Wednesday, October 25, 2006

IWU and ROTC - Compatible?


This is a letter I'm submitting to my campus newspaper. It may have to be trimmed but any feedback would be welcomed.

A rather dramatic shift took place on campus this semester that many students never even felt. It was the initiation of the ROTC “Roaring Lambs” chapter on Indiana Wesleyan’s campus. This shift went unnoticed by many because we never questioned its ethical implications. The willingness of IWU to implement an ROTC program manifests the disconnect between Christian faith (theology) and Christian living (ethics) that has been established on campus. With the recent visitation of a Blackhawk Helicopter, which many students received jubilantly, this disconnect was further aggravated.

Within Christianity the spectrum of perspectives on war ranges from Just War theorists to Christological pacifists. Neither of these are extremist views but constitute a framework in which to discuss war. The presence of ROTC on campus ought to be difficult to justify from a Just War paradigm. The essence of Just War theory is reluctance towards military action, although when certain criteria are met war can be “justified.” Yet military action is never promoted in Just War thinking. It is instead considered a necessary evil to employ when all other avenues have been exhausted and all the established criteria are met. In this sense, Just War theorists support the military minimally and, again, reluctantly. The ROTC is by no means a reluctant acceptance of the military. Quite the contrary, it promotes military action. Considering the newly instituted Bush-doctrine of pre-emptive war, the military can hardly be said to function solely in self-defense. In this ethical paradigm the presence of ROTC is unjustifiable.

Yet even further, as Christians our ethics ought to be derivative of our theology. Our ethics are distinct from secular ethics because ours are informed by our theological convictions, primarily our Christology (understanding of the person of Christ). If we ought to imitate Christ, in what sense can we ever justify the use of violence? The primary arguments against non-violence tend to be based in what is considered the irrationality of pacifism. But Christological pacifism is not grounded in whether it “works” (as is liberal pacifism), but in the person of Christ. The bottom line is we are non-violent because Christ was. To predicate Christ as violent becomes incredibly difficult in face of the Sermon on the Mount. For what else can “turn the other cheek” mean but that we do not return violence for violence? Can we take Jesus seriously here? Why is it that Christ does not militaristically oppose Rome but instead submits to her? Why in the vast majority of the places in the New Testament where we are told to imitate Christ it is in his suffering and his submission? How can we reconcile “love your neighbor” with the slaughter of our neighbor, regardless of circumstance? It is the arguments against Christological pacifism that have pushed me closer to it. There is no justification for using the tools of the devil to accomplish Christian means. Cleary, in this paradigm the presence of the ROTC is in every way contrary to Christian ethics.

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, Christian ethics do not allow for a unilateral support of military action. We are called to imitate Christ, and the ROTC is simply inconsistent with that imitation.