October 26, 2012
By Steven E. Meyer
Below is an excerpt from a longer analysis of the national security and foreign policy positions of the 2012 presidential candidates, released as part of the Center for Public Justice 2012 Election Guide.
How do Christians determine whom they will support for president? Ideally, the decision should be based on the totality of the candidates’ record and their positions on foreign and security issues should be an integral and important part of that decision. Of course, the decision by Christians’ needs to be guided by their understanding of what the Scripture requires. The problem is that Christians interpret the meaning of Scripture differently and, in some cases, such as politics, there are vast differences. Frequently in Christian blogs and articles we are told that Christians must be guided by “justice,” but too often we are not provided with an understanding of exactly what justice is and what it requires. Nonetheless, we need to grapple with the concept and use the teachings and example of Christ to come to an understanding of justice.
At the same time, no presidential candidate is likely to embody everything we want in furthering justice, so frequently the Christian is required to make the best choice in a less than satisfactory situation. Moreover, the American political system makes it extremely difficult to accomplish justice, whatever the definition. Our much heralded separation of powers and checks and balances, originally conceived as a hedge against the destructive concentration of power, have become mechanisms to paralyze the system.
In an approach to war, Christians historically have taken two major positions—pacifism or the just war approach. While pacifism is held by a strong minority of Christians, most Christians have adhered to a just war position, which traces its roots back to St. Paul, through Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Just war theory has been adjusted through the centuries to meet new conditions and, arguably, we are once again at one of those “hinge points” in time when we need to look at just war theory to see if it comports with emerging reality.
Specifically, it is now likely that just war theory and its manifestation in international laws needs to be adjusted to accommodate the globalizing world. Nonetheless, Christians can look to the historic markers to determine whether we support or oppose a war. We need to examine the conditions that lead to war (jus ad bellum) as well as the conditions once war has started (jus in bello). Each Christian needs to determine for himself or herself whether every avenue of peace has been explored before war is begun; whether a war will be fought for “good” purposes rather than self-gain; whether war is being pursued by the properly constituted authority (which may or may not reside with traditional nation states in our changing world); whether peace is the ultimate goal; whether there is a reasonable expectation of success; whether the war is being fought for self-defense or to punish “evil”; whether the force being used is commensurate with the “evil” being fought; and, whether innocent members of society and prisoners are fully protected.
At the same time, we must be concerned with a “just peace”—in other words whether we, as Christians, are pursuing justice in the absence of war or violence. In the more complex world that is emerging in the 21st century, understanding a “just peace” is as important as understanding what constitutes “just war.” Again, defining justice is a slippery concept, one that we will not all agree upon, but one that we need to grapple with if we are to further the values we learn from the Lord.
It might be helpful to consider three points to determine what constitutes a just peace in the emerging reality. First, it is necessary to understand the changes that are taking place. This post-modern world is a far different place than the modern world that gradually replaced the feudal world in the 15th through 17th centuries. If we do not understand the world as it is now, we will not be able to understand what justice is and how it should be applied because justice must be understood in context. Second, we need to redefine the concept of security and, thereby, redefine what is meant by justice. It is no longer sufficient to define security in 20th century military terms. Security now must be defined in much broader terms. Not only must justice be defined in terms of traditional freedoms of speech, religion, and action, it now must include freedom from want; freedom from oppression; the right to work; the right to a clean environment (air, water and land); and, the right to be free of disease.
Third, in the inordinately complex world of the 21st century, justice requires an understanding of externalities—those unintended, but very real, consequences of action that have a profound impact on outcomes. For example, if we, as Christians, support agricultural subsidies to farmers in poor countries, we are very likely to undermine the indigenous farming sector. Or, when we support laws to protect American forests, we likely encourage “wood merchants” to devastate forests in poor, third world countries. It is an enormously challenging world, but one that needs Christian moral political input even more than before.
—Steven E. Meyer is a Fellow at the Center for Public Justice.