In some reading I was doing these past two weeks, a writer levels this at us, we who are Christian: “Though most Christians, (that’s us) will, if questioned, claim that they support the use of violence in certain cases, on the basis of just war thinking, they do nothing of the sort. The vast majority of [even] professional theologians would be at a loss to list the seven or more criteria used in just war decisions. …In most cases, [to Christian minds] might simply makes right.”
What a horrible criticism to level at us! Really, though, you have to admit that is probably the case for most, if not all of us, here in this sanctuary. We don’t know the criteria for just war, even though just war theory has its roots in the Christian faith. And I’ll confess that I, who am I guess, a “professional theologian” couldn’t rattle off for you the seven Just War Theory criteria, before I started doing some reading for this sermon. Maybe still can’t.
And that is really a travesty. We are, or soon will be, voting Christian citizens. Some of you may one day serve in the military, so it behooves us, you like that word, behoove?, It behooves us to know what just war theory is.
Actually that is just one of several reasons I am addressing this topic of Just War Theory, though. I do this too, because our nation, at least it seems to me, is a hair’s trigger away from getting involved in yet another war or police action. If our congress or our president were to suddenly declare war on North Korea, say, would you, would I, be for it or against it? What criteria would WE use to determine whether such a war is justified? We discussed Just War Theory some last week. As I promised, today we are going to continue our discussion
To refresh your memory if you were here last week, and to bring the rest of us up to speed, I will reiterate: the Bible is not silent on aggression, violence and war. The early Jews were a warring people. The first five books of the Bible are filled with blood and gore. However, in the Old Testament we read something that was at the time a huge leap forward in morality. At one time in ancient Israel, the back and forth among warring parties went something like this: “You steal my goat, I burn down your house and kill your slaves.” But in Exodus, in our reading for today we read—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and so on and so forth. The response to violence must be proportionate. So it’s you steal my goat, you have to pay me for it, or give me another goat—something like that.
Jesus lived at the time of the Roman Empire—Maybe you’ve heard of the Pax Romana—Pax means peace. The Roman Empire was supposedly a time of peace for the Western World, but it wasn’t really. That was just Roman Empire propaganda. Peace was maintained through oppression and threats of violence. That was the brutal, but accepted norm, really, until Jesus came preaching and teaching non-violence. Jesus said, “Do not resist the evil doer,” “Love your enemy.” Those were extraordinary concepts, out of place and time. “Do not resist the evil doer?” “Love your enemy?” And As jolting as those concepts were, they actually took hold among Jesus’ followers. The first Christians, then, lived non-violently. They did not serve in Rome’s army. It was against their Christian ethic.
But then, but then, Christianity became the religion of the Empire. That was in the late 300’s. It fell to Bishop Augustine of Hippo to figure out a way to accommodate Christ’s message of non-violence to Roman Empire militarism. How else could the Empire continue to protect its borders? How else could it maintain a rule of law, if not by tempering Christ’s message? If not by making militarism acceptable to Christians?
So Augustine put together some rules of conduct that became known as Just War Theory.
I was going to list the criteria for Just War, but then I realized that is probably WAY boring—and not very helpful. We need to do more than be familiar with them. We need to really KNOW them. So for our purposes, I have reduced the number of just war theory categories--usually there are 7 or more, but I have reduced them to 5—five criteria--five fingers—five criteria worth committing to memory.
And, I have created an anagram to also help us memorize these criteria. The anagram is F-L-A-P-S. Flaps. So say, next week, you are reading the newspaper, or listening to the news on the radio or TV, and you learn about a particular conflict. As you yourself consider a possible response for our country, you’ll have the points of just war theory, literally at your finger tips.
You think to yourself, my there have been quite a few military “flaps” in the news lately—FLAPS. That’s our word:
F. Must be formally declared—when you go to war, you put the world on notice--
L. Must be a last resort—before a country goes to war that country must have exhausted all other options to solve a disagreement—negotiation, mediation, sanctions—to name three.
A-Must have legitimate authority—Virginia, can’t just declare war on Canada because Canada won’t sell us the uranium we need to run our North Anna nuclear power plant. Virginia doesn’t have the authority to declare war.
P. Must be proportional—Yes, revenge is enticing—we are human, after all--but Just War Theory says we are to respond proportionately—again, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
S. And finally, I’ve rolled up several of the criteria into this last one--success—What is the country going to war hoping to achieve? Do the leaders really think there is a good chance the country will win? What does success look like? For we who are Christian, that means that the initiators of war should align themselves with Christian principles: serving the poor, feeding the hungry, helping the sick, protecting the helpless, that kind of thing. You don’t go to war because you want another country’s oil or land. You don’t go to war because you don’t particularly like Muslims, or for that matter, Christians.
So again, FLAPS-It’s the Christian accommodation to what some people, including Augustine, believe is the necessity of violence and the necessity of war.
The necessity of violence and the necessity of war. I want to spend the rest of our time today considering that. IS violence IS war necessary? It certainly seems that way.
Let us return to scripture once again. Jesus says in Matthew 5:39: 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 evil doer.” Perhaps in that statement, “Do not resist the evil doer,” Jesus is suggesting a way to counter-act violence—not through resistance, but through non-violent engagement. He did that himself, actually, traveling the countryside always just under the radar of the Roman Empire; engaging his opponents in dialogue, asking questions, teaching and preaching. Just like any good military leader, he amassed a following, but a following that did NOT use weapons. He empowered people to act for a just cause even unto death but without use of force.
Yes, the knee jerk reaction to violence may be more violence, but Jesus proved that it doesn’t have to be that way. He did that by making the ultimate sacrifice, allowing himself to be crucified. In that act, he changed the world.
I found out this past week that right now, today, there are people who are studying the ways of non-violent resistance. These people believe that just as bows and arrows have become obsolete as weapons in today’s world of advance weaponry; so one day, maybe, if we apply our intelligence and wisdom, we can make violence itself obsolete. Awesome to think about.
I’m talking about the Albert Einstein Institute. This is an organization that is advancing the study and use of strategic non-violent actions with that as a goal. It’s called the Albert Einstein Institute because Einstein was himself willing to explore new approaches to confronting war, oppression, dictatorship, genocide, and nuclear weapons.
I thought this was amazing—maybe you will, too. The Albert Einstein Institute has come up with a list of 198 ways to avoid violent responses to violence. One of those 198 ways is simply non-cooperation-or better, maybe, stubbornness. There’s a picture I got off the internet which is a clear demonstration of non-cooperation as a response to violence. I just had to share it with you. I’m putting this on my refrigerator at home—delightful! (show picture)
So engaging with the enemy non-violently using one of the 198 ways listed by the Albert Einstein Institute is one way to avoid war—another way is to love. Sounds simple but it really is maybe one of the most difficult things we can ever do—love someone who hurts us, despises us. Jesus made friends with a Samaritan woman at the well when Samaritans were enemies of the Jews. Good heavens, Jesus forgave his Roman Empire persecutors from the cross. When Jesus commands us to Love our enemies, then he knows whereof he speaks. The hope is,the enemy can eventually become a friend, and when that happens the enemy is not the enemy anymore.
In a world filled with hate, it is STILL possible to choose love. If that happens enough, then war and even just war theory, WILL become obsolete.
Lots to think about, if we hear news of war, in the coming weeks. We should at least consider what a Christian response might look like.
For you as for me. Amen