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Billy King


Nonviolence News


The ‘War On Terror’ And The Christian Just War Doctrine

Talk given by Tony Kempster at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Antrim Road, Belfast on 24th February 2006

Organised by the Irish Network for Nonviolent Action Training and Education (INNATE) and the Irish School of Ecumenics which is part of Trinity College, Dublin, based in Northern Ireland.

Dr Kempster is the chair of the Movement for the Abolition of War ( and general secretary of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship (

Note on the title of the talk

Since the title was agreed, the US defence chiefs have unveiled a new plan for fighting global Islamist extremism. Their report to Congress describes the plan as ‘The long war’, and this is apparently seen as a replacement for the term ‘War on terror’.

Looking beyond the Iraq and Afghan battlefields, US commanders envisage a war unlimited in time and space. It may be fought in dozens of countries simultaneously and for decades to come. The emphasis shifts from large-scale conventional military operations towards a rapid deployment of highly mobile, often covert counter-terrorist forces. The Pentagon does not pinpoint the countries it sees as future areas of operations but they will stretch beyond the Middle East to the Horn of Africa, North Africa, central and south-east Asia and the northern Caucasus. In addition to the obvious priority to defeat terrorist networks and preventing hostile and non-state actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, the report includes the priority area of ‘shaping the choices of countries at strategic crossroads’. (Report in The Guardian of 15th February 2006.)

Opening song
I use the words of the song, ‘Out of the clear blue sky’ by the American singer-songwriter, John Lester to introduce the subject of terrorism using the dilemma of culpability for the attacks of September 11th 2001.

When I was a young man, so many troubles seem to come my way;
I didn’t see that I sowed the seeds of my own anger; they grew a little everyday.

Always a battle for my ways and always someone else to blame;
So many enemies, never did I wonder from whence they came.
I never stopped to look inside to see if I held the reason why.
The evil one came at me from out of the clear blue sky.

Now comes a time, when my country’s also come of age;
A hell hit the homeland and everyone’s rightfully filled with rage.
The President’s pointing his finger and from the pulpit I heard him say:
‘We’re one nation under God and by God we’re gonna get them back one day’.
With no admission to reason’s why he placed all the blame on the other side
And said the evil one came at us from out of the clear blue sky.

Bridge Call me a traitor, say I’m a coward not a patriot.
Well I know we had to strike back
I just don’t think we’ve planned the hardest battle yet
How many fights for freedom
Will we wage while the peace is denied
And is that peace just a prayer we make on Sundays
And hope that God will bless it on us
From out of the clear blue sky.

They were crazy, they were evil and they were wrong
But the weak take a desperate measure when they’re backed into the corner by a foe too strong.
My brother, my sister, my countryman and my friend
I think we’ve also got to take a hard look at ourselves if we want to keep this from happening again.
If we search beyond our pride, perhaps we’ll find an answer that has long been denied
And peace will reign upon us, from out of the clear blue sky.

© 2002 John Lester; information on

The song works at several levels. It begins with reference to the personal violence of young people (and I sometimes use it in school’s talks for this reason). The second verse relates to international terrorism and to the repercussions of 9/11. The bridge between verses returns to the personal. The last verse then goes on to acknowledge that the al-Qaeda terrorists were evil and wrong, but says that the weak sometimes resort to desperate measures when threatened. It ends with the line addressed to the American people (not the principles and powers notice) suggesting the importance of reflecting on what happened to find an answer to terrorism. And it ends with what could even be a reference to the God’s Peace.

The words are bound to elicit different reactions. Those taking a patriotic anti-totalitarian stance are likely to take issue with the apologist sentiments. Others, particularly left-wing progressives, critical of the failings of western society, might well say they do not go far enough in explaining the motives of the terrorists.

Whatever the reactions, the attack did not come ‘out of the clear blue sky’. There were reasons and motivations behind it, just as there are for any terrorism.


Terrorism is a complex and multi-faceted issue: so much so that it is difficult to agree a definition and debate continues among international lawyers. According to the US Code, terrorism is ‘premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents usually intended to influence an audience’. Walter Lacquer (2003), the guru on terrorism, extends this to all actors - not just to subnational and clandestine agents – defining it as ‘the systematic use of murder, injury, and destruction or the threat of such acts, aimed at achieving political ends’.

