ddequoteYesterday, as the US president visited Pennsylvania and thousands waved their flags, chanting USA, USA, the sickening reality of endless US militarism and imperialism continues to go unchecked by just about everyone in this country.

I served honorably in the US military as a chaplain for seven years and was in combat for a year in Iraq. Nevertheless, I simply cannot understand why so many US citizens are so supportive of war and not appalled by this country’s increasing militarism and imperialism. US wars have not solved anything or brought about peace. US militarism and imperialism have not made us safer, and certainly, have not made the rest of the world safer.

It also perplexes me that US citizens believe president after president who say that the US military is the “best” in the world. If we would take our heads out of the sand for just one moment, we would see that the US military has failed miserably over the last 50 years at accomplishing sustainable peace in the world.

Why? Because the US government and its military-industrial-complex are not in the business of winning wars or peacemaking, but of maintaining continual wars to steal or control resources, subjugate other nations, and line the pockets of the plutocrats (the 1%) who actually run this country.

The US has invaded or bombed seven different countries since September 11, 2001 and has hundreds of military bases all over the world, with little to nothing to show for any of it. Yet, the call of the current US regime is for even more money to be spent on the military and war.

Below is a list of six of those seven countries, all Muslim majority nations, that the US military is currently bombing or fighting in, with the (estimated) percentage of the land/population that each of these country’s government has control of:[i]

  1. Libya: 90% controlled by terrorists and militias
  2. Syria: 65% controlled by terrorists and militias
  3. Somalia: 50% controlled by terrorists and militias
  4. Afghanistan: 40% controlled by Taliban, terrorists, or militias
  5. Yemen: 30% controlled by terrorists and militias
  6. Iraq: 20% controlled by terrorists

How is it possible that all of these countries are so unstable when we have spent two trillion dollars ($2,000,000,000,000) fighting the so-called war on terror? This is not to mention the millions killed, wounded, or forced to flee from these countries because of war. And what do we US citizens have to show for all our warmongering since 2001: Tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women dead or wounded, an astounding twenty trillion dollars in debt, and not more stability or safety, but more chaos, more terrorism, and less safety.  Yet, amazingly, many US citizens keep waving their flags and saying let’s bomb and invade some more.

Bombings and war will not bring peace! They just bring more bombing and war.

It’s time to wake up and wage peace! War does not work! War is not winnable!

Peace is possible.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

[i] Source: Al Jazeera



There Is No “War” On _______ [Fill In The Blank With Your Polarized Political Opinion]

War On EverythingI am neither offended nor outraged, but I am saddened by bourgeois liberals who are offended by a non-existent, so-called “war” on science or deluded conservatives who are outraged by a so-called “war” on Christmas, etcetera.

I have been to war, and war is hell. I would hope that we could try not to diminish the reality of the horror of war or the victims of violence in war by using the word “war” to describe someone’s opposition to someone else’s political or religious point of view.

But I am sure that some liberal will be offended or some conservative will be outraged by my suggestion.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

The Two Things We Should Always Talk About (Reflection)

religion-and-politicsI saw a nurse talking heatedly with two patients down the hallway at the hospital where I serve as a chaplain. Suddenly, she saw me in my collar and made a beeline towards me. We had sat once before and talked about her life and her challenges. She told me I wasn’t like the priests when she was growing up—I was easy to talk to. She used to be a semi-driver, sort of a rough and tumble lady, but also very sweet. Now she was walking towards me scowling. As she approached she smiled and playfully punched in me the arm like we were old pals.

She asked me briskly, “Two things you’re never supposed to talk about, right?” It took me a second to guess what she was talking about. “Oh, yeah,” I said, “religion and politics.” “Yeah,” she said, “Some people just don’t get it!” As she walked away, I replied, “But, maybe those are the two things that we should always talk about.”

Sometimes hyperbole is the only way to get through to people. Though we should never say never and always avoid always, they may sometimes be necessary.

I saw an excellent movie on Wednesday called “Away From Her,” which was about a couple dealing with the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Several times in the movie, the lament from the woman with Alzheimer’s was her regret over the superficiality of so much of her life and interactions with others. When the end is in view, when death or loss of self is approaching, many begin to reflect on the meaning of their lives.

Though we are created by God to enjoy creation and the lives we have been given, we are also uniquely created for Religion and Politics–the really important work of being alive.

Religion might be defined simply as the process and practice of our relationship to Divine Mystery, to the ever-present spiritual reality that gives our lives deeper meaning.  Politics, from the Greek word politikos, which means of, for, or relating to citizens, is the process of making decisions applying to all members of a given group.  Politics is the process and practice of how we relate to each other as a society. Without relationships, life would not be worth living—we would cease to be.

So, what two more important things in life can there be but how we relate to God and how we relate to each other. Religion and politics are what make life meaningful, and if we try to pass through life superficially, trying just to be happy, eventually we will realize just how meaningless our lives have been. And then it will be too late.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

10/07/01 – A Date Which Will Live In Infamy

soldiers-in-afghanistan“We will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail.” – President Bush, 2001.

The war in Afghanistan started on this day fifteen years ago. Former president George W. Bush spoke the above words just days before the invasion, and it is abundantly clear that the U.S. has not grown tired of war. It has been waging this war for over 15 years now (despite what Wikipedia says). And though the U.S. has not tired of war, the U.S. has indeed faltered and often failed in this so-called global war on terror.

But becoming tired of war is not the real problem.

