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Christian Ethics by Georgia Harkness


Georgia Harkness was educated at Cornell University, Boston University School of Theology, studied at Harvard & Yale theological seminaries and at Union Theological Seminary of New York. She has taught at Elmira College, Mount Holyoke, and for twelve years was professor of applied theology at Garrett Biblical Institute. In 1950 she became professor of applied theology at the Pacific School of Religion, in Berkeley, California. Published in 1957 by Abingdon Press. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.


Chapter 11: War, Peace, and International Order


We come now to the most basic issue that confronts mankind. With atomic and hydrogen bombs now stock-piled by both the United States and Russia in sufficient quantity and potency to destroy all human life upon the planet and with guided missiles to deliver them quickly to their targets, the annihilation not only of great cities but of entire nations in a matter of minutes has now become a staggering possibility. The phrase "coexistence or no existence" has become more than a neat play on words; it is a clear putting of the only two alternatives before us.

At this juncture there are great agreements and also great differences among Christians. All agree that war is a terrible evil, fraught today with possibilities of destruction undreamed of in an earlier day, and to be avoided by any honorable means. At this point, however, opinions diverge. Many Christians, and at present the majority, believe that there are occasions when war cannot be honorably averted and therefore must be participated in as a Christian duty, while Christian pacifists hold all war and moral support of war to be contrary to the teachings of Jesus, and hence to be rejected by the Christian conscience.

The case for and against each of these positions must be stated later in this chapter. More important, however, is what Christians as both pacifists and nonpacifists can together do to remove the causes and avert the outbreak of war. We must combine our efforts for lasting peace,1 not only with one another but with "men of good will" outside the Christian Church, or there will be no peace and no survival. But first let us look at the biblical and theological foundations of our mission as peacemakers.

1. Basic Christian foundations

The Old Testament has in it much of carnage and strife, with Yahweh in not a few instances represented as calling his people to battle and contending for them against the enemy. The statement, "For many fell slain, because the war was of God" (I Chr. 5:22), is made once but implied often. Yet few would question that Isaiah’s vision of a warless world, restated by Micah in nearly identical words, reflects a higher insight. For many centuries these words have been a rallying cry, not to battle, but to the ways of peace:

and many nations shall come, and say:
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in his paths."
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide for strong nations afar off;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (Mic. 4:2-4.)2

In the New Testament, Jesus stands revealed not only as the Son of God but as the Prince of Peace, proclaiming the love of God, forgiving his enemies even at the point of death on the cross, calling all men to a type of neighbor love which if put into practice would abolish wars. His words, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God," are fully consistent with all that he was and did as he set before men the nature and will of God.

It is impossible by quoting texts to justify either a pacifist or a nonpacifist position. The often quoted, "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34), is certainly in its context not a justification of the use of military force, but a warning that fidelity to the Christian cause would precipitate peril and persecution. Similarly the word spoken by Jesus in the Garden to restrain his disciples from violence, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matt. 26:52), is no final pronouncement on the matter. True as this statement has proved repeatedly to be, Jesus was probably speaking not of international but of personal conflict.

What we derive from Jesus is a spirit and an outreach to persons that is the antithesis of war. Just as he spoke no specific word on slavery or slums, but gave an impulse that can let no sensitive Christian be at ease while they exist, so he injected into human history a spirit that must eventually lead to war’s abolition. That mankind has been so slow about it is due in part to human sin, in part to the immense complexities of the international situation.

When Christian faith is viewed as a whole, there are certain basic convictions which bear upon war and the tasks of peacemaking. Let us briefly review them.

First, there is the fact that God is the creator and ruler of our world. However dark may be the mysteries of his ways and however theoretically insoluble the problem of evil, the Christian knows that God made the world for good and not for evil. He knows that war’s wanton destruction of human lives and property and its long aftermath of physical and social evils cannot be God’s will. The passions that arouse war, the tragic events that occur within it in ever-mounting proportions, and the consequences that flow from it are almost wholly antithetical to what we know of the love of God as we see this love revealed in Jesus. Thus we are called to labor with all our powers for war’s abolition.