But I prefer the definition of US Friends Committee on National Legislation (Washington Newsletter, May 1996), which spells this out thus:

‘Terrorism is a tactic, whether used by an established government, a revolutionary group or an individual. The characterization of an action as ‘terrorism’ depends on what is done, not who does it. Terrorism includes threats or acts of violence ranging from deprivation of basic human rights, to property destruction, physical violence, torture and murder. Terrorist acts are consciously chosen and committed for purposes that go beyond the violence itself. Terrorist acts are usually undertaken for an identifiable political goal, as distinguished from crimes committed for personal gain or private vengeance or because of mental derangement. The political goals might be to punish or retaliate against an enemy or dissident elements or to destabilise an opposing government or organisation.’

Such a definition is a broad one. It embraces counter-terrorism if this involves unnecessary violence, the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and might even be extended to the destruction of property carried out by Ploughshares activists.

In his book, The war on terrorism and the terror of God, Lee Griffith sets out his misgivings about the inclusion of property destruction and thinks finer distinctions need to made. People are terrorized by the fire-bombing of churches or homes, even if no people are physically injured; whereas the destruction of a draft card is unlikely to affect them. Likewise, it is doubtful that anyone is terrorized by damage inflicted on weaponry as in the Ploughshares actions which do not threaten injury on any person.

The seeds of terrorism

To understand terrorism (like any phenomenon) one needs to investigate its roots rather than deal with its outward manifestations.

Misconceptions exist about modern terrorism; particularly that it is normally a response to poverty and injustice. This may have been true of past situations (for example the anti-Tsarist revolutionaries and the Irish patriots fighting against grinding poverty. But with modern-day fanatics the situation is less clear since, for example, few terrorist attacks have been made in the 50 poorest countries in the world.

One recipe for making a locality ripe for terror that has been much used in the past is this: undermine traditional culture(s): pour in plenty of weapons and introduce competition for economic survival. This leads naturally to economic disparities and generates violence not only among the poor (as if the poor were somehow more susceptible to violent impulses), but among members of all economic groups including the ‘near poor’ and middle groups beset by rising expectations. But it is no less true that disparity contributes to violence by the wealthy because they want to protect what they have acquired.

So we have to be especially careful when explaining the motives of al-Qaeda which seem to be more a product of modernity, globalisation and religious fundamentalism than poverty and injustice. The organisation believes that the world can be transformed by spectacular acts of terror.

In his controversial book, Anti-totalitarianism: the left-wing case for a neoconservative foreign policy, Oliver Kamm (2005) draws attention to the long-standing critics of US power such as Noam Chomsky who are quick to rationalise, or at least relativise, the hatred of ideological opponents of Western liberal democracies. He says: ‘It is a failing of many liberal commentators to be swayed by the sheer unlikelihood of a popular movement dedicated to the political realisation of an eschatological vision. So far as we can ascertain from their intended targets, the terrorists of 9/11 were not making a statement about poverty or oppression. Rather they were acting out an ideological imperative of striking at the institutions of Western civilisation: constitutional government, international commerce and a civilian-controlled military. … [The suicide bombers] opposed the US and its allies not for any sins of commission or omission on our part, but for what we are: liberal, secular, pluralist and tolerant. We cannot pacifiy al-Qaeda without surrendering our values, and even that would be insufficient. A movement driven by violent millenarianism may engage in political tactics, but does not have negotiable ends.’

The role of religion

Politicians and religious leaders are sometimes quick to assure us that religion has little share of the blame for the terrorist campaigns. But, Oliver McTernan in Violence in God’s name (2003) argues that unless this mindset is changed the world will never eliminate the threat of faith-inspired terror. He says: ‘It is time to acknowledge that religion has a hidden potential for violence. Tolerance is a wholly inadequate response to the terror that now increasingly perpetrated in the name of God. The current crisis demands something more from Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist leaders: the proactive and vigorous defence of the right of others to believe and act differently.

The religiosity of US society is also an issue here. According to the standard, social-scientific theory of advanced, knowledge-based societies, the US should be following Europe in becoming more secular but this is not the case. Quite the contrary. Evangelical Christians are now playing a significant role in encouraging a militant response to terrorism and the countries that support them. In The last crusade: religion and the politics of misdirection (2005), Barbara Victor suggests that such Christians are ‘blithely creating a world fit for Apocalypse’. Some even warmly anticipate ‘a holy nuclear war’ which will exalt Israel, crushing its enemies before going on to dramatise the Apocalypse.

In his recent book, God’s politics: why the American Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn’t get it (2005), Jim Wallis makes a scathing indictment of the way that right-wing evangelicals in the US ‘who have hugged their bibles, worn their flag pins and self-righteously attempted to co-opt any discussion of religion and politics, while at the same time ignoring the very values they profess of pro-peace, pro-justice, pro-environment etc. which they profess to defend’. He campaigns for a Christian involvement that both addresses injustice and stresses personal responsibility.

