Jesus taught to “turn the other cheek,” and while the ideal for individual believers is one we can strive for, it is not so simple for nation states. War (while a moral and social evil) is an issue in our lives. Jesus recognised this when He said “there will be wars and rumours of wars.” As a real life issue the church has tried to use its influence to moderate and restrict conflict’s abuses.
Just War Theory is one such approach. This attempt began its evolution in the Medieval period, but has developed in an attempt to take “modern” war (17th and 18th Century) into consideration. It, while praiseworthy, is difficult to implement as the nature and ideology of warfare has changed.
Its basic points are:
- The War must be started and controlled by the authority of the state or ruler, not by vassals or underlings.
- There must be a just cause; those attacked must deserve it.
- The war must be fought to promote good or avoid evil.
- All other possible ways of solving the problem have been tried.
- There should be “proportionality:” Innocent civilians should not be killed and only enough force should be used as is needed to achieve victory.
- The good gained by the victory must be greater than the evil which led to the war.
Other Christian approaches include pacifism. This is a bit of a difficult approach as there are several nuanced and divergent sub-approaches to this “peacefulness.” They range from the total avoidance of violent response to conflict, to “principled” limited responses based on either the nature of the conflict, or the amount of resistance offered.
The 1986 film, The Mission brings the pacifism verses “Just War,” stances into focus. The film set in the mid-18th Century relates the missionary efforts of the Jesuits in South America. Conflict arises when colonial authorities order the mission to be closed, and the native people return to the forest. Spoiler alert: The two key priests Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) and Rodrigo (Robert DeNiro) differ on how to respond to the demands. Gabriel follows the path of pacifism and serves the flock as a priest. Rodrigo chooses to follow the tribes chief in a “Just War.” Which priest is right?
Such questions remain with us today. How are we personally to deal with conflict? And if conflict generally, how about war?