My previous post on LDS Ethics and torture generated not only a good deal of discussion on the particular topic, but on the related question of military service and just war. Since there appears to be quite a lot of pent-up interest in this topic, I am going to give it its own thread. To get the ball rolling, I provide three statements by Presidents of the Church during the latter Twentieth and early Twenty-First Century:
Gordon B. Hinkley (?War and Peace,? Ensign, May 2003):
One of our Articles of Faith, which represent an expression of our doctrine, states, ?We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law? (A of F 1:12).
But modern revelation states that we are to ?renounce war and proclaim peace? (D&C 98:16).
In a democracy we can renounce war and proclaim peace. There is opportunity for dissent. Many have been speaking out and doing so emphatically. That is their privilege. That is their right, so long as they do so legally. However, we all must also be mindful of another overriding responsibility, which I may add, governs my personal feelings and dictates my personal loyalties in the present situation.
When war raged between the Nephites and the Lamanites, the record states that ?the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for ? power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church.
?And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God? (Alma 43:45-46).
The Lord counseled them, ?Defend your families even unto bloodshed? (Alma 43:47).
And Moroni ?rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it?In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children?and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.
?And he fastened on his headplate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren? (Alma 46:12-13).
It is clear from these and other writings that there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression.
David O. McKay (Gospel Ideals, pp. 285-87):
We see that war is incompatible with Christ’s teachings. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of peace. War is its antithesis and produces hate. It is vain to attempt to reconcile war with true Christianity. . .
Notwithstanding all this, I still say that there are conditions when entrance into war is justifiable, and when a Christian nation may, without violation of principles, take up arms against an opposing force.
Such a condition, however, is not a real or fancied insult given by one nation to another. When this occurs, proper reparation may be made by mutual understanding, apology, or by arbitration.
Neither is there justifiable cause found in a desire or even a need for territorial expansion. The taking of territory implies the subjugation of the weak by the strong?the application of the jungle law.
Nor is war justified in an attempt to enforce a new order of government, or even to impel others to a particular form of worship, however better the government or eternally true the principles of the enforced religion may be.
There are, however, two conditions which may justify a truly Christian man to enter?mind you, I say enter, not begin?-a war: (1) an attempt to dominate and to deprive another of his free agency, and (2) loyalty to his country. Possibly there is a third, viz., defense of a weak nation that is being unjustly crushed by a strong, ruthless one.
Spencer W. Kimball (?The False Gods We Worship,? Ensign, June 1976):
We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel?ships, planes, missiles, fortifications?and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan?s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior?s teaching:
?Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
?That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.? (Matt. 5:44-45.)
We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us?and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Ne. 1:7)?or he will fight our battles for us (Ex. 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many) . . .
What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.
I believe these statements are largely coherent as a whole, even taking into account President Kimballâ€™s clear preference to renounce war and focus on righteous behavior, allowing the Lord to protect us from armed conflicts.
But I confess that I find the U.S. invasion of Iraq difficult to reconcile with any and all of these statements. The United States in that instance did not appear to be defending homes, religion or liberties from invasion, as in the case of the ancient Nephites cited by President Hinkley â€“ indeed, the United States was the invader in that instance. While President Hinkley seems to believe that the invasion of Iraq falls under this example, I am at a loss to see the analogy. He is also careful to state that this is his personal view of the facts, rather than part of his general statement of doctrine.
President McKay specifically prohibits the use of war to effect â€œregime change,â€? one of the stated goals of the invasion by the U.S. While he does allow for war to protect liberty and agency, his statement taken as a whole seems again, like the Nephite example, to contemplate resistance to outside invasion or internal revolution. His also specifically prohibits launching a first strike or preemptory attack, as it seems to me the United States did in that instance. Neither does the invasion appear to fit within President McKay’s provisional category of coming to the aid of a weaker nation, as the United States did during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Others doubtless have different views. Discuss among yourselves.