Derivative from the Christian doctrine of creation is our stewardship. Stewardship means far more than direct giving to good causes, though it includes that; it means the holding of all that we have as a trust from God to be used responsibly in ways that advance his kingdom. Thus, it means that the total resources of the earth, our technological skills and scientific achievements, our sources of power including atomic energy, belong to God and should be used at his call for the increase of human good. Only as such possessions are used for the alleviation and not for the production of human misery can we be true stewards of the Creator and Giver of all.

Second, God is a God of judgment. It is not enough to stress only the love of God. God is also a God of judgment who does not treat sin lightly. Any individual or any people who flouts his righteous will stands under condemnation, though his judgment is always linked with love. The result in practice is that sin always brings evil consequences in its wake. The world has been so made with a pervasive moral order that we cannot sin with impunity. When a society or a nation tries to direct its course on the basis of aggressive self-interest, denial of the rights and liberties of others, economic greed, lust for power, race prejudice, vindictiveness, and deception, situations are created which if unchecked lead to war. In this sense, then, war can be said to be a form of divine judgment, though we cannot assume that God deliberately sends wars to smite sinners with the wrath of his displeasure.3

In this connection a question always arises in time of war: "What is God doing? Why does he not stop it?" The answer is far more complex than to say simply that war is God’s judgment upon human sin, for the suffering and disaster of war fall with terrible force upon the innocent as upon the guilty. Without presuming to give a final answer, the direction an answer must take can be found in our Christian faith. God is maintaining a physical order within which it is possible to live in happiness and peace, but within which also fire burns, bombs destroy, and bodies starve and die. He is maintaining a social order in which we are meant to help one another, but within which the innocent suffer with and for the guilty. He is maintaining a moral order within which our goodness helps and our evil harms our neighbor. God’s gift of human freedom, which makes possible the sin, error, and terrible folly of war, is also that which makes us morally responsible beings. We could not surrender it and remain human, and we would not surrender it if we could. Our task is to use it in obedience to his righteous will.

During the Second World War, this truth was expressed by the Calhoun Commission of the Federal Council of Churches in words that are worth preserving:

In this war, then, He is not neutral, and not helpless. He is maintaining invincibly an order that men cannot overthrow.... God is not a combatant, nor a neutral onlooker, nor a helpless victim. First of all, He is, in war as in peace, the Creator and Sovereign whose power sustains and governs, but does not annul, the activities of nature and of men.4

Third, God alone is sovereign. This is implied in the doctrines both of creation and of judgment. As was noted in the previous chapter, every State claims absolute sovereignty over its people. The Christian faith affirms that God alone is man’s supreme Ruler, and in his will alone is man’s final authority. This is why Christians have again and again felt impelled by conscience to defy their political rulers and to say with Peter, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

If God alone is sovereign, this has a bearing on international co-operation. It means not only that "above all nations is humanity,"5 but that above all humanity is God. International order, first through the United; Nations and eventually through a more inclusive world federation of nations, is the only sure road to peace. We are not apt to have more than an uneasy tension, with open hostilities held in abeyance, until some surrender of absolute sovereignty among competing national States is brought into being. This development in turn is not likely to occur until we have moved closer to an acknowledgment of common moral principles implicit in the spiritual insights of mankind.

Finally and supremely, God is Redeemer and Father. Neither creativity nor judgment nor sovereignty is the attribute of God by which we; know him best. It is as redeeming love that he comes closest to us. This means that in his creation of the world with an invincible order he is never indifferent to human need; in his judgment he is never merely punitive; in his sovereignty he is never arbitrary or despotic. God, is seeking always to win individuals, societies, and nations to ways of righteousness, justice, good will, and peace.

If it is our faith that this is the way God rules his world, it has all-important consequences. Though it does not settle the pacifist issue, it does mean that all we do must be done in love and with supreme regard for the persons whom God loves. It means, furthermore, that in spite of our weakness and unwisdom, God can use in the making of peace any gift that is brought in love for the service of human need. He is working always, even in the darkest of human situations, through redemptive love, and in this he summons us to be his co-workers.