The US-led ‘war on terror’

The US administration’s response to 9/11 was shaped by its neo-conservative doctrine, the changed military capacities after the Cold War, and domestic support arising from the scale and unexpectedness of the attacks. These factors combined to place direct military intervention at the core of the response, at the expense of more productive and internationally acceptable approaches. This has also been associated with other developments including the greater restriction of public freedom, imprisonment without trial and torture. Two books are particularly valuable here: Helena Kennedy (2004) Just law: the changing face of justice – and why it matters to us all (2004), and Philippe Sands Lawless world: America and the making and breaking of global rules (2006 edition).
Last weekend, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu launched an attack on President Bush, saying his administration’s refusal to close down the Guantanamo Bay camp reflected ‘a society that is heading towards George Orwell’s Animal farm.’ He urged the UN Human Rights Commission to take legal action against the US – through the US courts or the International Court of Justice – should it fail to respond to a report, by five UN inspectors, advising that Camp Delta should be shut immediately because prisoners were being tortured there. Other leading figures including Kofi Annan and Desmond Tutu have made similar appeals.

This week’s Dispatches programme (Channel 4) presents the case that, in the wake of the London bombings, the government has rushed through anti-terror policies that are largely motivated by the desire to avoid being criticised by the popular press, to make the Labour party appear more authoritative and strong against terrorism and to gain an edge in the run up to the next election. It suggests that introducing stringent regulation is a win-win situation for the government because if the regulations are ruled against in the judicial process, the law would carry the can for any failure in the prevention of terrorism.

The failure to deal effectively with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the debacle of Iraq, not actually linked directly with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, are now etched on our minds and only need a mention here as a prelude to discussing the role of the Churches and the just war doctrine.

The 2003 Iraq war stands out from other modern wars for several reasons. The media, particularly in the US, played a crucial role from the beginning in justifying and portraying the war. For the first time, journalists from participating nations were ‘embedded’ into the military machine and brought the war from the battlefields directly to our television screens, although of course under strict censorship. This was also the most widely resisted war of global reach. The UN, representing the nations of the world, and vast numbers of people around the world, including millions in the participating nations (the US, the UK, Spain, Italy and Australia) were actively against it. Then, since the Iraqi military tried to avoid conflict, the war simply degenerated into an unopposed invasion.

But more than this it is now becoming clear that the war was devised and promoted by a group of politicians who may well have grossly abused their power. Details are still emerging and their full ramifications are still not clear. Whatever the legal interpretations, it is clear that the politicians did not decide to go to war on the basis of a logical evaluation of the intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s intentions and an ethical assessment of the options available to them. The intelligence and ‘facts’ were fixed around their chosen policy which was to attack Iraq. This meant that any public consideration of whether the jus ad bellum criteria were met was at best distorted and, at the worst, a useful device for war propaganda. (Dilip Hiro’s book, Secrets and lies: the true story of the Iraq war (2005) sets these issues out clearly; and James Risen’s State of war: the secret history of the CIA and the Bush administration (2006) gives an insider view of what happened.)

The Churches’ response and relevance of the just war doctrine

The Church of England’s resistance to the 2003 Iraq war was clear. In October 2002, the House of Bishops made a submission to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s on-going Inquiry into the Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism. In the light of the UK Government’s own dossier on the threat posed by Iraq, the submission reckoned that threat to be ‘growing’ rather than ‘imminent’ and concluded that to ‘undertake preventive war’ against Iraq at this juncture would be to lower the threshold of war unacceptably. The importance of maintaining the credibility and authority of the UN was also emphasised.
The submission made a distinction between pre-emptive war and anticipatory self defence on the one hand, and preventive war on the other, arguing that the first had long been permitted by just war doctrine, whereas the second would ‘undermine the need for war to be used as a last resort and would prejudice alternative efforts at conflict prevention and resolution’. We are uneasy about such definitions when they are not underpinned by clear rules and note that in a later submission to Government by the Church’s Public Affairs Unit (June 2003) also made reference to this need.

Other churches were generally of the opinion that Iraq did not present an immediate danger, although they showed a range of different understandings as to when force would be justified.

All in all the Church of England’s response, in the context of the just war doctrine, was well judged in the circumstances. Although my organisation, the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship would naturally stand with the Quakers and other peace churches in saying that pre-emption cannot be a just cause for a military attack.

The just war criteria were invoked, often by the media and non-Church agents, and many churches in the US and UK made public statements against the decision to attack Iraq. But at the same time, much of the national leadership and a considerable section of Christians in the US saw no contradiction between their faith and the actions undertaken to disarm Iraq and remove its leadership. Here in the UK, there was more concern generally, but Parliament did sanction the invasion and, despite the millions who marched against the war, there was a slide towards acquiescence in the body politic as the events unfurled. The churches made few statements about jus in bello beyond some calls for discrimination and proportionality.

