According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

3 Christian Perspectives on War: Just War Theory, Christian Pacificism, and Active Peacemaking, Part 1

Reading through the reports today I came across an article on America's thoughts about going to war with the Muslim country of Syria. A deplorable government to be sure, committed to torture and human atrocities, oppression and tyranny by both the father and his son for decades:
Syria has been under Emergency Law from 1963 to 2011, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens. Its system of government is considered to be non-democratic.[7] Bashar al-Assad has been president since 2000 and was preceded by his father Hafez al-Assad, who was in office from 1970 to 2000.[8]
Syria is a member of one International organization other than the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement; it is currently suspended from the Arab League[9] and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation,[10] and self suspended from the Union for the Mediterranean.[11]
Since March 2011, Syria has been embroiled in civil war in the wake of uprisings (considered an extension of the Arab Spring, the mass movement of revolutions and protests in the Arab world) against Assad and the neo-Ba'athist government. An alternative government was formed by the opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, in March 2012. Representatives of this government were subsequently invited to take up Syria's seat at the Arab League.[12] The opposition coalition has been recognised as the "sole representative of the Syrian people" by several nations including the United States, United Kingdom and France.[13][14][15]
Another article to help understand Syria's current state of affairs and areas of conflict was found here:
Elizabeth O'Bagy: On the Front Lines of Syria's Civil War: "The conventional wisdom—that jihadists are running the rebellion—is not what I've witnessed on the ground."
A Divided Syria

Hence, in the following piece Johnathan Merrit provides three avenues for societal response: (1) the Just War Theory as proposed by Thomas Aquinas in his day of Medieval government; (2) Christian pacifism as resulting from the Anabaptist experience of purgings in 16th century Europe; (3) and a new theory going under the name of Just Peacemaking. This latter response I found to be the most intelligent and worthy of consideration. It responds according to the degree made necessary:  Just Peacemaking supports the prevention of war through nonviolent direct action and cooperative conflict resolution. It is not intended to be a substitute for just war or pacifism, but rather a supplement and corrective (further reading on this topic may be found through provided links below).
The last article I've supplied is from Frank Schaeffer's intensely critical piece directed towards the American media's handling of President Obama's resolve to not commit American troops so immediately into the position of global enforcer and preventionist. Frank provides stiff support for the president's actions even though it could have been more easily interpreted as a lack of action based upon political expediency as I did. Still, it requires the American public's support for, or against, its military involvement in regional conflict. And I suspect, if given the choice, Frank, like myself, would likewise explore the third alternative of "Just Peacemaking" before too hastily marching to war with America's sons and daughters into regional conflicts where there are too often no winners.
And so, it is with deep prayer and sincerity of heart that healing would come between the Muslim nations within their tribes and nations, even as it would come with America and the West. If we are to enter into any kind of global cooperation and synergy then all wars and hostilities between nations must cease. From Somalia to Egypt, from America's urban centers to Europe's class conflicts, from Russian, China, the Mid-East, and Indonesia. But to so simply focus on peace must first require us to place our focus on justice and liberty, however it is worked out, so that power and wealth learns abeyance to the needs and rights of all men everywhere.
R.E. Slater
September 4, 2013 

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad gather in Damascus’s Bahrat Square
Courtesy of FreedomHouse (

