January 2003 Koontz

Thinking Theologically about War against Iraq


From: The
Mennonite Quarterly Review
77 (January, 2003), 93-108

Abstract: It is helpful to think in terms of a “first language” and a “second language” in seeking to address questions of war and peace. The ability to speak a second language of public policy is often helpful in communicating with those outside the church. But it is also essential for Christians to remember and to speak our first language, that of Christian theology. The first language is necessary to remind us of our ultimate commitments and to help us withstand the temptation to justify violence when, in contrast to currently anticipated war, there are few if any persuasive second language arguments to make against a particular war. Several key terms shared by all Christians in our first language of theology are explored, attending particularly to their implications for thinking about war. Finally, a story illustrating first language speech is related.

On a Sunday evening early in 1999 I was with a Mennonite Central Committee delegation in Iraq to examine the effects of sanctions on the population and to explore MCC programming options there. We were in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, worshipping with an Orthodox Christian congregation with roots deep in antiquity. They claimed to still use in their communion service the original Aramaic words that Jesus had used at the Last Supper. We were warmly received. Officially, they were not to share communion with us because we were members of a Protestant group that had broken off from the true church. Nevertheless, despite our hesitations, the priest insisted that we share in this highest moment of worship with them. Only days before, an American bomber had destroyed most of a block in the city. Our countries were enemies, yet we found ourselves embracing as brothers and sisters, united through our common commitment to Jesus Christ.

Strikingly, many of the recent arguments in the letters to local newspapers
from Mennonites opposing a war in Iraq and many statements by church leaders-Mennonite
and others-seem to be framed largely in terms of pragmatic or secular
considerations, sometimes using elements of “just war” reasoning and other
times speaking largely in terms of long-term national self-interest or
of general humanitarian concerns.

These kinds of arguments are appropriate and important. Many excellent examples of such arguments are available, none better than those produced by David Cortright and the Fourth Freedom Forum in Goshen, Indiana.[1] Such arguments are especially appropriate in the case of this war, for there are a great many good reasons to oppose this war, as there were in the case of the Vietnam War-the war that shaped my consciousness.

Nothing I say should be taken to mean that I reject all such arguments. Speaking the language of public policy is something I was trained to do as a political scientist. Such language has an important place in the Christian’s “arsenal” in witnessing to government decision-makers. It is a critical “second language” that we must learn to understand and to speak, since often our “first language” of Christian theology will be unintelligible or unacceptable to our neighbors and our policymakers.[2]


But while I affirm the importance of knowing and speaking a second language
of public policy discourse, I am primarily interested here in asserting
the need for and priority of remembering and speaking our first language,
for several reasons.

First, I believe that Christians should always reject all wars and there are not always strong “second language” or public policy reasons for doing so. The war we are anticipating as I write is an easy war to oppose on many secular, self-interest and humanitarian grounds. It is particularly amenable to “second language” arguments. This is somewhat different from some other wars-perhaps the Gulf War, or the “humanitarian intervention” in Somalia, and surely World War II-where pragmatic and humanitarian considerations did not line up clearly in opposition to war. In the case of such wars I am forced to be “silent” in the second language, because I do not have plausible arguments to make against the war from within the worldview of policymakers. I sometimes have nothing to tell them, in terms of short-run decisions, about how they can handle nonviolently the specific crisis they are wrestling with.[3]

Second, there is danger in becoming fluent in the “second language,” in that we might forget our first language, and find the second language becoming our first language, just as Mennonites coming to the United States and Canada lost German and adopted English. Such is also the story of pacifist Christian groups historically. Acculturation into the wider society and its “languages” has been one of the great enemies of pacifist Christianity.[4] When one speaks the second language continually for a period of time, it becomes the first language. When the first language has been lost and there are not good second-language arguments available to oppose a particular war, the ability to oppose the war is lost.

Third, “second language” arguments are not always more effective in the public arena than “first language” arguments are. What may strike pacifist Christians as obviously powerful and convincing public policy arguments against a particular war often do not strike the policymakers we address as being quite so convincing and powerful as we think they are! Even though we use words and concepts borrowed from the world of public policy, our way of understanding those words and concepts is shaped by our particular theological and ethical frameworks, which are typically not shared by policymakers. It is one thing to speak another language. It is another to live within that language. Thus, sometimes it is “more effective” to speak our first language, with all the dangers of being misunderstood that speaking a foreign language holds, than to try to speak “their” language with a foreign accent.

