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On War: Is it ever moral?

Matthew 5:9 and Words from Plato

By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche

October 8th, 2023


Welcome again on and for you who are just getting to know me, I do have

the gift of tears and I do have a heavy heart today…welcome that into the

space. I invite you now to take some deeper breaths so we can let go of

our to do lists and whatever awaits us, to listen to our heartbeats, tuning

into whatever word God has for us today.

God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be

acceptable in your sight our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.


Is war ever moral? What a weekend to explore this topic. I can thank the

Friday Men’s group for asking me to preach on this. And it feels important

to remind everyone up front that in our tradition we do our best to

remember that I am a human, not any closer to God than any of you so my

words are delivered with prayer and reading and research and

contemplation, but my DNA is the same as yours and so as always I offer

this in love, being humbled by the task.


It broke my heart to learn is transpiring in the Holy Lands.


Those of us committed to and invested in religious communities know

firsthand how much symbols and traditions and temples and places and the

preservation of them can inspire us. And also invoke a sense of

righteousness and therefore also disconnection sometimes with those we

deem to be wrong. And then so if it goes on, the sense of superiority that

emerges from that comes because it’s necessary to maintain the

arrangement. And then anger and angry action that leads to harm in order

to defend the position.


It feels important to say up front that I believe that Hamas attacking civilians

is terrible. And strategically, I doubt that doing what they did will make life

better for the average Palestinian. I join others in wondering if they were in

fact trying to ruin the possible agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

But what is also true is that the lives of those who live surrounded by a wall

with barbed wire and checkpoints is terrible and is basically a prison. If you

don’t know it, it’s true and I am not sure I would believe it or feel the way I

do if I hadn’t been there myself on a pilgrimage.


The whole situation as it is right now makes me think of the words from the

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, who said riots are “the language of the

unheard.”


There is a certain point where some will feel as if there is no hope and what

I observed when the food is coming from the same ones who offer arms,

the options are dire. And when it is not possible to have faith in tomorrow,

for some all that is left is anger and bombs and missiles.

And then the response to that war, is more war and I heard this morning

that there has been an all-out declaration for a regional war. Where far

more will lose their lives and on it will go, with more blood and more tears

from parents who lose their children with no gain, no real reason for any of

it.


This is why Jesus said that he blessed the ones who give energy to peace.

This is why Gandhi said that "an eye for an eye will make the whole world

blind."


It might be a surprise to some to learn that for the first few hundred years of

Christianity, the people of the Way, as they were called, for the first three

centuries, they were mostly pacifists. It was typical for Roman soldiers who

converted to the movement to in quotes "put off the military belt." Some

scholars argue that this was as much practical as it might have been

philosophical or theological. Because the Roman Empire was a “beast.” But

maybe predictably, when Christianity became the religion of the state with

the Edict of Milan issued by Constantine in 313, when the religion got the

cloak of power, that’s when it started to change. And maybe you have

heard of Just War Theory. The foundation for it is rooted in a piece of

writing called the City of God crafted around the year 413 by Augustine of

Hippo or as some call him St. Augustine.


Apparently, he was inspired by the writing of people like Cicero and the

book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures. And even though his

theory has been now used over time to support wars of all kinds. But

Augustine himself was extremely committed to the part of the “Christian

tradition of believing all war to be intrinsically evil.”


In an essay called The Just War Theory of St. Augustine Of Hippo, the writer

contends that Augustine “unequivocally condemned those who desired,

sought, or enjoyed war, and made it clear that to engage in a just war is to

engage in war by force of necessity.”


Augustine wrote, “to carry on war and extend a kingdom over wholly

subdued nations seems to bad men to be felicity, to good men necessity.” (1)

The criticism of the "just war theory" is that it has never (seemed to have)

stopped a war. Some call it the "justified war" theory. As it has mostly been

used to justify more war. 


So is war ever moral? Well here’s the bottom line, for me at least. As I have

pondered this a lot… the answer for me is Yes and No. Defending what we

care about is worth our treasure of money and lives on occasion.

And as I have put a lot of thought into it, I think self-defense is moral and in

general I don’t see war as moral as a whole, but what if sometimes war is

collective self-defense? What if that can be moral? And what if part of how

we can bring peace is when we can draw a boundary around those causing

harm? So we limit what needs to be lost to protect what is good? Is there

such a thing as a just war? Maybe WWII?


In general, I kind of wonder if it’s impossible to kill in order to stop killing?


COMMUNAL REFLECTION

Is war ever moral? What do you think?

Amen.


1 - From Book 4, chapter 14 of Augustine’s work magnum opus, The City of God

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