From Just War to Just Peace–a message from progressive Catholics
From Just War to Just Peace: The Time Is Now
“Those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it.”
- Matthew 27:52
“If we cannot know from the New Testament that Christ totally rejects violence, then we can know nothing of His person or message. It is the clearest of teachings.”
- Rev. John L. McKenzie, Biblical Scholar
“War is the suicide of humanity because it kills the heart and kills love.”
- Pope Francis, June 2, 2013
As Catholic Christians, we call on our Church to embrace gospel nonviolence as the only stance consistent with Christian discipleship and to reject the just war tradition (JWT), as expressed, among other places, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (¶ 2309). The JWT is unChristian and obsolete. War undermines human development and human dignity. We urge our Church to return to its roots as a power for peace, before it allied itself with the power of empire in the time of Constantine.
Jesus Christ Rejected Violence
For us as Christians, the most fundamental objection to the JWT is that it is incompatible with the teaching and example of Jesus, who showed us how to love and forgive our enemies (Mt 5:43-45; Lk 6:27-28, 23:34; Jn 13:34) and who rejected the use of violence even in self-defense (Mt 5:38-39; Lk 6:29, 22:49-51). A resort to violence reveals a failure to trust in God and God’s purposes in every human situation.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ on earth underscores the truth that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and enjoys a right to life with dignity. War and preparations for war are the single greatest threat to that God-given universal right.
The JWT Is Obsolete
The historical circumstances that made the JWT seem necessary are far behind us. No modern war could possibly satisfy all of its conditions, especially the conditions of proportionality, discrimination (noncombatant immunity), and last resort.
Under the principle of proportionality, the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. TheCatechism even appends a warning: “The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.” Today those grave evils and disorders are all around us. Every conflict in recent memory has killed far more civilians than combatants. Civilian fatalities climbed from 5% of the total in 1900 to more than 90% in the wars of the 1990s. There are 51.2 million refugees in the world today, and half of them are children. All are victims of a global culture that spends unthinkable sums on weapons while neglecting human needs. We live on a hungry planet where war eats first―and war is human development in reverse.
Modern weapons, and especially nuclear weapons, make discrimination of combatants from noncombatants impossible. Even limited nuclear warfare could render our planet unlivable. The gravest threats to humanity today—like the drastically unequal distribution of resources, drug-resistant microbes, and the devastating effects of climate change—cross borders and threaten us all. Violence, far from being a solution to these evils, is yet another common global crisis. If we redirect the resources we spend on war and weapons to equitable and sustainable human development, we can avert those threats. If not, we will sooner or later be destroyed by the sword of direct and structural violence.
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells us again and again (as at Mt 10:26-31, Mk 5:36, Lk 12:32, and Jn 14:27). We see signs of hope. Some nations, like Iceland and New Zealand, already put people first, and their citizens enjoy peace and quality of life. The art and science of nonviolent peacebuilding have made tremendous leaps in recent decades, challenging the JWT principle oflast resort. Modern peacebuilding and modern communications provide greatly expanded, though still underutilized, alternatives for putting an end to an aggressor’s damage. And our Church has a proud tradition of teaching on social issues, grounded in the core precept that life is sacred because it belongs to God.
Catholic Social Teaching Values Life with Dignity War violates our most cherished social principles, including human dignity, protection of human rights, the option for the poor and vulnerable (who suffer most in any conflict), global solidarity, and care for creation. Clearly, it is time to embrace and reaffirm the primary tradition of just peace.* Our Catholic Church, with 1.2 billion adherents worldwide and 22% of the US population, is ideally positioned to support peacebuilding and avert what Pope Francis calls “the suicide of humanity.” The pontificate of Pope Francis, with his disarming and inclusive personal style, his worldwide popularity, and his fidelity to the heart of our Christian tradition, is a graced opportunity to begin this campaign now.
Do we expect it to be easy? No indeed. But we are a people of hope. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We invite our Church to lend its prophetic voice to the abolition of war and the promotion of the way of just peace.
* Just peace is both a vision and an ethic. As a vision, it expresses the fullness of shalom and the integration of peace and justice. As an ethic, it offers a way of justice via peacemaking and peace via justice-making through practices that work to prevent, mitigate, and end armed conflict and promote justice. Just peace practices include economic development, capacity building, participatory processes, human rights advocacy, diplomacy, unarmed peacekeeping, nonviolent resistance, and restorative justice. For a fuller discussion, please see Eli McCarthy, “Beyond Just War: Pope Francis and Justpeace” (June 3, 2014), http://catholicmoraltheology.