Presented by the Commission on Christian Action, adopted by the delegates to the 121st Covenant Annual Meeting.
This resolution arises from and furthers the work of two resolutions adopted by the 2005 Covenant Annual Meeting: “Consistently Protecting and Promoting Life” and “Christian Responsibility to Pursue Shalom in a Violent and War-Torn World.”
Biblical Basis for Our Call
Christians differ on the question of war. Some believe that protecting life and preserving peace sometimes require resort to war; this is called the just war position. Others believe that protecting life and promoting peace always require refusal of war; this is called the pacifist position. Although just war Christians and pacifist Christians genuinely disagree on the question of war, this need not obscure the important convictions we hold in common. As disciples of Christ, we share a common faith that our “life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3); a hope in the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, where God’s will is done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10); and a responsibility to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27).
Both pacifist disciples and just war disciples believe they are acting out of love (1 John 4:7-8). As beloved children of God (1 John 3:1), we are called to “live in love, as Christ loved us” (Ephesians 5:1-2). As Jesus’s disciples, we are enabled and commanded to love, and called to be agents of his love in the world (John 13:34-35). Sometimes the way of love involves sacrifice, even to the point of laying down our lives for others (John 15:13).
Whether and how Christian love might involve participation in war is a difficult question, with both personal and public dimensions. Some Christians are directly confronted by decisions to participate or refuse to participate in war. Others may not face these decisions directly; but we are all accountable to exercise Christian citizenship in a responsible and honest way, looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). Whether or not we embrace a standard “position” on war, our goal as disciples is to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6), as the Holy Spirit guides and empowers us (John 16:13-14).
Our local congregations, where “biblical nurture and discipline occur in the context of love and concern” (Covenant Affirmations), are an appropriate context for us to talk about faithful discipleship in the midst of war. In spite of our unity in the faith, conversation about war is difficult. If our congregations avoid controversial issues for the sake of harmony—as we may be tempted to do—our silence represents a lost opportunity for real fellowship and building one another up within the Body of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Romans 15:2). In our different answers to the question of war, let us “offer freedom to one another,” remembering to “focus on what unites followers of Jesus Christ rather than what separates them” (again, as Covenant Affirmations encourages us to do). Granting one another this freedom of thought and practice is a crucial step toward maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in our local congregations (Ephesians 4:3).
Such freedom does not invite us to “agree to disagree,” but to talk and to listen to one another as we discuss our differences and hold each other accountable to the strenuous discipleship of loving our neighbors as ourselves. For some Covenanters, this discipleship is a costly obedience that takes the form of pacifism. For other Covenanters, this discipleship is a costly obedience that takes the form of just war.
Pacifism as Discipleship
Christian pacifism seeks to embody love for neighbors and enemies by refusing participation in killing and war because of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who embodied ultimate authority by suffering and dying on the cross. It seeks Christ’s peace by renouncing killing, resisting violence and promoting shalom. For the pacifist disciple, there is no evil to confront or potential good to be accomplished that warrants participating in war, or appealing to any authority other than the kingdom of God. This commitment can be difficult and require sacrifice, but it is motivated out of love for following Christ and serving our neighbors.
Refusing war is justified as witness to the truth that the cross of Christ, as opposed to worldly victory, defines the efficacy of our actions. It witnesses that the power of Christian discipleship lies in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In word and deed, he turns the other cheek to retaliation (Matthew 5:38-42) and to violence (John 8:1-11). In suffering and death, he foregoes self-defense (Matthew 26:52-53; John 18:36) and forgives enemies (Luke 23:34). It embodies the connection between the here and the hereafter, living out the participation of our actions on earth in the shalom of the coming kingdom.
Christian pacifists believe that imitating Jesus requires non-violence, moving history from brokenness and violence toward God’s shalom. Nonviolence requires a costly and long-suffering obedience. Christian pacifism is neither cowardice nor withdrawal from the world. It requires intentional action for peace and justice in this fallen world, being willing to sacrifice comfort and even security as the faithful service of truthful witness.
Just War as Discipleship
Christians who subscribe to the just war position seek to embody love for neighbors by following the example of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for us, and who teaches that, out of that same kind of sacrificial love, at times his followers would be called on to lay down their lives for others (John 15:13).
While Christ teaches that individually disciples are not to resist evildoers or seek revenge, the New Testament also teaches that God gives a unique role to the state. Human governments, although imperfect, have the authority to use force when necessary to restrain evil or protect the innocent (Romans 13:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14); and Christians are called on to support human government, to preserve society and promote the public good (Mark 12:13-17; Romans 13:5-7). Just war Christians recognize that when the dictates of human governments conflict with God’s commands, we must obey God rather than human authority (Acts 4:19).
Just war Christians do not celebrate the use of force. Because of war’s tragic consequences, the decision to go to war must never be made without careful, prayerful consideration. Wise leaders will “count the cost” of war (Luke 14:31-32), resolving conflict through peaceful means whenever possible, and realistically weighing the possibility of achieving a just peace through military action. Christian citizenship involves praying for our leaders as they make those decisions (1 Timothy 2:1-2), even as we do our best to discern, as individuals and in community, the most faithful response to the situation.
The just war position seeks to establish moral boundaries for the conduct of war—as difficult as these may be to carry out. These include using force proportional to the threat, not targeting noncombatants, and attempting even in the circumstances of war to respect the enemy’s humanity. The setting of these boundaries can be a great challenge for the Christian assessing the application of just war practices. But facing that challenge can itself be an expression of discipleship.
We encourage Christians to find the courage to think and talk about war, to hope and act for peace.
- Be it resolved that each Covenanter examine her or his own faithfulness in consistently protecting and promoting life, particularly regarding war. Let both pacifist disciples and just war disciples seek to think about and live their convictions as disciples whose first allegiance is to Christ and his kingdom (Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:6).
- Be it resolved that each Covenant congregation have open and honest conversation about war. In Christian freedom, let us hear one another as we bear witness to our convictions about faithful discipleship in war.
- Be it resolved that the Evangelical Covenant Church supports the conscience of each member to embrace pacifism or just war out of his or her Christian discipleship.
- Be it resolved that the Covenant affirms the discipleship and commitment of our military chaplains, who fulfill a unique calling that can involve placing themselves in harm’s way to carry out their pastoral ministry.
- Be it resolved that Covenant congregations support persons and families who are affected by their involvement and sacrifice during war and thereafter.
- Be it resolved that the Covenant encourages churches in all places and individuals of all convictions to pray together regularly for peace in a spirit of shared hope and faith.