Such developments have been all too common in human history and we should by now recognise the signs of militarism. It seems that any country with a large military capability, needs only a group of ideological and self-possessed leaders in power, and a compliant or uncritical national media to whip up the national tendency to patriotism and wage an unjust war.

Any assessment of the value of the just war doctrine is bound to depend critically on its capability to resist such a danger, although other criteria remain significant. The value of the transatlantic dialogue should be judged in similar terms.

The just war doctrine and the transatlantic dialogue: The price of peace: just war in the twenty first century

The disquiet and controversy surrounding the Iraq War has led the Church of England to review the just war doctrine and examine the appropriateness of its various criteria to 21st century warfare. Part of this is a transatlantic dialogue, The price of peace, set up with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. It is an academic review, involving US and UK theologians, ethicists and legal experts.

This is timely given the changed nature of military conflict since the end of the Cold War. But there is a sense that this dialogue is limited in ecumenical scope and fails to include a sufficiently broad Christian peace perspective to deal properly with the issue. The dialogue has also created some disconcerting media comment, and informal reports from participants suggest that agreement on key issues will be difficult to achieve. The Atlantic, it seems, is quite a wide ocean when it comes to the ethics of war.

Before discussing the issues, a comment on the pacifist position view of the just war doctrine is helpful. Although this position is at odds with the just war, pacifists are still concerned that the Church should not modify the doctrine and stumble on the journey towards its aim of abolishing war.

This aim is implicit in a statement by the 1930 Lambeth Conference and echoed by some later conferences: ‘War as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ’. The Catholic Church’s position has moved along similar lines to John Paul II’s condemnation of war as a ‘totally unacceptable’ means of settling international disputes.

Some might question why pacifists would wish to comment on the detail of a review of the just war doctrine. But one should remember that it is the ultimate horizon of personal sacrifice which actually distinguishes the pacifist and just war positions. This horizon, where the pacifist may be called to suffer (or even die) rather than kill, is not reached until all the other possibilities to witness to God’s peace have been exhausted.

The just war doctrine may be seen as a methodology which helps us to comprehend the nature of war and the violations of justice that can take place in a time of war. It cannot ever validate a war. As Oliver O’Donovan (2003) points out:

‘History knows of no just wars, as it knows of no just peoples. Major historical events cannot be justified or criticised in one mouthful; they are concatenations and agglomerations of many separate actions and many varied results. One may justify or criticise acts of statesman, acts of generals, acts of common soldiers or citizens, provided one does them from the point of view of those who performed them, i.e. without moralistic hindsight; but wars, like much large-scale historical phenomena present only a great question mark, a continual invitation to reflect further on what decisions were taken.’

Furthermore, the course of wars and their outcomes are always uncertain and the worst atrocities tend to be committed towards the end.

Another dialogue of theologians and military experts (Anthony Harvey in association with the Council for Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament, 1999) did include pacifists. In the report entitled Demanding peace, I emphasised that a pressing responsibility for the pacifist is to work to prevent wars. To achieve real change, it is often necessary to compromise and assist in interim steps towards the overall aim. We must reach for the possible as is shows itself. By the same token, there is a need to jealously guard any successful steps towards the abolition of war taken by the global community.

The aim of the transatlantic dialogue is ‘to investigate and renew the just war discourse in the light of the moral tensions that are involved in the recourse to and conduct of war’, which it is said ‘have been crystallised by the war against Iraq’. On the face of it, this is fine, although one might suggest that it would be sensible to investigate the just war doctrine first and then, if appropriate, consider renewing it. But this is a quibble since the just war doctrine is simply a framework and able to accommodate new aspects, except pacifism of course!

The serious question, though, is why the immorality of the 2003 Iraq war should be thought to have crystallised the moral tensions. Should we not say that the war was wicked because of the political deceit and obfuscation involved and draw a line under it? After all, the doctrine assumes that the politicians involved will not set out to mislead.

A more telling insight into the transatlantic dialogue?

Although held behind closed doors, the dialogue has slipped into the public domain surprisingly quickly.

Christian peace organisations were perturbed by an article in The Times of 31st May 2005 where Ruth Gledhill reported that one insider said: ‘We were trying to seek a way that we can use them [the just war criteria] against weapons of mass destruction, rogue regimes and terrorism. It is one of the most important ecumenical initiatives that have taken place in a long time. All the peaceniks will have heart attacks’. This suggests that the intention is to loosen the restraint provided by the just war tradition, and well as extend its remit.

