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Ethicists for Peace Speak Out – So Should We

September 7, 2017 by

In a vitriolic, polarizing age such as ours, it is rare when tribes of different persuasions join together and speak out on an issue with one voice. A recent laudable example is the “Statement from Christian Ethicists on Preventive War and the North Korea Crisis.” Reputable ethicists from across a broad spectrum of denominational diversity within the Christian tradition, including Just War theorists and pacifists, declare that “preventive war” – war attempting to eliminate a speculative, non-imminent, future threat – is morally unacceptable, politically nonviable, and would invariably lead to disastrous consequences. They affirm that we must do everything in our power to avoid such a war and to stop any inflammatory rhetoric that increases its likelihood.

The statement targets in particular the recent exchanges between the United States and North Korea, and urges clergy and leaders of every Christian denomination to speak out against any further threats of a preventive war. It also urges the Trump administration specifically to clarify that a preventive war initiated by the US would be contrary to American values.

child with apples

Affirmatively, it calls us to repent of our unjust or aggressive behavior; rededicate ourselves to Christ’s peaceable kingdom; celebrate, share, and actively promote peace with those different from ourselves, who are co-bearers of God’s image; reject all acts of aggression; and vigorously campaign that any future conflict be fought within the bounds of moral and international legal norms.

It is heartening to see such a vast array of signatories on this document, a statement that so clearly, uncompromisingly, and forthrightly condemns any notion of preventative war. Though the statement does not condemn war outright, as a pacifist and as a member of a church community within the peace tradition, I can still applaud its vigilance in the work and witness for peace. The drumbeat of war always feeds upon our fears, propagates lies, and demonizes the enemy. It always presumes that power can only be checked by more power, and that the only language the enemy understands is that which is spoken through the barrel of a gun.

There are many things worse than war, the saying goes, and war brings every one of them.

But Jesus, not to mention countless sages and prophets, reminds us that violence always begets more violence. Those who pick up the sword – literally and figuratively – invariably die by the sword (Matt. 26:52), leaving not only more spilled blood but also more guilt and heartache. “There are many things worse than war,” the saying goes, “and war brings every one of them.”

The apostle Paul writes that we are to overcome evil – whether it be in terms of animosity or sheer violence – with good (Rom. 12:17–21). Love of enemy, doing good to those who hate us, praying for those who intend us harm, and being the first to extend the hand of forgiveness are the seeds of peace. If we want what is right, and not just our own interests, to prevail then we must do everything in our power to sow these seeds. Rhetoric and actions that are aggressive and provocative will never make things right.

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9). We must not waver in our belief in the power of peace and reconciliation. Seemingly impossible situations of conflict can be overcome with good. In the Bible there are stories like that of Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25–33), of Joseph and his brothers (Gen. 37–50), of David and Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9), and of Paul’s conversion after witnessing Stephen’s prayer of forgiveness at his death (Acts 7–9).

Let us stand together and pray for those in power, urging them to use the strength of restraint.

In more recent history, there is the story of Telemachus in AD 400, whose courageous sacrificial death helped end the Roman gladiatorial fights; the story of Saint Francis, who saved the lives of thousands of Christian crusaders by humbly speaking of God’s love to the great sultan Al-Kamil; and  the examples of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Badshah Khan, and countless others who demonstrated the power of good will.

Let us not underestimate this kind of power. Let us stand together, whatever our religious persuasion or ethical position, and pray for those in power, urging them to use the strength of restraint and the means of peace. And let us be determined to practice these very things right where we are. What we sow we shall reap. As the apostle James said, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18). Let us then sow in peace.

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About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore resides with his wife and daughter in Esopus, New York where he teaches Bible and Christian Thought at The...

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