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Would Jesus Go to War?

The religious leaders who placed the ad acknowledge that Saddam Hussein is a cruel tyrant. But they also assert that “a war on the country he rules is not a just war.”

The ad reads: “President Bush: Jesus changed your heart. Now let him change your mind.”             <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
The mention of a changed heart refers, of course, to a comment President Bush made during the 2000 presidential debates. Candidates were asked to name the political philosopher who had most influenced them. Bush replied, “Jesus, because he changed my heart.”           
The president’s faith is well attested. He credits his religious conversion with helping him beat an early drinking problem. In fact, so great is his confidence in the positive effects of religion that Bush wants religious groups more involved in solving some of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />America’s social problems. His “faith-based initiative” is an effort to make federal dollars available to faith groups who perform certain social ministries.           
But while Bush seems to find faith applicable to social problems, he does not seem willing to apply his faith to our international problems.            
“Your war would violate the teachings of Jesus Christ,” the ad asserts. “It is inconceivable that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior and the Prince of Peace, would support this proposed attack.”           
It seems a fair point to bring up. If Jesus is the most important influence in the president’s life, then why aren’t the teachings of Jesus more apparent in the president’s policies toward Iraq? Maybe it’s not possible in the rough and tumble world of political realities to fully implement the teachings of Jesus. Religious leaders throughout history have acknowledged as much. But difficulty in implementing does not mean wholesale abandoning.             
The religious leaders who placed the ad acknowledge that Saddam Hussein is a cruel tyrant. But they also assert that “a war on the country he rules is not a just war.” The concept of “just war” is one way people of faith seek to determine if a war is justifiable. It is not a perfect mirror of Jesus’ teaching, but it at least tries to limit the use of force.           
In order for a war to be declared “just” several criteria must be met. There must first be a “just cause,” such as self-defense or defending a weaker country attacked by a stronger one. There must also be “just intent” for the war. Fighting a war simply to get revenge or to gain some economic or strategic advantage would be wrong. Finally, war must be a last resort. If the teachings of Jesus are important, then we must be willing to do every other thing we can think of, with violence being the last, not the first, resort.           
There are some, of course, who take the words of Jesus so seriously that they believe it is never justifiable to go to war. We might even wonder if Jesus himself thought that. He is the one, after all, who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”             
There is one piece of all this that really stirs the imagination. If Jesus can free a man from alcohol addiction, maybe if we followed his teachings Jesus would also free us from the cruelty and madness of war.  
Maybe that’s what he had in mind all along.   
James L. Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.