Fourth, for many wise and good people, our second
language is their first language.[5]
They can often speak this language with a force and effectiveness that
we will be hard-pressed to match. That does not mean we should not speak
it. But we should ask ourselves what our particular vocation or expertise
is and then speak from our strength. My bias as a political scientist
might be showing here, but I doubt that seminary faculty, students or
pastors, for example, will be seen as particularly well-informed and wise
public policy analysts. In other words, what is our unique contribution
to these kinds of discussions?


What is our first language? It is the language of our theology, our faith, our fundamental convictions about God, Jesus Christ and God’s will for humankind. The substance, or vocabulary, of this language is our Christian beliefs. Its style, or grammar, is confession – in two senses: (1) speaking what we cannot help but speak boldly if we are to be true to ourselves, but (2) speaking and listening with humility, being ready to receive alternative convictions and to change, and being ready to acknowledge our shortcomings and sins.

When I say “our” first language, I include all those who name themselves Christian. Virtually all Christians share a large number of central affirmations that help make our speaking to one another intelligible. At the same time, we must recognize that there are a number of Christian theological perspectives that lead to different convictions about the morality of war. We might think of these as different “dialects” of our shared first Christian theological language. I will acknowledge some alternative theological/ethical perspectives to the ones that I hold before elaborating on my Christian pacifist understanding of our common Christian theological first language. A more complete discussion would need to flesh out theological convictions for these various positions in a way parallel to what is developed below for pacifism.[6]

The first and most obvious alternative theological/ethical tradition that shares with Christian pacifists the same basic first language, although speaking it with a somewhat different “dialect,” is justifiable war. This dialect came to the fore in Christian thought after Constantine became Christian. In this tradition God has ordained some of God’s people (magistrates, soldiers) to defend against evil by fighting militarily against it. Two main variants can be identified.

The first claims that war can be morally justified because love sometimes requires war in order to save an innocent neighbor from aggression by a guilty neighbor. Augustine is the most important historical example of this view, although it is reflected in some contemporary writers such as Paul Ramsey.

The second variant justifies war because of a “natural right” to life and liberty. This strand begins especially in Aquinas but carries through into secular international law regarding war.[7]

However, although the justifiable war tradition is the most fully articulated
and accepted (theologically and ethically) dialect within non-pacifist
Christianity, it is not, in my judgment, the most widely accepted in practice.

The second nonpacifist tradition is Crusade or holy war. Here God calls on God’s people to wage war against God’s enemies. War is a positive moral duty, not a regrettable necessity (as in justifiable war), and those killed in such war go straight to heaven.

The third non-pacifist tradition is realism or blank check. Those speaking this dialect stress that policymakers are charged with the duty to protect the people they govern and their interests. From this vantage point what is frequently called “realism,” or the “national interest,” is and should be the guide for public policymakers. It is typically not the responsibility of ordinary people to make judgments about what the national interest or realism demands. Ordinary people are to obey their rulers, following a particular reading of Romans 13. Their moral duty is to issue a “blank check” to their governments, to assist their rulers in carrying out whatever policies their rulers deem best.[8]

Although almost all discussion about the morality of war in Christian circles is framed in terms of debates between those holding a just-war position and those holding a pacifist position, in fact relatively few Christians historically observed or currently follow the just-war position. Non-pacifist Christians are scattered among these various positions. But the blank-check position, which I believe has the least theological justification, seems to be the overwhelming position of Christians numerically throughout history and currently.[9]

Among Christians, the variety of theological
perspectives on war, coupled with the size of the Christian population
in the United States, means that a critical component for Mennonite witness
concerning war is conversation with other Christians. Such conversations
do not require us to abandon or hide our first language but rather call
upon us to articulate it in powerful and winsome ways. These conversations,
with fellow Christians in the first language of theology, will not necessarily
be easier than second-language conversations may be. In fact they might
be more difficult because we are speaking our first language-speaking
about things that matter to us most. We will be threatened, and others
will be threatened, in such conversations.


