Christian scholars say no war

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Mon Sep 23 08:29:21 PDT 2002

Chronicle of Higher Education - web daily - September 23, 2002

100 Christian Ethicists Challenge Claim That Pre-Emptive War on Iraq Would Be Morally Justified By SCOTT McLEMEE

One hundred Christian scholars of ethical theory have issued a statement opposing pre-emptive military action against Iraq. Most of the signatories are affiliated with American universities and seminaries.

They represent a wide range of religious and political perspectives, according to Shaun Casey, an assistant professor of Christian ethics at the Wesley Theological Seminary, in Washington. Mr. Casey prepared the statement two weeks ago in consultation with Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of theological ethics at Duke University's Divinity School. Signatories come not only from Ivy League divinity schools, where the political and theological center of gravity is often decidedly to the left, but also from institutions like David Lipscomb University, in Memphis, and Lubbock Christian University, in Lubbock, Tex. (both affiliated with the Churches of Christ), and the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.

The declaration is one sentence long. It reads: "As Christian ethicists, we share a common moral presumption against a pre-emptive war on Iraq by the United States." A panel discussion will be held on Wednesday at the National Press Club, where scholars will present their arguments in more detail.

The statement's brevity helped make the statement acceptable to both pacifist theologians and just-war ethicists. (Mr. Hauerwas is a pacifist, while Mr. Casey is a just-war ethicist.) "My hunch is that the majority [of signatories] are just-war," said Mr. Casey, "simply because there are more of us." Both positions share what Mr. Casey terms "an initial presumption against the use of force." With pacifists, that principle is an absolute. For just-war ethicists, permissible exceptions can be made -- "with the burden of proof," as Mr. Casey noted, "falling on the person who makes the case for the use of force." In February, for example, 60 scholars issued a statement arguing that military action in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda qualified as just war. (See an article from The Chronicle, February 22.)

There are secular versions of both pacifism and just-war ethics, but each outlook has deep roots in theology. Christian pacifism ultimately derives from Jesus' call to answer a blow by "turning the other cheek." The doctrine of "just war" (derived from St. Paul's admonition to obey civil authorities who "execute wrath upon him that doeth evil") holds that there are circumstances in which a believer can participate in military action. The classic treatments of just-war doctrine by Christian philosophers are found in The City of God, by Augustine of Hippo, in the fifth century, and the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, 700 years later.

Although just-war theorists have long debated how to apply the principles, the tradition outlines several criteria for jus ad bellum (the justifiable resort to war). The authority of those initiating warfare must be legitimate. There must be "just cause," usually defined as self-defense. And warfare must be pursued with "right intent" -- a state of mind precluding, for example, revenge. Just-war theory also includes principles of jus in bello: rules seeking to limit the kinds and severity of violence, especially as it affects civilians. All such criteria must be met before the use of force can be considered ethically justified, according to the just-war tradition.

Mr. Casey noted that the Bush administration has repeatedly said that use of pre-emptive force against Saddam Hussein would be morally legitimate. But the professor said there has been no effort to make that case in terms of the principles established by scholars across the millennia.

He cited a letter by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, delivered to Condoleezza Rice, the president's national-security adviser, last week. The letter contains several references to the principles of just-war doctrine. The bishops state that no evidence of "an imminent attack of a grave nature" by Iraq (just cause) has been offered, and that Iraq's long-term threat to the international community should be dealt with by the United Nations rather than a single superpower (legitimate authority). They also cite the traditional requirement that military action "must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated."

"I'm not aware of any academic Christian ethicist out there who is currently saying that the criteria have been fulfilled," Mr. Casey said. "There may be some people keeping their powder dry at this point, who could make a public statement" to the contrary.

But at least one theologian -- the Rev. Richard Land, president of the ethics and religious-liberty commission of the Southern Baptist Convention -- has endorsed pre-emptive military action on just-war grounds. "I believe we are defending ourselves against several acts of war by a man who does not keep treaties and who has already used weapons of mass destruction," said Mr. Land in a debate with Mr. Casey and others on the PBS program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, broadcast in mid-September. Citing St. Paul's endorsement of secular authority's power to punish wrongdoing, he said, "There is recognized use of lethal force by the civil magistrate. And while I would be happy to have U.N. Security Council support for this, for the United States of America, the appropriate authority is the government of the United States."



As Christian ethicists, we share a common moral presumption against a pre-emptive war on Iraq by the United States.