On Syrian conflict, three Christian perspectives
by Johnathan Merrit
September 3, 2013
The Syrian civil war has become a humanitarian hell. More than 100,000 are dead, images of a state-sanctioned chemical weapons attack have evoked a global protest, and most Western leaders agree that Syrian President Bashar Assad is an all-around bad guy. But enacting another bloody and expensive war against an unstable Middle Eastern country, particularly one with the backing of Russia and Iran, is something many Americans have little stomach for.
So which position should Christians support?
Traditionally, Christians have viewed war through one of two lenses. Those who hold to just war theory believe that war is often right if the violent conflict meets certain criteria. This is the view held by most Catholics and conservative Protestants. On the other hand, Christian pacifists believe that violence is incompatible with a faith that is patterned after the one who blessed peacemakers and urged his followers to “turn the other cheek.”
But in recent years, a third view called just peacemaking has gained traction among some Christians. It has been promoted by evangelical theologians Glenn Stassen and David Gushee, and supports the prevention of war through nonviolent direct action and cooperative conflict resolution. Stassen and Gushee point out that just peacemaking theory is not intended to be a substitute for just war or pacifism, but rather a supplement and corrective.
Below are position statements on the Syrian conflict from Christian thought leaders representing each of these perspectives:
Just War Theory
Russell Moore, President of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
The first principle of a just war, that of a just cause, has been met in this case. Assad’s regime is lawless and tyrannical, and rightly provokes international outrage. That said, there are other principles missing here, both to justify action morally and to justify it prudentially.
I do not see, from President Obama, a reasonable opportunity to prevail, or even a definition of what prevailing would mean. Regime change is not the point of this action, and even if it were, we don’t yet know who the good guys are. Replacing one set of terrorists with another does not bring about justice or peace.
I agree with the President on the moral urgency of Syria, and I morally reject the crypto-isolationist voices that tell us, in every era, to tend to “America First” and leave defenseless people around the world on their own. In this case, though, the Administration is demonstrating neither an imminent threat to national security nor a feasible means to alleviate the very real human rights crisis in Syria.
Moreover, there is the very real threat to religious minority communities in Syria. How will an attack further jeopardize the Body of Christ in Syria? Could it be that an anarchic regime of al-Qaeda sympathizers could do to the church in Damascus what Jesus prevented Saul of Tarsus from doing? Those are questions worth answering, and that means the President and the Secretary of State must communicate to the country not just the moral condemnation of the Assad regime (most of us agree), but the more difficult task of communicating the moral case for American intervention in this civil war, making clear how such wouldn’t make the situation worse.
Saving national credibility is important but it does not make a war just. The President must use his bully pulpit to make the case that what he wants to do here is more than a symbol, a symbol that will leave blood and fire in its wake. Right now, it seems the Administration is giving an altar call for limited war, without having preached the sermon to make the case.
If I were in Congress, I would vote “no” on this war. 
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of Strangers at My Door
The news this weekend feels to me so much like Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN in 2003. We always want to go to war for a moral reason. But as a Christian, I have to ask, “How is Assad’s violence toward innocent civilians morally different than our ‘shock and awe’ bombing of Baghdad?” When I see the images from Syria, my gut wrenches. But I don’t ask, “How could anyone do that?” because I was in Baghad in 2003. I know that we did that–and did it while we were telling our citizens we weren’t.
Of course, that was the Bush administration. But I cannot forget the stories I’ve heard from friends in Afghanistan about drone attacks under the Obama administration. We love drones because they don’t put US soliders at risk. But when they hit the home of a known Al Qaeda operative, they kill indiscriminately.
Obama is trying to maintain credibility by meeting force with force. But Jesus showed us a better way–that we can only overcome evil with good. We are in no position to do this as a nation because we’ve invested all of our resources in the overwhelming power of military machines. But these technologies cannot bring peace. Indeed, I fear our investment in them has catapulted us into a policy of perpetual war. If troop numbers are down in Iraq and Afghanistan, then the Pentegon needs somewhere else to do its business. If not, contractors would be out of business. This is a cruel economic calculus.
Our only hope is to refuse cooperation with a system that demands violence and begin investing our lives and resources in things that make for peace. Of course, someone will ask, “But what about the innocent victims? Don’t you care for them?” As a disciple of the nonviolence of Jesus, I have to admit that some people may die because of my refusal to fight with violence. But people also die when we fight with violence. Nonviolence is not passive. It seeks to devote our resources to a better way. In our present public policy framework, this looks like opting out. But it is not disengagement. Christian nonviolence is engagement of the most serious kind. I give thanks for small experiments like the Christian Peacemaker Teams, Muslim Peacemaker Teams, and the Global Nonviolent Peaceforce. We won’t have better options on the global stage at a time like this until we invest seriously in these approaches to intervention. 
Just Peacemaking
David Gushee, author of The Sacredness of Human Life
From all indications, President Obama has never been contemplating more than a relatively small punitive strike on Syrian military targets, so we are not really talking about a “war.” The question is on what basis might a punitive strike by the United States (and possibly some group of allies) be morally justified, and whether there are any alternatives that are morally preferable.
In the world envisioned by the official declarations and principles of the United Nations, the world community, acting primarily through the UN Security Council, would long ago have intervened in the Syrian civil war. Proven use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would certainly have triggered the condemnation of the world, and the UN would have stepped in with various steps to protect civilians, separate the warring parties, and isolate and possibly remove the Syrian regime. Sadly, we do not today live in the world envisioned by the United Nations, because power politics and alliances and resentments continually prevent the five powers of the UN Security Council from acting in concert.
Just peacemaking theory would suggest that the United States should first test the UN’s own principles by taking a case for rigorous international intervention in Syria before the UN Security Council. Show all the evidence. Call for the UN to live up to its own principles. Draft a strong resolution. Only if such a resolution should fail would the US have a case for going it alone. The president could say that international moral and legal norms and humanitarian concern demand international action, but failing that, the United States is acting in the stead of the international community. This is a case that could be far more effectively made after an effort at the UN.
But in this case, so far, anticipation of failure has led to a preemption of a UN effort. This has led the US out onto a very shaky limb. And the weakness of the President’s isolated position is reducing the likelihood that the United States (or anyone else) will end up doing anything at all. Meanwhile, civilians continue to die in large numbers, and the threshold against using chemical weapons has been breached without penalty by Syria. 

