Religious Studies

Christianity: attitudes towards fighting and warfare

Most religions offer teaching on war and conflict. And over time religion has been at the heart of conflict between nations.

Biblical teachings about war

The Old Testament

The Sixth Commandment (from the Ten Commandments, given to Moses) says, ‘You shall not murder,’ but there are occasions when the Jewish people are told by God to attack people who oppose them.

The famous Old Testament quotation used to justify war:

But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

Exodus 21:23-24

The words are intended to limit revenge, not encourage vengeance. But revenge is not consistent with the later teaching of Jesus.

The New Testament

Jesus is often described as a pacifist. He taught:

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.

Matthew 5.9

When he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, his disciples wanted to defend him:

When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

Luke 22:49-51

Jesus’ anger

There are two occasions in the gospels when Jesus is obviously angry. One of these is in the Temple in Jerusalem:

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them. ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.’

Matthew 21:12-13

The other event takes place outside of Jerusalem,

Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.’

Matthew 21:18-19

Most Christians believe that war and fighting are wrong except in the most severe cases and they base their views on Jesus’ teaching about love:

A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

John 13:34

Christian involvement in war

In the past there have been many occasions when Christians have fought wars and when Christian countries have fought each other including:

  • the Crusades
  • the First and Second World Wars
  • wars in Vietnam, Korea, the Falklands/Malvinos, South Africa, and Northern Ireland

Pacifism

Some Christians, such as The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), are totally opposed to fighting and during warfare they are conscientious objectors (taking a public stance against conflict). They are prepared to go into battle driving ambulances or doing other duties but they will not fight.

Other Christians are prepared to fight in the armed services and there are always chaplains attached to military units.

Most Christians today would probably not condone any war that was not fought according to the ‘Just War’ theory. A war is justified if it is fought for a reason that carries sufficient moral weight. The country that wishes to initiate the use of military force against another nation must demonstrate that there is a 'just' cause to do so.

Christians believe that they should protest when injustice is being done against other people, even though they may not be Christians.

First they came for the Jewsand I did not speak out-because I was not a Jew.Then they came for the Communistsand I did not speak out-because I was not a communist.Then they came for the trade unionistsand I did not speak out-because I was not a trade unionist.Then they came for me-And there was no one leftto speak out for me.Pastor Niemöller

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