From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ACNS3300 Christianity allows war to be just, but demands

From "Anglican Communion News Service" <>
Date Thu, 13 Feb 2003 15:43:34 -0000

ACNS 3300     |     AUSTRALIA	  |	11 FEBRUARY 2003

Christianity allows war to be just, but demands fairness from the agents of
God's righteousness

by Archbishop Peter Jenson

No right thinking person could ever desire war. Modern warfare rains down
horrors beyond our civilised imagination. Guernica - Pablo Picasso's image
of Spanish villagers dismembered during civil war, which hangs in the
entrance to the United Nations Security Council - has not lost its power to
shatter our apathy towards war's consequences. War always entails the
suffering of innocent people. It is brutal and pitiless. It is violence
stripped bare.

War has always been dehumanising, but much more so in this age of advanced
technology. Modern combat turns our troops into killing machines. War by
remote control leaves no room for mercy, and magnifies the catastrophe of
human error.

But the question must be asked: is there a case in which the biblical
principles of "just war" can be applied?

First of all, the Bible reminds us of another issue overlooked in this
debate. Civil order is a blessing from God to be prized at all times. In the
New Testament, Christians facing persecution under an oppressive regime were
urged to respect Roman rulers. For them, revolution was no option.

History demonstrates the wisdom of the Bible's teaching. The chaos spawned
by violent revolution is often worse than the dictator's oppression. If war
breaks out it will bring both chaos and the potential for anarchy to Iraq.

Second, we must think ahead. Justice demands long-term sacrifices from us.
Australia's main priority must be providing the human and financial
resources required to create an ordered society where all Iraqis, including
oppressed Kurdish and Shi'ite minorities, can have security.

The Australian Government must not allow Iraq to undermine its regional
responsibilities. We must never denude our ability to provide logistical and
humanitarian assistance to our neighbours, as we have done in East Timor.

Since war is violent, bringing in its train human suffering and civil chaos,
it must be the last resort in the resolution of evil in human affairs. So,
how can the Australian Government claim war in Iraq is justified?

The case for war is twofold. The first point is that Iraq has continued to
violate its ceasefire agreement regarding demolition of weapons of mass
destruction. The second point is that war would be a legitimate response to
ongoing terrorist acts.

There is credibility in the first point. The UN-sanctioned 1991 conflict
ended in a ceasefire with certain conditions. These conditions have not been
met. The question is, "Should Iraq be given endless tomorrows to fulfil its
side of the bargain?" Clearly the next report of the UN weapons' inspectors
is crucial.

Terrorism presents a more complex case. Here, the Christian principles of
"just war" come into focus. Nations taking action against Saddam's regime
must demonstrate they have legitimate authority to do so.

The Bible tells us that the lawful authorities are God's servants "to bring
punishment on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:4). The justice of human agents must
be entirely fair. They must not lapse into the methods of the unjust and
villainous; they must not punish the innocent or act from ill-considered

Though many members of the UN have horrendous human rights records, that
body is the recognised international authority to sanction a multinational

The difficulty for leaders of nations is that they are dealing with a new
and radically different form of violence. The "justice" of attacking Iraq is
made more complex because the Australian Government has a duty to protect
its citizens from the terrorists' declaration of war.

In his speech to the UN, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, argued for
a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. If it is true - and we
have no reason to disbelieve Powell - that Saddam is providing either safe
haven or weapons for terrorists whose fanaticism has led to irrational
attacks, then action against his regime is warranted.

Yet, while the form of this violence is new, its origins are age old - the
sinfulness of all human hearts. The roots of this evil are intertwined. We
benefit from sins committed in our name.

As Tom Frame, Anglican bishop to the Australian defence forces, has argued,
our entire global system is infused with evil. "Poverty breeds instability,
instability breeds fanaticism. Fanaticism breeds hatred, and hatred breeds
terrorism," he says. This is a reminder to look to God, not our Government,
for salvation.

God judges without discrimination. We can be sure this judgement day lies
before us all at the end of time. So what should we do? Pray for our
leaders, as they are responsible for making just decisions in our names.
They must know that we expect them to act with compassion, justice and

In this case we should also be patient, waiting for clearer evidence that
our Government is acting justly and with the support of the UN.

[Dr Peter Jensen is the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney.]

The ACNSlist is published by the Anglican Communion Office, London.

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