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 what it means to be a disciple of Christ are constitutive of one another.”

“So many people are on a kind of God-and-country bandwagon right now,” Hauerwas said. “That’s very sad, from my point of view.”

Though Lee supports the current campaign, he is cautious about widening the war: “It would be terribly counterproductive.”

Related Elsewhere

Previous Christianity Today articles on the Christian response to war:

Rethinking PacifismMany peace-church leaders, shaken by attacks, reexamine their beliefs. (Nov. 16, 2001)
Now What?A Christian response to religious terrorism. (Sept. 19, 2001)
To Embrace the EnemyIs reconciliation possible in the wake of such evil? (Sept. 21, 2001)
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After the Grave in the AirTrue reconciliation comes not by ignoring justice nor by putting justice first, but by unconditional embrace. (Sept. 21, 2001)

Other related articles and essays include:

Quo Vadis? Reframing Terror from the Perspective of Conflict Resolution — by John Paul Lederach on
Jesus and Retaliatory Violence — by David P. Gushee on Beliefnet
Seeking Justice in the Midst of Terror — by Richard Land on Beliefnet
Draining the Swamp of Terrorists — by Richard Land on Beliefnet
A War Against Terrorism Is Moral — by Joseph Telushkin on Beliefnet.

At the end of September, Christian History Corner ran an excerpt from a document written by Hans Schnell in about 1575. It retains immediacy because it still sums up the position of many Christian pacifists, and because among the enemies early Anabaptists refused to fight were aggressive Ottoman Turks—a serious Muslim threat in Europe.

Christian History Corner also examined Augustine's "just war" theory that still guides the west.

For a modern defense of Christian pacifism, see Don Murphy's 1986 article, "Can a Christian Be a Pacifist?" from the Dominican journal Spirituality Today.

Late in September, Christianity Today’s Weblog examined what Christian leaders were saying about just-war theory and pacifism and how the media was covering it.

Some journalists interpreted "Deny Them Their Victory: A Religious Response to Terrorism" as a Christian pacifist response to September 11, and it has been signed by representatives from historic peace churches. If you read it, however, you'll see that it aligns more closely with the views of Augustine than the views of the Anabaptists.

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