A response to the questions posed by Fr Hans Jacobse in this memo “10 Questions To Ask When Orthodox Peace Fellowship Visits Your Parish”
note: the original text by Fr. Hans Jacobse is posted on the Orthodoxy Today web site at:
>> In the document “A Plea for Peace,” OPF posits a doctrine of moral equivalence when it states that, “Saddam Hussein is an enemy of the United States and of the people of Iraq, but we declare that there are better ways to respond to terrorism than to respond in kind.” (https://incommunion.org/2009/03/31/re-10-questions/)
Thank you for including the URL of the OPF’s letter to President Bush. I recommend anyone interested in what the OPF said in its appeal to take a moment to read the letter through.
>> Is the US action in Iraq equivalent to terrorism?
Our letter said that “there are better ways to respond to terrorism than to respond in kind.” What are the hallmarks of terrorism? Surely the most central element is to attack and kill innocent people. We do not yet know how many innocent people (women, children, the pregnant, the aged, the infirm and other noncombatants) have been killed by the US-led war and subsequent occupation in Iraq, but we are talking about an immense number. It is the nature of aerial bombardment to cause numerous noncombatant deaths. Were bombs to be dropped on your town or neighborhood, how would you describe the results? Were you a survivor, would the word “terrorism” seem inappropriate? General Sherman said plainly, “War is hell.”
>> Are the US soldiers in Iraq terrorists?
While no doubt some US soldiers consciously committed acts of terrorism, as became public knowledge following the release of photos about the treatment of prisoners at such facilities as Abu Ghraib Prison, I think the signers of the OPF letter would share my view that soldiers are also victims of war, a war they did not wish for and in which relatively few would take part in voluntarily.
>> Is moral equivalence the governing moral doctrine in all OPF deliberations about warfare?
Our approach to the issue is not moral equivalence but to respond, according to our best understanding, to the example and teaching of Jesus Christ as provided to us in the four Gospels, the commentaries and writings of the Church Fathers, the witness of the saints, and the canons of the various Ecumenical Councils.
>> If so, were the Allied forces during WWII no different than the Gestapo? If not, is the pacifism underlying the doctrine of moral equivalence conditionally applied? What are the conditions? Does conditional application imply that in some cases warfare is just?
Though war crimes were committed by all sides in World War II, there was no branch of the allied armed forces that was in any way comparable to the Gestapo.
However the OPF letter does not address past wars. It was an appeal to President Bush not to launch a war on Iraq. But unquestionably some wars would be generally regarded as being, after a certain point, unavoidable. World War II is a case in point.
Neither does the Orthodox Peace Fellowship identify itself as a pacifist organization. On our web site, these paragraphs touch on the question of violence and war:
“Aspiring to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution, we promote resolution of conflicts by mediation, negotiation and other forms of nonviolent action.
“While no one can be certain that he or she will always find a nonviolent response to every crisis that may arise, we pray that God will show us in each situation ways of resistance to evil that will not require killing opponents.
“We offer support to those whose conscience leads them to refuse participation in war and who struggle against evil in non-military ways. We support their conscientious objection as consistent with the Gospels and Holy Tradition.
“The aspiration to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution is something all sane people have in common, yet few would say that they would never use violent methods to protect the innocent. All we can do is attempt to find ways of responding to injustice that are consistent with the Gospel. Clearly nonviolent methods are to be preferred to violent.”
Returning to your questions:
>> In the same document, OPF asserts that the American populace is “is untroubled by the slaughter of non-combatant civilians” and thus suffers from a “wounded…psyche…and soul” that must be treated by “psychiatrists and priests.”
It is remarkable how quotations assembled out of context can fundamentally distort the actual source. Here is the paragraph the snippets come from:
“Because we seek the reconciliation of enemies, a conversion which grows from striving to be faithful to the Gospel, the Orthodox Church has never regarded any war as just or good, and fighting an elusive enemy by means which cause the death of innocent people can be regarded only as murder. Individual murderers are treated by psychiatrists and priests and isolated from society. But who heals the national psyche, the wounded soul of a nation, when it is untroubled by the slaughter of non-combatant civilians?”
Noted that the final sentence is a question. When we look at how many soldiers who returned home from the war in Iraq ended up in states of deep depression, drug dependence and homelessness, or have taken their own lives, the urgency of the question raised in the OPF letter is only underlined.
