The Christian and Just War

by Ted Kyle

America has been called by our president to be ready to participate in a just war—a war to safeguard the lives of perhaps millions of Americans. Should we, as Christians, support such a war?

Historically and currently, Christians are far from being of one mind about war. Christians can and have based  their beliefs—ranging from total pacifism to total endorsement of war—on the same Bible. But the great majority of Christians, through the centuries, have accepted the need for war as necessary, when an enemy threatens. Americans, for instance, went to war willingly in World Wars I and II. In the Gulf War, we defended Kuwait, when Iraq brutally occupied and “annexed” its tiny neighbor.

Now President Bush has turned our eyes upon Iraq once again. What has occurred during the  intervening decade since the Gulf War ended? A long succession of evasions, deceits, and subterfuges by the Iraqis, to conceal their refusal to destroy and cease the manufacture of nerve gases, biological weapons such as anthrax, and nuclear warheads—together with the missiles able to deliver these population-killers over considerable distances.

The difference between now and the past several years, as President Bush has pointed out, is that now we know that our enemies not only have the means to kill a lot of us very suddenly, they also have the will. 9/11 showed that.

Several Christian leaders joined Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land in sending a letter to President Bush, which stated their belief that military action against Iraq would be justified. The signers included Bill Bright, chairman of Campus Crusade, Chuck Colson, chairman of Prison Fellowship, D. James Kennedy, head of Coral Ridge Ministries, and Carl Herbster, president of the American Association of Christian Schools.

These men said the president’s policy meets seven criteria in “just-war” theory:

Just cause: “Disarming and neutralizing Saddam Hussein is to defend freedom and freedom-loving people.” It would be a defensive war because Hussein has attacked Iraq’s neighbors as well as his own people, and has harbored Al Qaeda terrorists, they said.

Just intent: “Our nation does not intend to destroy, conquer, or exploit Iraq,” they wrote.

Last resort: Hussein has violated UN Security Council resolutions and other agreements for a decade, while amassing weapons, Land and the others said. “Further delay in forcing the regime’s compliance would be reckless irresponsibility in the face of grave and growing danger,” they wrote.

• Legitimate authority: It was wise for Bush to ask the Security Council to enforce its resolutions, but a resolution from Congress would provide the proper authority, they told the President.

Limited and achievable goals: Bush’s goals of disarming Hussein, dismantling his weapons and liberating the Iraqis “more than meet those criteria,” they said.

Noncombatant immunity: “We are confident that our government, unlike Hussein, will not target civilians and will do all that it can to minimize noncombatant casualties.”

Proportionality: the human cost of such a military campaign will be greater in the future than now, they said.

No Christian should look forward to war, and each Christian should be free to consult his own conscience in his response to war. But we believe that containment of Hussein’s deadly plans against his global neighbors—including Israel and even our own continent—is vital for our own nation and also for peace in our time.

Hitler’s legions decimated the populations of several nations, including his own, in addition to perpetrating the horror of the Holocaust. Should he have been stopped before he became nearly unstoppable? That is a moot question now. But we think Hussein poses  as great a danger to world peace.

In World War I, Sergeant York, a pacifistic Christian from the Southern mountains, decided the only way to save the lives of his countrymen was to shoot as many as necessary of the enemy to convince them to stop killing Americans. We believe his argument was sound then, and is still sound today.