Ways United Methodists can talk together about war and peace

How are Christians to process today’s news?

When faced with difficult questions, 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.

United States and Syria

In April 2017, the United States took military action against Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack ordered by President Bashar al-Asaad that killed more than 80 people. The United Methodist Book of Resolutions condemns the use of chemical weapons (see resolutions 6129 & 1003).

For many people of faith, the decision to use force raises questions about right and wrong, about how Christians should think about these things.

Some applaud the US’s decision to take this action. They say the nation is defending the “least of these” who may be the victims of another attack.

Others condemn the use of force, making the case that there are non-violent ways to condemn the chemical weapons attack. The missile strikes, they reason, could lead to more violence in the area and throughout the world.

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 with other people of faith about these issues are a means of allowing the Holy Spirit to touch our hearts through the words of another.

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?
  • We are in the season of Lent and Holy Week. 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 at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.