. Of course, our preachers and teachers have virtually no training on this either, as our seminaries and Bible colleges are more interested in the Nestorian controversy than the Christian perspective on adoption or illegal immigration. Indeed, once we suggest that preachers should consider such things, we open the door for preachers to spout whatever their political party tells them to think — which is scary indeed — and certainly happens in too many churches already.

It’s good, I think, that the Churches of Christ have largely refrained from using the pulpit to discuss politics, unconsciously following the teachings of Lipscomb and others. But I think it’s good because we don’t know how to do it well, not because it’s off limits. Indeed, we need to develop an understanding of God’s will for such things. Just as the Campbells and Stone preached fearlessly against slavery before the Civil War, our preachers should have preached against racism and discrimination long before Martin Luther King Jr. The Bible is really quite clear.

On the other hand, there are plenty of questions not clearly answered by scripture, and we should stay out of what the Bible doesn’t answer. I think it’s abundantly clear that God expects us to care for his Creation. Therefore, it’s easy to condemn air pollution, the dumping of medical waste in the ocean, and other obvious cases. It’s not so easy to say whether God opposes or supports drilling in ANWR or off the California coast.

Nonetheless, I think it greatly helps the conversation if we begin by acknowledging what the Biblical principles are, even if their application is uncertain in a given case. At least we’ll be weighing what God says rather than selfishness or nationalism.

We need to seriously study on how to apply the scriptures to political questions — not just war. We have a lot of work to do.

Rather than taking off on a new series on how the church and politics relate, here are links to some posts written quite some time ago on that subject —


The Romans 1 Argument

The Power Argument

The Powers Argument

Escaping the Shadow of Constantine

Children in a Post-Constantinian World

The 1 Corinthians 5 Argument

The 1 Peter 2 Argument

Sodom, Gomorrah & Illegal Aliens, Part 1

Sodom, Gomorrah & Illegal Aliens, Part 2

A Note on Illegal Aliens

The New Perspective: The Church & Politics


6 Responses

  1. I disagree with the terms on “illegal immigration.”

    I feel that the words “illegal immigration” are the heart of our troubles. “Illegal immigrants” are persons who have broken the law, but they are persons. We should love persons. These persons should be treated justly, legally, and compassionately.

    “Illegal immigration” is a nameless, faceless thing lurking out in the hallway. When we talk of such we can have venom in our voices and hatred in our hearts.

    Let’s talk about immigrants – persons whom we love.

    And then let’s discuss “immigration policy” as Christians.

  2. You raise an interesting dilemma, Dwayne, because to treat them “justly” and “legally” requires they be arrested and dealt with appropriately for violating the laws of the US. And such action does not violate the principles of compassion.

  3. Jay,

    Thank you, not only for your comments on the “just war” issue, but your list of broader “Church/State” issues as well.

    I read each of these articles you listed – and find much of value in them. Isn’t this pretty much what Barton W. Stone and David Lipscomb called for – applied to more current issues?

    It was only at the time of WWII that churches of Christ began to widely participate in political matters. We are still uncomfortable talking politics from the pulpit. Batsel Barrett Baxter preached from the pulpit against John Kennedy’s presidential aspirations in 1960, but I have not heard many of “our” preachers addressing political issues head-on as political, as opposed to moral issues.

    In the 1970’s, I was called by an anti-abortion person and offered several different pieces of literature. I accepted some, but not others. She wanted to know why I took the pieces I did and refused others. My reply was that some treated abortion as a moral issue; the others treated it politically – suggesting particular policies and/or candidates to support.

    I especially appreciated your posts on illegal immigrants. If we forget they are people whom God loves, we are likely to call for draconian measures that will stain our memory as much (or more than) our days of post-reconstruction Jim Crow Laws in the South. In fact, it be close to being genocidal to do what some conservatives call for. Generally, I am conservative in my politics – but I definitely break with the conservative ideology at this point.

    Again, Thank you!

    Jerry S.

  4. Jay,
    I agree with you about the need to think about politics in a biblical manner. It’s a huge challenge. While at Oklahoma Christian University 20 years ago, I spent a semester researching how members of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ in the 19th century approached the political issues of their time (concentrating on slavery, the propriety of political activism, pacifism, and warfare). As a student majoring in education and minoring in social studies, I had a great opportunity to study the thoughts of some of our brightest thinkers. To be frank, applying biblical principles to the politics of the day can be extremely challenging. It was difficult for our ancestors, and it is difficult for us. However, it is worth the effort, because when we get it right, we can be a blessing to our communities.

  5. Jay,
    What is interesting is that the Bush administration did investigate the Just War theory prior to deciding to go to war. Economist and Catholic lay-theologian, Michael Novak, was invited to give a lecture on Febuary 10, 2003 on the subject of Christian Just War with specific reference to Iraq. Although his speech was briliant and placed the Iraq war well within Just War peramiters, “Those who support the terrorists will share their fate” was the basis used to justify this war to the American public and its soldiers.

    It is my personal opinion, this has been the one factor that has haunted the efforts in Iraq and the resolve of American soldiers and their supporters.

    Diddo what you said about the church and polotics.

    Steve Valentine

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