Years ago I recall an article by the interim Dean at The School of Theology at Sewanee, where I did my MDiv, Dr. Allan M. Parrent, where he argued that the default moral position of many within the Episcopal Church (and elsewhere in the old mainline) had become a sort of default unreflective pacifism. He contrasted this with the thoughtful position of Christian non-violence as upheld by the traditional peace churches. Largely, it could be seen that these knee jerk positions were developed in a reactionary way beginning in the 1960s over against the perception of a rah-rah patriotism in more conservative denominations that seemed to forget, to paraphrase Hannah Arendt, that a lesser or necessary evil taken up, is still an evil.
At any rate, all of this means that a situation like that in Ukraine challenges our ethical reflections, even as the still developing news of atrocities offends our moral imaginations. In that vein, I commend this piece written a few days ago (before the news of the war crimes in Bucha) by my Bishop, regarding the context for the Christian Just War tradition’s reflections on the use of force, and, essentially, the primacy and importance of judgement and discernment, particularly between the guilty and the innocent in contexts where no law can be easily assumed or enforced.
And, of course, I’ve been thinking, during this time, about a particular lecture by a former ethics professor who once challenged us as future priests to be prepared to challenge parishioners engaged in immoral businesses, such as being tobacco farmers or working at Boeing and making bombers. At the time I was irritated that his moral imagination only seemed to reach toward the farmers and not the corporate executives (read some Wendell Berry!), considering that my grandparents had been Tobacco farmers. But the war in Ukraine raises questions about the manufacture of weaponry. What if Lockhead/Raytheon hadn’t developed and manufactured Javelins? Flooding markets with weapons–whether handguns or weapons of war–for the interests of profit and not recognizing that indiscriminate sale and greater accessibility increases violence and death is one thing–but what of the need for weapons of war when a plow (or tractor or combine in the case of Ukraine) is threatened by a tank?
In rendering these extraordinary judgments, Christians should not forget what is true about our ordinary judgments: we are not God, and our judgments are not perfect. Whatever judgment we render is not final judgment, which is reserved for God. We trust in divine providence, approaching judgment in humility and with prayer. “In enacting judgment we are not invited to assume the all-seeing view of God. … We have a specific civic human duty laid upon us, which is to distinguish innocence and guilt as far as is given us in the conduct of human affairs. … To lose the will to discriminate is to lose the will to do justice” (47).
Christian thinking about war, in what has come to be called “the just war tradition,” is properly considered under the heading of the love of neighbor. O’Donovan points out that even in a defensive war, where a nation has been attacked, Christians look less to a claim of absolute right to defend themselves, and more to the call to love the neighbor. This commitment also involves the neighbor who is the enemy. “In the context of war we find in its sharpest and most paradoxical form the thought that love can sometimes smite, and even slay” (9).
Source: War – Covenant