Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Just War Theory vs. the Quaker Peace Testimony

I am taking a course on Just War Theory this semester, which I always find both fascinating and troublesome. I have been (idly) checking out what has been said within the Quaker faith in argument or accord with Thomas Aquinas & Co.'s development of the theme and trying to figure out what place I believe Just War Theory has in the Quaker theology. I found one piece that I enjoyed, where the author behind Quaker Oats Live took a stab at the same topic in the form Thomas Aquinas used in his Summa Theologicae. They articulated their ideas well and I hope they will not mind if I start from their framework.

First, some notes. For the wholly uninitiated, Quakers hold pacifism as one of the major tenets of their faith. This is one of relatively few universal Quaker beliefs, though the level of concern varies (i.e. active or passive pacifism, Quakers do serve in the military but only as medics, and do have the ability to claim conscientious objector status), as does the prioritization of pacifism within the other beliefs in the faith. Quakers do not have a formal Creed; while there is Quaker leadership and accepted canon, we lack the universal and formal documents from which to draw. Each Yearly Meeting (larger regional bodies; similar to a diocese) produces rulings on Faith and Practice, and this is beyond the larger discrepancy between silent, "unprogrammed" Meetings which are more common and the pastoral "programmed" Meetings (largely of the Midwest).

Finally, George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, did not exhort his Friends to leave the military or give up their arms, even as he added pacifism to the core values of the religion. Military and public reaction to the addition of the Peace Testimony forced some definition of the peace testimony.

On we go. I am going to put Objections and Replies that correspond together and move one section of text that was placed between the former and the latter at the end of the argument for a little more clarity.

Whether a Christian can follow the Bible and be a just war proponent:

Objection 1. Many Christians say yes, we can and should be just war proponents because God desires justice, and as Christians we should always aid in bringing justice to the world.

Reply 1. God desires for justice to happen, but not through our violent actions. We are asked to bring about justice through bringing good news, sight to the blind, visiting people when sick and in prison, and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19). Romans 12:17-21 says vengeance belongs to God alone, and to combat evil by staying firmly in the good.

The reply here presumes that the attacker is seeking vengeance or to punish their opponent. In that case, war is certainly unjust; vengeance does belong to God alone, to be meted out on either a temporal or ethereal basis. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that we as Christians are meant to stand idly by in the face of injustice. Moreover, the examples of Good Christianship that the author provides are all positive - bringing good news, people, visiting those in need, proclaiming the year. In all of these cases, the Good Christian is to take his acts out into the world, not stand idly by nor simply consider the glory of the Lord and trust Him to assume care of all injustice in the world. We must further consider human autonomy if this is to be our view. If all moral issues and actions were the exclusive purview of God and the heavenly realm, then there would be no reason for the earthly plane, nor for the simple function of reason. We are not God's videotape - we are made to act, and this means that we MUST act. The concept of sin bears this out. Sin is our burden given to God, and it seems unlikely that God would wish this immense burden if He could avoid it through his own action. If we have a responsibility to atone for our sins, we must have an inverse responsibility to act in a way that redeems us and rights the sins of the world when we are afforded the opportunity.

There is an additional challenge to Friends here in our tradition of bearing witness. One could conceivably take this tradition to mean that we should in fact stand back and only watch the injustice before us to relay its tale to those who do not know. But as we saw above, there is no Biblical basis for this, and more importantly, Quakerism's activist vein runs deep. From the religion's very foundation Quakers actively sought to bring the world to their just view of the spiritual relationship. Neither the Quaker founders nor the religion's adherents have ever felt that they could ignore injustice in the world (take the example of their role in shaping the American penal system), and so it seems somewhat in congruent for them to refuse to take this ultimate step in extreme cases.

Objection 2. There is the case of ancient Israel, where God commanded the Israelites to go to war, and they were God's chosen people. Now that Christians are God's chosen people we should fight the wars God asks us to, namely, those that bring about God's desire for justice in the world.

