Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

St. Augustine, known as a father of modern Christianity, is often credited with developing foundational, biblical premises of how national armed conflict should be viewed. He did not promote war because of self-defense. Augustine believed that it was never permissible to kill someone in order to defend our personal lives or property. Rather, based on Jesus’ teaching of turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39; Luke 6:29), he felt that Christian love required a nonviolent response to imminent personal danger. But this rule of “turning the other cheek” did not apply to the Christian obligation to care for the defenseless and weak. Therefore, according to Augustine, Christian rulers were obligated to make peace in order to protect subjects—even if force of arms was the only way to stop an attack upon the defenseless.

Augustine’s biblical views became the basis of the medieval Christian doctrine called the Just War Theory. St. Thomas Aquinas built on the writings of Augustine as he crystallized this doctrine. He taught that there were three conditions necessary for a morally legitimate war:

1. Legitimate authority
2. Just cause
3. Right intention

In the interest of time I will not attempt to trace the concept of just wars from Aquinas’s day to the present. I will simply summarize the modern principles derived from Augustine’s and St. Thomas Aquinas’s doctrines that are accepted by most nations. These principles are divided into two categories:

1. Jus ad bellum (justice in resort to war) principles, which apply to political leaders. These include:

• Just cause
• Legitimate authority
• Comparative justice
• Right intention
• Last resort
• Reasonable chance of success

2. Jus in bello (justice in the conduct of war) principles, which apply to military commanders and soldiers. These include:

• Proportionality
• Discrimination

Most of the points are self-explanatory. But I want to zero in on three of them—right intention, proportionality, and discrimination. As we think about the concept of right intention, we must keep in mind that war is most moral when its primary objective is to stop genocide or accomplish some other noble aim. Unfortunately, many nations wage war based on less honorable purposes. Wars to gain access to natural resources such as oil, minerals, or even water rights violate the primary concept of right intention. A few examples of immoral reasons for war are ethnic cleansing, economic gain, expansion of territory, and increased international influence.

The second point that needs to be explained is proportionality, sometimes referred to as the “principle of macro-proportionality.” This is in keeping with the words of Jesus in Luke 14:31–32. This principle suggests that the amount of force used should be in proportion to the military objective pursued. In other words, moral warriors would not kill soldiers simply to kill them. Further, they would certainly not kill or maim innocent civilians. This leads us to the third point that we want to highlight—discrimination.

This concept says essentially that soldiers should fight soldiers. It is sometimes called “the principle of noncombatant immunity.” The unfortunate reality of war is that there will always be some “collateral damage” or loss of life of innocent civilians. But the principle still holds: we should seek to minimize the number of noncombatants that are hurt. “Weapons,” such as land mines, are especially reprehensible because they kill noncombatants for years after the conflict.

In conclusion, we should all pray for the peace of Jerusalem. As Christians pray, we should not be drawn into an anti-Israel propaganda campaign designed to make them out to be the “bad guys” in an unfortunate moral quagmire. The foreign affairs arena will require great discernment over the next few years. I hope that President-elect Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton are up to the task. Whether we like it or not, America is still the world’s policeman.


Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.



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