Christianity on Peace and Violence

On questions of peace and war, Christian ethics has sought to combine Jesus’ radical message of love with the responsible exercise of power in society and the polity. With the exception of principled pacifists most identified with the Quaker and Mennonite traditions, who take Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount injunction to “turn the other cheek” quite literally, Christian leaders and theologians have often sanctioned the use of violence in self-defense. The theory of just war, first developed systematically by St. Augustine (354-430 CE) is a shared point of orientation across the major Christian denominations. It accepts the use of force when four basic conditions are met: the cause is just (self-defense and the protection of innocent human life); the means are proportional; the authority using force is legitimate; and there is a high probability of success. The same logic of self-defense and the protection of innocent life has historically been used to support the death penalty, although the Roman Catholic Church and some other leading denominations now condemn it as unjust and unnecessary under modern conditions.