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Members of the Society of Christian Ethics have expressed cautious support of the military effort in Afghanistan. The consensus of 350 professional ethicists at an international conference was that the conflict fits the just war principles articulated by Augustine in the fifth century.

The society met in Vancouver, British Columbia, in January. Daniel Lee, professor of ethics at Augustana College in Illinois, said that violence is always evil but that bombing Taliban and Al Qaeda forces is justified on the moral grounds of self-defense. Destroying the Taliban is the lesser of two evils, he said, adding, “Should Hitler have been allowed to overrun Europe?”

U.S. methods fit the just war principle of discrimination, said John Kelsay, professor of ethics at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Some have estimated that more than 4,000 Afghan civilians have been killed, but Kelsay said the U.S. has used smart bombs and avoided targeting civilians.

Others agreed that the war in Afghanistan might meet the principle of proportionality, which requires that the goal—in this case, the security of the United States and the West—offset the cost of lost lives. “I trust that’s going to be the case in Afghanistan, but we don’t know yet,” Lee said.

The scholars also said the West should be responsible for improving and rebuilding Afghanistan.

Still, a minority of ethicists stood against the war. Stanley Hauerwas argued the Christian pacifist position that violence is never justified. Hauerwas, professor of theological ethics at Duke University Divinity School, said pacifism is essential to the Christian faith.

“It’s not like you believe in Jesus, and then something about nonviolence might follow,” he told Christianity Today. “Nonviolence and ...

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March 11, 2002

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