Taken seriously, this Christian judgment regarding God’s nature and activity calls for a re-evaluation of widely prevalent opinion, and the holding of attitudes by Christians which are different from those commonly held by the secular world. Every soul that God has created, whatever his race or nation, his political or economic views, his class or culture, is precious in God’s sight. Those whom we tend to dislike or to call enemies are, like ourselves, mixtures of good and evil, persons whom God loves. We are all made in God’s image; we have all in some measure marred it. All are persons whom God sent his Son to save, and for whom Christ died.

This means that a very basic even though difficult distinction must be drawn. We must never identify evil systems, of which Communism is certainly one, with the Russian or Chinese people who live under this system. Some misguidedly support Communism; many acquiesce in it because they see no way to do otherwise. But all are still our brothers, for whom we ought to pray and toward whom we ought to feel pity rather than ill will. Many millions of Russians and many thousands of Chinese are Christians who pray to God and read the Bible as we do. Yet those who are atheists are still beloved of God, whose love is broad enough to take in all mankind. The New Testament gives no blueprint as to what to do about war, but it does not lack directives:

Love your enemies. — If your enemy is hungry, feed him. — Judge not, that you be not judged. — As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. — And he [God] made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth. — Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. — Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Such passages as these, which are unquestionably in the spirit of Jesus, show us the direction in which our spirits and our deeds must move.

Holding in abeyance for the present the matter of decision regarding the pacifist issue, let us assume that thoughtful Christians will for the most part agree in what has been said thus far. On the basis of such Christian convictions, what can we agree upon further as to necessary steps to take for the conquest of war?

2. Points of convergence in Christian opinion

There are elements of very great importance, not only as to the theology of war and peace but as to analysis of the existing situation and procedures for acting within it, on which Christians can agree. Without necessarily reaching unanimity at every point, this consensus has been reached and stated again and again in pronouncements of the World Council of Churches, the Federal and National councils, and the various denominational bodies. Although only the historic peace churches — the Friends, Mennonites, and Church of the Brethren — are avowedly pacifist, there is a deep and thoughtful concern for peace among many groups, and the agreements far outweigh the differences. Let us enumerate some of them, with a look at their relevance to the task of peacemaking.

a) The frightful character of modern war. Opinions differ as to whether any war under present circumstances can be just; there is no disagreement as to the magnitude of potential destructiveness. The power of modern weapons to incinerate vast civilian populations with no available civil defense must now be reckoned with. A third world war would spell the doom of civilization, if not of total human existence, upon this planet. There is difference of opinion as to whether such a war is likely to be launched; there is no doubt among informed persons of its awful consequences if this occurs. War itself has therefore become the chief enemy to be overcome.

b) The rejection of "preventive" war. It is now generally agreed that to launch a war with the idea of a quick victory would be ghastly folly. Earlier in the cold war this was advocated by some, though never by the churches, as a way of seizing the advantage and ending the tensions between East and West. Virtually no one believes any longer that this would do more than to precipitate the carnage and destruction that all sane men dread and seek to avoid.

c) No war of aggression can be justified. There is, of course, great difficulty of interpretation at this point, for in the complexities of the international scene the line is not easy to draw between aggression and defense, and every country regards its own cause as just. Nevertheless, it is significant that the World Council of Churches at Evanston stated as the first of the constructive steps out of the present impasse the following:

We first of all call upon the nations to pledge that they will refrain from the threat or the use of hydrogen, atomic, and all other weapons of mass destruction as well as any other means of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.6

A resolution was also adopted and widely communicated to both churches and governments calling for the "certain assurance that no country will engage in or support aggressive or subversive acts in other countries."7

d) War is not inevitable. This is very important, for a fatalistic belief that war is bound to occur breeds a defeatist attitude that militates against positive peace action. Furthermore, it is a reflection on the spiritual power for peace that God stands ready to impart through the gospel of reconciliation. Again the World Council spoke forcefully at this point:

Because of their belief in this gospel of reconciliation and their experience of its power, Christians can never accept, as the only kind of existence open to nations, a state of perpetual tension leading to "inevitable" war. On the contrary, it is the Christian conviction that war is not inevitable, because God wills peace.8