Mennonites have commonly asserted that peace (including pacifism) is central to the gospel. Until recently, however, I have not sought to think systematically about how various central Christian doctrines, or confessions, relate to a Christian response to war. In what follows I have tried to speak a common Christian first language; that is, to use classical theological categories that are shared by most Christian groups, even if we might understand them in somewhat different ways. I do this for three reasons:

First, to encourage us to think about war in terms of our first language, to
help us remember it and preserve it as our first language.

Second, to encourage conversation with other Christians about the meaning
of crucial terms in our shared first language.

Third, to challenge us to consider speaking our peculiar first language
in public, even though it may seem strange or awkward.

Following are some central words/concepts/convictions from the vocabulary of our first language, with some reflections on how they speak to the question of war.[10]


In the Bible God reveals Godself and God’s will for humankind most completely and clearly. While we learn of God in many other ways, any other sources of knowledge and revelation about God and about the way we humans are to live in response to God cannot be allowed to supersede or take precedence over God’s will as revealed in the Bible. Although Jesus Christ cannot be understood adequately apart from the Old Testament and other parts of the New Testament, the person of Jesus Christ-his life and teaching and his death and resurrection-is the center of revelation for Christians. If there are contradictions or apparent contradictions in the Bible, they should be resolved by reference to Jesus, his life and teaching, his death and resurrection.


God is the author of salvation. We are saved by God’s mercy and grace, not by ourselves. All peoples of the earth are God’s beloved children and our brothers and sisters. Salvation is to be extended to the whole human family. God’s intention in choosing a special people is that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12: 3). Our calling is to offer this message of salvation to all, particularly those who resist or reject that offer. This winsome offer is incompatible with killing them.

Jesus Christ is Savior

Savior from sin, from enemies, from death. We put our trust for salvation in him (and at the same time in the God revealed in him), not anything else or anyone else. We especially trust him to save us from our enemies. One of the persistent criticisms of the prophets in the Old Testament was that trusting in horses and chariots rather than in God for protection was idolatry, a failure of faith.[11]

Jesus Christ is Lord

Lord of our lives. This means obedience, doing what he teaches and models even if, in the world’s frame of reference, this does not seem to make sense. We can give allegiance to no other power that claims loyalty above him or to any other power that asks us to contradict him.

Lord over the whole world. This means that the God of Jesus Christ is in charge, is more powerful than any other power and will ultimately win. We do not have to defend God with means that contradict God’s teaching and modeling in Jesus. We do not have to be able to calculate all the consequences of our actions, but must rather do what Jesus teaches and shows us, knowing that our obedience to God’s revealed will, not our human wisdom, is the path to “success.” The relationship of effectiveness and faithfulness is an ultimately positive relationship: faithfulness to God cannot help but be effective if God is indeed God. Yet this is not always obvious if one does not know the language of faith, if one does not have “eyes to see.” In fact, the effectiveness of the Christian way is often hidden. What is the Cross except a terrible defeat from any perspective other than that of faith? We need to rely on faithfulness rather than our calculations of effectiveness precisely because we are not smart enough on the basis of our human calculations to see what effectiveness will really be.

Jesus Christ is fully human (incarnation)

He demonstrates to us God’s intention for God’s human creatures and reveals to us what we are created to be. He knows our suffering, our impatience and our despair in the face of great evil. “My God, my God, what have you forsaken me'”

Jesus Christ is fully divine (incarnation)

He reveals to us God’s nature. Jesus is our largest and most transparent window into the nature and character of God. Jesus shows us who God is. This does not mean that every aspect of God is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. For example, we believe that God is creator, that God is eternal, that God is present at all places at all times, and we do not see these aspects of God in the historical person of Jesus. But even though God is in some sense larger than what we see in Jesus, to call oneself “Christian” is to believe that everything we learn about God through God’s revelation in Jesus (1) is true, (2) is not superseded or contradicted by other aspects of God and (3) is sufficient. While revelation in Jesus does not tell us everything we might like to know about God and God’s ways, it tells us what we need to know in order to live rightly with God and our neighbor. Jesus Christ shows us how God defeats evil, and how we are to participate in that defeat of evil, in the Cross and Resurrection.


