With the start of a new year, and with the newly passed U.S. Senate resolutions ending U.S. support for the war in Yemen, American Christians should pause to reflect upon a genuinely Christian approach to war and peace.

No Christian—and for that matter, no “soldier worth his salt” (as General Schwarzkopf put it)—should be “pro-war.” We should desire peace. And yet there is disagreement on how to achieve the peace we desire.

At one end of the spectrum, pacifists refuse to participate in wars of any kind, for any reason. At the other end of the spectrum, crusaders seek final peace by waging war on any state or non-state actors they deem “evil.” In the middle of the two views are just war proponents. Unlike pacifists, they are willing to wage war, but unlike crusaders, they will do so only when very specific criteria are met.


Just war proponents provide certain criteria that must be met before going to war. A just war must be waged, for example, with just cause (defending against an unjust aggression), with right intention (to restore the tranquility disrupted by the unjust aggression), as a last resort (having exhausted all realistic nonviolent options), and in the right spirit (with regret rather than with glee, hatred, or a lust for power or glory).

Just war proponents also outline certain principles that must be followed while fighting a war. Among those principles are proportionality (no more force than necessary), discrimination (distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants), avoidance of evil means (such as rape and pillage), good faith (treating POWs with civility), probability of success (fighting only until there is not a hope of victory), and right spirit.


Unfortunately, there are far too many political leaders and commentators on the Left and Right who use “just war” language to mask crusading intentions. For that reason, I am providing a list of ten contrasting characteristics that help us distinguish between just wars and crusades. These characteristics are adapted from a public paper delivered by Daniel Heimbach, a former White House staffer, ethicist, and just war theorist.

To read the rest of the article (including the 10 signs that a so-called “just war” is really a crusade), originally published at LifeWay Voices, click here.


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