3 ways you can respond to world conflict

In 1994, the international community and many Rwandan church leaders knew that genocide was coming. Most remained silent. Within the span of 100 days nearly one million Tutsi Rwandan civilians were killed in a vicious blood bath.

More recently, the world watched in horror as thousands of Syrian civilians were slaughtered by the Assad regime. And right now, tensions heighten in Ukraine and Venezuela.

How do Christians respond to these types of international conflicts? Is there such a thing as just war?

There is no simple black and white answer.

Throughout history, the name of God has been invoked to support war. Jesus tells us in the book of Matthew that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. Scripture also challenges us to stand up for those who are oppressed and downtrodden.

Historically, military intervention in the western world has been guided by the theory of just war.

In the 13th century Thomas Aquinas laid out three conditions under which war would be considered “just”: 1) War must be waged by a legitimate governing authority 2) War must be for a good purpose; and 3) Peace and good intentions must be the motive.

A comprehensive understanding of Scripture would lead one to logically conclude that murder is wrong. God hates the shedding of innocent blood; yet there are times when use of force may be necessary to prevent a greater evil from taking place.

In theory, the just war doctrine sounds good. On a practical level we have seen countless rulers abuse this doctrine for their own malicious intent. Even more disturbing is the fact that many leaders of the church have cooperated with the plans of brutal governments.

During the First World War, many prominent German churches supported the war, saying that God was on their side.

Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a prominent theologian, writer, and pastor spoke out against the Nazis. Meanwhile much of the established religious authority in Germany was silent.

He prophetically warned the German people of nationalistic “Nazi idolatry.” Eventually he would die for his outspoken views. Perhaps the Second World War would have never happened if the majority of Protestant Germany questioned the reasons for military intervention.

Here are some lessons that we can learn from prior conflicts.

1. We must inform ourselves concerning geo-political events.

At times it may feel like we have very little voice in the world. The most important thing we can do is become informed about current events impacting other nations.

Many of us are consumed with music, sports, and entertainment. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but there is something wrong when the vast majority of people know the latest celebrity gossip, yet can’t point to a place like Syria on a map.

The lack of awareness regarding events plaguing our world today is the breeding ground for ignorance and deception.

From Somalia to Ukraine, we must become active students on a daily basis. It is nearly impossible to make informed political choices, lifestyle decisions, or even career plans without an appreciation of how our lives are connected to the bigger picture of the world.

Our voice, choices, and lifestyle make a collective statement regarding our faith. The root of international conflict is often connected to scarcity of economic and natural resources, resulting in instability. We can raise awareness regarding injustice, and donate our time and resources through programs such as International Justice Mission and One Days Wages.

2. We must remain skeptical of nationalistic fervour.

During his time in prison, Bonhoeffer wrote numerous letters concerning the hypocrisy of many professing Christians:

“We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.'”

What happens when those who are called to speak up against injustice remain silent? Our own history in North America is filled with such vicious contradictions between personal faith, and the mistreatment of others.

Even today many prominent Evangelicals and Catholics support wars in the Middle East and other places based on dubious information. It is a dangerous line when religious leaders blend their personal faith with allegiance to a particular political class or system.

3. As followers of Christ, reconciliation should always be our first option.

The only way to remain steadfast in our convictions without violating our faith is an intimate walk with Jesus Christ. Our faith must not become another hobby that we add to our life. It must become our life.

We must live out our personal convictions on a daily basis, or else we may become victim to the same mentality that paralyzed the German Church during the Second World War.

If the church is to retain its prophetic voice it must separate itself from the political status quo, and complicit hypocrisy of those who use religion for political and financial gain.

The answer will only come through an intimate devotion to Christ, prayer, and the well-being of others. We must also recognize that even though complete justice will not come in this life, the ultimate justice awaits in the age to come.

In doing so we are able to walk in grace today, with reassurance that our work is not in vein.

War is our last option, grace is our first.

Flickr photo (cc) by CAFOD Photo Library