Jesus defeats the principalities and powers through the Cross (Col. 2: 15). God’s way of defeating evil is not through military force but through accepting suffering and fighting with the “whole armor of Christ.” In terms of salvation from our personal sins, we believe that the work of Jesus in the Cross saves us, as it also saves the world from the powers of sin and death and destruction. We are instructed to “take up your Cross and follow me.” We are not asked to be like Jesus in every respect, but only in taking up our Cross and following-that is, dealing with sin and evil in a way parallel to the way in which he dealt with it.[12]

This instruction to take up our Cross is reinforced by a central teaching of Jesus, who teaches us to love one another, both neighbors and enemies. We are to do this not simply out of moral obligation or because Jesus tells us to do so, but because that is how God has treated us.[13] An authentic response to God’s loving us while we were yet God’s enemies can only be to love our enemies as God has loved us.

Christian love is not only or even mainly an internal sentiment, a feeling. Rather, it is acting toward others in ways that both respect their freedom and seek their well being, even at potential cost to ourselves. This is clear not only in the teaching of Jesus but also in the action of God in sending Jesus into the world where he faced rejection, suffering and death in order to offer redemption. This confirms the view that love is not merely a sentiment but an action seeking the welfare of the other. It rules out the view that claims that it is possible to love our enemy and kill him at the same time.


The resurrection means, among other things, that in fact Jesus did defeat the principalities and powers in the Cross. They did not defeat him. The resurrection vindicates the “Cross” method of dealing with evil.

The resurrection is mysterious. It is not something we can bring about, and it does not fit the normal chain of cause and effect. It is God’s work, and it is therefore generally unintelligible to the wise of the world because the dynamic of cross/resurrection is quite different from rational calculations of cause/effect. Nevertheless, we can see echoes of God’s mysterious way of bringing resurrection in the face of hopeless situations, even on the international scale.

When I was in graduate school neither the wise of the world (i.e., my political science professors) nor I thought there was any hope of ever seeing the end of the Cold War, or of seeing the relatively peaceful end of apartheid in South Africa. But I have seen both. Miracles do happen, although these miracles, like the miracles that Jesus performed, have not yet brought about God’s reign in any full sense.


There are two major approaches to Christian “witness” as we think about it in relation to public policy. The witness of the second language is that of calling societies to their own best commitments, insofar as this calling nudges them toward more fully Christian perspectives. The most common and perhaps most powerful form of moral argument is the charge of “hypocrisy.” “You claim to hold certain values and convictions, yet you are violating them yourself.”[14] Adopting the second language allows us to do precisely this.

The second approach is the witness of the first language. The mystery of the resurrection means that our speaking to questions of war and peace requires not only an attempt to translate our political perspectives, grounded in a Christian worldview, into arguments that can make sense in the public arena by appealing to their values. It also means that at some point we must try to articulate to others why we view the world in a different way than most others do. At some point, in some way, we must introduce our first language, calling people and societies to accept Jesus Christ and the view of reality that that worldview enables. The only way that what I want ultimately to say makes sense is if it is viewed through the Christian lens rather than the lens of political realism.

The Church is the Body of Christ

We know from St. Paul that a body is not healthy if its members devalue each other or refuse to cooperate with each other (I Cor. 12). How much more unhealthy is it for various parts of the body to kill each other?

My encounter with Iraqi Christians, recounted at the beginning of this presentation, confirms for me this clear conviction. The greatest scandal of the church’s disunity is not that various Christian groups refuse to share communion with one another (as wonderful as that sharing is), but that Christians so readily agree to kill other Christians when they are asked to do so by their governments. It is not difficult to see why non-Christians fail to understand the witness of our first language when, instead of people watching us and saying about us “See how they love one another,” they instead watch us and see us killing each other.[15]


Christian faith entails hope for the future that is often not easily verified by reading the daily newspaper headlines. It is hope in a hidden power that moves history in unexpected and convoluted ways, as in the end of the Cold War and of apartheid.