Reply 2. Ancient Israel (whether taken at face value as historically accurate, or taken as a semi-myth meant to teach various truths) was a theocracy, ordered by God. The Israelites were a people chosen by God to enact God's justice in the world. No nation has been given that right today, except perhaps the nation of Israel if it was attempting to live as a theocracy, which it is not. Christians are God's chosen people, but Christ said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say to you, 'Do not resist an evildoer.'" He said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5). This cannot happen by going to war.

I agree that we cannot take the example of Biblical Israel as our model for Just War Theory. As the author points out, Israel has abandoned its theocratic roots and thus its claim to a mandate from God. Even if Israel still functioned as a theocracy today and retained this mandate, it would still not give then free rein to engage in war. Obviously, a nation in the service of God would be responsible to act justly, and such a nation could not be responsible for carrying out just wars on behalf of all wronged nations because those nations would have to subscribe to Christian theology for God to require his nation to defend them.

I do find the choice of quote problematic. There are many kinds of "evildoers," and not all of them are unjust. I feel that there is an argument to be made that Christ is specifically referring to secular law when he uses the phraseology found in Hammurabi's Code, leaving some of the care of evildoers to the legal system, and that "not resisting an evildoer" is quite unclear. We could interpret this as either not offering resistance to said evildoer and allowing them to go on with their unjust acts with the understanding that God will exact retributive justice on our behalf. We could also read it in the sense of "I just couldn't resist," which produces an opposite understanding of the phrase. If we choose the latter, Jesus is instead telling us that we must zealously pursue evildoers. Given the first section of the quote, it seems likely that this second reading is correct, meaning that Christ is instead saying "the legal system covers certain criteria, but you must also pursue the unjust."

The relevance of the last quote from Matthew depends on your acceptance of Augustinian and Thomastic Just War; if you believe these teachings, you can in fact see war as an expression of love in the form of salvation from one's immensely evil deeds. If you do not subscribe to these teachings, you are more likely to be persuaded by this quote.

Objection 3. In Roman 13 Paul says Christians should follow our government, and sometimes our government demands us to go to war.

Reply 3. Paul, who wrote Romans 13, is known to have disobeyed his government when it went against his understanding of what God was asking him to do. He was thrown in prison several times for preaching the good news. He submitted to the civil magistrate in that he went to prison without using violence to escape, but he did not follow the magistrate in doing things against God's command. Civil disobedience is, therefore, an important part of being a Christian, and this undoubtedly reaches to the problem of war. The first 300 years of Christians understood Jesus & Paul this way and lived as pacifists.

Civil disobedience alone cannot negate the just war argument. Frankly, I feel it's a somewhat weak argument for or against war, but it's worth discussing. Politics shape our lives, and the decisions that we make in shaping that government and the law that we create must result in a form and practice of government that we are comfortable with as a manifestation of our society. Civil disobedience is a noble tool for restoring this balance when the government strays; it is violation of law for the sake of a larger goal as pertains to the government.

We must understand civil disobedience properly here, as relevant to domestic politics exclusively. In order to disobey civil laws, one must be a citizen of the political community to which they belong. Citizenship is an agreement to abide by the laws of a nation (amongst other things), and if one is not a citizen of a nation then they have not agreed either tacitly or explicitly to abide by the laws of that nation. Therefore, disobeying laws of a foreign nation is morally neutral, though of course it is common courtesy to abide by them when in their jurisdiction. War is by its very nature a matter of foreign policy, though it must be rooted in domestic policy. This renders the matter of civil disobedience mostly irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Of course, a political community is the sum of its political inhabitants and thus civil dissidents play a role in the discussion concerning whether or not to go to war in the first place, but ultimately will have little effect on the actual engagement once war has begun.