Theology is reinforced by history at this point. The Dun Commission of Christian scholars in 1950 in their report on The Christian Conscience and Weapons of Mass Destruction stated that "to accept general war as inevitable is to treat ourselves as helpless objects carried by a fated tide of events rather than as responsible men," and went on to say, "One reason why fascism and Naziism gained their dread power over great nations was because otherwise decent people bowed before what they regarded as ‘inevitable’ and allowed a ‘wave of the future’ to inundate them." 9

e) War itself cannot be creative or curative. Caution is needed at this point, for to affirm this is not to say that no war has ever been just, or that no good has ever come out of any war. There is, of course, wide disagreement on these issues, some holding that war is sometimes necessary for the restraint of evil and the winning of time for positive steps toward peace, others holding that war itself erects such barriers to these steps that it is completely futile as well as unchristian. The point, rather, is that any positive, creative, curative processes for the improvement of mankind must rest on other grounds.

There is large agreement among Christian leaders, and increasingly among statesmen, that if war is either to be averted or made to serve any good purpose, constructive service to human need must be our chief reliance. Without moral and spiritual power, military power may restrain aggression, but it cannot build international order. This conviction actuates the effort to remove poverty, hunger, ignorance, and disease by economic aid. It also undergirds negotiation looking toward disarmament and the effort to alleviate world tensions by conference rather the the threat or the use of military force. "Without the development of peaceful alternatives, collective military effort may win a temporary victory, only to plunge the victors into new conflict.10

f) International co-operation through the United Nations must be supported. Christians generally regard the U.N. as our best political hope of peace and an indispensable organ of law and order among the nations, though none would say that it has functioned perfectly. There are some few who regard international organization as being opposed to national interest, and some pacifists are unable to sanction the U.N.’s use of military force for collective security. Nevertheless, there is a wide consensus among Christian leaders that the formation of the U.N. was a long step in advance toward international order, that in spite of difficulties it has functioned helpfully along both political and social lines, and that it merits the active moral support of peace-minded and world-minded citizens.

The U.N. has provided a world forum for the discussion of controversial issues and by its mediation has almost certainly averted wars. By its program of technical assistance, World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, UNESCO, various relief agencies, and care of refugees it has proved both a symbol and a channel of international co-operation. In its Universal Declaration of Human Rights it has given the world its first considered and inclusive statement of the rights of man.

Collective security involves much more than the use of military measures, such as were invoked in the conflict in Korea. The Fourth National Study Conference on the Churches and World Order had this to say about it:

We now live in the age of the hydrogen bomb. Therefore, we must explore every possible means of ensuring collective security, apart from the use of military power.

We urge our government, therefore, to press for the largest practicable degree of disarmament through the UN, as we seek the goal of universal enforceable disarmament. We urge also that the functions of the UN in developing moral judgment as to conditions causing tensions and threatening war be magnified. We ask our own government to take the lead in emphasizing all those activities of the UN which aim at the substitution of good offices, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and the counsel of the world community for armed force as a means of settling disputes.11

One of the hopeful factors in the present scene is that American Christians, in general, have come to see that our destiny, both politically and morally, is bound up with that of the rest of the world. Isolationism is not past, but waning. It was only a little over a half century ago, in 1899, that the first Hague Peace Conference was held. Since then there has occurred the formation, not only of the U.N., but also of more than a thousand international organizations, some unofficial, some intergovernmental. Future historians may regard the twentieth century not only as the atomic age and the technological era, but also as the first great period of international co-operation.

g) The armaments race must be curtailed. At this point sharp divergences appear, for while church bodies have repeatedly opposed universal military training, some Christians favor it, and while many deplore the size of our military budget as compared with other peacetime services, there are those who would think it folly to lessen it. Christian opinion converges, however, with the best political thought in the desire to discover processes of securing universal enforceable disarmament. This cannot be brought about simply by new pacts without mutual trust and without safeguards for inspection and control. Yet the terrific economic drain of military expenditures, pre-empting about three fourths of all money paid for taxes, the psychological strains of conscription of youth for military service, and the perils to democracy of a militarized public mind require unremitting effort to lift the armaments burden.

