Ways United Methodists can talk together about war and peace

The United Methodist Book of Discipline serves as a guide for members and churches. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline serves as a guide for members and churches. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.

How are United Methodists to think about war? Should it always be condemned or are there circumstances under which it is justified? Is it a necessary evil, and if so, when is it wrong and when it is a valid response?  

When faced with difficult questions like these, United Methodists have historically relied on listening to one another as a means of hearing God speak and call us to action. Joining with members of a Sunday School class, small group, or getting together over coffee to wrestle together with big questions can open our hearts and lives to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Official statements

Although The United Methodist Book of Discipline states, "We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ" (Book of Discipline, ¶165, C), it also acknowledges that United Methodists are not in agreement about the use of force. Our Social Principles read, "Some of us believe that war, and other acts of violence, are never acceptable to Christians. We also acknowledge that many Christians believe that, when peaceful alternatives have failed, the force of arms may regretfully be preferable to unchecked aggression, tyranny and genocide" (Book of Discipline, ¶164, I). This leaves us to live with and in the tension.

Thankfully, we have one another to help us hear God speaking to our hearts. Honest and respectful conversations among people of faith are a means of grace that allows the Holy Spirit to touch our hearts through the words of others.

Thinking it through together

To help you facilitate such a conversation, here are some questions to consider:

  • The Social Principles states,"We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ" (Book of Discipline, ¶165, C). Why do you agree or disagree with that statement?
  • How does the story of Jesus' trial, crucifixion, and resurrection speak to issues of governments, leadership, and violence? (see Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and/or John 18-19)
  • The prophet Isaiah foresaw a day when, "Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war" (Isaiah 2:4 CEB). How does this inform your thinking about war, peace, and violence?
  • When is military action justified? When is military action wrong?
  • Is military action a viable way to stand up for those who are suffering? (see Matthew 25:31-46)
  • What is a "tolerable amount" of violence?
  • When is violence justified in one's personal life? How is that different? How is it similar?

*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.

This story was originally published April 7, 2017.