The Collegium of Officers of the United Church of Christ have written a powerful pastoral letter against the war in Iraq and are asking others to sign the letter. Their goal is 100,000 signatures by World Communion Sunday, October 7. They call us to seek forgiveness for “the arrogant unilateralism of preemptive war.” They also call us to “cast off the fear that has made us accept the way of violence and return to the way of Jesus.”
The ideal of returning to the way of Jesus coupled with the letter's opening paragraph decrying the way this war was justified serve as a reminder that the acceptance of war as a necessary evil was not always a part of Christian thinking. For the first three centuries of Christianity, pacifism was the primary view of Christians. Early church leaders such as Origen and Tertullian wrote tracts on the subject. Roman soldiers who converted to Christianity were instructed not to kill! All of that changed rapidly when the emperor Constantine made Christianity the official state religion. By his edict, Christians went from being social pariahs who could be killed for their beliefs to being the only ones who could be soldiers or political leaders. Needless to say, this had a radical impact on Christian teaching. Augustine created a compromise position, which has come to be knows as the Just War Theory, stipulating principles that had to be met in order for a war to be considered just. Just War Theory is clear that no war can be started preemptively as an act of aggression, that it cannot be used for acquisition of land, power or resources, and that civilians may never be targeted. Applied to the current war, all of these principles raise serious questions. In fact, the sickening ratio of civilian to military causalities in every battle fought today begs the question of whether modern warfare can ever be considered just.
September 21 is the United Nations International Day of Peace. This annual event focusing on peaceful resolutions to conflicts is a call for a world-wide one day cease fire. That surely will be met by accusations of naivety and impractical idealism. Indeed, the logical end result of pacifism may be that evil triumphs and innocents suffer. But pacifism doesn't mean passivity. The innocents who suffer need to be those, who like Jesus, stand up to injustice with a willingness to lay down their lives before they will take another's. Non-violent resistance to injustice is a very active expression of faith requiring the commitment of all the resources at our disposal to wage peace.
The UCC pastoral letter calls us to repentance for having “confused patriotism with self-interest.” True patriotism is a love of nation that calls it to be the best that it can be. Ending this war is a patriotic act, but it will not come by wishing it to happen. Christians need to add protest to their prayers. Let's begin to believe in peace more than violence and roll up our sleeves to do the hard work. You can begin by signing the pastoral letter at http://www.ucc.org/100kforpeace/