On this point also the World Council of Churches has spoken. In the resolutions adopted by the Evanston Assembly there is stated as one of the "two conditions of crucial importance which must be met, if catastrophe is to be averted": "The prohibition of all weapons of mass destruction; including atomic and hydrogen bombs, with provision for international inspection and control, such as would safeguard the security of all nations, together with the drastic reduction of all other armaments."12

h) The living standards of underprivileged peoples must be lifted. Economic factors are not the only causes of war, but they are large contributors. In the present crisis, the hungry peoples of the Orient, long acquiescent in poverty and disease because they saw no escape, are filled with a new hope, and the Communists are feeding these hopes. On the basis of simple expediency, economic aid is a better preventive of war than atomic or hydrogen bombs. If it is not given in amounts more nearly comparable with our vast military expenditures, Communism will win the allegiance of the now neutral Asiatic nations.

America’s loss of prestige and friendship in the Orient is a matter of grave concern. In part this is due to false propaganda, but it is also the result of contrast between America’s fabulous opulence and the poverty of chronically hungry peoples. Demonstration of willingness to share is realistic political strategy.

Yet the Christian cannot be actuated by expediency alone. It is because these persons are persons, precious to God and in need of help, that we are called by the obligations of neighbor love to share what God has blessed us with.

This sharing must be done through many channels. The giving of technical assistance, through both the U.S. Point Four Program and the United Nations, has values out of all proportion to the amount of funds thus far appropriated. Church bodies have again and again endorsed such effort and summoned their people to support it. Its inauguration is one of the most significant developments of our time as a channel of service, as a means of creating friendship, and as a foundation of peace.

Relief of suffering needs also to be undertaken through nongovernmental channels. In such effort the churches are in their native province. Much has been done, and much more needs to be done, to care for the victims of war and other forms of disaster, for millions of refugees, and for those who have never known comfort or material sufficiency. Americans on the whole are a generous people, and in the aggregate have given many millions of dollars and many tons of food and clothing to those in need. This relief has included ministry to former enemies, as to Germany after both the First and Second World wars. What has been done needs greatly to be extended, both as a ministry of helpfulness to human beings and as one of the surest bulwarks against Communism and the outbreak of war.

i) Racial injustices and tensions must be eliminated. Unfortunately we cannot say that the churches are themselves free of racial tension and discrimination. The opposite is altogether too evident. Nevertheless, in principle race prejudice is seldom defended by Christians, and there is a growing ferment in the Church to abolish in practice what is condemned in principle.

That racial equality has a direct bearing on world peace is evident to anyone who views the world scene as a whole, though it is often forgotten in the local setting. Communism’s strategy is to persuade the colored peoples of the Orient that along with the economic exploitation of so-called "Western imperialism" there has been race discrimination of the most evil sort. Communism, it is claimed, will liberate the colored of the earth from bondage and set them on an equality with the now dominant white groups. Both the charges and the claims are exaggerated, but there is enough truth in both to make of the race situation a very powerful appeal.

An immediate next step toward both peace and justice is to correct the racial inequalities that exist in America and around the world. In part this can be done by law. Basically it must be done by changes in attitudes, and in the effecting of such changes Christians have a vital role to play.

j) Communism must be curbed and civil liberties preserved. I place the two together because they must be kept together, or the correction of one evil will precipitate the other.

There is no danger of any general acceptance of Communism in the United States, or by many Christians elsewhere who are free to choose. Its economic and political philosophy is distasteful, its atheistic materialism, cruelty, deceitfulness, and disregard of human personality revolting. There is, however, danger of Communist infiltration by subtle means. This must be guarded against both by informed citizens who detect the signs and refuse to be duped and by government agencies such as the F.B.I. that are skilled in detecting illicit practices.

The double jeopardy in which we are placed is the danger that in the attempt to preserve democracy, democracy may be lost. This happens when freedom of thought, speech, and expression of honest conviction are stifled under charges of subversion. Both by the methods used in some Congressional committees and through public hysteria, accusation, and spread of evil rumors, this has happened to an appalling degree. Such censorship has tended to curtail the freedom to teach in the public schools and universities and to stifle prophetic utterance in pulpits. It is one of the gravest dangers of our time affecting both security and peace, for when a people have become acquiescent through fear, they are the more easily swayed by dictators, as Germany discovered to her undoing.