This also calls back to the evildoers of the previous section. There a different degrees of evil, and if a war is truly just it will not be over frivolities. True justice is beyond personal or cultural perception and speaks to the heart of every man. If war is taken up in defense of this universal principle, it is unlikely to engender much dissent in the first place, and more importantly, such dissent would be unjust in and of itself because it would in fact be supporting the original injustice.

Of course, Quakers do serve in the military even though they have the right to claim Conscientious Objector Status in the US Armed Forces. They serve only as medical personnel, dedicating themselves to healing the wounded instead of inflicting wounds. This seems a worthy compromise in the event that a Christian feels obligated to the cause of a just war but is unwilling to inflict harm on a fellow human being. Most Quakers will tell you that they are pacifist because we are all God's creation and it is wrong to destroy any of said creation. This conflicts with the previous idea that dissent against a just war would in fact go against God's highest principles of justice and come around to being unjust itself. It is worth considering whether serving as a medic is enough for a participant in a just war.

Objection 4. There will always be “wars & rumors of wars,” so we must have a way of choosing which wars to be involved in.

Reply 4. There will always be “wars & rumors of wars,” but this does not mean Christians must be involved in fighting them. This is like saying, “There will always be people who cheat on the spouses, so I have to decide what is the most justifiable way to cheat on my spouse.” We are instructed to overcome evil by staying firmly grounded in the good (Romans 12:21). If we become evil ourselves, we have been defeated as Christians.

We can discount "rumors of wars" immediately, as our commentator suggests. Rumors of war remain in the realm of diplomacy and passivity because as mere threats they cannot be unjust. War that comes to our doorstep, however, must be vetted for justice and approached accordingly. If we are people of God, we must not allow ourselves and the gift of God's presence to be unjustly attacked, and if we see injustice we must come against it. Preemption is not justifiable, but certainly wars which are brought to us must be taken on to defend justice, and we as the custodians of the world must be willing to stand in the defense of justice .

On the contrary, John Howard Yoder (pacifist) & Reinhold Niebuhr (Christian realist) say the Christian Scriptures clearly state that Jesus wants us to always be nonresistant toward evil people. Yoder says we should never be involved in war or the use of violent force, while R. Niebuhr says the Bible is not meant to be taken literally on these matters, because Jesus lived in a different time and place than we do, and so sometimes we will be called to war as the most realistic solution, whether it follows "just war" theory or not.

I cannot speak to Yoder's theories, but I contend that this is an incorrect reading of Niebuhr. Niebuhr is a tricky writer - his gorgeous writing makes full use of the English language's capacity for nuance - and his theories are not immediately clear. The reading taken here accounts for the Christian aspect of Niebuhr's writings, but not for the realism. Niebuhr wants us to take a fuller understanding of the meaning of sin (not unlike the evildoers we have discussed and their various grades of evil) and allow Christian teaching to inform our foreign policy, not dictate it at all times. Niebuhr demands that we pursue justice as we are inspired by Christian teachings, and thus would be more likely to be a proponent of just war. Niebuhr would not sign off on a war for the sake of simple expediency with no regard for the justice of the act.

I reply that it is not possible to follow the Bible and be a just war proponent. The just war theory is not in the Bible and is not based on the Bible--Jesus didn't say, "Turn the other cheek, unless you're being treated unjustly, in which case you can hit back, but only with the amount of force you were hit with..." Pacifism is based on the Christian Scriptures, and if we believe God asks us to follow the Christian Scriptures we should be pacifists.

Many of these arguments lose their value when one considers the emphasis on personal responsibility inherent in the Quaker religion. Of course, pacifism is the preferred course - even the atheist will stand by this - but if one wishes to preserve their life and continue their life as an example of God's greatness, eventually the time will come to fight. If the fight is properly considered and taken on ONLY in the pursuit of justice and mercy, then neither Quakers nor Christians at large have true cause to deny it. The degree of their involvement may change, but a good Christian should indeed be willing to stand in the light of God and fight to preserve justice in the world.

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