Too many of us are sick of war and sick from war. “War is always an evil,” Jimmy Carter, another former president, said recently. And evil is what makes humans sick—sick in our minds and sick in our souls. U.S. combat veterans are not just coming back with physical wounds from fighting, but sick in their constitutions—negatively changed forever in their minds and souls. I should know. I am one.

But it is our whole society that is now sick from war after so many years of senseless and unnecessary national violence.  This U.S.  government’s disposition towards violence has spread to the streets of our communities, with our police increasingly using military tactics and equipment to quell any hint of opposition to the U.S. corporate and government domination systems.  We should not be surprised. The U.S. has been in some sort of war conflict for 222 of its 239 years of existence.

It is obvious that the U.S. is not tired of war; but, its citizens are desperately sick from war.

“This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist …” – President Obama, 2014

Today, President Obama has continued U.S. military warfare in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and God only knows where else. All this without any Congressional declaration of war against any of these countries. When the U.S. military recently attacked militants in Libya, where were the news headlines: “U.S. Now At War With Libya!” I might understand no outrage, but not even a mention to that effect in the mainstream media?

Imagine if one of Africa’s national leaders said, “We will wage a steady, relentless effort to take out violent racists wherever they exist,” and then began dropping bombs on suspected violent racist’s homes in ten different Western nations. There would be outrage; there would be calls for a war crimes tribunal. Is this a fallacy of false equivalence?  Only if you think that the U.S. is morally exceptional, which, of course, it is not. The U.S. is a nation, which is simply an abstraction, like any other nation. What is real, what is concrete and observable is a nation’s actions.

It is time to call what the U.S. government is doing overseas what it is: gravely immoral and evil. Our militarism is evil and it is making the U.S.’s citizenry and communities sick, both spiritually, materially, and emotionally. Worse yet, U.S. imperialism is not just killing militants but also many tens of thousands of innocent civilians, making the societies of other nations desperately sick as well.

It is time to end all U.S. military interventions overseas, stop all U.S. arms sales to other nations, close Guantanamo, and decrease the size of the U.S. military budget by half.

The only way to heal from this war sickness is to end the wars!

(c) Paul Dordal, 2016

The Gospel of Nonviolence (Prophetic Reflection)


What if the Church, since its founding, had obeyed Jesus’ Gospel of Nonviolence instead of rationalizing the need for so-called just wars? Simply, we would be, today, a world at peace. If the Church of Jesus Christ had consistently preached and practiced peacemaking as Jesus commanded, wars, as we have known them, would have disappeared.

Wars and violence aren’t the world’s fault.  They’re the Church’s fault.

But hope is not lost. If Christians of the world would repent, get rid of their guns, stop supporting war, and, love, instead of fear, their neighbor as Jesus taught, the world can still be transformed.

God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Christians Against Empires (Reflection)

B751_ItsAPlanetNotAnEmpireCan you imagine the enslaved ancient Hebrews voluntarily supporting the Egyptian Empire’s desire to conquer large amounts of territory circa 1400 BCE? Of course not. Can you imagine first century Christians being supportive of the Roman Empire in its quest for hegemony? I think not. Then how is that so many twenty-first century American Christians still support the U.S. Empire in its continuing imperialistic activities throughout the world?  Empire is empire and Jesus was opposed to them. So should all Christians.

Christian Nationalism: A Sinful Oxymoron (Reflection)

nationalismNationalism is and always has been a danger to humanity. When politicians talk about American exceptionalism, they are promoting an extreme form of nationalism. Stoking nationalism is most often the way citizens are mobilized to support and make war against other humans; it is the basis of imperialism, xenophobia, racism, ethnic discrimination, and sows the seeds of fascism. The Church and Christians should have no part in it. Yet, everywhere I look I see nationalism in our churches.

This past June I took part in a pastoral care conference at one of the mega churches in the area. A wonderfully radical evangelical minister was the keynote speaker and there were some exciting redemptive discussions on racial reconciliation. Undiscussed or mentioned by anyone at the conference were the two U.S. Army recruiters, in their dress blue uniforms, at a table in the narthex. What were they doing there? They were invited to convince ministers to help them recruit young people for war. I have never come closer in my life to flipping tables in a church.

In some of my sister Roman Catholic Churches, I have recently seen some promoting groups to pray the so-called Patriotic Rosary.[i] When I mentioned this to a priest friend, he became defensive saying that the Bible supports patriotism. That is debatable, but Jesus and the Bible clearly do not support nationalism. The Patriotic Rosary includes singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Star Spangled Banner, which are clearly militaristic and nationalistic songs.

Connected to my own religious tradition is the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. I recently read that the Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Church of the East wants to develop a formal relationship with the nation of Israel. He wants to forge this relationship, not based on justice or peacemaking, but because of the military strength the Israeli nation has in the Middle East.[ii] Additionally, in the article he calls for yet another nation to be created for the benefit of the Assyrian people. Though this sounds like a good thing to many, creating new nations, borders, and armies cannot bring long-term peace; it is not the peacemaking Jesus has called us to!

The Church which Jesus Christ founded, the Church that was born on the day when Babel-like nationalistic walls were symbolically torn down, is not to be involved in nationalism.  Furthermore, the local church is not to be a flag-bearing microcosm of their nation, but agape bands of love agents, bringing about the nonviolent and egalitarian Kingdom of Heaven to earth.  Christians are, first and foremost, “citizens” born of heaven and come to earth.  Our savior said we cannot serve two masters; either we are citizens of heaven or we become denizens of hell.

For the Church to speak prophetically for peace on earth it has to renounce and remove any hint of nationalism from within its walls and from its speech.  Christian nationalism is a gravely sinful oxymoron.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

[i] http://www.sacredheartmilledgeville.org/Freedom%20Rosary%20and%20Litany.pdf
[ii] http://www.algemeiner.com/2016/06/21/assyrian-bishop-wants-friendship-with-israel/

The Apology That Leads to True Freedom (Reflection)

freedom-allSaint Justin, in his First Apology, warned of the demonic forces which attempt to enslave the world. The follower of Jesus, however, Justin Martyr says, is empowered to be free from the demons of sexism, capitalism, racism, nationalism, and imperialism (First Apology, 14). Justin’s list of systems of oppression put a social justice frame around the apostolic, but often obscure, teachings of Saint Paul who said, “We fight these demons, these powers and principalities, not with the military weapons of the world, but with the nonviolent, but powerful and living Word of God” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

The liberating teachings of Christ and his prophets and their repudiation of the demonic systems of domination and oppression today need to be preached again, primarily to the Church and then to the world. Unfortunately, the tremendous good which the Church does is often overshadowed by its succumbing to evil and being complicit with the injustices of abuse of power, seeking prestige, and the acquiring of vast amounts of wealth and property. These injustices require a constant critique of the Church. Thankfully, the Church is Holy and cannot be fully overtaken by Satan and the demons (Matthew 16:18). Nevertheless, it can surely benefit from a critique from within and hopefully grow in holiness.

There are three, but not just three, primary ways in which the Church has regularly become complicit with the demons and principalities.  It has often desired power, prestige, and property. Through its hierarchy, its pomp, and its acquired wealth, the Church has been infiltrated and  controlled by demonic powers. The first step in exorcising the Church of these worldly influences is to recognize this possession and to name the demons (Mark 5:9).  Thus, naming the world in love, as Paulo Freire espoused, we are able to expose the oppressor and to transform ourselves and them as well.

Upon naming these demons of abuse of power, of prestige, and of property, the Church is now able to be dispossessed of these possessions.  Go and sell all, Jesus says to the Church, and give to the poor, and then come follow me (Luke 12:33; 18:22). The Church by supporting and participating in hierarchical and patriarchal systems, by seeking societal standing and reputation, and by the purchasing and ownership of lavish properties has been knowingly and unknowingly used throughout history by Satan to contribute to the oppression of God’s good earth and her very good people.

What now shall the Church do? Apologize? St. Paul says there is a false sorrow that leads to spiritual death, but only a godly sorrow marked by repentance which leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).

No, it is time for the Church to repent, to change, to be set free by dispossessing itself of its institutional power, prestige, and property.  And then to present to the world, as Saint Lawrence did, the only true treasure of the Church: its agape people.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

DDE: There Must Be Another Way (Quote)

DDE On War“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron…. Is there no other way the world may live?”

A Sky Pilot Embraces The Gospel Of Peace

peacemakingThe Sky Pilot

The Russian author Leo Tolstoy believed that much of accepted Christian doctrine misrepresented the original intentions of Christ and His apostles.  Tolstoy said, “Among the many points in which this doctrine falls short of the doctrine of Christ I pointed out as the principal one the absence of any commandment of non-resistance to evil by force.  The perversion of Christ’s teaching by the teaching of the Church is more clearly apparent in this than in any other point of difference.”[i] These words echo in my heart.

Additionally, the words of Eric Burdon from his song Sky Pilot reverberate in my mind as I seek to live authentically as a Syro-Chaldean priest, a Veterans Affairs Hospital Chaplain, but most poignantly as a former US Army Chaplain and veteran of the war in Iraq:

“He blesses the boys as they stand in line/
The smell of gun grease and the bayonets they shine/
He’s there to help them all that he can/
To make them feel wanted/He’s a good holy man.

As the young men move out into the battle zone/
He feels good/With God you’re never alone/
He feels so tired and he lays on his bed/
Hopes the men will find courage/In the words that he’s said.

The fate of your country is in your young hands/
May God give you strength/Do your job real well/
If it all was worth it/Only time it will tell.

In the morning they return/With tears in their eyes/
The stench of death drifts up to the skies/
A young soldier so ill looks at the sky pilot/
Remembers the words, ‘Thou shalt not kill’/
Sky pilot…..sky pilot?”[ii]

A Sky Pilot is a euphemism for a military chaplain, one who is charged to bless soldier’s activities in the U.S. military.  My ongoing struggle has been to fully integrate my inner belief in Christ’s Gospel of peace (non-violence), which Tolstoy sees as preeminent in Christian doctrine, and my participation as a Chaplain who supports war, even as a declared non-combatant. (All chaplains are non-combatants who are prohibited by regulation to bear or use arms under any circumstance).[iii]  In the past I have vacillated between ambivalently holding to a doctrine of pacifism/non-violent resistance, and at other times professing to being a reluctant just-war proponent.  (An Army Chaplain cannot be an avowed pacifist, and must agree to support the just-war doctrine which is embedded in the US Army’s Law of Land Warfare.)[iv]

I will need to remember a bit more of my history to help me authentically articulate my ethical stance.  I volunteered to join the Regular Army in 1984 in Brooklyn, NY, after flunking out of college.  I was hardly a patriot at the time of my enlistment, and I openly expressed that several times while serving as a soldier (and even claimed I was a pacifist anarchist in my exit interview).  In the late summer of 1990 after leaving the Army honorably, right before the first Gulf War, I often wore a large button on the streets of New York City that asked the question, “Where’s April Glaspie?”[v] This ambiguous question proclaimed my opposition to the first Gulf War to all those I came into contact with.

After the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th, but prior to the soon to be declared Global War On Terrorism in Afghanistan, I wrote an article entitled, “A Church Divided Unites under the Wrong Flag.”  The article was published in 2001 on the Jesus Radicals website (an on-line Christian anarchist collective).[vi] Though, not necessarily a pacifist piece, it was a prophetic anti-war diatribe directed primarily at the Church.

In 2003, I marched (as a pastor wearing clerics) in NYC with protesters against the impending second war against Iraq.  And in 2006, I preached a prophetic sermon from the first chapter of the Hebrew Testament Book of Habakkuk in a Pittsburgh area evangelical church, where I served as the senior pastor.  In that sermon I compared the American Church and Nation (because of our nation’s many wars and unjust actions and the many Christians that supported them) with the Israelite nation, which had become so sinfully unjust that God was forced to bring judgment upon them.  I have never received more pushback from anything I have ever preached before or since.  My veteran status afforded me no sympathy from what was perceived as a very anti-patriotic sermon.

In February 2008, at age 43, I was commissioned a chaplain in the US Army, after having been asked by an Air Force General to consider becoming a chaplain because so many young men and women were going to war without spiritual support.  The struggle in making that decision is too complex to describe in this paper.  Suffice it to say, to be completely transparent, my decision was a principled one, but it was not completely selfless.  There was a shadow side to my wanting to serve again, and I still suffer from some guilt and shame as result of that choice.

I arrived in Baghdad, Iraq in early October of 2009, and within a week of my experience in war I was counseling a sobbing soldier distraught over the possibility that he had killed someone in a firefight. To say that I struggled with this first, of many, ethical dilemmas centering on the justification of killing in war, especially this Iraq “War,” would be a gross understatement. The best I could do at the time was to say in various ways, “Saddam Hussein was a bad man–a very bad man!”

Just two years ago, suffering from mild post-traumatic stress disorder and wrestling with God through an existential crisis, I sought to minister healing to myself by expressing my belief that the war in Iraq was a justifiable war.  I did this through a research paper I wrote in my theology program at Duquesne University.  The paper was titled “Just War On Terror? Applying Just-War Tradition to the Global War on Terror.”  Though I found some scholarly support for this view, I, nevertheless, was purposeful in pointing out my understanding of the immorality of war in general.[vii]  As a reluctant just-war theorist, in my introduction to that paper I leaned heavily on the 1879 War Is Hell speech by General Sherman.  Nevertheless, the paper was a pose, a rationalization to help me reconcile my own inner non-violence stance with the work I was doing as a Sky Pilot which, in effect and in reality supported the war, and not just the soldiers who fought it.

So, in this paper, I am admitting that I was a reluctant Sky Pilot — a scared pacifist — and I am going to attempt to answer the killing in war question honestly for myself.  And though adopting a public pacifist stance may mean I may not be welcomed to participate fully in the in-groups of my current or past family, friends, and peers, I believe it imperative for me to admit finally to be the pacifist I have always been.  While engaging in this very freeing, but scary, process I want to acknowledge the very courageous confession of Pastor Brian Zahnd, who said of his tacit, and sometimes explicit, support of war, “It was my worst sin.”[viii]

Catholic Social Teaching And Pacifism
I am a Syro-Chaldean Catholic, so not a Roman Catholic.  Nevertheless, I listen purposefully to the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching, especially its social teaching, since my own rite’s official teachings are scarce.  For most of its history the Roman Catholic Church taught and supported just-war theory as its official (though not dogmatic) stance. Lisa Cahill says that the official Roman Catholic just-war stance is nuanced from other just-war understandings because it is based on “a more Thomistic path [which is rooted in] a national right to self-defense in a reasoned-discerned natural order and in the mutual rights and duties that make for the common good.”[ix]  Thus, the just-war stance of the Roman Catholic Church has been derived primarily from an Aristotelian philosophical approach, and not necessarily one that springs forth from a Scriptural understanding or mandate. The scathing critique of Tolstoy and some modern Roman Catholic pacifists may be fully justified simply due to the fact that Roman Catholic teaching on this matter throughout the ages has not necessarily been rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church more recently has moved considerably towards a more pacifistic stance as it has begun to focus more on the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Early Church.  Noted Catholic moral theologian Charles Curran said, “There are some significant new developments in the teaching of the Catholic Church as found in [Gaudium et Spes]. For the first time pacifism and nonviolence are recognized as acceptable approaches within the Roman Catholic Church.”[x] Additionally, Vincent Yzerman acknowledged in 1982 that a shift was occurring in the American Roman Catholic Church when he noted that, “Something is stirring in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States that portends an explosion between church and state….  Stated simply, the church in the United States is becoming a ‘peace’ church.”[xi]

What Yzermans saw being birthed was clearly elucidated by the US Catholic Bishops just a year later in 1983 when they issued The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.  In that document the US Bishops acknowledged that there was a historical precedent for a non-violent approach to living the Christian life. They cited the writings of St. Justin, St Cyprian of Carthage, and St. Francis of Assisi as exemplary of a pacifistic understanding of the Gospel.  The Bishops said, “Moved by the example of Jesus’ life and by his teaching, some Christians have from the earliest days of the Church committed themselves to a nonviolent lifestyle.  Some understood the gospel of Jesus to prohibit all killing. Some affirmed the use of prayer and other spiritual methods as means of responding to enmity and hostility.”[xii]   Additionally, the American bishops said that the pacifist position was not one of fatalism or resignation from the world.  They acknowledged that, “The vision of Christian non-violence is not passive about injustice and the defense of the rights of others; it rather affirms and exemplifies what it means to resist injustice through non-violent methods.”[xiii]

