Alan Cross blogs at Downshore Drift.
Sometime next week, our Congress will vote on whether or not to give President Obama the authorization to attack Syria to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. Britain had a similar vote last week and their Parliament voted to sit this one out. Is there a Christian position on this? Should we get involved? First, let’s look at St. Augustine’s Just War Doctrine as a guide.
Just War Doctrine/Theory basically states that if a nation goes to war, it needs to have really good reasons to do so and it should engage in war in as ethical a way as possible. St. Augustine developed this perspective as the Roman Empire was crumbling, but it has served to guide the Christian influenced nations of the West for the past 1500 years. Here is a summary (thanks to Oregon State for putting this together).
The right to go to war concerns the justification that a nation must give in order for it to have a moral right to wage war on another. Augustine laid the basis for four main criteria:
1. Just Authority – is the decision to go to war based on a legitimate political and legal process?2. Just Cause – has a wrong been committed to which war is the appropriate response?3. Right Intention – is the response proportional to the cause? i.e. is the war action limited to righting the wrong, and no further. When people speak of “mission creep,” this condition is the relevant concern.4. Last Resort – has every other means of righting the wrong been attempted sincerely so that no other option but war remains?The conduct of war is clearly a matter of moral concern. Even when a nation is justified in waging war on another, there are moral limits on what it may do in prosecuting the war. Defining and enforcing such limits has been a long a concern for international agreement and law.1. Proportionality – The proportionality of the use of force in a war. The degree of allowable force used in the war must be measured against the force required to correct the Just cause and limited by Just Intention (see Jus Ad Bellum).2. Discrimination -The combatants discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. Innocent, nonmilitary people should never be made the target of attacks.3. Responsibility – A country is not responsible for unexpected side effects of its military activity as long as the following three conditions are met:(a) The action must carry the intention to produce good consequences.(b) The bad effects were not intended.(c) The good of the war must outweigh the damage done by it.
So, how does an attack on Syria at this stage line up with Just War Theory? Fairly well, on the surface. If President Obama gets authorization from Congress and the UN, he will cover the “Just Authority” clause. He is appealing to “Just Cause” on the basis of the chemical weapons attacks on civilians. He exhibits “Right Intention” by saying that the attacks will be surgical and limited. He is claiming “Last Resort” because the Civil War has been going on for two years and he has warned Assad repeatedly not to use chemical weapons. It seems that Proportionality, Discrimination, and Responsibility are also being taken into account, at least according to what is being said.
But, does this settle it? Have these qualifications really been met or has the argument for war with Syria been framed in a way that answers all of the pertinent questions without exposing what is really going on? We don’t really know. It comes down to a few basic questions.
- Do we believe our leaders and our intelligence community to be trustworthy?
- Do we believe that these attacks will accomplish their designed goal? What is the goal? What is the end game?
- Have we really thought through the consequences of tipping the scales of the war in the favor of the Rebels (who are allied with Al Qaeda)?
- What happens if Syria defends themselves and attacks us back or attacks Israel? What will we do then?
- What happens if Iran and/or Russia get involved? How far are we willing to go? What are the consequences? Could this lead to World War III?
- If it was Assad who used the chemical weapons, what will we do if he uses them again? What if we later find out it was the Rebels who did it?
- What happens if the Rebels are strengthened through this and they move into Damascus and house-to-house fighting occurs and Assad gets desperate and another 100,000+ are killed?
- What is our overall strategy in the Middle East? We have been fighting for over a decade in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and now Syria. For what purpose? What are we trying to accomplish?
- Do we believe that peace will ultimately come from fighting war? Is there actually any such thing as a “Just War” and if not, should we just dispense with the illusion and accept reality, that wars and rumors of wars will be the norm until Christ returns?
- What will happen to the Syrian Christians and other religious minorities if Assad is toppled and the Rebels gain control? There is little doubt that the government that the Rebels will usher in will be of the militant Islamic fundamentalist flavor. Christians have been tolerated in Syria up till now. What about them? Philip Jenkins writes on this very convincingly.
Assad is a brutal dictator just like Saddam Hussein was. But, what is the result of toppling him (as our attacks on his military capabilities could lead to)? Who fills the void? The Rebels seem to be no better. Should we get involved in a Civil War with apparent evil on both sides? America has decisions to make here and our country will make the decisions that are in America’s best interests.
As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of the story in Joshua 5:13-15 where Joshua meets the commander of the Army of the Lord before the attack on Jericho. It goes like this:
13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
The commander was neither for Joshua nor for his enemies. He was for God and God’s purposes. God is not on one side or the other. God is on His side and He is most concerned with His own purposes being carried out. If that is the case, then I think about the Christians in Syria who are being attacked, the weak and the defenseless, children, and the elderly. I think about those who do not want this war but this violence has been unleashed on them anyway. I think about what God wants to do here in the midst of geopolitical meltdown in the Middle East from Libya to Egypt to Syria to Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. Praying for peace right now.
Perhaps the position of Christians when asked whose side we are on should be the same as the commander of the Army of the Lord. Neither. We are wanting to see God glorified and His will be done. We want peace and justice and the innocent to be protected, but we do not see a way through this mess, so we pray. We are citizens of a different Kingdom and are aliens and strangers in this world. As for me, in my American citizenship, I am not in favor of striking Syria at this time based on what we know. The Rebels that will be emboldened and empowered by an attack on Assad seem to be just as bad as he is. The whole situation seems like the worst kind of quicksand and the unintended consequences of effectively throwing our lot in with the Rebels concerns me greatly. Civil Wars are always incredibly complicated and this one seems to be more complicated than most.
But, as a Christian, I believe that neutrality is called for – not neutrality when it comes to dealing with evil, but when one side is just as bad as the other, I am not sure that we should be on either side. Protecting civilians? Yes. Aiding and abetting the Rebels? Not so much.
Prayer for our leaders to have wisdom and to act with justice needs to come from the Church to God. Prayer for the helpless and the refugees in Syria. Prayer for those being killed in the horror of war. We follow the Prince of Peace. We should pray and work for peace. When peace is not possible, we should pray that whatever course of action that is taken should be done with the utmost integrity and desire for justice. But, our main goal should be peace. On the surface, it appears that the boxes on Augustine’s Just War Doctrine can be checked off by what President Obama is proposing. But, what lies under the surface of the hearts of men? What are the real motives? Is there any such thing as a “good war”? Who gains from this and what drives this push for war? We can make judgments, but at the end of the day, only God knows. We do what others cannot or will not do when we cry out to God and put this in His hands. We pray and trust what is said in Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
Scripture says that the state was established to bear the sword to punish wrongdoing (Romans 13:1-5). I am not a strict pacifist. There is a role for the state to protect its people and the weak and to punish evil. I do not deny that. If we get involved in this, there should be a stated goal/purpose and we should act decisively and quickly and the blowback could be severe. If we sit it out, the carnage will likely continue. But, the future loss of life from the toppling of Assad including the rise of Al Qaeda in Syria causes me to be against this.
What do you think?