Just Peacemaking

Just Peacemaking is the product of 23 scholars across various denominations who
have collaborated annually for six years to specify the 10 practical steps and develop
the undergirding principles of this critical approach.
The Left and Right Entirely Missed the Point of
Obama Deferring to Congress on Syria
September 3, 2013

President Obama has used the Syria gas attack to accomplish something stunning: He's deliberately turned back the clock on presidential military intervention prerogatives to the World War Two paradigm. Whatever happens in Congress now the president has made it much harder for future presidents to pull a George W. Bush stunt and take America into dumb wars.
From now on there's a twenty first century template that will be applied by the nation when we talk war: ask Congress for permission to throw America's military might around.
President Obama has just struck a blow for peace. The left and right are so tied up in knots trying to parse the present politics of the situation that they forget that this president thinks long term.
President Obama has again proved that he will leave his opponents in the dust. By using the Syria crisis as a teaching moment on constitutional prerogatives the president has extended his reach far into the future. He may have paid lip service to reserving his right to use the military with or without Congresses approval but in fact he's done the unthinkable: the president has just seriously and voluntarily curtailed presidential war making power--for a long time to come.
More than gay rights, more than reform of the medical delivery system, more than attempts to regulate Wall Street, more than ending two bad wars, this surprising action by President Obama will mark his presidency. His action is the beginning of the end for the imperial presidency that Kennedy, Nixon and everyone since has inexorably exploited and expanded. Gone are the days when it's assumed that presidents don't even have to pretend to listen to Congress and the American people on using American force.
Speaking as the father of a US Marine that was deployed in Bush's miserable unjustified wars of choice, I can't thank President Obama enough for trying to restore a little constitutional balance to America's addiction to easy wars that others pay for. Since the sons and daughters of the ruling class rarely contribute skin in the nasty "game" of war, since most Americans go shopping rather to war, this Marine's father is glad that it just got harder to send young men and women in uniform to their deaths.
By President Obama shocking the chattering classes with something utterly unexpected he's insulted them. Expect cynical blow back. The talkers and pundits like to think they always see into the future, know more than the president and can outsmart him. They have been proved wrong again and again, on the economy - its back - on health care - it is working and on "Obamacare" - it will outlast the crazies in the Republican Party, and now on this stunning action. They will say he's weak, vacillating, trying to blame Congress and so forth.
What this president's critics don't get - ever - is that President Obama thinks long range. That's why he's remained silent in the face of incessant racist-based Tea Party attacks. He knows he's winning the future by not playing to their angry-black-man stereotype. That is why he's never been the in-your-face lefty the left craves. He's playing for keeps, not short term visceral satisfaction.
The pundits mostly are trying to figure out the president's tactics short term on the "next war" or "what this means politically." But Syria isn't the point. Politics isn't either. Our Constitution is. What they don't get is that irrespective of the outcome now in this case, President Obama has injected an old/new note of constitutional restraint into the American war making game that is revolutionary for our times.
It's a very big story that the media seems to be missing by concentrating on the short term situation, Syria, and politics. The real story here isn't Syria--it is presidential power. President Obama just put our country's good ahead of his power and handed a little of presidential power back to We The People. Thank you Mr. President.

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