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"Christian Views of Peace" Debate Sparks Conversation

By Amanda Morad | February 7, 2014

RSG dean, Dr. Eric Patterson

Regent University's School of Divinity partnered with the Robertson School of Government (RSG) to host a dialogue, "Christian Views of Peace: Non-Violence vs. Just War," on Tuesday, Feb. 4. Moderated by Divinity dean, Dr. Amos Yong, RSG dean, Dr. Eric Patterson spoke from the just war position while guest lecturer, Dr. John Fairfield, a professor and research fellow for Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Interfaith Engagement, spoke from a non-violence perspective.

Fairfield began the conversation with his stance on non-violence. "I use the metaphor of the surgeon's scalpel. Every cut is a wound, a trauma which must heal. We only let the most highly trained individuals who know how to heal wield a scalpel. Likewise, it takes great skill to execute the rule of law correctly. [When we use violence] we abuse the rule of law and make a monster of it. We must not use coercion beyond our competence of the trauma it causes."

Fairfield believes there's a better alternative to war. "I call it ignition, or confrontational communion," he said. This is a third response to difference in addition to the traditional "fight or flight" paradigm. "We, followers of the healing Messiah, have an alternative: When confronted, we counter with respect and service and hospitality. In doing so, we ignite the Spirit of God in our enemies; we see our Father in them. Our advocate is within them, our only salvation our enemy's salvation."

Patterson followed up by first making a distinction between individual and collective ethics: the correct response to difference for an individual might be different than for the leader of a group. "The king's responsibility is engagement," he said. "Rulers are not a terror to good works. We've developed this just war tradition under the assumption that political order is a moral good. We can achieve the 'good life' under political order."

He further gave a definition of just war: "A political authority acting on right intent for a just cause." Quoting theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer, Patterson explained that, "in times of national trauma, Christians cannot be the ones to stand on the sidelines," but are called to engage the world. "Jesus never asks us to forswear the sword to follow Him."

On the rebuttal, Fairfield posited that war and the use of violence, even to stem oppression, often causes problems. "To participate in the cycle of violence is to dig the pit of retribution deeper," he said.

In response, Patterson made distinction between violence and force: violence is unrestrained and outside the rule of law where force is restrained and authorized by the rule of law. "Yes, there are issues of proportionality and discrimination to address," he explained. "But there is a legitimate use of force."

To conclude the event, Fairfield and Patterson took questions from faculty and students on both sides of the issue.

Learn more about the School of Divinity or the Robertson School of Government.

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