Christian faith, and commitment to God’s
way of dealing with evil, requires patience. God’s slowness in righting
evil can be infuriating. The temptation to deal with evil by shortcuts,
like choosing “lesser evils” in order to halt the advance of evil or hastening
the coming of God’s reign through war, litter Christian history. Peaceableness
requires patience. Patience requires faith that God will prevail.


I close with a story about a time when I sought to speak my first language. To be sure, I have often failed to speak with clarity and conviction. But this story illustrates something of what I have in mind when I urge us to be daring enough to speak the Christian gospel in strange settings. Others who were involved in the encounters I will describe would tell the story in quite different ways. I can only tell the story, confess the story, as I experienced it.

In January of 1993 I was invited to go as one of two Christian pacifists to a conference on “The Ethics of War and Peace” held in Jerusalem. It was an invitation-only conference, with about 35 participants, almost all leading academics. I knew it would be a high-powered group, and I was worried about how I would fit in. I was also worried because a quite popular “humanitarian intervention” in Somalia had just been launched. My worries were exacerbated when religion editor Peter Steinfels of The New York Times wrote a page-one article several weeks before the conference titled “Pacifists Debate Humanitarian Intervention.” Steinfels was to be at the Jerusalem conference. In the article Steinfels quoted five other people who were also to be at the Jerusalem meeting. All of them, with the exception of Stanley Hauerwas, thought pacifism was nonsense.

The conference was designed as a dialogue on common questions among representatives of different traditions-Catholic natural law (justifiable war), political realism, Christian nonviolence, feminism, Judaism and Islam. Hauerwas was to be the other pacifist; I was to be his respondent and debating partner.

In preparing a preliminary paper, I wrestled especially with how “confessional” to be, how much to speak from the heart of our faith perspective (first language); and how much to seek to frame things in “their” terms, intelligible to them, accepting many of their questions or assumptions (second language). I knew very well how extremely odd my faith commitments would look to most of the conferees because I knew that few of the participants would be Christian. I had been in “their” world-the world of political realism and justifiable war-during my doctoral studies. I knew my words would seem like foolishness to most of them if I spoke my first language. It would have been far more comfortable to speak a language that emphasized the compatibility of Christianity and enlightened self-interest or of Christianity and humanitarian perspectives.

I was especially concerned about looking odd to Michael Walzer, my favorite professor in graduate school and my dissertation adviser. I was very anxious about more fully revealing my faith to him. He was a brilliant political philosopher, scholar and lecturer. He was not only my intellectual mentor, but had been extremely good and generous to me. He nominated me for awards, which helped us financially. He invited me to “academic heaven,” the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, when he moved there from Harvard. He funded a year of dissertation research for me at the Institute, during which we took long walks around the lake and through the woods, discussing just war and other issues in political philosophy. I owed him a major debt of gratitude and did not want him to think less of me or to let him down. He knew I was a pacifist, but I don’t think he knew how extremely odd I was! Nevertheless, I decided to risk speaking my first language.[16]

When I arrived in Tel Aviv after more than thirty hours without sleep, I was delighted to run into Hauerwas at the airport. It turned out, however, that he was leaving immediately to return to the United States to preach the funeral sermon for his father, who had died suddenly. That thrust me into the unexpected and unwelcome role of being the only pacifist spokesman. I got to the hotel at about 5 o’clock in the morning and, instead of sleeping until the afternoon beginning of the conference, I worked frantically to prepare notes for the short presentations that I had assumed Hauerwas would make. Just before the conference began, as I tried to print out my notes, the printer burned itself out because of the different voltage. I went downstairs to the conference room, feeling totally exhausted and defeated, as if I were about to be thrown into the lions’ den.

I began my opening remarks by saying, “It’s obvious that God does not want anything intelligible spoken here from a Christian pacifist perspective. Not only has Stanley been called home, leaving me alone to articulate this view, but my printer has burned out, leaving me without notes!”

Despite being both very nervous and very unprepared, the next several days were one of the best times of my life. God was gracious. I found myself speaking our first language with much freedom and considerable power in a context where that language is not often whispered, let alone spoken out loud.

