Jus ad bellum is the Latin phrase used to describe that aspect of just-war theory dealing with how to know when your beef with someone is significant enough to justify going to war. With this post I hope to consider how to know when you are justified to sally forth to blogging warfare (or, to borrow the putative mafia-preferred idiom from “The Godfather,” ready to “go to the mattresses”).
Just authority: I think we’re on firm biblical footing (Romans 12-13) to differentiate between vigilanteism on the one hand and formal police or military action on the other hand. There is a biblical difference between the person who is taking vengeance for himself as an individual versus the person who is the proper agent of God’s vengeance and who wields the God-authorized sword of the state. That is, as Augustine might put it, it matters whether you are or are not acting under color of authority.
Frequently when blog-warfare erupts, someone will allege that correction or reproof rightly ought to be conducted within a local church according to the guidelines of Matthew 18. But would we really say that one Christian cannot reprove or correct another Christian unless they are members of the same congregation? Are we saying that every item of correction or conflict must be adjudicated within the offender’s local church? Let’s get down to specifics: Do you think that none of us have proper standing to reprove Westboro Baptist Church and the Fred Phelpses of this world? For my part, I think I often have not only the right but also the responsibility to reprove people who do things in the name of Christ that warrant the intervention of others, whether they belong to my congregation or not.
Nevertheless, even though I reject the idea that rebuke or reproof cannot cross congregational lines, I see a grave need for war-blogging to take place under just authority.
Going to war under color of authority is a practical matter and not just a pretty accessory to just-war theory. When war takes place under a recognizable structure of authority, a framework is in place to restrain excesses and abuses that can often take place as the passions of war rise. When those atrocities do unfortunately occur, warfare under color of authority gives an identifiable chain of command to hold accountable for those atrocities.
If you’re planning to go to blog-war, I want to encourage you not to go there alone. Find someone you respect who can serve as an advisor and editor to you. The best choice would be to find someone who agrees with you but is not quite as passionate about it as you are. In that case, you have someone who, because he shares your brooders aims, won’t be fighting you at every turn, but you will have someone whose milder temperament will see that you’re about to commit a blogging atrocity before (hopefully) you write or do anything that you will regret later.
Back in the Great Blogging Wars of 2006, I formed a private, not-so-secret blog that I entitled New Connexion (after Dan Taylor’s Baptist movement in Great Britain). By the way, I wasn’t trying to make any kind of a Calvinist/Traditionalist swipe; I just thought it was cool that Brits get away with misspelling words like “Connexion.” Anyway, the purpose of this blog was for people to have a forum in which they could try out ideas before they blogged about them publicly. If someone was about to cross the line, there was an opportunity for his peers to rein him in a little bit before he did any damage to himself or to what we were trying to accomplish. It didn’t work perfectly, but I think it was, on the whole, a helpful development. However you choose to do it, set up some sort of an accountability structure (not an echo-chamber of yes-men, or you needn’t bother) before you go to war.
The worst mistakes I’ve ever made in blogging were all made without the benefit of outside advice. Please don’t skip over this first requirement.
Just Cause: Do you have a just cause to go to blog-war? The question here is not whether you’ve been wronged. The question, rather, is whether the present situation is bad enough that war is a preferable moral outcome to allowing things to stand as they presently are. “Why not rather be wronged?” calls out the voice of God through the blood-soaked millennia. Don’t you dare launch a blog-war until you have answered that question. The cause of justice or the cause of the gospel need to be so disserved by the present situation that a breaking of the peace in God’s household is clearly the right thing to do in spite of how wrong it is to do.
Just Intention: When we talk in a future post about the right conduct of war(how to act once you’re in a war versus how to know whether to go to war), we will talk about proportionality. This part of jus ad bellum is connected with that proportionality concept in jus in bello. Before you go to war you have to ask yourself if your intention is only to right the wrong situation that gives rise to the war (in which case you will act proportionally), or whether you are vulnerable to the temptations of looting or mission creep.
It is at this point that you must ask yourself what you hope to achieve.
Hear me, my friends. The dispute between Zwingli and the Anabaptists has been ongoing since 1525. Nothing you type on your computer is going to put an everlasting end to Reformed Christianity. Nothing you type on your computer is going to put an everlasting end to Anabaptist Christianity. Let me break it to you: You’re just not that smart or winsome. If your answer to the question “What do I hope to accomplish here?” is “I’m going to vanquish Calvinism once and for all,” then you need to move to Cloud-Cuckoo Land. That’s not achievable. “I’m going to make the Southern Baptist Convention a collection of Reformed Baptist churches.” Really? Somebody needs to issue you a pack of crayons and a take away your sharp objects.
Now, if your objective is to gain an open-minded hearing for your soteriological views, then I submit to you that you need to consider whether a blog-war is a reasonable means to that end. A recent study that was discussed just this morning on NPR demonstrated that non-violent protests tended to succeed better than violent protests, partly because people who would otherwise have supported a non-violent protest movement will refuse to be associated with an armed coup. Likewise, when you go Rambo on your blog, whatever you accomplish with your “target,” there are going to be some eavesdroppers who were with you up to that point but who suddenly start to question whether they are truly with you. Your audience is larger than your comment base. Practice blog-diplomacy and blog-persuasion rather than blog-war and you may find that you start to win the unseen contest for the hearts and minds of the silent passers-by.
Of course, sometimes your intention is simply to limit the influence of someone who, in your estimation, is doing something that poses a danger to the cause of the gospel. If that’s the case, you’ll need to keep a close watch on your own heart to make sure that it does not fall to baser intentions. Here’s one way to tell (and I’m sure there are many others): When you go into blog-war with just intentions, then after you have begun to achieve the objectives that you set out to accomplish, you’ll be willing to step back and let things unfold on their own. When your intentions are wrong, every attack demands a counter-attack and every slight cries out for avenging. When your intentions are right, you have the ability to look and say, “Yes, that was an attack, but it does not endanger what I’m trying to do, and I’m not so important that my honor must be defended at every turn. It’s about the mission, not the messenger.”
Stated simply: You don’t have right intentions if you let it become personal. Personal enrichment, personal advancement, personal achievement, personal vindication, personal satisfaction—these are not right intentions for blog-war.
Last Resort: Augustine believed that war should only occur as a last resort. You must consider every option. You must attempt every alternative. War is bad enough to make almost any other form of conflict resolution preferable to it.
To sum up, if you encounter a situation that, left unaddressed, poses significant harm, you might be justified in going to blog-war against it. You should constrain carefully the intentions of your deceitfully wicked heart before you do so. You should explore every possible avenue other than blog-war to achieve those intentions before going to war. You should establish some mechanism of authority and accountability who will be able to keep you tied to your declared intentions and rein in your excesses. Make sure that’s the right person or group for that task. Under those conditions, I think it possible that you might engage in a blog-war and do so with honor and holiness.
I never did so perfectly, but hey, maybe you’re a better man than I.