Ben Witherington Puts Just War Tradition on Trial (at least implicitly)

Dr. Ben WitheringtonMaybe he didn’t intend to do this, but New Testament scholar Ben Witherington has put the “Just War” tradition on trial in his most recent blog post.

Commenting on the Family Research Council’s recent summit in Washington, D. C., Witherington complains that many evangelical Christians are inconsistent when they vigorously advocate pro-life policies while supporting the war in Iraq. He writes,

Interestingly, what no one was suggesting at the conservative Christian organizers meeting was that maybe, just maybe it was grossly inconsistent when it comes to being ‘pro-life’ to be campaigning so vigorously against abortion, while supporting the war in Iraq equally vigorously. Indeed, by some polls it appears Evangelical Christians are still some of the most staunch supporters of the war in Iraq. What’s up with that? . . .

What was M.I.A. at this meeting was a recognition that war is just as destructive of life in general and Christian values in particular as abortion or same sex marriage. I suspect that until it dawns on these Christian organizers that they need to be articulating a more consistent and clear life ethic that not only affects personal Christian values but our larger witness to the whole world, that most non-Christians are not going to pay much attention to us.

I don’t know that Witherington is a pacifist, but the logic of his blog-entry is. He has linked the evil of war to the evil of abortion-on-demand and same-sex “marriage.” To say that Christians must oppose war in the same way that they do abortion-on-demand and same-sex “marriage” demands that Christians surrender the idea that there is such a thing as a just war—that is, unless one can envisage a Just Abortion-on-Demand theory or a Just Same-Sex Marriage theory.

It is fine for Witherington to argue vigorously that the Iraq War was unjust and therefore anti-Christian. But it is quite another matter to suggest that all wars have the same moral status as abortion-on-demand and same-sex “marriage.” To me it makes more sense simply to acknowledge that Christians can disagree about whether the war in Iraq is a Just War. Let’s have a debate about that, but let’s not throw out the entire Just War tradition because we think that some on the religious right have misapplied it to the Iraq War.

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