For the Health of the Nation: Promoting Peace (Part 8 of 9)
In 2004 the National Association of Evangelicals released the groundbreaking document For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility. This historic document outlines seven different areas of concern for Evangelicals engaged in politics. In an effort to make Christians more aware of this work we are taking nine weeks to highlight the importance of this document. You can read it in its entirety by clicking here.
One of the areas where there is perhaps the most contention among Evangelicals is the question of when it is acceptable for governments to use military force. It is precisely this topic that we turn this week in our discussion of the National Association of Evangelicals’ document, For the Health of the Nation. The heading for this particular section is, “We seek peace and work to restrain violence.” The authors note that both Jesus and the prophets looked forward to a time when there would be no violence or war. This is obviously referring to the end of time when Christ establishes His kingdom, until that time, however, there will continue to be war and violence because man will continue to be fallen. It is in this vein of theological realism that the NAE addresses the topic of peace and force.
The main thrust of this section is an attempt to balance tension between promoting peace (something that Christians should always do) and the use of military force (something that governments are sometimes forced to do). While recognizing that this question has been a point of contention for the Church since its inception, the NAE opts for the long and rich history of the Just War Tradition. The principles of just-war were propagated largely by St. Augustine in the 5th century and Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The doctrine lays out certain criteria that must be met in order for a nation to go to war, and certain criteria for how they must act once they are in a war. By citing this principle in their document, the NAE rejects classical pacifism, which is very popular in certain corners of Evangelicalism.
They end by noting that Christians should, “engage in practical peacemaking locally, nationally, and internationally.” The idea being that if individuals and organizations can work towards peaceful resolutions of conflict, war on a national scale may sometimes be averted. This too has a long history in the Church, and, while it may seem unrealistic, can have the potential to save a great many lives.
War is always a tragedy, and Christians will never agree on when war is justified or whether or not Christians should participate in war. But war is a reality that we must deal with by virtue of living in a fallen world. We can all look forward to the day when Christ returns and there is no more violence or loss of life, but until then we should all work to promote peace in whatever spheres of influence we have been given.