Rector's Letter November 2001 -War and Ethics

My dear friends,

 I had an e-mail this week inviting me to become a visiting lecturer in the Faculty of Theology at Cardiff University.  War and Ethics would be my subject.  To make high ethical pronouncements on matters of great importance is all well and good - but when those pronouncements refer to the rights and wrongs of killing people, the sense of responsibility is somewhat greater.  So I hope it doesn't sound too pious if I ask you to pray for me!

 Most followers of the Christian faith, however reluctantly, accept there are occasions when the use of force may be sanctioned; and indeed, that it would be an immoral act to ignore terror and evil.  Through St Augustine and later on St Thomas Aquinas, we developed the concept of how we measure whether a war is just.  Some have concluded that no use of force can ever be justified, hence the rise of such pacifist traditions as the Quaker movement.

 The absolutism of the pacifist position makes it relatively simple to defend.  The mainstream Christian position however demands much more of us - as it should, given the gravity of the actions we may sanction.  But at least it acknowledges that we live in a complicated world with untidy edges.  Christians can either engage with or withdraw from such complexities.

 Preserving peace and defending freedom are goods we must actively seek.  It would be the easiest thing in the world to see pictures of troops, bombs and refugees in Afghanistan on our TV screens and simply shout "Stop!" but personally I believe that would be a simplistic and inadequate response.

 Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Wales, raises a profound question: Where is the Theology of the Cross in our response to the events of September 11th?  One interpretation is that we should simply bear the pain of the events at the World Trade Centre without retaliation as a sacrifice for the sake of peace.  But another interpretation is that for the sake of establishing peace in the world we must be prepared to bear the losses of waging war against terrorism.  One thing is for sure, Christianity tells us that try as we might, we will find no painless sacrifice-free solutions.  Politicians and public alike perhaps need reminding of this.

 For me, this has ceased to be just a remote concept for intellectual debate.  As I ate my breakfast this morning the BBC revealed that a spokesman at the MoD had suggested that 16 Air Assault Brigade may be used in Afghanistan if necessary.  This brigade includes my own Paras - young men I have known and cared for over the last few years.

 When we commemorate Remembrance Sunday we pin red poppies in our lapels as an acknowledgement that pain and loss have been borne by others in order that we might live in freedom.  If we should have to follow their example, then we can only pray that God would give us the grace and wisdom we need.

 Neither hard thinking nor hard praying would go amiss at this time.

     Jeff Cuttell.


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