An Appeal to Abolish War

With all the Remembrance this weekend, we could lose sight of the goal: Not a “War to end all Wars”, but the Abolition of War.

In September 2002, Prof Enda McDonagh of St Patrick’s College Maynooth and Prof Stanley Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School, North Carolina, a prominent theologian in the Reform tradition, prepared An Appeal to Abolish War.

They presented it at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, on 28 October 2002. It aimed to draw all Christians into a serious conversation about war, and to draw all concerned humans into the examination and development of alternatives to war.

Hopelessly idealistic and unrealistic? Even dangerous? But they point out that in the 19th century “those calling for slavery’s abolition were thought to be foolish utopian dreamers.”

Hauerwas has written: “I will argue that the greatest sacrifice of war is not the sacrifice of life, great as such a sacrifice may be, but rather the sacrifice of our unwillingness to kill.” The moral injury is devastating. Also: “We believe the serious study of the process of peace will only begin once the necessity of war is denied.”

As Hauerwas and McDonagh conclude: “Let the twenty-first century be for war what the nineteenth was for slavery, the era of its abolition, and let Christians give the leadership necessary in achieving that.”

Despite two World Wars we still have wars which should outrage the conscience of mankind.

It is long since time to re-launch An Appeal to Abolish War.The text of the Appeal follows.

Hauermas has a Reflection on the Appeal in Between Poetry and Politics: Essays in Honour of Enda McDonagh,Ed. Linda Hogan and Barbara Fitzgerald [Dublin: Columba 2003] 135-47. He opens it with a tribute to Enda McDonagh:

“Paula and I were coming to the end of our vacation in Ireland. We had arranged to see Enda McDonagh on our way to Dublin, where we were to leave for home. It is always good to see Enda. We had become good friends during Enda’s stay at Notre Dame, and when Paula and I had come to Ireland for our honeymoon, Enda had arranged a luncheon at Maynooth that we will never forget, l thought our trip to Maynooth would primarily be an opportunity to catch up, but in a phone conversation arranging our meeting, Enda had suggested there was a project that he wanted to talk with me about.

Arriving at Maynooth, we were as usual welcomed by Enda’s wonderful hospitality. Paula and I always enjoy finding out about the many projects with which he seems to be involved. I have always thought that if Catholicism names anything, it names the life of Enda McDonagh. Or put even more strongly, if the Catholic Church is the church, the best evidence that it is so is Enda McDonagh. For surely the catholicity of the church is to be found in his life. His is a life at once so deeply at home in Ireland, but equally at home in Africa; a life dedicated to those who suffer from AIDS and sustained by the work of artists who help us see beauty without denying such suffering.”

Of course the Appeal is ambitious! Is the alternative preferable?

Pádraig McCarthy


An Appeal to Abolish War

To Christian Leaders and Theologians:

As Christians called out to serve the Church in differing Christian traditions we appeal to our Christian sisters and brothers to join in a campaign to abolish war as a legitimate means of resolving political conflict between states. Though our Appeal is addressed to the Christian community, we fervently believe that if our witness is true, many not part of that community may want to join our appeal to abolish war. God has, after all, created us all to desire the Kingdom of Peace.

To many theologians this call for the abolition of war will appear presumptuous (who are these people anyhow?). To others it may seem theologically flawed and practically futile. Yet with John Paul II’s phrase from Centesimus Annus, “War never again,” ringing in our ears and with Tertullian’s succinct summary of early Church teaching before our eyes: “The Lord in disarming Peter henceforth disarms every soldier,” we are driven back to that basic conviction that in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, the destructive powers of this world, prominent among them War, were radically overcome. It is loyalty to the example and teaching of Jesus Christ which first and foremost summons Christians to renounce war and to seek with the wider religious and human communities to develop alternatives in protecting the innocent, restraining aggressors, overcoming injustice. Let us study war no more. Let us study peace.

From their fourth-century origins, Christian attempts at justifying war have always been intellectually and spiritually vulnerable and politically inadequate. It is very doubtful if any war during that period fulfilled the traditional criteria of jus ad bellum and jus in bello. In more recent times Christian leaders who still endorse the concept of a just war are finding it increasingly difficult to see how criteria such as having exhausted all nonviolent means (“last resort”), non-combatant immunity, and proportionality could be observed. In official documents and theological analyses alike, there is a discernible unease with the applicability of “just war theory” but even greater unease with its Christian authenticity.

This Appeal, based primarily on the behalf of the incompatibility of war with the teaching and example of Jesus Christ, wishes to draw all Christians into a serious conversation about the Christian and moral acceptability of war and indeed to draw all concerned humans into the examination and development of alternatives to war. Only in such a comprehensive enterprise can this Appeal’s final goal of actually abolishing war hope to have any chance of success. We hope those committed to just war reflection will join us in calling for the abolition of war. For it surely must be the case that advocates of just war have as we do a stake in making war a doubtful enterprise.

Why now? We do not think so much that the peculiar horror of modern war is the primary reason or that people are so much more enlightened today that they will readily respond to such an appeal or that alternatives are already in the making, although these may be auxiliary or indeed persuasive reasons for many. Rather, we call for the end of war now because all time is under God’s judgment. So there is no time like the present (or the past) to say again in John Paul II’s words, what has already been said by God in Christ, “War never again.” Such a call seems all the more important, however, in a world where the uses of communication and its manipulation make war not only a greater possibility but more hidden.

We have no illusions that our call for the abolition of war will bring an immediate or even quick end the massacres called war. So we are phrasing it in terms for interrogation and dialogue, seeking as we have said to promote serious conversation and analysis among Christian leaders and thinkers on the Christian roots and possibilities of the project. We hope to enlist university faculties in the theological and secular sciences, as well as research institutes in the search for the peaceful alternatives that would be more easily convincing of the immorality of war for a wider and (non-) Christian public by revealing it as also unnecessary.

This, of course, calls for an energetic and lengthy campaign of conversation and perhaps better than conversation, the conversion of Christians to the true anti-war dimension of their own faith and the conversion of all to the enriching potential of their fellow humans. Our call for the abolition of war will hopefully put us on the long hard road towards the hope of developing peaceful witness as well as developing attitudes and structures for resolving conflicts nonviolently. We believe the serious study of the process of peace will only begin once the necessity of war is denied.

There are encouraging precedents for the larger hope. It was once assumed that slavery was simply part of “the natural order.” Those calling for slavery’s abolition were thought to be foolish utopian dreamers. We are well aware that slavery still exists in multiple disguises, but no one thinks aloud that slavery can be justified, or that a public profit can be made from it. We know that what we call war will continue in various guises, but we trust that in the near future at least no Christian will be tempted to think that when they say “war” they are affirming the necessity of wars of giving them justification. Let the twenty-first century be for war what the nineteenth was for slavery, the era of its abolition, and let Christians give the leadership necessary in achieving that.

Stanley Hauerwas and Enda McDonagh

September 6, 2002


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