The bishops looked deeply at the motivations for pacifism in the early church and found that,   “Some of the early Christian opposition to military service was a response to the idolatrous practices which prevailed in the Roman army. Another powerful motive was the fact that army service involved preparation for fighting and killing. We see this in the case of St. Martin of Tours during the fourth century, who renounced his soldierly profession with the explanation: ‘Hitherto I have served you as a soldier. Allow me now to become a soldier of God … I am a soldier of Christ. It is not lawful for me to fight.’”[xiv]

There are also many more recent examples of Roman Catholic’s calling for an ethic of pacifism.  From such notable names as Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, and Thomas Merton, the call to a life-style of non-violence has been very pronounced over the last century.  Yet, sometimes overlooked is the prophetic life of Catholic conscientious objector Ben Salmon, who during World War I wrote to President Woodrow Wilson and said, “Regardless of nationality, all men are my brothers. God is ‘our Father who art in heaven.’ The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is unconditional and inexorable. … Both by precept and example, the lowly Nazarene taught us the doctrine of non-resistance, and so convinced was He of the soundness of that doctrine that he sealed His belief with death on the cross.”[xv]   Salmon would not serve even as a non-combatant because he believed the “noncombatant was aiding in the war effort.”[xvi] For taking this stance Ben Salmon spent several years in prison.

Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day was not only opposed to the actual conduct of war, but as a total pacifist she said, “We oppose, moreover, preparedness for war, a preparedness which is going on now on an unprecedented scale, and which will undoubtedly lead to war.”[xvii] Citing Pope Pius XI, she asked, ‘Why not prepare for peace?’”[xviii]  Thus, the true stance of a pacifist is not one of withdrawal but action on behalf of peace.

Like Salmon who saw in the Gospel a clear call to non-violence, Day finds as her main support of pacifism the teachings of Jesus.  She says, “His were hard sayings, so that even His own followers … did not understand them. [I]t was not until they … were enlightened by the Holy Spirit and knew the truth with a strength that enabled them to suffer defeat and martyrdom in their turn.  They knew then that not by force of arms, by the bullet or the ballot, they would conquer.  They knew and were ready to suffer defeat—to show that great love which enabled them to lay down their lives for their friends.”[xix] Despite the anachronism of her rhetoric, the active pacifism of Day declared her willingness to follow Jesus to death rather than support war.

Though Dorothy Day was adamantly pacifistic, her writings don’t necessarily express the depth of her theological understandings.  Fr. Daniel Berrigan, on the other hand, through prophetic writings challenged his own Church to think more deeply on the ethics of non-violence as the only proper doctrine of the Church.   Berrigan’s hope for the Catholic Church was that “her progressive emergence as a spiritual force and her separation from the powers of war have allowed her to emerge as a force toward love and nonviolence.  And then secondly, that the conscience of humanity, even as violence escalates, is also emerging in a profound counter-movement of Love, which expresses itself, let us say, not narrowly in opposition to war, but in works of compassion all over the world, which is of course the largest and most positive sense in which this idea of nonviolence can be taken.”[xx]  Here Berrigan speaks about the notion that true pacifism is inclusive of the notion of peace building or peacemaking, which I will discuss later.

Berrigan’s activist pacifism, like Salmon’s, got him put in prison.   On that occasion Berrigan said, “I cannot not go on [to jail], because I have learned that we must not kill if we are Christians.  I have learned that children, above all, are threatened by these weapons.  I have read that Christ our Lord underwent death rather than inflict it.  And I am supposed to be a disciple.”[xxi]  Later on in his prophetic activism, he would say that those who did not join actively in civil disobedience were complicit in sinful killing.  “The only message I have to the world is: We are not allowed to kill innocent people.  We are not allowed to be complicit in murder. We are not allowed to be silent while preparations for mass murder proceed in our name, with our money, secretly.”[xxii]

As can be seen from Salmon, Day, and even Berrigan, the pacifistic stance is paradigmatically a Scriptural one.  The challenge for Catholic ethicists is to prepare a comprehensive teaching of non-violence that is not only informed by experience, Scripture, and Tradition, but also from reason and the sciences.

What I consider to be more balanced approach to pacifism is the teachings of the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton, who comes closer to applying a broader ethical understanding of pacifism.  Merton did not believe that violence could never be used to repel evil, primarily because Merton did not necessarily believe in moral absolutes.  Merton believed that, “… moral bonds and obligations inhere in personal relationships, not in extrinsic requirements.”[xxiii]  On this basis, Merton was careful to say, “If a pacifist is one who believes that all war is always morally wrong and always has been wrong, then I am not a pacifist.  Nevertheless I see war as an avoidable tragedy.”[xxiv]  To that end, Merton communicated to the Catholic Workers in New York that pacifism required the Church to undergo a spiritual renewal or conversion.  This to Merton was not a passively pietistic approach, but one that would “be expressed in the historical context.”[xxv]  Again, we see that a Catholic understanding of pacifism is not simply a passive opposition to war, but an active responsibility to be peacemakers in the world. It is this paradigm of pacifism as peacemaking that I am beginning to embrace more fully.

