Church works to develop new ideas of ‘just war’

Some interesting news on the “just war” conversation from Ekklesia:

Church of England and Roman Catholic theologians are working to come up with new approaches to what might be considered a “just war” in the modern world of international terrorism.

The plans have grown out of a concern among bishops that they have lost the initiative to the Government and that the churches’ opposition to the war in Iraq weakened a traditional role of providing advice at times of crisis reports the Times newspaper.

However, for more radical Christians, opposition to the invasion of Iraq from many church leaders marked a healthy shift away from previous justifications for war by the church which were seen as contradicting Jesus’ commands, as recorded in the Gospels, to pursue non-violent solutions to conflict.

Religious just-war theory was originally developed by St Augustine and shaped in the 13th century by Thomas Aquinas. The theory was developed after the church became allied with the state and had to square its previous commitments to non-violence with the actions of Government.

New ideas have now been debated by theologians who met international lawyers and ethicists this month at a private symposium called The Price of Peace.

The aim was to examine how the just-war theory might be revised to take account of 21st-century models of conflict.

The proposals for change, to be set out in a document to be published next Easter, may disappoint more radical Christians who would like to see a more substantial commitment to non-violence and feel that new ‘just-war’ theories won’t make churches more effective in advising governments when facing situations such as Iraq, but only compromise the churches’ message.

Just War theory has been used down the centuries to justify many different military actions, and critics say its criteria have been so vague and open to interpretation than they can be employed to provide justification for almost any military action.

Before the Iraq conflict, some Church of England bishops gave warning that it would be “ill-judged and premature” to launch an attack without the authority of the UN. At the symposium which took place at the headquarters of the Church Commissioners, in Westminster, organisers were told that the war in Iraq had crystallised the “recurring moral tensions” involved in going to — and the conduct of — war. One opening paper said that a “re-examination ” of the just-war tradition was “urgently called for”.

The paper noted that, while traditional just-war theory has at times sanctioned anticipatory self-defence, humanitarian intervention and even preventive action, it does not address the “moral and political hazards” associated with pre-emptive military action. One insider said: “We were looking at the just-war criteria. We were trying to seek a way we can use them against weapons of mass destruction, rogue regimes and terrorism. It was one of the most important ecumenical initiatives that has taken place in a long time. All the peaceniks will have heart attacks.”

A Church of England working party on just-war theory has reported back to bishops and their report will be finalised at a meeting next week before debate at General Synod.

On Leaving Munster, noiseromantic comments:

Will this finally convince people that Just War Theory is a sanctified cover for “whatever we want to do to win is a-okay?”

Somehow I doubt it.

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