LDS Theory of War in 3-Part Series October 08 2015

Kofford Books author Duane Boyce recently discussed the Mormon theology of war and violence in a three-part series at Meridian Magazine.

Boyce is the author of the Even unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War (2015), which has garnered the following praises:

“A careful and detailed argument against pacifism has long been needed, and it is hard to imagine someone doing a better job of it. The scholarship in this volume is impressive, and it is likely to be the definitive work on the subject for years to come. Truly a major accomplishment.” — K. Codell Carter, Professor of Philosophy, Brigham Young University

“Finally, we have a comprehensive and thorough discussion of war from an LDS perspective." — Royal Skousen, Professor of Linguistics, Brigham Young University, Editor, Book of Mormon Critical Text Project

In the first part of his series, Boyce discusses the question of pacifism vs. non-pacifism in LDS theology. He states:

"There are two fundamental views of war: pacifism, which argues that war cannot be justified and instead must be rejected as a matter of principle, and non-pacifism (of which just-war theory is an example), which argues that war is justified in certain circumstances.

It is easy to understand the appeal of both points of view. On one hand, all disciples of Christ 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 pull of these two moral forces creates a natural tension. 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 it seems that everyone actually feels the pull of both.

The same tension seems to appear in the scriptures themselves."

Read part one: "Pacifism or Non-Pacifism? The First Great Question in Developing an LDS Theory of War."

In the second part of his series, Boyce examines the scriptural context of war:

"[One] view thought to support non-violence is the assertion that Book of Mormon wars occurred only because the Nephites were unrighteous. Every war they fought was completely unnecessary because the Lord promised Nephi that the Lamanites would never bother the Nephites if only the Nephites remained righteous (1 Nephi 2:23). We cannot, therefore, draw support for righteous conflict from the Nephites, since it turns out that the Nephites were always unrighteous when involved in conflict.

This claim, however—like the others—also appears to suffer when we examine the text more closely. It turns out that the Book of Mormon actually reports multiple occasions on which the Nephites suffered attack even though they were righteous—a feature of the record that straightforwardly disproves this categorical claim about them."

Read part two: "Do the Scriptures give us a Theory of War?"

In the third part of his series, Boyce discusses a theory of "just war" from an LDS perspective:

"Granted that the Lord abhors violence, what reason is there to think that he abhors all violence for the same reasons? Are all forms of violence the same? Do they all have the same moral character? Are the violence of a rapist and the violence of his victim the same? Do their violent acts have the same moral status? And are all forms of abhorrence-of-violence, then, the same?

And try this question. Why does scripture seem to countenance violence in some teachings/episodes and condemn it in others? Is there any reason to think the different cases and contexts are equivalent? Isn’t it more natural to wonder if there are differences between them and that that’s why they seem to teach different attitudes toward violence?"

Read part three: "Just War Theory and Key Gospel Texts"