May Christians Go to War?

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  • May Christians Go to War?Source: The Biblical World, Vol. 49, No. 5 (May, 1917), pp. 265-266Published by: The University of Chicago PressStable URL: .Accessed: 14/05/2014 01:37

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    MAY CHRISTIANS GO TO WAR? The question is not one of fact, for several million professed

    Christians are at war. The real issue is whether Christians can go to war without ceasing to be Christians.

    There are those who say they cannot-that only those are Chris- tians who literally obey the recorded commands of Jesus and the implication that since he did not advise the Jews to fight the Romans he intended to teach that his followers should never go to war.

    There are others who picture Jesus as a militant reformer who, having attempted pacifism, finally directed his followers to carry weapons even if they sold their coats to buy swords.

    There are still others who hold that Jesus gave social questions no attention, expected the speedy end of the world, and taught his disciples to save themselves from a doomed generation.

    Which of these three views really answers the question ? None of them. To understand the morality of the gospel we

    must cease to play with literalism. The sayings of Jesus about non-resistance must be applied in the same way as we apply his teaching about lust and violence. Let us look to his teaching, not to his mere words; to his principles, not to their specific application.

    First of all, we must distinguish between the use of force to extend moral ideals and the use of force to protect societies embody- ing moral ideals. The first is un-Christian; the second is Christian, for without it civilization would be as impossible as the purity of the home without laws backed by policemen.

    To defend the spiritual achievements of society is one expression of love. And love is of God.

    But to extend Christian idealism by force is to commit altru- istic suicide. You cannot make men social-minded by pounding their heads or by killing their children.


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    But you can prevent them from beating those who possess social- mindedness.

    What should the Good Samaritan have done if he had come down the road while the robbers were robbing the traveler ?

    What should a nation do if another nation undertakes to rob a people of its liberties, its honor, and its hopes, even in the name of enforced idealism ?

    A man can endure evil done to himself which it would be rank selfishness for him to permit done to others.

    Do you think it is more Christian to permit the Turks to massacre Armenians than to attempt to prevent them ?

    Christians in war need not sully their sense of duty by hatred. We can pray for our enemies' true welfare even while we prevent their destroying our own. We can refuse to believe unauthenticated stories of brigandage and rapine even while we expose national plots, treachery, terrorism, and the elevation of militarism as a support of irresponsible government.

    Such ethical poise is difficult, but it is indispensable. As Chris- tians we can justify participation in war only as it is in defense of values greater than those that would survive submission to their destruction.

    This is not to say that war is a good. It is rather to say that war in the protection of the good is a less evil than the destruction of the good; and that war in the prevention of the destruction of

    democracy is a less evil than the destruction of democracy. It is not an attempt to plead Jesus in defense of war, any more than it is an attempt to plead him in defense of robbers because his teach-

    ing as to love implies that the Good Samaritan would be a pro- tector from robbers. It is rather to say that in a world such as ours his ideals work when even imperfectly they draw men toward themselves.

    To think otherwise is to mistake peace for the giving of justice and non-resistance for love.


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    Article Contentsp. 265p. 266

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Biblical World, Vol. 49, No. 5 (May, 1917), pp. 265-328May Christians Go to War? [pp. 265 - 266]The Permanent Message of Messianism: I. The Permanent Elements in the Faith in a Messiah [pp. 267 - 274]The Scientific Spirit in Theological Study and Teaching [pp. 275 - 280]Rival Interpretations of Christianity: IV. Rationalism [pp. 281 - 289]Worship and the Reunion of Christendom [pp. 290 - 294]The Daily Work of an Average Church [pp. 295 - 298]Current Opinion [pp. 299 - 302]The Church and the WorldMissions [pp. 303 - 304]Religious Education [pp. 304 - 306]Church Efficiency [pp. 307 - 310]

    Book Noticesuntitled [p. 311]untitled [p. 311]untitled [pp. 311 - 312]untitled [p. 312]untitled [pp. 312 - 313]untitled [p. 313]untitled [pp. 313 - 314]untitled [p. 314]untitled [p. 314]untitled [pp. 314 - 315]untitled [p. 315]untitled [p. 315]untitled [pp. 315 - 316]untitled [p. 316]untitled [p. 316]untitled [p. 316]untitled [p. 316]

    The American Institute of Sacred LiteratureThe Psychology of Religion. III [pp. 317 - 322]The Problem of Suffering in the Old Testament. III [pp. 323 - 326]Suggestions to Leaders of Classes in the Problem of Suffering in the Old Testament [pp. 327 - 328]