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Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality: A Christian Military Ethic - Conclusion: Honoring God by Living Up to His Standards
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Article Index
Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality: A Christian Military Ethic
Self-formation and the Ethical Military Professional
Moving Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality
The Soul as Ethical Substance
A Christian Military Ethic
The Cost of Serving
Conclusion: Honoring God by Living Up to His Standards
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Conclusion: Honoring God by Living Up to His Standards of Conduct in War

The Christian combatant, like those of any other faith and none, is required to conform to the various written and unwritten codes that shape the common life, purpose and actions of the armed forces in which they serve. However, the Christian is called to more than obedience to rules, laws and injunctions: he or she is called to a life in the Spirit wherever they find themselves, whether in peacetime or wartime. The tactical and strategic consequences of soldiers violating not only military codes but the moral underpinnings of those codes can be severe. From the rice fields of My Lai to the prison cells of Abu Ghraib the actions of the unethical military professional have undermined the morale of uniformed colleagues, placed them at risk of reprisal attacks, diminished public support for the armed forces and lowered the reputations of entire nations in the eyes of the world. Consequently, it is important to conform to the legal and moral codes set out for military personnel.

The Christian whose business it is to protect others by military force will continually be confronted by ambiguities, contradictions and confusion. The very idea of going to war in pursuit of peace highlights the paradox that everyone who takes up arms must wrestle with. I have therefore called upon Augustine’s experiences and writings to highlight some of the challenges and possibilities that we face in the twenty-first century. The fifth-century Christian, monk and bishop knew what it was to struggle with faith and belief in a world where politics was regularly corrupt and absolute power was wielded harshly. Though the means of war, the weaponry available and the political framework in which we live today is radically different to that faced by Augustine, the spiritual ambiguities faced by the Christian military professional have changed little. The need to honor God in keeping faith with both friends and enemies remains, as does the physical, mental and spiritual damage that can be wreaked on those who risk life and take life on behalf of the state. We know from the history of war and the traumas that are inflicted and endured that there is not always a cure for the troubled mind and scarred soul. Like Humpty Dumpty after his fall, people cannot be put back together again.47

Any Christian ethic of war must be willing to deal not only with conduct in war but also with the long term consequences of military violence: both of the victim and the perpetrator. Augustine’s words to a military man in AD 428 remain valid for today’s Christian combatant who seeks to reconcile the demands of the military profession with the calling of God: ‘the security of the soul, together with the immortality of the body, the strength of justice, victory over the hostile passions, glory, honour and peace for eternity, these are given only to the good. It is these then that you must love, these you must desire, these you must seek by any means you can.48 For some who have been damaged by war, this aspiration may seem beyond their reach. So I conclude here with the words of St Paul – a man who both inflicted and endured pain and desperation – as the start-point for the despairing: ‘but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint because us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us’.49

Dr Peter Lee served from 2001 to 2008 as a chaplain in the Royal Air Force. He spent the first five months of Operation Iraqi Freedom at a military hospital in Cyprus providing pastoral and welfare support to wounded, maimed and injured soldiers who had been airlifted from the battlefield. Between 2005 and 2008 Dr Lee taught personal ethics, in the form of the Beliefs and Values Programme, to RAF enlisted recruits and officer cadets. Since 2008 Dr Lee has been employed by King’s College, University of London as a Lecturer in Air Power Studies based at Royal Air Force College Cranwell, specialising in the ethics of war. He lectures to officer cadets on the Initial Officer Training Course and to senior officers undertaking the Higher Air Warfare Course. He has a particular interest in the ethics of interventionist wars and in November 2011 published his first book entitled Blair’s Just War: Iraq and the Illusion of Morality. In addition, he is regularly invited to lecture on this subject to military, academic, church and wider audiences.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 April 2012 13:17