Shaun Casey, Wesley Theological Seminary Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University Divinity School Lee Camp, David Lipscomb University Gerald Schlabach, University of St. Thomas John Mark Hicks, David Lipscomb University Tobias Winright, Simpson College Rodney Clapp, Brazos Press Michael G. Cartwright, University of Indianapolis D. Stephen Long, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary M. Therese Lysaught, University of Dayton Dennis M. Doyle, University of Dayton Cheryl Sanders, Howard University Divinity School Margaret R. Pfeil, University of Notre Dame Kelly S. Johnson, University of Dayton Laurel M. Jordan, Middlebury College Michael J. Gorman, St. Mary's Seminary & University Sandra Yocum Mize, University of Dayton Thomas Massaro, S.J., Weston Jesuit School of Theology Fr. Allyne L. Smith, Jr., Mercy College of Health Sciences Elizabeth M. Bounds, Candler School of Theology, Emory University D. Brent Laytham, North Park Theological Seminary Brad J. Kallenberg, University of Dayton Roger Betsworth, Simpson College Nancey Murphy, Fuller Theological Seminary William T. Cavanaugh, University of St. Thomas Rex Hamilton, Rochester College Beth Newman, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond Daniel M. Bell, Jr., Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary Nancy Duff, Princeton Theological Seminary Gabriel Palmer Fernandez, Youngstown State University Ronald H. Stone, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Peter J. Paris, Princeton Theological Seminary William Schweiker, University of Chicago Divinity School Glen Stassen, Fuller Theological Seminary Rev. Scott Langford, Decatur Church of the Nazarene Gene Outka, Yale University John Langan. S.J., Georgetown University Jerry Gentry Andrew Gilman, Harvard Divinity School David S. Cunningham, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary J. Denny Weaver, Bluffton College Christine E. Gudorf, Florida International University Cynthia Crysdale, Catholic University of America Christopher Dreisbach, St. Mary's Seminary & University William M. Tillman Jr., Hardin-Simmons University Ted Koontz, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary Gayle Gerber Koontz, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary Michael J. Gorman, St. Mary's Seminary & University Max L. Stackhouse, Princeton Theological Seminary George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary Brian D. Berry, College of Notre Dame of Maryland Scott R. Paeth, Albertson College of Idaho Ray C. Gingerich, Eastern Mennonite University Sondra Wheeler, Wesley Theological Seminary Carol Robb, San Francisco Theological Seminary Peter Gathje, Christian Brothers University Tokunbo Adelekan, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary Karen Lebacqz, Pacific School of Religion Emilie Townes, Union Theological Seminary Eric Mount Jr., Centre College Fr. Scott A. Benhase, St Philip's Church, Durham, N.C. Michael M. Mendiola, Pacific School of Religion/Graduate Theological Union Duane K. Friesen, Bethel College Stacy L. Patty, Lubbock Christian University Robin Steinke, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg Mark Thiessen Nation, Eastern Mennonite Seminary Rev. Marvin Lindsay, John Calvin Presbyterian Church, Salisbury, N.C. Barbara Green, Churches' Center for Theology and Public Policy Martha Ellen Stortz, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary Paul Lewis, Mercer University William Everett, Andover Newton Theological Seminary Richard Gula, Franciscan School of Theology Mikael N. Broadway, Shaw University Divinity School Andrew S. Pak, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary William Kooi, Oklahoma Christian University Joel James Shuman, King's College David Little, Harvard Divinity School Darryl Trimiew, Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School Chris Noyes, First Presbyterian Church, Beaver Falls, Pa. Roger Shinn, Union Theological Seminary Virginia Landgraf, Princeton Theological Seminary Daniel Maguire, Marquette University Allen Verhey, Hope College Fr Paul Surlis, St. John's University, N.Y. Michael Duffey, Marquette University Stephen Charles Mott Judith Mayotte, Marquette University Thomas Hughson, Marquette University Jame Schaefer, Marquette University Patrick Carey, Marquette University James Childs, Trinity Lutheran Seminary Franklin I. Gamwell, University of Chicago Divinity School Steve Bouma-Prediger, Hope College Tim Beach-Verhey, Davidson University Richard B. Miller, Indiana University Alan Johnson, Wheaton College Miguel De La Torre, Hope College Richard B. Hays, Duke University Divinity School Edward R. Sunshine, Barry University James W. Lewis, Anderson University

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