The Syrian civil war has become a humanitarian hell. More than 100,000 are dead, images of a state-sanctioned chemical weapons attack have evoked a global protest, and most Western leaders agree that Syrian President Bashar Assad is an all-around bad guy. But enacting another bloody and expensive war against an unstable Middle Eastern country, particularly one with the backing of Russia and Iran, is something many Americans have little stomach for.
So which position should Christians support?
Traditionally, Christians have viewed war through one of two lenses. Those who hold to just war theory believe that war is often right if the violent conflict meets certain criteria. This is the view held by most Catholics and conservative Protestants. On the other hand, Christian pacifists believe that violence is incompatible with a faith that is patterned after the one who blessed peacemakers and urged his followers to “turn the other cheek.”
But in recent years, a third view called just peacemaking has gained traction among some Christians. It has been promoted by evangelical theologians Glenn Stassen and David Gushee, and supports the prevention of war through nonviolent direct action and cooperative conflict resolution. Stassen and Gushee point out that just peacemaking theory is not intended to be a substitute for just war or pacifism, but rather a supplement and corrective.
Below are position statements on the Syrian conflict from Christian thought leaders representing each of these perspectives: