When Christians Kill

Don't make a virtue of necessity

I opposed the war in Vietnam and was active in the antiwar movement. I would do it again. The war we are engaged in now is thoroughly different. Like many who opposed our involvement in Vietnam, I believe a military response was necessary after September 11.

Still, I can’t buy into the just-war theory as it is usually presented; I have always found it impossible to accept as a Christian argument one which does not need at any point to mention Jesus Christ. The early church made people wait for years (sometimes even until their deathbeds) for re-admission to the Eucharist if they shed blood, even in self-defense. This was a witness to the gravity of what it means to kill even a killer-one for whom Christ also died. Participation in a necessary war means that we are involved in evil; but the evil may be necessary. We must go into this with a sense of mourning, an understanding that this is tragedy, and there can be no real triumph, only an attempt to keep even greater evil at bay. In Neil Young’s song "Let’s Roll," written after September 11, there are words which sum it up well: "I hope that we’re forgiven / for what we’ve got to do."

Thinking about these things, I remembered the days when I worked as a draft counselor, and some of the military people I got to know during that period. I found that I often liked them more than some of the antiwar people I knew. Years later my next door neighbor was a...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.