Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Just Policing: The End of Modern Warfare (Part 1: Introduction)

I wrote an essay recently on a contemporary school of ethics called "Just Policing." Both pacifists and just war theorists have contributed to this theory, which I believe is a viable option in the near future that we should all be pushing for. Like Jim Wallis at Sojourners and Glen Stassen at Fuller, I am a principled pacifist, but in the "classical" tradition - meaning that I do not object to policing (it's worth noting that there are dozens of varieties of pacifism). I see a qualitative difference between war and policing, not merely a difference in degree. Some models of policing are much closer to war like the so-called "crime-fighter" model, but I think that "community policing" and "social peacekeeper" models are morally acceptable for Christians. Contrary to what some pacifists and most just war theorists think, Romans 13 does not give the state the authority to wage war. It gives them authority only to exercise a policing function. As a norm, Christians should not participate in any form of violence, but I recognize that there will be legitimate exceptions if one senses a vocational calling to police work. The Christian witness of the alternative kingdom is easily compromised by participation within the state, and so only those few who feel genuinely called by God to work within that system (with strong accountability from their church) should be involved in governmental functions. Here is where I part ways with more radical pacifists like Greg Boyd who think that the state is never to be a place for Christians to work in. I am sympathetic to this argument, even as I am not convinced by its internal logic. Even the Mennonite pacifist John Howard Yoder seriously considered the possibility of legitimate vocational callings for Christians to work within the state. With these issues clarified, I present a three part series on just policing. Pick up the book here.


Along with other prominent Christian ethicists, Gerald W. Schlabach argues for “just policing”, a new paradigm for international conflict management that has the potential to end modern warfare and bring many pacifists and just war theorists together. As a self-described Mennonite-Catholic, Schlabach knows both sides of the long-standing debate in the Christian church about violence and war. At the center of Mennonite theology has always been a commitment to principled pacifism, while the Catholic Church has generally defended some form of just war thinking since the fourth century. As many have argued, a major problem with pacifism is that after criticizing war, it too often fails to provide a better solution to deal with international conflict. On the other side, a problem with just war thinking is that it is too easily manipulated to justify all wars. In light of these criticisms, Schlabach and others argue that just policing is a viable third option that can and should be implemented.

Although just policing may never bring a “grand convergence” between pacifists and just warriors, they “might be able to converge sufficiently that war would cease to divide them.” What partially makes this assertion plausible is that the 20th century has already brought some convergence between Mennonites and Catholics. While Mennonites have started to become more socially engaged, Catholics after the Second Vatican Council have become more critical of war and stricter in their interpretation of just war theory. Supporters of just policing hope to utilize this momentum, pressing both sides towards a middle vision of international policing under the rule of international law that incorporates the insights of just war theory, Gandhian nonviolence, and community policing.

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