Over at the Ekklesia Project website, a series of responses to President Obama’s recent Oslo Speech are being posted. The discussion began with some reflections by Stanley Hauerwas of Duke. Here’s my contribution — some brief thoughts on war, Christianity, and culture:
I wonder why these kinds of conversations are almost always more academic than ecclesial. Why don’t pastors and preachers talk about war as much as professors do? What homiletical and catechetical conditions (failures?) make it impossible for most mainline Christians to discuss capably the proportionality criterion for just war, say, or the reasons for the early church’s unequivocal pacifism?
And how does the whole “support the troops” ethos that has pervaded liberal and conservative America, low- and high-church Christendom contribute to the poverty of our discourse around these matters? That is, how does the fear of being perceived as anti-soldier silence preachers and teachers who have an obligation to preach and teach the peace of Christ in churches that glamourize, sentimentalize, and fetishize war – and the soldiers who fight them?
And where did this new “warrior ethic,” summed up in the uncritical mantra “support the troops,” come from anyway?
In an essay in last summer’s issue of the SCE journal, Patrick McCormick traces the confluence of narratives from liberal Hollywood filmmakers and the Washington war machine in which the valor of the individual soldier – not the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the greater cause – trumps every question about the justification of war. Genuine political debate about the rightful use of military force has been supplanted with this “idealization of soldiers” and the just war ethic has been replaced with a “warrior code,” an ethic that embraces every war as just.
So now most Christians get their theology of war from Saving Private Ryan. What matters in the movie (and in real life) is not whether the war is just but that the warrior is righteous; and the warrior achieves righteousness simply by being courageous and loyal to fellow comrades. Support the troops and don’t ask questions.
So it’s either Spielberg or the academics?
How can clergy and church educators gain the necessary courage to preach and teach regularly about war, making its intrinsic connections to our foundational practices, baptism and Eucharist? When will church leaders trust their parishioners with the complex history and theology of just-war doctrine (and not debate the finer points with their clergy friends only)?
And how can discernment about war and violence and the just-war tradition be recovered as a communal, ecclesial practice since, as Bill Cavanaugh has pointed out, the church has always assumed “that those who would judge rightly in these matters would be followers of Jesus Christ, formed in the virtues of a disciple, and given authority by the Holy Spirit within the community of disciples.”