For many of us, when we think of Saint Augustine, we think of his Just War Theory. Augustine lived in the time of the Roman Empire. The policies of that empire were war, domination and occupation, very much like the foreign policies of the United States, some would say.
Violence and war were totally unacceptable to the early Christian communities. For the first three hundred years these communities were non-violent. They studied the Sermon on the Mount and believed in the non-violent Jesus. As the late theologian John McKenzie wrote, "You cannot read the Scriptures and not know that Jesus was totally non-violent. Our Christian roots are steeped in the ethic of non-violence and love.
In this 21st century, faced as we are with the violence of ethnic conflicts, economic injustice, military occupations, pre-emptive strikes, wars from Belfast to Beslan, Bethlehem to Baghdad, the human family is asking, "What can we do to stop all this?" I believe each one of us is called to seek truth in our own lives, and to live out that truth with as much integrity as possible. That means reclaiming the ethic of non-violence and love. My own journey has led me to the belief that all life is sacred, that I have no right to kill or hurt another human being under any circumstances.
I believe there is a deep lie and self-delusion at the heart of humanity that says we have a right to kill another human being. Because the human family has lived under this delusion for so many centuries, unnecessary suffering, death and destruction have been perpetrated on creation. For too long we have regarded violence and war as normal, inevitable, just, glorious and even, God forbid, holy. We thought the same thing about slavery until we got a bit more enlightened and abolished it.
It is truly shameful to acknowledge that Christians have been and continue to be among the bloodiest warriors throughout history. We need to acknowledge our history of violence, repent of it, begin to think in a new way and work for the eradication of violence. In time we too will say we are sorry for violence and war and consign them to the dustbin of history.
The Christian churches can play an important role in this task, especially now in this period of increased militarism, nuclear weapons and ongoing war. The Christian churches can reject violence, reject the Just War Theory, reject war and accept Jesus' ethic of non-violent love for the enemy. My prayer is that the Christian churches, together with all faith traditions and people of good will, will build a new humanism, a new world, by working to make war illegal and by replacing war with a global ethic of non-violence....
We must never doubt the power of non-violence, the power of love in action. We must remember that with great power comes great responsibility. We all have that responsibility to raise our voices against the forces of war, violence, the abuse of civil liberties and the disregard of international law. These can only operate if we remain silent and afraid.
Humanity is at a crossroads. We must choose between violence and non-violence, death or life, despair or hope. May we choose hope and have the wisdom to put our common humanity above everything that divides us. Together we can build a non-violent world.