There have been a few different random and unrelated subjects on my mind lately, namely the morality of a Christian’s participation in war, the question of whether all of life is worship, what kind of dress should be worn in worship, and the concept of law in the Old and New Testaments. I’ll probably try to write out some of my thoughts on those issues in the next few posts.
Where to begin? I think I’ll start with some of my thoughts on the morality of a Christian’s participation in war. I was forced to consider this subject in a Christian Ethics class I took a year or two ago with Dr. Lee Camp. At the time, I was given a brief introduction through some of the writings of McClendon, Yoder and Hauwerwas, coupled with a consideration of the life of Bonhoeffer. I stepped away from that class intrigued with their thoughts.
More recently, I have started a project where I am looking at the life of Bennie Lee Fudge (1914 – 1972), a man who took a couple of minority positions in his life. In the heyday of patriotic fervor in the United States, Fudge wrote a pamphlet in 1943 entitled, “Can a Christian Kill for His Government?” in which he answers negatively. In an equally charged issue within churches of Christ, Fudge sided with the non-institutional position, after initially supporting the church’s right to serve as a sponsoring church for evangelistic efforts and/or send money to para-church organizations/institutions. He took this position despite threats of the boycott of his publishing company, which were ultimately realized, resulting in a drastic drop in his sales and the need to declare bankruptcy.
In trying to provide a context for Fudge’s pacifism, I’ve been tracing the debate within churches of Christ, particularly as discussed during WWII. In 1942, the Bible Banner, led by the editor Foy E. Wallace, Jr., launched an assault against pacifism and the position of conscientious objectors. Over the next few years, articles regularly appeared militantly arguing for the militarist position from the editor, Cled E. Wallace, O. C. Lambert, R. L. Whiteside and others. This material spawned a barrage of responses from outspoken pacifist, including James D. Bales and John T. Lewis. This has been a great resource for learning the parties involved and the various arguments presented, and there is still plenty for me to chase down here.
Having read from the arguments for the Christian’s participation in warfare, both pro and con, there seems to be agreement on several issues. Both seemed to be using the same hermeneutic. Both would say that the Christian needs to show love and kindness to their neighbor. Both agree that the government has a function, given by God, to bring about peace, order and some sort of justice. The big difference seems to be the role of the Christian in the world and society. Should the Christian play an active role in ensuring and enforcing justice and peace? Militarists say, “Yes,” possessing a positive evaluation of the ability of society to improve and man’s ability to bring this about. They illustrate their kingdom citizenship through their citizenship of an earthly government. Generally, pacifists envision an active role in living faithfully in the world and opposing injustice, but engagement in society looks different. They are subject to earthly governments, but certainly not a part of them. They find their kingdom citizenship is experienced apart from earthly citizenship. Of course, there are a spectrum of beliefs on this subject and not just two positions. So this is a slight oversimplification of the arguments, but I believe it presents the general issues at stake.
One’s position on this subject likely has far-reaching consequences into other aspects of life. The subject of a Christian’s participation in war seems to be part of a larger theological stream of thought, and that’s one reason the subject is so fascinating to me. Others have done more work in this area and pointed this out long before I ever began reading on the subject, most notably Richard Hughes in Reviving the Ancient Faith and John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine in Kingdom Come. But, it has been interesting to read the primary sources and see this difference myself.