I remember particularly an exchange with Walzer near the end of the conference. The second to the last session was on morality in extremity-on whether or not the normal rules governing conduct in war could or should be abandoned when it seems clear that something terrible will happen if they are not abandoned. It was the Hitler question, the “what would you do if . . .” question. My professor and friend Walzer argued that the normal rules governing conduct of war should, “in extremity,” be dropped, but only “when the heavens are really about to fall.”[17]

I felt called upon to respond with a clear challenge to this way of thinking, so I got the floor, not knowing really what I should say. But it went something like this:

In contrast to most politicians and many moralists, and to his credit, Michael Walzer argues for a stringent criterion to govern “extremity,” what he calls (following Churchill) “supreme emergency.” He says, in effect, that we should not be like Chicken Little, always contending that the sky is falling, thus rationalizing immoral action on the basis of “necessity.” Unlike Chicken Little we should only violate the rules of war when “the heavens are really about to fall.”

One way for a Christian pacifist to respond to Walzer’s view is to ask, “What do you mean by the ‘heavens’?” Walzer’s way of putting the issue makes it evident that, for him, the “heavens” means something like, “my nation, or some political community with important moral commitments, good political institutions, and so forth.” If this falls, the heavens fall. A view like this seems implicit in all views that defend the rightness of violating normal norms in war in the face of extremity, if only because wars are fought to defend political communities, nations.

If, for the moment, we accept this understanding of “the heavens” as equivalent to a nation or a political ideology, a Christian pacifist must insist that the heavens surely will fall, no matter what we do to hold them up. We are not God, and we simply cannot hold the heavens up. No political community will last forever, whatever we do to preserve it. There is simply no way to hold the heavens up in the long run.

On the other hand, I would insist that “the heavens” cannot be identified with a nation or ideology and that the (true) heavens cannot fall. The heavens did not fall when Athens fell or when Rome fell. They will not fall when the United States falls. They will not even fall when, in one way or another, the earth is destroyed. These are claims, I take it, that Christians make when we speak of God’s providence, power, goodness, eternity and of our ultimate destiny as being somehow with God. And they are claims which deny that any nation or political ideology or system amounts to “the heavens.” We do not need to violate moral commitments in order to keep the heavens from falling. God will hold the heavens up.

I remember a very long silence in response to that speech-an uncomfortable silence, broken for me only by the whispered response of the man seated next to me. He was Joseph Boyle, a Catholic natural law/just war theorist who believed in absolutes in the conduct of war, even though we had argued all week about whether war should be allowed morally at all.[18] He reached over, patted my arm and said “Good show! That was a wonderful speech!” Then gradually people began responding, and discussing the question of God, recognizing that it does make a difference whether or not we believe that there is a God in whom we can place trust. Most did not believe in such a God, but at least it became clear how foundational theological convictions shape views and underlie disagreements.

It was an important moment for me. I had been enabled to speak my convictions in that setting-and in direct response to Professor Walzer. I later told him I hoped he did not feel hurt or attacked personally, or embarrassed that I, with my strange ideas, had been identified as his student. Being a very gracious man, he assured me that he did not feel bad. In fact, he said that in a way he wished he could believe as I did, trusting in the God who is the center of his own Jewish tradition, which he studies so diligently. I told him I hoped he could come to do so.

I am grateful for the responses I received, for the generosity of people telling me of their appreciation for my contributions, for the “seeing” things anew which many expressed-Joe Boyle, an old-style Niebuhrian realist, two young atheistic intellectual academic climbers, the conference planners. A wealthy southern California patron of the conference-an ex-Mennonite woman originally from Elkhart, Indiana who was always first to the bar and could not wait for smoke breaks-said, “Now for the first time I understand what the church of my youth in Elkhart was trying to say about these things!” Even more, I am grateful that some at the meeting really understood, really saw, apparently to the point of following. The wife of one conference participant came up and told me, “I sat up most of the night thinking about what you said and reading your paper and finally I see, I get it. You are right about the power of Jesus!” And a young Pentecostal graduate student, there to write a curriculum on the ethics of war and peace for high schools, expressed deep appreciation for and agreement with what I had said, and said he had been praying for me throughout the conference.