She began the article by saying that: ‘The plans had grown out of a concern among bishops that they have lost the initiative to the Government and that the churches’ opposition to the war in Iraq weakened a traditional role of providing advice at a time of crisis’. Although it is wrong to read too much into these words, they suggest that politicians are not much interested in the views of the churches except to support their policies: advice which cautions against war is not too welcome.

We have also been told informally by some participants in the dialogue that the discussion between US and UK participants was very difficult at times. Bishop Richard Harries (also a participant in the dialogue) confirms this in his Guardian article of 25th June 2005. He wrote:

‘There were strong differences of opinion between the dominant US perspective and the dominant European one nowhere more marked than in attitudes towards the United Nations. The dominant American attitude at the meeting was that the UN was corrupt, ineffective and liable to be manipulated by states hostile to US interests. There were predictions about its total collapse in the review later this year. It was only with difficulty that I extracted from one critic the admission that, on basic Christian just-war principles, even if the present UN is inadequate, there is a moral imperative to create something better and stronger.’

This is consistent with statements made in the US national security strategy document of September 2002 which suggests that, in future, the overriding consideration should be the US national interest - a view in contrast to the US desire in the immediate postwar world to collaborate with other nations and build stable international institutions.

The charge of ‘functional pacifism’

A theological challenge from US ethicists was not unexpected if one considers the views of the so-called ‘realists’ in the just war debate.

Following the first Iraq war, George Weigel of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Centre (and also a participant in the transatlantic dialogue) wrote a paper entitled ‘War, peace and the Christian conscience’ where he was highly critical of the way some of the US churches had responded to the war. He refers to their ‘functional pacifism’ and says that ‘the leadership of the mainline/oldline Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church abdicated its teaching responsibilities and showed itself incapable of providing the kind of public moral leadership it had traditionally exercised in American society’.

In his recent book, Just war: changing society and the churches (2004), Charles Reed makes a similar point about the UK churches. He argues that they were reluctant to conclude that the war provided a clear case of a just war:

‘The churches’ confused and mixed response to the First Gulf War was indicative of a tension between a Christian realist and a Christian pacifist understanding of the just war tradition. By taking the issues of proportionality and last resort out of their natural theological context, a significant shift in balance and emphasis occurred within the just war tradition. This inversion of the just war tradition amounted to a form of functional pacifism best defined as ‘just war pacifism’. Prioritization of ‘last resort’ echoed the claims of many Christian pacifists who argued that alternative methods of conflict resolution needed to be tried before recourse to war. The abandonment of sanctions in favour of military action naturally raised the issue of right intent and the motives of those countries that used force against Iraq. As a result much of the churches’ criticism of the Government’s handling of the Gulf Crisis appeared to be veiled in a shroud of anti-Americanism.’

George Weigel and the ‘charism of responsibility’
Weigel speaks of a charism (favour specially vouchsafed by God) giving responsibility to the lay authorities.

But it is a later paper by George Weigel entitled ‘Moral clarity in time of war’ (2002) which is more relevant here because of the assertions he makes. Both Archbishop Rowan Williams (Lecture to the Royal Institute for International Affairs, 2003) and Richard Harries (open meeting of the Council for Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament (CCADD) (2003)) have commented on these.

Richard Harries examined some of Weigel’s assertions as follows.

He challenged Weigel’s assertion that right authority for political and military action lay with the lay authorities, who, had their own special ‘charism’. He added (1) there is a factual basis of action which is not confined to politicians, except in so far as they may have intelligence unavailable to others; and (2) politicians are always liable to ‘spin’ such intelligence to suit their own case. Furthermore, some groups know things which the government does not.

He also argued that Weigel’s cynicism about the UN was not justified, even though the Security Council is an arena of competing interests. It is precisely from that arena that international authority comes. Legality alone is not enough to justify war: if there is no consensus at the UN then there is no authority (other than self-defence under Article 51 of the Charter).

On the issue of just cause, Weigel writes that we cannot always wait for a state to launch its weapons before we go to war; the mere possession of (say) weapons of mass-destruction is evidence of aggressive intent, except when they are in the hands of stable states. Harries disagreed with this: Grotius was right to insist that the danger must be present and ready to fall upon us. Mere probability is not enough.
(Taken from a transcript of the talk on the CCADD website.)

Rowan Williams also dismisses the concept of a special politicians’ ‘charism’, emphasising that the just war tradition is for everybody, not especially for those engaged in statecraft.

