A Pastoral Letter on the Eve of an American Led Attack on Syria
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 • 1:00am
This morning I received a pastoral missive from my internship supervisor, Pastor Gregg Knepp formerly of St. John’s Pimlico, now of St. Peter’s Ocean City, on the subject of the likely upcoming attack by our country on Syria. It is entitled “A Kyrie for Today.”
Kyrie, as in “Kyrie Eleison” “Lord, have mercy.” The start of our opening prayer to God at every service—the start of the prayer, in which we pray for peace from above and for our salvation—peace for the whole world…
Peace for the whole world.
Peace for the whole world while a regime who has killed tens of thousands of its citizens commits crimes against humanity in the context of a civil war.
Peace for the whole world while we in the West, along with a few Arab States, prepare for some sort of limited war.
I have to admit the whole situation breaks my heart. I have friends with ties to the Syrian people. I am of the generation for whom the shadow of Iraq looms especially large. I have a mother who works for the Veterans Administration and has seen the long term results of nations choosing to go to war.
And I know there are no easy answers.
But I also know our faith means something, the Church has something to say.
We pray first for those who have died, and for those who will die. We pray for our leaders, that they might act as rightly as our world allows.
We pray: “Gracious God, grant peace among nations. Cleanse from our own hearts the seeds of strife: greed and envy, harsh misunderstandings and ill will, fear and desire for revenge. Make us quick to welcome ventures in cooperation among the peoples of the world, so that there may be woven the fabric of a common good too strong to be torn by the evil hands of war. In the time of opportunity, make us be diligent; and in the time of peril, let not our courage fail; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
We also remember that our faith is not something limited to Sunday mornings and hospital visits. For two thousand years we Christians have been struggling with being faithful in the world as it is, in situations of persecution, famine, feast, might, and war. And those struggles have given us a rich tradition of thought and action, something much deeper than the knee-jerk reactions of TV pundits, or even the careful and vigorous debates currently going on in the UK’s House of Commons.
The Lutheran tradition follows in this rich tradition—a tradition that includes Just War Theory, “which requires certain conditions to be met before the use of military force is considered morally right. These principles are:
- A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
- A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
- A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient--see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
- A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
- The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
- The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
- The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.”
Additionally, this Church, the ELCA, in 1995, created a document “For Peace in God’s World” which particularized our understanding of Just War Theory to the challenges of the 20th and 21st century. Here are a few stand out statements:
“Wars, both between and within states, represent a horrendous failure of politics. The evil of war is especially evident in the number of children and other noncombatants who suffer and die.”
“Helping the neighbor in need may require protecting innocent people from injustice and aggression. While we support the use of nonviolent measures, there may be no other way to offer protection in some circumstances than by restraining forcibly those harming the innocent. We do not, then--for the sake of the neighbor--rule out possible support for the use of military force. We must determine in particular circumstances whether or not military action is the lesser evil.”
“From the posture of the just/unjust war tradition, the aim of all politics is peace. Any political activity that involves coercion should be held accountable to just/unjust war principles. They are important for evaluating movements, sanctions, embargoes, boycotts, trade policies to reward or punish, and other coercive but nonviolent measures.”
“We give priority to treaties to ban the production, sale, and use of biological and chemical weapons.”
And finally, and most solemn, "Any decision for war must be a mournful one."
And so, I conclude this letter as it began, Kyrie Eleison.
In Christ’s Peace,
Pastor Christopher Lee Halverson