A 1,700 Year Digression

Will the Church Soon Oppose ALL War?

Jesus was all about non-violence as the way to transform your enemy?s heart. Modern warfare has other ideas about what to do with your enemy’s heart.

As the debate around pummeling Saddam Hussein into oblivion intensifies, where does faith play a role in helping each of us to reach a reflective position?

Saddam is clearly terribly irrational. Do you know another world leader who goes fishing by lobbing grenades into a lake? (See Uncle Saddam featured at the L.A. Amnesty International Film Festival .)

But our Catholic faith has a 1,700 year old tradition defending just wars to take care of people like him, right?

St. Augustine came up with Just War theology in the fourth century to discourage Christians from getting caught up in war. He laid out principles by which a Christian could determine whether he could join a particular struggle in good faith.

But that was then, says U.S. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton . And this is now. Now is very different from then. One of the biggest shifts taking place in the last century, is that while only five percent of the casualties in World War I were civilians, by World War II, 50 percent of the casualties were non-combatants. During the Vietnam War, 90 percent of those killed were civilians.

Modern war now means at least 75 percent of the casualties, those who are killed, will be civilians?non-combatants,” says the bishop. “That, for all practical purposes, eliminates the condition that is called the principle of discrimination . You must be able to discriminate between combatant and non-combatant, or you may not use war as an instrument to try to bring peace.”

Bishop Gumbleton, a.k.a. the “peace bishop,” was founding president of the Catholic peace movement Pax Christi-USA. He spoke at Jesuit-run Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles Feb. 16, saying bombs, missiles, and nuclear weapons mean modern warfare can’t abide by Just War theology anymore. It’s time to get back to Jesus’ original intent.

The “peace bishop” has company.

Pope John XXIII in 1963 wrote: “In our atomic era it is irrational any longer to think of war as an apt means to vindicate violated rights.” ( Pacem in Terris )

Pope Paul VI in 1976 called the U.S. nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan (which killed some 66,000 people), “a butchery of untold magnitude.”

More recently Pope John Paul II is continually urging people to turn away from violence. “Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity,” said the pontiff said in his message, Truth, the Power of Peace .

The paradox of the crucified Christ’s proclamation to “love your enemy” is that non-violence turns out to be a more powerful response than retaliation and vengeance,” says Bishop Gumbleton. But he acknowledges it’s a challenging theology that requires continual conversion.

“If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other. Disarm the person by doing that,” he says. “So you transform the evil, by your love. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to many people. But it clearly is the way of Jesus. It’s his vision for peace.”

Not just the stuff of theology, the bishop says non-violence and active love was powerfully and courageously practiced by Mohandas Gandhi in India, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the U.S. Even South Africa’s Nelson Mandela , who used violent means in his early days, was converted to working with his oppressors.

“I came to understand that anyone who hates another is a prisoner of hatred in their own heart,” Mandela says in his autobiography.

Our challenge as Christians of the third millennium: What might it look like to solve our conflict with Saddam Hussein and Iraq non-violently? We need new ideas.