Critiquing The Just-War Tradition
It should be noted before delineating the criteria of the just-war tradition that the tradition was not conceived as a simple moral checklist that a citizen or a governmental authority could use to rationalize a desire to go to war against an avowed enemy. Jean Elshtain states, “The just war tradition does not provide a handy, short-cut tick list that yields a knock-down answer to the question of whether or not a war is justified.”[xxvi]  Additionally, that someone might be able to articulate a moral justification for war never assumes that war is desirous.  The Catholic Catechism states the ideal: “All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.”[xxvii]  Cahill reiterates this when she notes that, “Many just war authors incorporate into their positions some particular qualification to safeguard the importance of the nonviolent ideal.”[xxviii]

Although there is no definitive list of the various criteria of the tradition, for the sake of brevity, I am referring to those six historically understood articles of justice for war (jus ad bellum).  Snauwaert says, “Historically jus ad bellum criteria have included the following principles: just cause, right authority, right intention, proportionality, reasonable hope for success, and last resort.”[xxix]

John Howard Yoder, a well-known Mennonite scholar and pacifist, engaged just-war thinkers in a very respectful dialogue throughout his career.  He believed that the historical just-war tradition was no longer viable in its current form.  First of all, he believed that the word ‘just’ was a misnomer, saying that, “… justifiable is a more precise adjective than just, since no claim is made that the destruction involved in a justifiable war is itself a positive good.[xxx]

Additionally, Yoder said, “[J]ust-war tradition as a whole is more complicated …, and its terms presuppose definitions, many of them debatable, without which the system cannot work. More important though, its fundamental logic is ambivalent.”[xxxi] Speaking of the many changes in the context of modern warfare, Yoder said, “Even one of the … changes is sufficient to make the applicability of the just-war tradition questionable.”[xxxii]

Daniel Berrigan was not so polite in his critique of the just-war tradition. He said, “The ‘just war theory’ is in fact a cruel oxymoron.  War, no matter its provocation or justification, is of its essence and nature, supremely unjust.  The injustice of war implies a blasphemous inflation of human authority, that humans are allowed to decree who shall live and who shall die, to dispose of human differences by disposing of humans.  We are done with that theory forever.”[xxxiii]

Berrigan was not a scholar, but an activist, and in this he was more a prophet calling Christians to live out what he believed was a clear teaching of Jesus.  “Christians are called to be objectors against all and any war, against ‘just’ war, invasive war, preemptive war, defensive war, conventional war (whose horrendous effects we have seen again and again).  [W]e remain stuck in the pernicious language of the just war, implying the unjust soldiers, enemies, tyrants, drug lords lie beyond the pale; that such lives can be wasted with impunity.  The language is outmoded, passé, morally regressive.”[xxxiv]  This form of pacifism is absolute and may not find its ethical basis in the Gospel, since it seems to also condemn those who may have been compelled to participate in war.  Though I appreciate the absolutist stance of Berrigan, I must fulfill my calling to provide pastoral care to all, irrespective of their prior or current sins. In my current ministerial context I have no desire to alienate the soldiers and veterans I care for, many of whom are suffering from their own participation in killing.

Just Peacemaking As An Alternative To Pacifism and the Just-War Tradition?
Now that I have spent some time critiquing the just-war tradition, I need to admit that one of the critiques of pacifism could be that pacifism alone may not be able to prevent the unjust killing of humans or the violent destruction of other features of God’s good creation. In our current milieu, which I feel could be characterized as an Age of Terrorism, modern just-war proponents may have a lot of ammunition (pun intended) to support their stance.

Recently, however, I read an enlightening article about non-violent resistance related to terrorism.  Maria Stephan reporting from the Middle East notes, “In the fight against ISIS, unarmed civilians would seem to be powerless.  Surprisingly, acts of civil resistance in Syria and Iraq have shown success against the so-called Islamic State.”[xxxv]  Stephan lists several acts of civil resistance in her article including the following surprising one.  “In July, 2014, after a prominent imam and 35 followers refused to pledge their allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, a large number of Iraqi supporters flocked to mosques where they preached to show solidarity for these leaders’ act of defiance.  ISIS detained some of the leaders but has not killed those which such a significant following.”[xxxvi] Thus, even in this Age of Terrorism, the potential use of non-violent resistance still has its place and can be effective against the worst of violent offenders.

Nevertheless, Stephan does admit that, “Nonviolent resistance alone cannot defeat this radical scourge.  The global response must be multifaceted.”[xxxvii] In response to what Stephan has said and what might be an obvious critique of pacifism from proponents of an enhanced and updated just-war theory nuanced to speak to our current context, a relatively new idea is gaining a lot of attention by just-war theorists and pacifists alike.  Dubbed Just Peacemaking, Glen Stassen, who could be viewed as the movement’s primary author and spokesperson said, “… this new paradigm for an ethics of peace and war developed by a consensus of 23 Christian ethicists and international relations scholars from various denominations — shifts the debate to constructive alternatives.”[xxxviii]

Stassen and his team have identified ten peacemaking practices that they believe are evidenced-based strategies which have proven effective “… at toppling dictators and ameliorating causes of war without the killing and chaos of war.”[xxxix]

Though it would require a whole paper to discuss the ten practices, Stassen and his colleagues have explicated them in their book Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War. In that book and in earlier journal articles Stassen lists these ten practices: “(1) Recognize emerging cooperative forces in the international system, and work with them; (2) Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights; (3) Promote democracy, human rights, and religious liberty; (4) Foster just and sustainable economic development; (5) Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade; (6) Support nonviolent direct action; (7) Take independent initiatives to reduce hostility; (8) Use partnership conflict resolution; (9) Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice; seek repentance and forgiveness; and, (10) Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.”[xl]

Stassen believes that the focus of peacemaking needs to be on the development of practices developed by consensus.  He said, about the team which developed these ten practices, that, “Focusing on practices enabled us to unite in spite of our differing faiths, perspectives, and methodologies. We believe the practices are ethically normative because they bring peace, because they solve problems, and because they promote justice and cooperation.”[xli] This consensus building was accomplished by seeking out the input of renowned ethicists from different faith traditions and included some who hold no faith traditions. Thus, this approach has been seen as truly ecumenical and the first “realist” approach to the problem of war.

