For the first few centuries of the church, Christians were pacifists. Jesus’ teachings about turning the other cheek, forgiving your enemies, and being peacemakers were taken seriously and literally. But over time, as Christianity became the official religion of the empire rather than a marginal and persecuted sect, the church began to edge out of pacifism and into what is today called “just war theory.”
Today, advanced military technologies and weapons of mass destruction pose new challenges for ethicists, theologians, and church leaders. Do the principles of just war theory still stand in a world where whole cities can be incinerated with a single bomb, or where people can be targeted and killed from afar, via drone warfare?
On this episode of Glad You Asked, hosts Emily Sanna and Rebecca Bratten Weiss talk to political philosopher and activist Stephen Schneck about the ethics of serving in the military and how the church’s perspective has changed and developed over centuries.
Schneck has served on the board of directors for Catholic Mobilizing Network and for Catholic Climate Covenant, Sojourners, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and for Democrats for Life of America. He served as national co-chair of Catholics for Obama in 2012 and of Catholics for Biden in 2020. Schneck has also been the executive director of the Franciscan Action Network. In June 2022, the White House appointed Schneck to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
You can find out more about this topic in these links:
- “Should Catholics serve in the military?” by Stephen Schneck
- “Is this just war?: Two Catholic perspectives on the war in Afghanistan” A U.S. Catholic interview
- “Drone wars: Shedding light on our country’s secret program” A U.S. Catholic interview
- “Theological and Moral Perspectives on Today’s Challenge of Peace”
- “Pope urged to end Catholic Church’s ‘just war’ teachings”
- “‘Just war’ theory often misused for unjust motives, cardinal says” by Junno Arocho Estevez
- About Stephen Schneck
Glad You Asked is sponsored by the Claretian Missionaries.