Let me begin by saying that there are no easy answers or perfect solutions in cases such as the military intervention in Libya. Choosing not to enter the conflict, whether with a “police action,” boycotts & sanctions, or full military might, would result undoubtedly in Gaddafi’s forces’ inflicting terrible casualties on the opposition, including innocents. Having chosen to unleash allied forces against the Libyan military, the United Nations has witnessed significant death, injury, and the loss of property. Who knows what the longterm results will be. Nobody knows the exact identity of the opposition to the current government; nobody knows whether one despotic regime will be replaced by another one - or by a flourishing democracy. We don’t even know if Gaddafi will be deposed. I do not envy the decisions made by those in power; they are very difficult and complex; I am keeping them in my thoughts and prayers, “holding them in the Light,” as we Quakers often say.
But the historical stance of Friends is clear, if not possessing its own ambiguities. We Quakers have no “just war” theory. All war and preparation for war, as we have understood the gospel of Christ, is “unlawful” for the Christian. That said, I am still forced to consider the measured words of Caroline Stephen, a 19th century Friend who supported our historical testimony against war but wrote, “I do not think it can serve any good purpose to ignore the force of the considerations by which war appears to many people to be justified. I would even go further, and admit that, under all the complicated circumstances of the world, there are cases in which men may be actually bound to fight in what they believe to be a just cause; although it does not, I believe, follow that every individual would be justified in taking part in such warfare.” (Caroline Stephen, Quaker Strongholds: Centenary Edition, 1995)
I do not feel bound to fight in this war, nor have I in previous wars during my life. My profession as a Christian prevents me from finding an authority that trumps G-d’s revelation in Christ that we are to love our enemies and do good even to those who do evil to us. I haven’t been able to tease out “go kill them” from Jesus’s statements about turning the other cheek and forgiving seventy times seven. But I also take away from those commandments and others that we are to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” finding creative ways to “remove the occasion of war” both in our own lives and in society at large. My duty, as I understand it, is to seek ways of active peacemaking - not merely avoiding conflict.
When nations and individuals have not been so engaged, have not rooted out the injustice and greed that so often perpetrate violence and war, then wars such as this one seem to be “inevitable.” And when they break out, we folks who refuse to participate in them are often the ones blamed and accused.
Yes, there are arguments for intervening in Libya, just as there are arguments for intervening in other trouble spots in the world - some with even more “legitimacy” than this one. But politics, race, and even economics often dictate the arc of our “moral universe,” and we become selective in our decisions. Some of those decisions turn out, in the world’s terms, positively; others not so much. The individual, however, has continually to examine his or her conscience and “try what love demands of us,” which may not be participation in violent means toward peaceful ends.
Max Carter | Mar 23, 2011 11:38 AM