Reflections and Musings

Just War, Pacifism and Paul Jones

I’d never heard the name Paul Jones until this morning. His name wasn’t mentioned in any history class and he never came up in a conversation at divinity school.

But, today he is commemorated on the Daily Prayer site I frequent, and I learned a good deal (from his Wikipedia page, of course).

Jones was the episcopal bishop of Utah before he was forced to resign for his opposition to WWI; he was a committed pacifist. Later in life, he was active in the civil rights movement and other social reforms.

I might skip over Paul Jones on any other year, maybe even next year on this day, but with all the debate on Syria and what kind of action (if any) the U.S. will take it’s hard to ignore Paul Jones.

Before any Just War readers jump ship, I’m not a fan of Jones just because of his pacifist leaning. If you don’t know what Just War means, just Google the phrase and you’ll find plenty of reading material.

In fact, what strikes me this morning, in the middle of chemical weapons and drone strikes and mass slaughter, is the polarity of this debate within theological circles.

Pacificists, like Stanley Hauerwas, look to Jesus’ sacrifice as the end of sacrifice so war–a sacrifice to a nation–is a sign of impatience by American (or other) Christians. Check out this article: Just how realistic is just war theory? The case for Christian realism. I’m compelled by Hauerwas’ argument here as well as his witness in my ethics course, but I also know I write and think from a privileged position  removed from much interaction with violence of any kind, making this position a luxury.

I’m also frustrated by pacifists who support American military action (e.g. in the case of Syria or similar situations) as long as they (i.e. Christians) aren’t involved in the violence. This position is about as satisfying as a lukewarm cup of coffee (I don’t know, just go with it).

On the other hand is the just war side, for a more coherent look at just war see Should Christians Support the War Against Syria? from Jason Micheli. Just war is emotionally enticing, how could it not be? It’s hard to imagine watching the death toll rise in Syria (though the world has done this for the past two years) without action; add to that the recent chemical weapons accusation and it seems like sending in some drones might be a merciful relief for the civilians who remain in Syria.

At the end of the day, this debate–between just war and pacifist talking heads–leaves me unsatisfied. It’s almost as polarized as the pro-life/pro-choice, pick your hot-button debate. Maybe I’ll keep leaning pacifist, or maybe there’s a third way.

What do you think? What is a Christian response to the violence in Syria and the ongoing violence in our own back yards? I realize there are a host of other factors that impact this debate (church/state issues, etc.) and this post is a kind of rough shod ride over the terrain, but I’m unsatisfied with what’s out there right now.

So, I’ll leave you with this prayer:

Almighty God, Creator and Sustainer of the human race, who sent your beloved Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Raise up in this and every land and time courageous men and women who, like your servant Paul Jones, will, in the face of opposition, stand firm in proclaiming the gospel of peace. This we ask in the Name of the Prince of peace, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.           (from Daily Prayer at


2 thoughts on “Just War, Pacifism and Paul Jones

  1. Spurgeon summarizes my views well: “I wish that Christian men would insist more and more on the unrighteousness of war, believing that Christianity means no sword, no cannon, no bloodshed, and that, if a nation is driven to fight in its own defence, Christianity stands by to weep and to intervene as soon as possible, and not to join in the cruel shouts which celebrate an enemy’s slaughter.”

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