Stassen said, “Realism pays attention to what in fact is actually happening in empirical reality, with particular attention to the unpleasant, the sinful, the threatening dimensions of reality.”[xlii]  Though I appreciate the ecumenical and consensus building approach of Stassen, et al, I am hesitant to base my own theology or peace ethic solely on realism.  There is in my faith a real spiritual reality which operates through and within the empirical reality that Stassen speaks about. Additionally, there is a real heart driven Gospel of peace which motivates me to be a peacemaker.[xliii]  The Gospel imperative of peace may also be adhered to by those pacifists (as well as many of just-war thinkers) on the Just Peacemaking team, so I don’t see the realism peace as an impediment in participation in this program.

Nevertheless, there have been other critiques about the so-called realism of Just Peacemaking. Ronald Stone believes that the participants may not be fully cognizant of the theories limitations.  Stone said, “Realist participation in the just peacemaking project can proceed but only with reservations about what seems to be a mixture of optimism and Kantian idealism about the future peacefulness of a capitalist world, and the illusion that war will disappear from the world.”[xliv]

I would also add that after studying many of the documents that represent Catholic Social Thought (CST) in the post-conciliar era, it would seem to me that the Roman Catholic Church has been promoting many of the practices that Just Peacemaking claims as a new paradigm.  For instance, as early as 1967, Pope Paul VI said that, “Development [is] the new name for peace. When we fight poverty and oppose the unfair conditions of the present, we are not just promoting human well-being; we are also furthering man’s spiritual and moral development, and hence we are benefiting the whole human race. For peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day toward the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect form of justice among men.”[xlv]  This is certainly one of the main points of Just Peacemaking.

Much of the actions in the Just Peacemaking theory are also emphasized in CST, including the notion of the interdependent nature of peacemaking.  John Paul II emphasized the multi-dimensional practices of peace building in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis when he noted that, “… the solidarity which we propose is the path to peace and at the same time to development. For world peace is inconceivable unless the world’s leaders come to recognize that interdependence in itself demands the abandonment of the politics of blocs, the sacrifice of all forms of economic, military or political imperialism, and the transformation of mutual distrust into collaboration.”[xlvi]

Prior to John Paul’s encyclical the American Bishops had already begun the movement towards just peacemaking when they said, “To avoid war in our day we must be intent on building peace in an increasingly interdependent world.”[xlvii]

As the Roman Catholic Church increasingly heeds the Biblical mandate of Christ to be peacemakers, to build a Kingdom under God, I feel empowered to remain committed to the Gospel message of peace as the starting and ending point, the means and the end, of any ethic of peace. Thus, as I further my development as a pacifist, unlike Merton, but more like Day and Berrigan, I will consider pacifism as an absolute mandate. Nonetheless, the Just Peacemaking project seems to be a very practical model that I can support and use as I follow Jesus and His Gospel of peace.

Unanswered Questions
Because this a different kind of research paper, more personal than academic, I will attempt to look at my unanswered questions which concern me personally as a pastor.  First, I realize that I have not fully considered, in this paper, the multi-faceted dimensions of sin as it relates to pacifism.  This sin is in me and in all humanity, which amounts to the real possibility of violence.  Secondly, I now have an ethical duty to develop my own plan or strategy of living out the call to pacifism, and discern what aspects of Just Peacemaking I sense a call to participate in.  It is certainly not possible for me now to simply profess my pacifism.  Openly confessing my past as a Sky Pilot frees me and opens me up to a new frontier to continue the journey towards developing my call to being a peacemaking disciple of Jesus, and, additionally, to obey the specific ways God is calling me to participate in building God’s Kingdom of Justice and Peace.

[i] Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You. Translated by Constance Garnett. (Seaside, OR: Watchmaker Publishing, 2010), 4.

[ii] Eric Burdon. Sky Pilot. Song Lyrics. http://www.ericburdon.com/music/lyrics/111-sky-pilot. Downloaded 27 Feb 2015.

[iii] See Army Regulations 165-1, Army Chaplain Corp Activities, Department of the Army, January 2010, 3-1, f. (Also explained in Army Field Manual, FM 27-10; see below).

[iv] See Army Field Manual 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare. Department of the Army, July 1956.

[v] April Glaspie was the US Ambassador to Iraq in 1990 who purportedly was responsible for tacitly giving the US Administration’s go ahead to Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait, thus deceptively creating the justification for the US to declare war on Iraq. For an in depth analysis see a fairly recent article by Prof. Stephen M. Walt entitled “Wikileaks, April Glaspie, and Saddam Hussein” in Foreign Policy, January 9, 2011. http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/01/09/wikileaks-april-glaspie-and-saddam-hussein/ Downloaded 27 Feb 2015.

[vi] The article was removed in 2007, after I asked for it to be taken down in anticipation of my rejoining the military as a chaplain.

[vii] St. Augustine said, “The wise man…, if he remembers that he is a human being, he will rather lament the fact that he is faced with the necessity of waging just wars.” Augustine. City of God. (London: Penguin Books, 1972), 861-862.

[viii] Brian Zahnd. A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2014), 25.

[ix] Lisa Sowle Cahill. Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory. (Minneapolis,MN: Fortress Press, 1994) , 205.