Here as in other points noted, the churches in practice have not always been wise or courageous. Yet in principle, there has been a clearer discernment of the need to preserve civil liberties than has been found in most of the structures of society. Loyalty to conscience and the duty before God to discern and speak the truth have not been abrogated. By insisting on the right of conscientious dissent, the churches have helped to preserve our democratic freedoms. This is no small asset in laying the foundations of peace.

In these ten areas Christians, even without complete unanimity, have been able to a high degree to work together. These convictions give no complete formula for the making and preserving of peace, but as they are pursued earnestly, both security and justice are enhanced. Christians who believe in procedures based upon them have done much to stabilize our world. These same steps must be carried much further, and they can be advanced to the degree that Christian citizens are informed and motivated to action. It is one of the blessings of democracy that this is so, for in part these procedures depend on individual attitudes, and in other matters on political action in which representatives in government must eventually be responsive to the people’s demands. So let no Christian anywhere say that there is nothing he can do!

3. Pacifism and nonpacifism

We come now to the crucial issue that divides Christians into two groups of differing judgment. Fortunately, this division is less accented and less acrimonious than was formerly the case, but its presence is inescapable. Only the person who drifts along with prevailing opinion — and such drifting tends of itself to put one into the nonpacifist majority — can escape decision when he is faced concretely with the alternatives of military service and conscientious objection to war. Others may manage to "sit on the fence," but every Christian ought thoughtfully to decide where he stands, and why.

I shall not attempt here to decide the issue for anyone, but to present the considerations that bear upon each side. That there are powerful, and in some measure true, considerations on each side is what makes the issue so difficult. It is a natural impulse to want to find an answer that can be said to be the Christian answer. This is not possible in any absolute sense. One can and ought to find what is the Christian answer for himself, but just because there is so much of vital importance that points in either direction, he has no right superficially or dogmatically to impose it on another.

Let us begin by clearing away some false approaches. In the first place, there ought to be no name calling or imputing of bad motives to conscientious fellow Christians. To charge a pacifist with lack of patriotism or with cowardice, or to call a nonpacifist Christian a militarist or a warmonger, accomplishes nothing except to reveal one’s ignorance and arouse bad feeling.

The issue cannot be settled simply on the basis of accepting or rejecting coercive force. Every State must have coercive power of law enforcement and the protection of its citizens from evildoers. Although there are a few "Tolstoyan" pacifists who view all such use of force as negating the Christian ethic, this is not typical Christian pacifism. Most pacifists recognize the legitimate functions of the police and of civil law enforcement when these are administered justly. It is a common caricature of pacifism to ask the question, "Would you stand aside and let gangsters murder your wife?"

Nor is the matter to be settled on the basis of the presence or absence of compromise. To be sure, a crucial decision must be made as to the type of compromise one accepts and the level on which one accepts it. Yet it is self-deceptive to assume that compromise can be avoided. Simply by living as a citizen of a State that maintains gigantic armaments, to say nothing of paying taxes to that State, one makes concessions to the use of military force.

Neither is the question basically a matter of resistance to evil. Modes of resistance are central to the issue. Yet every pacifist who seeks to be actuated by the spirit of Jesus knows that evil must be resisted, even as Jesus resisted it in his total ministry. Citation of the passage, "Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matt. 5:39), is not irrelevant, and neither is it definitive. This passage was undoubtedly spoken with reference to personal relations rather than national conflict, but in its context the emphasis on agape love is clear. Because Jesus did resist evil, not by the sword but by deeds of love and mercy, the Christian pacifist believes that the followers of Jesus are called to resistance by the same methods.

Again, acknowledgment of the reality and heinousness of human sin is not a basic point of division. Pacifists are sometimes charged with being naive at this point, and too trustful of human nature. However, pacifists as well as others know that "man’s a tough rascal,"13 and believe that all the potential evil of the human spirit comes to expression in the barbarous cruelty and deceptiveness of war. On the other hand, fair-minded Christians in either camp are willing to recognize the heights of courage, dignity, and sacrifice to which the human spirit can rise.

