Q&A with Even unto Bloodshed author Duane Boyce May 19 2015
by Duane Boyce
Paperback $29.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-630-7)
Available May 26th in print and e-book
Q: What prompted you to begin writing this book?
Duane: Nothing is sadder than war, and yet nothing seems more common. Although it is tempting to just sit back and hope conflict will go away, there is really no hope for this. And that means disciples of Christ, in particular, must be extremely thoughtful on the subject. Is war ever permitted? If not, why not? And if it is, under what circumstances? What can possibly justify the devastation and human misery entailed by military conflict?
It is not difficult to find a multitude of mortals’ opinions on such matters, but for followers of Christ this is far from the main concern. Ultimately, to whatever degree we can discover it, we want to know the Lord’s own disposition toward violence and to embrace that. And that means we want to search the scriptures with care and to bring to bear every relevant consideration. We cannot assume that the matter is simple and that it can be settled with a quick verse or two. It seems to me that the issues are more complicated and subtle than that. That’s why my study led to a book rather than to an essay.
Q: A broad readership is always the most desirable, but is there also an intended audience for this book? And what do you hope they get out of it?
Duane: At some point, almost everyone becomes intensely interested in the moral evaluation of war. It’s hard to say when that will happen, but I think most people face it at some point. This book is for anyone who decides it’s time to consider the matter comprehensively, from a gospel point of view. Comprehensiveness seems important to me. After all, it’s not hard to have a couple of passages in mind that seem to settle the question of war, but the problem is that others can have a different set of passages in mind that, to them, settle the question in a different way. I think many would find it helpful to read a book that tries to approach the matter more comprehensively than that.
In my view, all the relevant scriptural passages cohere in a unified framework about war. They actually don’t compete but genuinely synchronize in their collective illumination of this gospel topic. Anyone interested in how this is possible will be interested in this book. Or so it seems to me, at any rate.
Q: In this book you argue that the position of the pacifist is not tenable, either on secular or scriptural grounds. Why might a Christian be drawn to pacifism, and, conversely, why might another Christian be drawn to non-pacifism?
Duane: All disciples detest violence. It is in the DNA of Christian embrace. And that gives pacifism a natural gravitational force: its appeal is both intrinsic and compelling. But an equally intrinsic and compelling influence in Christian DNA is the love of our families, and of our brothers and sisters in general, and the obligation we feel to protect them from being brutalized and murdered.
The love of peace and the love of our brothers and sisters are both genuine and both exert a natural influence on disciples of Christ. People end up leaning one way or the other, but I think everyone actually feels the pull of both. Given the set of choices, the result is a genuine psychological and spiritual tension. Who doesn’t feel it?
Q: You spend a good deal of time in the book outlining "Just War Theory," a concept first articulated in the Christian tradition by St. Augustine as an attempt to describe the criteria that must be present in order for Christians to morally participate in war. Can you briefly explain how this might or might not intersect with LDS beliefs? Do LDS need Just War Theory in order to understand how to engage in war in the present time?
Duane: Just-war theory is valuable for two reasons. First, in any comprehensive look at war, it is important to consider secular arguments as well as spiritual ones. Just-war theory is a natural starting place because, as far as it goes, it captures most people’s intuitions, and is very helpful. Second, because its origins are Christian, its principles are not uncongenial to a Christian point of view and therefore the theory is relevant to any consideration of an LDS approach. To the degree it is possible to create an LDS framework about war, just-war theory can help in thinking about it.
Q: Where do you see this book being positioned with regard to the ongoing conversation concerning LDS perspectives on war and peace? What original contribution does this book make to that conversation?
Duane: Given the tension identified previously, it is only natural that positions will coalesce around one pole or the other. The focus will be either on the evil of violence or on the necessity of defending human beings from brutality and murder. Both are legitimate, of course, so the real question is how to address both matters within a single conceptual frame. What point of view can give full weight to both considerations and simultaneously remove the tension between them? Creating that kind of frame is the purpose of this book.
Q: If a person holds non-pacifist beliefs regarding war, does that mean such a person is "pro-war?" What are some of the elements of your position that you think pacifists misconstrue or misunderstand? Can the same be said for non-pacifists' understandings of pacifism?
Duane: As to the first question: Stated this broadly, it seems to me impossible for a disciple to be “pro-war.” A fundamental hatred of violence is a property of discipleship, and this means the proper default position is always one of vigorously resisting war as a solution to problems.
As to the second and third questions: I think mutual misunderstanding is unavoidable given the tension between detesting violence and loving those suffering from aggression. Whichever way we lean, it is easy to conclude that those on the other end just don’t appreciate what we appreciate. That’s why people with different views can be impatient with each other. It’s easy to see others as blind to what really matters. In my view, both really matter and no approach to war can be satisfactory if it does not give full weight to both.
Q: Having devoted a lot of time to thinking about war and peace with regard to Christian discipleship, what would you say is the problem most difficult for Latter-day Saints to wrestle with?
Duane: The most difficult problem is the tension I’ve mentioned. It occurs not only in our hearts, but in the scriptures themselves, which at times seem to prohibit violence and at other times to promote it. This seems contradictory. Are the scriptures themselves disconnected? It can seem as if they are, and, if so, we then seem doomed either to flip-flop between the competing views or to settle permanently for one but at the cost of minimizing the other. None of this seems satisfactory. Disconnected scriptures? Spiritual flip-flopping? Permanent underestimation of a legitimate scriptural perspective?
Fortunately, I think all of this unnecessary. In my view, the tension actually rests on a mistake. When we frame the issue more carefully it turns out that scriptural teachings about war fit together perfectly and they do so without minimizing anything. Appreciating the gospel message at a deeper level, the tension at the surface evaporates. To me the reasons for all of this are both fascinating and highly illuminating. It takes a book to show it (at least if we want to attempt anything close to comprehensive), but if I am right that the result is the removal of a common spiritual tension, the effort has been worth it.