1. “War can be right.” Some of us feel war is at times good and right. In spite of its terrible realities and unfortunate tragedies war, Wesleyans who hold this view see war as an instrument of justice and a means toward peace where there is no peace. Since “there is a time for war” and since Revelation envisions a second coming framed in militaristic metaphors, war has its time and should not be considered evil. The militant abolitionist history of the Wesleyan Methodist connection provides historical connection points for our thinking here.
2. “War is a necessary evil.” Some Wesleyans believe war is a necessary evil. It is always evil and never good. Following exemplars such as Bonhoeffer they think of war as the option to choose when there is no option but sin. At this point when to kill is sin but to do nothing would be sin, the lesser evil is war. People who truly hold this position recognize they may very well face judgment from God for their participation in war, but feel they will face judgment either way. They present themselves to God’s mercy and choose the necessary evil over the greater evil believing it is impossible in that situation not to sin. Though many Wesleyans use “necessary evil” language, the group who actually mean the phrase is much smaller.
3. “War is always wrong.” Some Wesleyans are pacifists. Following a long tradition in Christianity these Wesleyans view war as not only always evil, but also always the wrong choice. In their view, we should suffer the consequences of not pursuing war as a way of the cross. All arguments for war in their mind stem from the pursuit of comfort, self interest, and gain. As a result, we should face whatever cross God gives and not draw Peter’s sword to strike a way out of it.
4. “War should almost never happen.” Other Wesleyans are so concerned with war’s evil, so doubtful of its good, and hold such high standards for the decision to go to war that they are practically pacifists. They believe there are times when war is necessary, but their qualifications for a just war are so stringent that no war in memory has ever fulfilled them. Just war is a rarity, so rare, that it should almost never happen.
With that diversity of opinion among even our denominational leaders and well-respected pastors, we certainly have diversity of theological positions in the pew.
So, how do you think Wesleyans should preach about war?