If the crux of the difference does not lie in coercive force, or compromise, or resistance to evil, or the actuality of human sin, where does it lie? The points of divergence lie chiefly in differing views of the relations of love and justice, of the need of choosing the lesser of two evils, and of the relation of the State to the will of God in human society. At none of these points is there an absolute difference, but there is a difference in emphasis which tips the scale of decision to one side or the other.

With reference to the relations of love and justice, the nonpacifist is more likely than the pacifist to draw a line of division between them and make love the supreme obligation of the Christian in personal relations, justice the supreme function of the State. This we noted is what Brunner does and Reinhold Niebuhr tends to do, and their nonpacifist views are a consistent derivative. To the degree that one believes the State exists, not to make men love one another or even to express the neighbor love of its citizens, but to preserve justice and to maintain for its citizens order and security, one is likely to believe that in some circumstances this can be done only through military force and at the risk of war.

Says Brunner:

The distinction between justice and love is clear. Love means going out to others, justice means the delimitation of spheres of power, and the protection of these boundaries. Love is concrete and personal, non-deliberate, non-general. Justice, on the other hand, is general, lawful, deliberate, impersonal and objective, abstract and rational.

The possibility of imposing law by force is based upon the superior power of the State. . . . In the last resort, owing to the fact that there must never be any doubt about its absolute character, this power is the power to kill.14

This power to kill, the nonpacifist believes, applies not only to the domestic jurisdiction of the State but to the citizens of other States which affront the principles of justice or endanger the security of those for whom justice requires protection. This is the strongest of the non-pacifist arguments, and very persuasive to many minds.

The pacifist puts the primary stress on love, but does not ordinarily make this disjunction between love and justice. He holds that love, not in the intimate sense of interpersonal relations, but as good will, eagerness to serve, concern for the welfare of persons as persons, is a necessary ingredient of justice. Without it, justice turns into vindictiveness or retribution, or at best into an impersonal structure of power which loses sight of the human values for which such power ought to be exercised. Both in the domestic and in the world scene, the pacifist Christian believes that only the power of love and the type of justice actuated by it is either Christian or effective for the restraint of evil. In view of the evils that always accompany and follow in the wake of war he does not lack historical evidence to justify his position. The bonds of friendship cemented by relief of suffering and other forms of service speak as loudly as does the negative evidence for the political realism of his position.

There is a type of pragmatic pacifism which rests its case chiefly on the folly of war and the empirical values of international friendship. This, however, is less likely to be resolute under strain than that which admits freely that love does not always "work," but holds that it is right and Christian regardless of the outcome. A pacifist of the latter type, if he is sincere, does not withdraw from conflict but gives himself to the limit of his power in deeds of love and ministry to human need. The relief work of the Quakers and Church of the Brethren is an outstanding example, but such effort is found outside of the historic peace churches wherever there are pacifists of deep conviction.

The argument from the lesser of two evils rests usually on a comparison of the relative values of war and of tyranny. Neither war nor tyranny is viewed as good. Both are seen as terribly destructive of human values. War, however, can be viewed as relatively temporary, while tyranny may precipitate long-range bondage and the suppression of those freedoms basic to human dignity and welfare. Faced by these grim alternatives, the nonpacifist believes that less is to be lost by war, and hopes that by military strength and the threat of its use the final dread decision to use it can be forestalled.

The pacifist answer is not to say simply that tyranny is better than war, though some pacifists do believe that to live under Communism is less of an affront to human dignity and less of a lien on the future than to reduce a nation to a shambles in the attempt to "liberate" it, as was done in Korea. The turn the answer more cogently takes is to deny that war and tyranny exhaust the possibilities. Granting that while nations glare at each other in hostility and suspicion the possibilities are limited, the pacifist believes that there are constructive channels of negotiation, friendly intercourse, and service that could both reduce the danger of war and alleviate the evils of tyranny. No discerning Christian pacifist sanctions Communism or its methods, but he believes there are better ways of dealing with it than imitating its methods or courting mutual destruction.

