Moving beyond the justification of war

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Responding to Remembrance Day comments by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the Afghan and Iraq invasions (2001 and 2003) failing to meet traditional 'just war' criteria, the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia has said that the churches have an opportunity to move beyond the justification of violence toward hands-on peacemaking in a troubled world.

"Just war theory points to ways of limiting conflict, but historic Christianity has much more to offer in terms of creative alternatives and practical non-violence in line with the message of Jesus and well-researched modern theories of conflict transformation", suggests Simon Barrow, Ekklesia co-director, who will next year publish a book developing this line of thought [Threatened With Resurrection: The Difficult Peace of Christ, Darton, Longman and Todd, Spring 2008].

Christian peace campaigners have criticised the accommodation of mainline churches to violence during the 1700 years of Christendom, arguing that the core Gospel message calls for a more creative, nonviolent role in a violent and divided world.

The 'just war' theory was adopted when the Church moved away from its early refusal of military service. It has been used to call for limits on war, but has rarely succeeded. It was also used to justify the defence of Christian empires, say critics.

Nevertheless, Barrow suggests that it can be developed non-retributively, in the direction of a "creative non-violence" supported by those of pacifist commitment and those who struggle to accept that term.