[x] Charles E Curran. “Roman Catholic Teaching on Peace and War within a Broader Theological Context” in The Journal of Religious Ethics. Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1984), 62.

[xi] Vicent A. Yzermans.“The Catholic Revolution.” Christianity and Crisis. Vol 42, No., 3 March 1 1982, 39.

[xii] Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1983. Print. The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, 111.

[xiii] Ibid, 116.

[xiv] Ibid, 114.

[xv] Victor M. Parachin, “Ben Salmon: Catholic Conscientious Objector of the Great War.” In Our Sunday Visitor, March 1, 2015. Downloaded, April 3, 2015 from: https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/Faith/Article/TabId/720/ArtMID/13628/ArticleID/16867/Ben-Salmon.aspx

[xvi] Parachin, Ben Salmon.

[xvii] Dorothy Day. “Pacifism” in The Catholic Worker, May, 1936, 8

[xviii] Dorothy Day. “Pacifism” in The Catholic Worker, May, 1936, 8.

[xix] Dorothy Day. “The Use of Force” in The Catholic Worker, November 1936, 4.

[xx] Berrigan, 61.

[xxi] Berrigan, 189.

[xxii] Berrigan, 192.

[xxiii] Cahill, Love Your Enemies, 221.

[xxiv] Cahill, Love Your Enemies, 219.

[xxv] Cahill, Love Your Enemies, 222.

[xxvi] J.B. Elshtain, Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World. 2003, New York: Basic Books, p. 185.

[xxvii] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2308

[xxviii] Lisa Sowle Cahill, Love Your Enemies.  Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory.  Minneapolis, MN:Fortress Press, 199,4 p. 12

[xxix] Dale T. Snauwaert, “The Bush Doctrine and Just War Theory.”  OJPPCR: The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution 6.1 Fall (2004) : 127).  Downloaded from www.trinstitute.org/ojpcr6_1snau.pdf  on October 30, 2012.

[xxx] John Howard Yoder. When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1996), 17.

[xxxi] Ibid, 50.

[xxxii] Ibid, 30.

[xxxiii] Daniel Berrigan. Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009, 278.

[xxxiv] Berrigan, 273.

[xxxv] Maria J. Stephan. “Resisting ISIS” in Sojourners, Vol. 44, No. 4, April 2015, 15.

[xxxvi] Stephan, 16.

[xxxvii] Stephan, 15.

[xxxviii] Glen H. Stassen. “’Yes To Just Peacemaking: Not Just No To War” in Church and Society, Nov/Dec 2005, 69.

[xxxix] Ibid, 69.

[xl] Glen H. Stassen, et al. Just Peacemaking The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War. (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2008), 2-9.

[xli] Glen H. Stassen. “New Paradigm: Just Peacemaking Theory” in Council of Societies for the Study of Religion Bulletin, Vol 25, Nos. 3 & 4, Sept/Nov 1996, 31.

[xlii] Stassen, Just Peacemaking, 11.

[xliii] Matthew 5:9, (NABRE).

[xliv] Ronald H. Stone. “Realist Criticism of Just Peacemaking Theory” in Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, Vol 23, No. 1, 2003, 255.

[xlv] Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populourum Progressio, , Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana , 1967, No. 76.

[xlvi] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1987, No. 39.

[xlvii] Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1983. The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, Summary. 

Works Cited

Berrigan, Daniel. Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009.

Burdon, Eric. Sky Pilot. Song Lyrics. http://www.ericburdon.com/music/lyrics/111-sky-pilot.Downloaded 27 Feb 2015.

Cahill, Lisa Sowle.  Love Your Enemies:  Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory. Minneapolis, MN:Fortress Press, 1994.

Curran, Charles E. “Roman Catholic Teaching on Peace and War within a Broader Theological Context” in The Journal of Religious Ethics. Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring, 1984.

Day, Dorothy. “Pacifism” in The Catholic Worker, May, 1936.

Day, Dorothy. “The Use of Force” in The Catholic Worker, November, 1936.

Elshtain, J.B.  Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World. 2003, New York: Basic Books.

John Paul II. Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1987.

Parachin, Victor M. “Ben Salmon: Catholic Conscientious Objector of the Great War.” In Our Sunday Visitor, March 1, 2015. Downloaded, April 3, 2015 from: https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/Faith/Article/TabId/720/ArtMID/13628/ArticleID/16867/Ben-Salmon.aspx

Paul VI. Encyclical Letter Populourum Progressio, Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1967.

Stassen, Glen H., et al. Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2008.

Stassen, Glen H. “’Yes To Just Peacemaking: Not Just No To War” in Church and Society, Nov/Dec 2005.

Stassen, Glen H. “New Paradigm: Just Peacemaking Theory” in Council of Societies for the Study of Religion Bulletin, Vol 25, Nos. 3 & 4, Sept/Nov 1996.

Stephan, Maria J. “Resisting ISIS” in Sojourners, Vol. 44, No. 4, April 2015.

Snauwaert, Dale T. “The Bush Doctrine and Just War Theory.”  OJPPCR: The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution 6.1 Fall (2004).  Downloaded from www.trinstitute.org/ojpcr6_1snau.pdf  on October 30, 2012.

New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE): Washington, D.C.: Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., 2010.

Tolstoy, Leo. The Kingdom of God is Within You. Translated by Constance Garnett. (Seaside, OR: Watchmaker Publishing, 2010).

Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, 1983. The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.

Yoder, John Howard. When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1996.

Yzermans, Vincent A. “The Catholic Revolution.” Christianity and Crisis. Vol 42, No. 3, March 1, 1982.

Zahnd, Brian. A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2014.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2015