As to the relation of duty to the State and to the will of God, this is the crux of the problem. But at this point great caution is needed, or it will be falsely assumed that the nonpacifist puts the State first and the pacifist exalts God above the State. This may indeed happen, and often does where the call of the State is viewed as inexorable and paramount to all else. Nevertheless, conscientious Christian citizens of both views acknowledge the duty of patriotic loyalty to the State, yet find in God their supreme object of loyalty and devotion.

The difference lies mainly in the way in which it is believed that God works through the State for the enactment of his will and the advancement of his kingdom. The nonpacifist is more likely than the pacifist to believe that God participates in human conflict, using stern measures and even if necessary the awful destructiveness of war, to protect a State against its enemies and to enable a State to protect the helpless against aggression. He believes that in spite of the evil present in every war, there are just wars that ought to be waged and supported because God demands it. The State to him then becomes the instrument of divine justice.

The pacifist Christian does not deny the presence of God in human history or even in the midst of conflict. Nor does he deny that there is often more justice on one side of the conflict than on the other. He desires as eagerly as any to see aggression halted, the helpless protected, and justice established. Nevertheless, he believes that only by healing and building for the increase of justice and human good, and not by destruction, can the State be the instrument of God. He is therefore more apt than the nonpacifist to feel a sharp disparity between the State’s recourse to military power and the love commandment. The word of Jesus, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44), is not the sole prerogative of either, but to the pacifist it makes participation in war an act of disobedience to the call of God.

The dilemma of the nonpacifist Christian is how to continue to love one’s enemies and those of his nation even while he seeks to destroy their lives, property, and power. The dilemma of the pacifist is how to act for constructive building while aggression and tyranny are rampant and those about him believe that military force is the only mode of restraint. It is not strange that some of each opinion lose sight of their high goals, and succumb to hate, cynicism, or passivity. But let us rejoice that enough do not to keep these high goals before us.

So here the matter rests. "Faced by the dilemma of participation in war, he [the individual Christian] must decide prayerfully before God what is to be his course of action in relation thereto."15 There is no other way.

 

NOTES:

1. The symposium "To Combine Our Efforts"—For Lasting Peace is an excellent study book issued by the Methodist Woman’s Division of Christian Service. It may be procured from the Literature Headquarters, 7820 Reading Road, Cincinnati , Ohio.

2. See also Isa. 2:3-4. Micah adds to Isaiah’s words the note of security at the end.

3. This paragraph and several which appear later in this chapter are reprinted from my contribution to the symposium "To Combine Our Efforts"—For Lasting Peace. Used by permission of the Woman’s Division of Christian Service of The Methodist Church, 150 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y.

4. The Relation of the Church to the War in the Light of the Christian Faith, p. 33. Report of a Commission of Christian Scholars Appointed by the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, 1944.

5. This inscription, carved over the entrance of Goldwin Smith Hall of Humanities at Cornell University, impressed me deeply as a student and has remained with me.

6. The Evanston Report, Sec. IV, 15, p. 133. Used by permission of Harper & Bros.

7. Ibid., p. 146.

8 Ibid., Sec. IV, 20, p. 134.

9. P. 16. Sponsored by the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America.

10. Christian Faith and International Responsibility, p. 16. Report of the Fourth National Study Conference on the Churches and World Order, Cleveland, Ohio, 1953. Published for the Department of International Justice and Goodwill by the Department of Publication and Distribution of the National Council of Churches. Used with permission.

11. Ibid.

12. The Evanston Report, p. 146. The other of the two conditions mentioned is the renunciation of aggressive war.

13. Quoted from the great liberal theologian Adolf Harnack by his son Ernst von Harnack as the latter was facing death for resisting Nazi tyranny. In Dying We Live, eds. Helmut Gollwitzer, Reinhold Schneider, and Kathe Kuhn (New York: Pantheon Books, Inc., 1956), p. 166.

14. From The Divine Imperative by Emil Brunner, Copyright, 1947, by W. L. Jenkins. The Westminster Press. Used by permission.

15. Methodist Discipline, 1956, 2024.

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