>> Does OPF believe that support of the Iraqi war reveals a destructive pathology in American culture? What are the nature and symptoms of this pathology? Why does it require therapy and confession?
There is no suggestion in the OPF letter that American culture is pathological, but I think any Orthodox Christian would agree that, in every nation, we are all damaged people. Every structure and culture that human beings belong to inevitably reflects in various ways how damaged we are. No people has a monopoly on violence. None of us is not in need of healing.
>> In the article “The Mission of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship” featured prominently on the OPF website, the author states, “There should be a drive to recruit Orthodox teenagers into OPF. If we do not reduce the number of Orthodox entering the armed forces, how can we feel that we have made any real progress towards transforming the Orthodox Church into a true church of peace?”
There was no special “prominence” given to Timothy Beach’s letter, from which the quotation used here was extracted. It was published in the letters section of our quarterly journal, “In Communion.” Hundreds of other letters published in the same journal are given equal prominence on our web site.
Let me add, however, that it would be to the credit of the Orthodox Church if we were more renowned for being engaged in efforts to prevent war than in fighting in war.
>> Is it official policy of the OPF to keep young men from military service?
>> If so, is this intention revealed when OPF activists visit Orthodox parishes? If not, why is this view promoted on the OPF website?
We encourage young people to discover what God calls them to do — the discovery of one’s vocation — and to follow that calling once it is known. In that regard, it surely would be helpful for not only to young people but all of us to consider our vocation in the light of Jesus’ teaching about the Last Judgement? (See Matthew 25.)
>> Is it the intention of OPF to transform the Orthodox Church into an organization promoting pacifist ideals?
It is not for us to transform the Church but rather for the Church to transform us. In any event, the Church is not an “organization” but rather the Body of Christ.
As previously mentioned, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship rejects calling itself a “pacifist” group. Not only no we not require members to commit themselves not to take part in war, but we find the word “pacifist” problematic. While its Latin roots refer to peace and peacemaking, it sounds in English like “passive-ist” — not an attitude we would recommend as an adequate response to evil. Also, like many words with an “ist” ending, it sounds ideological. We promote no ideologies..
>> Fr. Alexander Webster argues in his book “The Virtue of War” that two parallel strands of thinking about war occur in the Orthodox tradition: 1) pacifism and 2) just war.
>> Does OPF agree with this thesis? Would OPF ever grant the possibility that sometimes war is a tragic necessity? If not, how would OPF propose that a tyrant like Hitler be stopped?
In the Roman Catholic Church one can find a section on “the just war doctrine” in any substantial catechism or other authoritative overview of Catholic teaching, though it must be noted significant adjustments were made to that doctrine by the Second Vatican Council in its final document, Guadium et Spes. If this was the Catholic Peace Fellowship (there is such a group) and were we to ignore it in any statement on war, criticism of our doing so would be entirely justified. But there is no such doctrine endorsed by the Councils recognized by the Orthodox Church. There are Orthodox writers and theologians who have embraced the just war doctrine in one form or another and even regard it as being implicit in Orthodox praxis, but for us implicit doesn’t cut the mustard. Orthodox teaching is that war is always sinful, though in some circumstances it may be the lesser evil. This is a far cry from regarding any war as just.
Regarding “The Virtue of War,” I recommend reading Fr. Andrew Louth’s review. It’s on our web site. See:
>> Has OPF ever received funding from the National Council of Churches or the World Council of Churches or any other organization associated with the left-wing of Protestant Christianity?
We have neither sought or received any funding from the National Council of Churches or the World Council of Churches. Our financial support comes from our members.
>> Pacifism is internally coherent although trying to impose pacifism on others would violate the doctrine. Sometimes a soldier dies in battle fighting a destructive enemy. A police officer may die fighting an evil-doer in order to protect others.
>> Does OPF believe the sacrifice of the soldier holds the same weight and value as the pacifist? What about the police officer?
Few OPF members would label themselves pacifists, so the question is not entirely relevant.
We would regard anyone who sacrifices his life for others, whatever his or her social role may be, as praiseworthy or even heroic. However, the death of a brave soldier in war would not necessarily validate the war in which the soldier was a participant. Many brave soldiers have fought and died in wars that would today be regarded as perfect examples of unjust wars. As for the adjective “destructive,” in war both sides are destructive. That’s the nature of war.
In Christ’s peace,
Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship
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