Lee Griffith, a well-established social activist and author, provides a timely service to the Christian community with The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God.
He presents a clear and thorough call to a consistent nonviolent ethic. Using the issue of terrorism as the most challenging of test cases, he argues that all violent responses are counter-productive and sub-Christian.
His method is simple but well-done. Each chapter describes a recent event of terrorism and counter-terrorism. The discussions are detailed. Griffith then relates the current event to a particular episode in church history, which he uses as a case study to demonstrate that violence always leads to more violence. Finally, he provides a serious exegesis and reflection on relevant biblical texts.
Along the way, Griffith attempts to make the case that all violence is apostasy, a turning from hope in God to reliance on something less than God. He rejects all forms of “just war” theory. In his own words, it is “one of the greatest sins that Christendom has visited upon humanity.”
The book was completed and in production before Sept. 11, 2001. Griffith added a postscript in which he argues that the tragedy altered nothing with reference to his analysis and argument. The postscript provides a tidy summary of Griffith’s perspective, though it reads more like an extended sermon than an addition to the previous chapters.
Griffith is passionate and highly readable. I know of no better presentation of the classic Christian pacifist position. Given the current state of the world, and the ease with which many American Christians accept violent countermeasures to terrorism, Griffith’s book comes as a welcome, counter-cultural voice.
At the same time, I am left wondering if Griffith takes the problem of evil as seriously as he should.
For example, he fails to deal adequately with the problems of institutionalized hatred, how to protect innocent people in the present, and the biblical concept of the responsibility of government to restrain evil.
At times, his compassion for victims of terrorism and counter-terrorism seems a bit abstract. His deepest passion is reserved for his vision of God and the abolition of violence.
Griffith deserves a careful reading. At the very least, his work should make proponents of “just war” theory more cautious in invoking it and wary of its possible abuse.
Michael A. Smith is pastor of First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn.