Responsively Yours: Rules of War, Prayers for Peace
Response Magazine July-August issue
by Jan Love
As citizens of the United States, we proudly claim that in the 20th century our nation led the way in creating international mechanisms that seek to eliminate torture. Yet, a number of credible human right groups, including the International Red Cross and Human Rights Watch, report that after the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States began using torture in interrogation techniques in the “war on terrorism,” and, as of the time of this writing, still does.
Early in 2004, a few soldiers with a lot of conscience and courage broke the news about Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison being tortured at the hands of U.S. personnel. Women’s Division President Kyung Za Yim and I wrote a letter to all United Methodist Women about this issue in May 2005 (see Women's Division Leaders Appeal to UMW to Speak out Against Torture and "War on Terror".)
Torture points to larger issues related to peace, the topic of this issue of Response. Throughout history, Christians have debated the use of violence and the resort to war from three perspectives. Christ’s teaching and example clearly tell us that violence and war are wrong. Pacifists who promote active nonviolence seek to implement these instructions. Yet for centuries, in the face of very practical and complex conundrums of how to prevent evil from consuming our lives, Christians have created theologies like the just war doctrine to address the situations where self-defense becomes necessary. In defiance of these teachings, we have a third, shameful history of the crusade tradition where Christians wield the sword as a matter of faith.
A key principle held dear in both the just war and pacifist perspectives is that the means by which we reach our goals is as important as the goals themselves. Therefore, war has rules that limit the use of violence, and the just war tradition provides the philosophical and ethical foundation for many regulations spelled out in international law. For example, during the conduct of hostilities no harm should be done to those who can do no harm (civilians), and prisoners must be treated humanely.
This centerpiece of ethical understanding for Christians did not change on Sept. 11, 2001. Being afraid for our lives or the lives of our families or the security of our nation should not shift us into the shameful mode of the crusade tradition where we come to believe that anything goes, that any means can be used to defeat the enemy, including torture or even annihilation. The post-September 11 era is not the first time conscientious Christians have faced these issues. Just ask those who lived in through horrific, terrifying violence in the 20th century in South Africa, Eastern Europe, Korea, Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda, Cambodia, Central America, the Philippines, or dozens of other places. We in the United States can learn a lot from the witness of Christians who have endured these kinds of hardships before we had to face them.
United Methodist Women began a campaign of praying together for peace in Lent 2003 (see Prayers for Peace). As war and violence, including torture, continue across the globe, let’s intensify our prayers for peace that they may give us courage to strengthen our witness for peace.
* Jan Love it the Deputy General Secretary for the Women’s Division of The General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Jul 01, 2005