Just War and Just Peace

Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr

In 1932 as conflicts were worsening in Asia and Hitler was seizing power in Germany, two prominent theologians, H. Richard Niebuhr of Yale University and his brother Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Theological Seminary in New York, debated in the pages of Christian Century whether U.S. military intervention would be a “just” or “unjust” war. The United Church of Christ Office of General Ministries has provided the original text of the debate at their website: “We present these papers because they are relevant to the international debate over terrorism and the use of armed force in self-defense.” Here is an overview of what you will find there:

1. Radical trust in God: H. Richard Niebuhr argues that radical obedience to God requires Christian nonviolence. Any other response would mean distrust in God and God’s promises. 2. No absolutes: In a fallen world, Reinhold Niebuhr replies, Christians cannot act as if the reign of God has already been established, and must sometimes use force to protect the innocent. 3, A final word In a letter to the editors of Christian Century, H. Richard Niebuhr sums up the debate. 4. Turning to Tradition In making moral judgments about the war in Iraq, says UCC theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Christians can find help from a “1,500-year-old tradition.” 5. Just Peace The “Just Peace” doctrine commended by the UCC’s General Synod in 1985 is distinct both from “just war” theory and traditional Christian pacifism.

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