The panel was asked what the response of the United States should be. The answers were almost unanimous that the United States should send it's military to Syria and wipe out this murderous regime. The sole opposition came from the Catholic priest who suggested we find a way to boot Bashar al-Assad through sanctions before military involvement. It startled me that the clergy were so eager to thrust us into another conflict in the Middle East. Were the responses given by these religious leaders true to the values found in the Bible (and in the case of the Imam, the Qur'an)? Surely, any involvement by the United States or the international community in Syria will be met with opposing force. How long would this conflict last? How many more lives would be taken, innocent or guilty?
I began to think about war in general, especially from a Christian perspective. Is there such thing as a just war? Many Christians believe that the battles waged in the Old Testament were examples of just wars probably because they also believe God ordained them. This belief has been problematic for centuries. It has led to the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children. It has also led to the colonization and destruction of countless cultures and indigenous people. It is very convenient to label any violent conflict "just" by saying it was ordained by God. This trick is beyond played out, however.
Many traits can be assigned to the "God of the Old Testament" such as jealously, being unforgiving, vindictive, bloodthirsty, homophobic, racist, and genocidal. The problem with believing that the "God of the Old Testament" can be described in such a manner is that you have to juxtapose those characteristics with love, mercy, grace, hope, and forgiveness which are attributed to the "God of the New Testament." To do that is to deny the immutability of God.
I am not trying to escape the terror of the Old Testament. It is there. I struggle with it like every other Christian. But I think Derek Flood, author of Healing the Gospel, makes an excellent point.
"In reality the Bible contains a multitude of conflicting and competing voices, articulating opposing perspectives in the form of an ongoing dispute contained throughout its pages. More concretely, we find an ongoing dispute within the Old Testament between two opposing narratives: The first is a narrative of unquestioning obedience that condemns all questioning (often enforcing this through threat of violence). But within those same pages of the Hebrew Bible there is also a persistent opposing counter-narrative that confronts that first narrative as being untrue and unjust, and that upholds questioning authority in the name of compassion as a virtue."
- Just cause. All aggression is condemned; only defensive war is legitimate.
- Just intention. The only legitimate intention is to secure a just peace for all involved. Neither revenge nor conquest nor economic gain nor ideological supremacy are justified.
- Last resort. War may only be entered upon when all negotiations and compromise have been tried and failed.
- Formal declaration. Since the use of military force is the prerogative of governments, not of private individuals, a state of war must be officially declared by the highest authorities.
- Limited objectives. If the purpose is peace, then unconditional surrender or the destruction of a nation's economic or political institutions is an unwarranted objective.
- Proportionate means. The weaponry and the force used should be limited to what is needed to repel the aggression and deter future attacks, that is to say to secure a just peace. Total or unlimited war is ruled out.
- Noncombatant immunity. Since war is an official act of government, only those who are officially agents of government may fight, and individuals not actively contributing to the conflict (including POW's and casualties as well as civilian nonparticipants) should be immune from attack.