The wise of the world did not “see,” ultimately, what I had to say as anything other than foolishness-though some saw it as nice foolishness. “It would be nice if things were really that way.” It was the “little ones,” the ones not “wise by human standards,” who were able to see the foolish truth of Jesus Christ’s gospel.

God, make us small and weak enough to see your gospel as foolishness which is wiser than human wisdom, your weakness as stronger than human strength. And make us bold to speak your truth-yet in gentle, winsome ways, and in ways that are validated by our lives. Amen.[19]

[1]. See, for example, Winning Without War: Sensible Security Options for Dealing With Iraq, by David Cortright, George A. Lopez, and Alistair Millar. www.fourthfreedom.org. Accessed October 25, 2002.
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[2]. The terms of “first” and “second” languages (and their mutual unintelligibility or unacceptability at certain points) should not be taken to mean that there can or should be no “mixing” of the languages. Languages are not static; they are often given deeper insight and clarity by borrowing from other languages. The field of international politics, for example, with its dominant language of “realism” or national self-interest, has been enriched (and somewhat humanized) by the introduction of the language of law through extending notions of domestic law into the international arena. In domestic criminal justice, the Judaic/Christian notion of “restorative justice,” articulated biblically and theologically especially by Howard Zehr (cf. Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice [Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1990] has entered the mainstream language of criminal justice. While these crossings of language barriers are often positive because they allow the transformation of languages and cultures, there is also always the danger of terms losing their meaning, or simply being co-opted, when they move from one language to another.
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[3]. To speak the second language in a way that will be intelligible to (communicate with) political leaders means to claim not only that there are nonviolent alternatives. Obviously, it is always possible to be nonviolent-we can die rather than be violent if forced to choose. To speak the second language intelligibly means to claim that there are nonviolent alternatives that do not involve “the cross,” that is, that do not demand accepting voluntary suffering and/or death to ourselves or those on “our” side that could be avoided through the use of violence. My assumption is that the “bottom line” of the second language, the language of policymaking, is “effectiveness” in preserving ourselves, our friends, our way of life. “Sacrifice” of that is unintelligible in this language. “Cross” can be seen and understood clearly enough from the perspective of the second language. But it is an “unthinkable” or “inconceivable” option because it does not make “sense” to choose it apart from belief in “resurrection.”
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[4]. The best survey of Christian pacifist groups, their rise and decline, is Freedom from Violence: Sectarian Nonresistance from the Middle Ages to the Great War by Peter Brock (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 1991).
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[5]. I am thinking here of second-language speakers who use that language to oppose wars, rather than those second-language speakers who use it to justify or advocate war.
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[6]. Do those of us who are Christian pacifists really speak the same first language that other Christians speak when we speak about war? In suggesting that we speak the same language with different dialects I have chosen to highlight what I regard as a crucial point of commonality, namely, our common confession of faith in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, we need to come up with common definitions for key terms in our shared language, for we often use the same words in rather different ways. By suggesting that we speak different dialects, I suggest that our common affirmations allow us to speak to one another with a commonality that is not possible when speaking to others who do not confess faith in Jesus Christ. But another metaphor, one that would stress more the significant differences among Christians as we think about our faith and war, would be to suggest that we belong to the same “family” of languages (like the Indo-European family of languages in Europe). Within this family of languages there is enough difference from one language to another so that speakers of one language cannot understand the language of another without intentionally learning that other language. Nevertheless, there is a certain family resemblance that makes learning the other language relatively easy-at least compared to learning a language from a different family (e.g., Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese).
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[7]. Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars (New York: Basic Books, 1977, 1992, 2000) is the best contemporary expression of secular just-war theory. It is based on the assumption that life and liberty are “something like absolute values” (xvi, 1977 ed.). From these values are derived the right to both personal self-defense and national military defense against aggression. All of this is closely related to a view that sees it as a natural “law” or “right” to defend oneself, with violence if necessary.
