Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Christian Pacifism, the Constitution, and War in Libya

The Libya situation is a classic rubber-hits-the-road situation for an evolving pacifist like myself.  On the one hand I believe strongly that the Gospel implores us to practice non-aggression, and practical experience shows that violence never begets less violence but only escalates it.  On the other hand you had peaceful protests from Libyans seeking to only secure democracy for themselves, but were met with violence from their government and it seems only right to send our military in to cripple their oppressive and aggressive government.  The world is, indeed, a complicated place.

But I can't support military action in Libya.  Not only do we have two wars of choice already being fought in the Middle East, not only is our military stretched thin, not only is our budget (and our military budget in particular) spinning out of control, not only does America tend to get bogged down in regime change messes, but I believe escalating the violence is the unethical response.

Here is a sampling of where my Christian pacifism comes from:

Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Matthew 5:38-46
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An  eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.
41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 

Doctrine and Covenants 98:16
Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children

Doctrine and Covenant 98:33-34
33 And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.
34 And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue;

President Kimball, The False Gods We Worship
We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.”

If we are going to take these words seriously, it means making really, really hard decisions about non-aggression.  I'm certainly glad that I have only to make personal decisions and not be in a position to effect the lives of others, but this is an opportunity for us as Christians to unite behind the idea of peace, even when it is perhaps the hardest decision to make.  We then turn our safety and aspirations over to the Lord, and put complete trust in Him to protect us and guide us as He has promised to do.

Also, there is the little issue of the war being unconstitutional.  The Constitution gives only Congress the power to declare war, and gives the President power as the Commander in Chief to direct wars declared by Congress.  Congress did not authorize this military engagement with Libya.  As usual, Glenn Greenwald nails it here, and I pretty much fully agree with some ultra-conservatives here.


Passionate Moderate Mormon said...

I really am torn about this. I agree that a true pacifist would be justified in opposing this action and I respect that. As a "temperate pacifist" myself I reluctantly support this action as I did the First Iraq War under HW Bush and the initial action in Afghanistan to take out the Taliban government that was supporting Al Queda.

This Libya action in Libya I believe is a legitimate police action of the UN even if so many previous conflicts have been erroneously called that. Here, the UN, not the US is in charge. The UN authorized necessary force specifically prohibiting occupation by any foreign power. The US is participating in a true coalition of several member states. In such matters, the War Powers Act requires only that the President consult with Congress which he has done, not that they have to declare war (as has not been done since WWII) or otherwise approve.

I will give President Obama the benefit of the doubt for a few days. Supposedly, US involvement is supposed to be minimal once we address Qadafi's capability to challenge the UN enforced no-fly zone. If that does not prove true, and we will soon know, or if US ground troops ever join this conflict, then I will adamantly oppose such. For now, I hope and pray that what our President says is true. I did not trust the last one and was vindicated by history. I still hope for better with this one.

I have more on these themes on my blog - fyi. Keep up the good work!

Jacob S. said...

I hope the president sticks to his promises of not deploying on-the-ground troops (although I believe it was confirmed that special forces are currently in Libya) and handing over the reins quickly, but I'll believe it when I see it at this point.

I'm not so sure the War Powers Resolution is constitutional, though it is certainly ingrained tradition at this point. The Constitution makes it clear that only Congress can declare war, though I think we'd all carve out an exception for direct defense of a foreign invader. This is wise because giving the power to declare war to one person, instead of a deliberative body, is dangerous.

I'm not sure I fully understand the difference between a police action and a war, especially in this situation. Sending bombs and fighters into a foreign country has to be considered an act of war, right? So when the president authorizes US troops to do so we are declaring war, in my mind, whether the UN authorized it or not.

I think we mostly agree on the underlying principles here, but there is a lot of vagueness in Constitutional issues surrounding war that have never been fleshed out.

Iliana said...

Im just wondering what you think should be done in place of what is being done.

Jacob S. said...

First, stop the bombing of the country. Then start working within the country and with other Arab countries to minimize the damage this civil war will have on the country.

The thing about pacifism is that it requires a lot of work, and most of it is in preventing these situations to begin with. So it is imperative to start working real hard in places like Bahrain and Yemen, where violence is starting to escalate, early enough to avoid wars. I'm no foreign policy expert, but anything and everything we can do on the diplomatic front to end the violence, no matter how meager it may seem, is better than escalating the violence.

Architect said...

I agree. Injecting ourselves into a civil war is bad public policy.

Our European friends need that oil not the USA. No more blood for oil please.

We are already nearly hopelessly in debt, and in one day we launched $100 million worth of our weapons in an offensive to help people that will most likely still hate us afterward.

We needed that $100 million in missiles for defense. Each new offensive military action places us more in jeopardy as it reduces our defensive readiness.

Personally I have seen a VA hospital project postponed because of our budget problems here at home. I shudder to think how things will go for our foreign based troops as our money and ammo run out.

End these optional wars and bring our troops home from foreign shores. Let the foreigners defend their own soil and we will defend ours.

Jacob S. said...

I like it when we can find areas of agreement, Architect, even if we come at it from slightly different perspectives.

Architect said...

My greater philosophy of the military is to stop their confusing use as humanitarian aid workers.

The military should only be used for one thing WAR and its associated destruction. When we try to beat our swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, it diminishes our capacity to convince our enemies that we are to be feared. We should use the Peace Corps for humanitarian missions and then it will be clear to the world that when our ships and planes arrive, it is time for them to surrender. The military should be kept safe at home until WAR is DECLARED by CONGRESS. Our military should be like the Gates of Hell and the Battle of Armageddon rolled into one for our enemies.

We would save a boat load of money and help our international relations at the same time.

The UN is not the end all be all of the world; the USA should stop pretending that the UN is equipped to handle world government. The USA is a Republic, most of the other members of the UN are thuggaracracies.

Matt Stone said...

Just came across your site. Never met a Mormon pacifist before. Pacifist myself but more Anabaptist in flavour.

Jacob S. said...


I'm evolving in that direction and still working out my thoughts, but pacifism is more or less where I fall. There are other Mormon pacifists out there, most notably at the Mormon Worker.

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