There is much sense here and we trust these points will be heard during the international dialogue. They are consistent with the conclusions of the Demanding peace report referred to above. The report also points up the fact that the key elements of the just war doctrine (particularly ‘just cause’ and ‘lawful authority’, along with the religious and humanitarian consensus that the innocent must be protected, are embodied in the UN Charter, and that this now provides a guide to the Christian conscience which replaces both. Indeed, the duty to support the UN and its agencies and to adhere to the Charter is laid on all who are committed to work for peace. This does not mean, of course, that the UN is above reproach or can claim ultimate authority over the conscience of individuals.

The report also suggests that ‘the time may be ripe for the church leaders to initiate a broader debate on this issue, a debate which might eventually lead to pacifism becoming the norm for the churches instead of a minority movement within them.’ Now it seems we shall have to wait until the current realist challenge has been resisted!

Speaking truth to power: our Christian responsibility

It is also important to consider some of the broader issues surrounding the just war discourse.

The discourse is complicated, involving serious theology, legal considerations and much insider knowledge. Consequently, the churches have a responsibility to explain to Christians, in simple terms, what is actually going on. They should try to avoid the disconcertingly legalist feel to the just war doctrine, ticking off the principles one by one, as it were. The key issue is to say clearly whether the conflict can be brought within the scope of the authority on which governments may normally call and be undertaken in such a manner as to establish justice.

In doing this, they should exercise the authority of their spiritual teachings rather than analyse the geo-political system and give alarms about the likely success of failure of a war – this, one assumes is the realm of politicians and military men.

The responsibility of individual Christians needs to be emphasised. Oliver O’Donovan (2003) states this well. He says:

‘Let us also remember that we are responsible before God in relation to other members of society who, of course, have their own differently responsible positions. The decisions are ours and cannot be thrown off because we have elected representatives (let us call them ‘politically responsible deciders’), yet they are not ours exclusively but only in relation to these deciders, among whom we have to deliberate sympathetically and collaboratively.’

‘In particular God’s peace is a practical demand laid on us. We must deny any ‘right’ to the pursuit of any claim on a part of a people that it may sacrifice its neighbours in the cause of its own survival or prosperity. For the Gospel demands that we renounce goods that can only be won at the cost of our neighbours’ good. Belligerence is a crime against peace.’

Jim Wallis (2005) makes the same point but in rather a different way saying that the value of faith is that it encourages us to face the ‘big things’, the problems which seem intractable. War is clearly one of these. In our new leaflet, Movement for the Abolition of War points out that each step for humanity begins with a vision: not only that it is desirable but that it is possible. We work to uphold and spread the vision that we can abolish war’. Two quotes are included:

‘War must cease to be an admissable human institution. The abolition of all war must be our ultimate goal’. (MAW’s founder president Joseph Rotblat.)

‘War doesn’t deliver; we’re now using maximum force and getting minimum results.’ (Martin Bell, MAW’s vice-president.)

The Christian responsibility is not easy to assume because there is always a temptation to make a once and for all judgement about the justice of a particular war: indeed, the just war doctrine tends to encourage this. Yet we know that rumours of war and the waging of war have their own language and momentum. So how do Christians speak truth to power in such circumstances in the most difficult time when military action is imminent?

Here the words of Ched Myers (of the Bartimaeus Cooperative Communities in the US) at the 2004 Greenbelt meeting ‘Freedom bound’ are so relevant (published in the October 2004 (4.4) issue of The Anglican Peacemaker).

Ched Myers emphasised that the Christianity should be grounded in the real world and in the life and passion of Jesus. He argued that we have a responsibility to question the way things are with a vision of the way they are supposed to be. In the Gospels we see Jesus challenging the nationalism of his own people and is driven out of town; challenging the unequal wealth and being arrested; challenging the myth of retributive justice with a vision of love of enemies. To follow his example obliges us to monitor the way wars develop in future because we (and the churches) keep getting caught by surprise. He says:

‘If we wait for the drums of war without figuring out how the last war affected us, we will just roll over. This is because war time is the worst time for Christians to determine their position of war. So much so that the politicians can soften us up by the propaganda give timelines for the ending of hostilities and grand visions. If we are not clear most of us will not be able to swim to the vision of a world without war against the undertow of inflamed public opinion. In our Christian world, there are few denominations which carry out discussion and reflection on justice and war issues on a regular basis as part of their spiritual life, when a crisis develops we always seem to be starting from scratch. War surprises us.’

‘We should be saying ‘What does Jesus have to say about war?’. This is the system where countries prepare themselves to carry out massive and systematic slaughter of enemies. Christian should stop talking about war as though we were preparing for a joust. We must talk about the new realities. It is about fragmentation bombs, technology targeting water and electricity plants and the torture of prisoners.’