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[8]. There is a danger in “blank-check pacifism” as well. Historically, many in the Anabaptist/Mennonite family have not spoken to government or tried to influence it on national policy regarding war (even while appealing for exemption from military service)-maintaining a kind of silence that might be taken as consent. A view that sharply separates what God wills for governments from what God wills for individual Christians can lead to actively blessing and cheering on a government’s war-making effort on the one hand while rejecting direct personal participation in it on the other. In my view, these alternatives represent a misunderstanding of Christian pacifism. Nevertheless, despite the shortcomings of these kinds of pacifism, there is still a significant difference between a blank-check view that says we will gladly send our sons (and now daughters) to kill and a blank-check view that says we will not do so. Still, these “quietistic” or sharply “dualistic” views are not what I am advocating. Although I do not always have something to say in my second language to policy makers that will be intelligible to them as reasons for opposing certain wars, that does not mean that I endorse or support their wars, nor does it mean that I will not speak at all. I will continue to speak the second language, pushing them for longer-term changes in policy that will make the next war less likely. And in the midst of a war where I have no immediate second-language alternatives, I will continue to speak the first language that rejects all wars because Jesus is Lord.
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[9]. To the best of my knowledge, the term “blank check” was first used in describing this view by John H. Yoder in Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution: A Companion to Bainton (Elkhart, IN: Goshen Biblical Seminary, 1983), 81-93, passim.
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[10]. Many of these terms have meanings and implications far broader than I state or explore here. I do not intend to limit their meaning to what is discussed in these short statements. I only mean to highlight their connection to and implications for the problem of war.
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[11]. See for example, Isaiah 31:1: “Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help and who rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD!” This trusting Jesus and the God of Jesus for our salvation from enemies and from death does not mean that we should refuse to use means that do not hurt others in order to help preserve ourselves from enemies and from death. This trust is not a call to passivism, or defenselessness. We are instructed to “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11)-an armor quite different from the armor of a military soldier, but nonetheless armor. In addition, Paul and other early disciples clearly protected themselves, sometimes hiding (e.g., Acts 9:23-25) or using legal appeals (e.g., Acts 16:37-40, Acts 25:10-11) in order to preserve their lives from enemies. They did not, however, kill their enemies to protect themselves.
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[12]. “There is thus but one realm in which the concept of imitation holds-but there it holds in every strand of the New Testament literature and all the more strikingly by virtue of the absence of parallels in other realms: this is at the point of the concrete social meaning of the cross in its relation to enmity and power. Servanthood replaces dominion, forgiveness absorbs hostility. Thus-and only thus-are we bound by New Testament thought to ‘be like Jesus.'”-John H. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 134.
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[13]. For example, Romans 5:10: “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son . . . .” (NRSV).
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[14]. Michael Walzer in Just and Unjust Wars makes this case clearly and succinctly: “The exposure of hypocrisy is certainly the most ordinary, and it may also be the most important, form of moral criticism. We are rarely called upon to invent new ethical principles. . . . Rather, we hold . . . people to their own principles, though we may draw these out and arrange them in ways they had not thought of before” (xv).
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[15]. I have been speaking of our first language as being the language of theological affirmations or convictions. This is true when it comes to using words to express who we are and what we believe. Yet our Christian theological words are really in another sense our second language-second in priority and second in ability to communicate. In this sense our first language is the language of our living, what we communicate by our demeanor and how we act. What will make our Christian way most apparent to others (or will most obscure it from others) is how we live (or fail to live) the gospel of Jesus Christ, not how articulately we can argue it in words.
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[16]. The paper I wrote, revised after the conference, is “Christian Nonviolence: An Interpretation,” The Ethics of War and Peace, ed. Terry Nardin (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1996). The book also contains the other major papers discussed at the conference.
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[17] See Walzer’s developed argument in Just and Unjust Wars, Ch. 16.
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[18]. See his just-war case for the immorality of nuclear deterrence.-John Finnis, Joseph M. Boyle, Jr. and Germain Grisez, Nuclear Deterrence, Morality, and Realism, (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1987).
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[19]. Thanks to Alan Kreider, John D. Roth, Tom Yoder Neufeld, J. Denny Weaver, Duane Shank and Gerald Biesecker-Mast for helpful comments on and criticisms of an earlier draft of this article. Despite their help, the views expressed here are my own.
The Mennonite Quarterly Review
Thinking Theologically About War Against Iraq
*Ted Koontz is Professor of Ethics and Peace Studies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.