Christian Chronicle: A just war or not — Members grapple with Iraq toll

. . . “There’s a lot of moms who have given up their sons because of this war, and I want to see it through,” Kendall, a missionary to Tartu, Estonia, with her husband, Brandi, said a few days after their son’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

But in a fellowship that mostly favored pacifism before the two World Wars, some church scholars offer a different perspective.

“It is difficult to imagine Jesus counseling us to finish the job in order to honor the memory of our war dead,” said Richard Hughes, who directs the Center for Faith and Learning at Pepperdine University, Malibu, Calif.

Penny Kendall draws a spiritual parallel to her son’s sacrifice, suggesting: “It wasn’t free for us as Christians either.”

However, Hughes points to Jesus’ instruction to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.”

“It seems to me,” he said, “that if we want to ‘finish the job’ by taking even more lives than have already been taken, we are responding first and foremost as American citizens, not first and foremost as Christians.”

In the first part of the 20th century, various forms of pacifism were popular among many Christian groups, including churches of Christ, said Mark E. Powell, an assistant professor of Christian doctrine at Harding University Graduate School of Religion, Memphis, Tenn. However, the two World Wars changed many church members’ thinking about war.

“For pacifists, this shift represents an unfortunate compromise with society on the part of the church,” Powell said. “For ‘just war’ proponents, the two World Wars simply illustrate the inadequacy of pacifism. War was viewed as a justifiable, and even necessary, means of stopping German aggression.” . . .

This subject fascinates me because I grew up in the Churches of Christ. During my youth, we were taught in church and in the family (who were and mostly still are devout members of the COC) that war is unfortunate but necessary. However, when I was studying Theology and Church History in college (at the Institute for Christian Studies, now known as Austin Graduate School of Theology), I discovered that the majority of the Churches of Christ were pacifistic until the period between World Wars I and II, and the abandonment of the belief came both because of the uniqueness of World War II but also due to the severe persecution the church faced during World War I in which many COC young men were sent to prison for refusing to serve when drafted.

And I’ve been told my great-grandmother (who was alive until my early college years, and who was baptized in the COC around the turn of the century when the COC was still pacifist) kept a pacifistic belief for all of her life, which is also interesting.

I wish of course that the COC would recover its heritage as a peace church but it is probably too late. As the story above illustrates and from what I’ve seen in visiting COC’s over the last few years, the COC is now agressively pro-war and patriotic (to the extent that some churches are even putting the American flag in the sanctuary, something which would have been seen as a blasphemous and unscriptural just a few years before).