In this regard, the long period of talking about, working up to and positioning around the recent war against Iraq could have been used by the churches to school their members, and all people of good will in the relevance of the just war doctrine; and to rehearse them in approaching decisions that may need to be made soon as they face their Christian responsibilities. The churches have tended to be disinterested in doing this.

The help that the just war doctrine provides is, of course, meant not only for political leaders. The Bishops may speak as authorised representatives from the Christian community to the state, or they may speak as pastors to the Christian community. But either way, the priority must be to communicate the moral posture of those who recognise their responsibilities in Jesus Christ. Such an approach is important because a deliberating public would elicit a more conscientious performance from its representatives, political and military.

Countering terrorism: a statement by the Church of England Board of Social Responsibility (2005)

Towards the end of 2005, the Church of England’s House of Bishops published Countering terrorism: power, violence and democracy post 9/11, which touches on some of the same issues as the transatlantic dialogue, and is critical of American foreign policy and the influence of religious fundamentalists. The report reasserts the importance of the just war doctrine and its role in dealing with terrorism, although it emphasises the preference for finding political responses to terrorism rather than using military force.

The report states that: ‘Religion is now a major player on the public stage of the world in a way that few foresaw two decades ago. We believe that the churches have an important role to play, not simply in urging the importance and applicability of Christian principles, but in a proper awareness of the role of religion, for good as well as ill, and initiatives it might take towards reconciliation between adversaries.’ No-one can doubt this.

The report also examines the United States’ sense of ‘moral righteousness’ and questions the way some American Christians have used Biblical texts to support a political agenda in the Middle East. The bishops argue: ‘There is no uniquely righteous nation. No country should see itself as the redeemer nation, singled out by God as part of his providential plan.’ The report calls for a strengthening of the United Nations as ‘the legitimate authority for military intervention” and opposes democracy being ‘imposed on any other country by force,’ saying it must be adopted by a nation ‘in culturally appropriate ways’
In a case study, annexed to the report, the authors examine the current controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear ambitions. While recognising the West’s legitimate security concerns the report suggests: ‘Tehran might forgo a nuclear weapons capability, if the EU-3 delivered a suitably attractive incentive package’. The report thought it ‘disappointing’ that ‘the EU-3 did not use the Framework Agreement to offer more security assurances’. The authors also say that the arguments against nuclear proliferation need to be made more compelling. ‘If certain countries retain their nuclear weapons on the basis of the uncertainty and potentially violent volatility of international relations, on what basis are the same weapons denied to other states?’
Then the report sets out some Christian principles for addressing a world characterised by power and violence.

1. Politicians are accountable to a power higher than any human assembly.

2. Respect for human dignity is the underlying moral principle for relationships between states, as well as individuals.

3. States should take the interests of other states into account when pursuing their own interests in the world.

4. Conflicts, therefore, need to be understood, first of all, in political terms, which must also have theological underpinning and ethical imperative. The winning of hearts and minds is absolutely fundamental in countering terrorism.

5. The just war tradition, appropriately applied to the conditions of modern warfare, including counter-terrorism remains an indispensable tool of moral analysis. The UN needs to be strengthened as the legitimate authority for military intervention.

6. Morally permissible pre-emptive military action is that which is directed against the threat whose seriousness and emergence are sufficiently clear, and where no effective non-military alternatives are available. It must be clearly distinguished from preventative war where military action is premature.

7. Democracy cannot be imposed on any other country by force.

8. Religion can exacerbate or mitigate conflict. It is important to take into account the tendency of religious views of the world to absolutise issues. Religion, including the Christian church, can only offer insights about world order on the basis of a recognition that it itself is caught up in the compromises and conflicts of humanity.

9. The Church has a gospel of peace to proclaim. It impels the followers of Jesus to act as peacemakers, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by working for reconciliation between contending parties, and by seeking to establish that justice whose fruit is peace.

10. Churches have a particular responsibility in the area of reconciliation, in articulating the faults, wrongs, and inconsistencies of all parties to a dispute, including those of the country to which the Church belongs.

11. Christians will be alert to the politics of fear and how a heightening of the fear factor can lead to an erosion of civil liberties. It is important to set these threats within a biblical perspective of trust in God.

12. The tendency of religious groups, both Christian and Muslim, to give an over simplistic reading of current events is harmful. Our understanding is limited.

13. The debate on nuclear weapons needs to be conducted with much greater honesty and consistency.

This is a good report and very well researched. Its weakness, though, is that it is principally concerned with disputes and reconciliation and hardly mentions the other factors that can encourage terrorism. The church could do more, for example, to promote demilitarisation and the introduction of more stringent arms trade control.

The just war tradition (point 5) provides the justification for militarisation and all that follows. If a powerful military exists, there is always a temptation to use it, particularly when commercial interests come to bear. Similarly countries threatened by military force will develop and enhance their own military capability.

