This Whitworth Today looks at war from various faith perspectives. William Tecumseh Sherman once said that "War is hell," and that's the most succinct faith perspective I've heard on the topic. Why would we pick a theme that promises every reader something to dislike? Partly because we think Whitworth should debate issues about which followers of Christ disagree. But mainly we raise these questions because we value, teach and try to model integrated worldviews. Our faith should leave no part of life untouched. And when we're considering an activity that destroys creation, we should tremble as we seek God's mind.
Americans my age began their lives during the Korean War. We began our 20s with the Vietnam War, our 30s with Afghanistan, our 40s with the Gulf War, and our 50s with 9/11 and Iraq (and Afghanistan, again). But the scariest war of all was the one that was going on when we turned 10 – the Cold War. I think I remember a run on bomb shelters that year. And as young Baptists, my friends and I were mostly concerned about which would get us first, the Russians or the Rapture. We were pulling for the Rapture, but either way, we couldn't be confident we'd ever see the fifth grade.
So my view on war might be shaped by my age. Who knows? But three principles come to mind that guide my thinking about war.
1. The common-goal principle. We all want to live in a peaceful world. Hawks and doves long for a similar outcome; it's their strategies of achieving peace that differ so much. Beyond rhetoric, I see scarce evidence that one group is pro-war and the other group doesn't care about freedom. I acknowledge our differences on the U.S. role in the world's overall balance of power, but our big differences are at the strategic level, not in our longing for a just and peaceful world.
2. The life principle. Christ loves life. He created it. Some people feel that in the long run a just war will preserve life. Others feel that war begets war and destroys life. Whatever we believe, we need to be able to defend it based on the ultimate preservation of creation. I admit to bristling when I hear us defend war on the basis of "preserving our way of life." That rings of arrogance and cultural superiority. I think much of the world hears that we are willing to take lives in order keep our big cars. I hope "way of life" is code for "freedom," and I believe that is what we mean when we use this unfortunate phrase.
3. The consistency principle. Integrated worldviews argue for consistency between our means and our ends. War in order to gain peace should be considered only after every other strategy has been exhausted. I think America's historic reluctance to use war unless it's necessary for our defense reflects the recognition that peaceful negotiations are more consistent with our values than is military conflict. This has been the primary point of debate regarding the war in Iraq.
I believe that Jesus values peacemaking over fighting and reconciliation over squaring off. Sometimes, however, peacemaking fails. Our lives and the lives of innocent people are threatened. What do we do? Our country has risen in defense. Our freedom was won on the banks of Normandy. What do we do? We thank God for those who have followed their consciences into battle. We pray for those who defend us today. We stand in gratitude and respect for our defenders. We pray for peace. We pray that not another life will be taken in war. And we do our best to look at everything that threatens God's creation through the eyes of faith.