By the time you read this, war drums may have been replaced by war cries as troops battle in Iraq against Saddam Hussein. Cries of mourning will arise next as war takes its toll on both sides. Since it’s never too late to pray for peace or to question the worthiness of war, these reflections follow.

Religious bodies left and right have either rejected U.S. plans for war or called for slowdown instead of showdown. No matter the case made by the Bush administration, the 17 United Nations resolutions over 12 years that Iraq has violated, or the changed world climate after 9/11, these groups continue to push peace.

Why? Short answer: It’s in their DNA.

Many think religion is the problem, most wars having been fought for God, or in the name of God. Violence has been an uncomely handmaiden of religion since the dawn of consciousness. Yet, the world has grown to feel the ungodliness of the union.

The Bible begins with creation by the word of God, not with a war among the gods that yielded bloody, earthly offspring. Original peace was disturbed and judged, not defended and justified, by the violence of brother against brother as Cain slew Abel. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, because those who live by it will die by it. The Prince of Peace died on an upside down sword, and he’s been trying to get the church to keep the cross right side up ever since. Paul commanded: If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Rom. 12:18).

Christians were slow to pick a fight in their first 300 years. After Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire, the “just-war theory” developed. Somehow they knew even then, as Martin Luther King, Jr. later put it, that the church must never be the master of the state or the servant of the state, but always the conscience of the state.

The just-war theory is five-pointed. War must:

  • be duly authorized (declared by legitimate governments);
  • be defensive in nature, seeking to redress wrongs (no first strike);
  • come as a last resort (after peaceable means have failed);
  • protect innocent civilian life (military only, as far as possible);
  • and be proportional to the crime (no bombing for diplomatic insults).

Being the conscience of the state does not mean always opposing it. Justice and liberation from oppression are also in the DNA of people of faith. When opposing war for the sake of peace, faithful voices will propose alternatives that lead to freedom and a better life than the war option would permit. Barring those alternatives, we pray for our troops, for human life on both sides and for forgiveness all around.

There’s nothing worse than war, unless it is evil unanswered.