The traditional Christian position seems
to be either
pacifism or support of the “just
war” theory. We saw many Christians espousing one or other after
Yet is life – and war - nowadays so
clear-cut? In an era when a government and its armed forces can inflict
genocide on their own people – as happened in East Timor, against a
Christian population – how many Christians can truly endorse pacifism? But
equally, is the just war theory really relevant in the face of such
Dr Tom Frame is Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Forces. In
what I believe to be
an important speech, he has bluntly called for Christians to overhaul
their doctrines about war:
it is…my contention that traditional
Christian deliberation on the ethics of resorting to force and the conduct
of warfare – the stark choice between pacifism and just war – has become
largely obsolete and almost irrelevant because both the reasons for which
physical force is used and the nature of its delivery have changed
dramatically since the end of the Cold War in 1989.
The speech is important not just because
of the ideas it contains, but also because Dr Frame is particularly
qualified in such matters. He became a lieutenant in the Royal Australian
Navy before quitting to pursue studies in theology and to train for the
priesthood. His book “War and Christian Ethics” is to be published by
Cambridge University Press.
He notes that international peace-keeping
forces are increasingly becoming involved in domestic conflicts:
proliferation of intra-state conflicts – or what we previously referred to
as civil wars – there has been a most significant shift in attitudes towards
the claims and pretensions of the modern political state and the relative
value we accord national sovereignty….Whereas previously, national
sovereignty was an impenetrable barrier to intervention, it is no longer
considered a ground for inactivity….
The story of the Good
Samaritan in Luke 10 and Jesus’ own intervention to protect the woman taken
in adultery in John 8 oblige the Christian casual observer to become an
active participant and give no grounds for indecision or indifference in the
face of violence. The dominical command is clear; the ethical imperative is
On this basis, I believe there was a
right – if not a responsibility – on the international community and on we
Anglicans (as citizens of a politically stable and materially affluent
nation) to insist on intervention to stop the slaughter in Rwanda, Somalia,
Cambodia, Sierra Leone, and East Timor. By contrast, I am yet to be
convinced that there was (or is) any obvious right or duty to intervene in
Afghanistan (when, for instance, no such right was even considered in
relation to the Russian army’s campaign in Chechnya) while I am not at all
persuaded by the present arguments being advanced in favour of a new
campaign against Iraq.
I don’t entirely agree. Saddam Hussein is
guilty of large-scale genocide against some of his own people, and in my
opinion should have been taken out by the international community years ago.
(On the prospects of an attack on Iraq, Dr Frame commented in an email to
me: “There are some reservations within the Australian Defence Forces about
a new campaign against Iraq, quite apart from the ADF being stretched
practically on a number of fronts at the moment.”)
That the West is probably never going to
stop Russian atrocities in Chechnya is not in my view a reason for allowing
Taliban atrocities in Afghanistan. Some, like me, might have wished that,
after liberating Kuwait, US-led forces had gone on to liberate Tibet as
well. But we live in an imperfect and sometimes hypocritical world, and the
appeasement of Chinese thugs does not mean we must equally appease every
Dr Frame also says:
I have great sympathy
for the Eastern Orthodox position that stresses the necessity but not the
justice of war because, among other attractions, it tends to eliminate the
element of self-righteousness that just war theory appears to prompt in its
And he calls on Christians to focus on
the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, to the extent even of
enlisting in the military. He worries that too many Christians do not engage
with the world (my view exactly, and one of the reasons for starting this
Andrew Sullivan, a hawk on the prospects of a new war with Iraq, last
Friday called for a debate on the issue:
Let's get the
anti-war left out in the open, on record, and accountable.
Christians should debate too. We should get our views out in the open and
show how they can promote peace. Dr Frame’s speech presents an excellent
basis for such a debate.
South Koreans welcome North Korea's nuclear bomb, the
spirituality of military power, and other reflections.
November 1st, 2002
Just War, Christians and Iraq – Where Is the Justice in Not Attacking?
Haven't the people of Iraq suffered enough?
October 29th, 2002
Does God Still
Speak to Soldiers?
In Old Testament times God spoke regularly
to Israel’s military commanders, directing their battles and bringing about
the defeat of their enemies. But what about today? Does God still take
September 21st, 2002
Can a senior military officer truly
follow Jesus and still be an efficient and effective soldier? An emphatic
“yes” is the answer from Major General Tim Cross of the British Army
September 13th, 2002
God loves soldiers. Christians should, too.
September 9th, 2002