There is also a serious issue over truth and integrity. These are necessary for any sensible debate on the just war which requires that national governments are honest and rationale and not manipulated by other interests, for example the military-industrial complex or corruption in the international arms trade. Such interests benefit from war and rumours of war and have immense power related to the size of the military expenditure.

Although not a major feature of the House of Bishops report, the press latched on to the suggestion that ‘the church should apologise for the war against Iraq’ arguing that politicians are unlikely to do so. The press misinterpreted the point to some extent because it simply suggested ‘a public gathering at which Christian leaders meet with religious leaders of other, mainly Muslim, traditions, on the basis of truth and reconciliation, at which there would be a public recognition of at least some of the mistakes made by the West’. The report also acknowledges the difficulties involved in doing this. The suggestion has some merit and should be developed further.

Speaking about the continuing threat of terrorism, the report argues that Christians had to bear in mind the biblical ‘Fear not’ principle. Being vigilant and trying to prevent terrorism had to be balanced against the loss of civil liberties. In the preface, Richard Harries wrote: ‘The Churches have a particular message here, based on biblical insights about fear and how playing on the fear of enemies makes for unwise policies’. One might add that the pacifist belief is invested in such considerations.

The Christian pacifist response to terrorism
(And here I draw strongly on points made by Lee Griffith (2002).)

The current political perspectives on security, freedom and humanity that are intrinsic to the war on terrorism are inconsistent with human dignity and our biblical faith. Human security is severely threatened by malnutrition and infant mortality, by global epidemics of AIDS and other life threatening illnesses, by greenhouse gases and poisoned waters that respect no national boundaries. But to the militarized consciousness of counterterrorism, security has nothing to do with feeding hungry people, or treating the sick or caring for the environment. In counterterrorism, security has to do with the perpetual quest to acquire the sufficient level of armed force to deter potential attack from armed force.

The Christian pacifist response stands against such responses. Jesus renounced the dehumanisation on which terror thrives. Where exclusion was the rule, Jesus violated this in a number of ways but particularly by extended himself in ministry to the expendable - lepers, demoniacs, prostitutes, Samaritans, tax collectors, zealots. The politics of Jesus was not based on any illusion that evil means might be utilized in the pursuit of good ends.

Throughout church history, there has been a faithful pacifist witness to the Gospel renunciation of violence and the defeat of death in the resurrection of Jesus. This is not to suggest that non-violence is an especially effective instrument in the pursuit of political, social or economic goals; indeed, non-violence is not an ‘instrument’ and is rarely judged effective by the common standards of power politics. But as Lee Griffith says: ‘Non-violence is a way of being in the world that interrupts the cycle of terror and counter terror. The non-violent witness says in effect, ‘The terror stops with me, I will seek reconciliation rather than retribution.’

We have models for this in the lives of Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy (love as the path beyond terror), Dorothy Day (non-violent resistance as the path beyond terror) and Desmond Tutu (reconciliation as the path beyond terror).

One of Gandhi’s many profound insights was that the state cannot govern without some degree of cooperation from the governed. Likewise, the violence of both terrorists and counter-terrorists cannot grind on if common people resist. We also have to realise that as individuals we can do something and not leave it all to the principalities and powers.

There are a number of actions the pacifist can take within this witness.

· We can resist the temptation to use terror in our own lives.

· We can condemn terrorism in all circumstances. Since terrorists and their supporters generally regard their particular terrorism as justified, anything less than this will give some encouragement to violence. Countries that support international terrorist organisations must be condemned together with the militaristic policies of the West.

· We can act to withhold our consent - indeed we can act to express vociferously our dissent the next time politicians tell us that there is one last manifestation of evil in the world that needs to be met with military force. When they tell us that justice, freedom, and the fate of the planet require that we march to war, let us march for peace instead.

· We can defend the rule of law. An effective approach to combating terrorism with the rule of law must be multifaceted, and the right balance set between liberty and security. Most important, it must remain consistent with core principles of legality and morality. We should argue to remove incentives for terrorists, deter those who benefit from terrorism (those who train and send the terrorists) and incapacitate the apocalyptic terrorist in all legal ways.

· Finally, though it may sound trivial, it is nonetheless true that a small pebble tossed into the lake can produce ripples that travel from shore to shore. It is in the simple acts of kindness and life-affirmation that terror is renounced. We are not called to world-transforming actions but to live humanly and faithfully, even in the midst of apocalyptic terror. In the midst of terror, the survivors can show compassion, bind wounds, share food, comfort children. In such actions, terror is denied the total power towards which it aims.


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