In the broad scope of understanding how we as humans in general, and Christians specifically, are called to live in a world with violence, there are a few big ideas. The first is Just War, the second is Pacifism, and the third is Just Peacemaking.
While limited military intervention also seems necessary, we must be brutally realistic about what that might achieve. For most of the past 12 years in Iraq, the United States has bombed, deployed boots on the ground, and trained and armed the security forces.
Crusades "in general" refer to what are called "holy wars" or "just wars"--military campaigns for the purpose of halting the spread of non-Christian religions, of retaking holy places, or of conquering pagan areas.
As Yale law professor Stephen Carter pointed out in an interview on an NPR broadcast Dec. 13, "It strikes me that you can have a program that is immoral and also occasionally produces good information."
Currently, the CIA is engaged in the military operations of drone warfare as well as collecting intelligence about how they might be used. An upcoming conference will consider if the CIA should only collect intelligence and not actually be involved in carrying out drone warfare.
Without question, the complexities we face now are even more difficult to navigate from what those seeking peace during the Cold War encountered. Can "Just Peace" be a model for addressing the messy conflict in Syria and Iraq, which involves the terrorist group ISIS?
When Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in response to cross-border terrorist rocket-fire, European and U.S. leaders endorsed their claim to have just cause. But were they right to do so? Do the on-going attacks conform to just war criteria?
The argument "But they use human shields!" has now become a hollow justification for innocent casualties and atrocities in warfare (instead of an explanation), and while many of us suspect that Hamas may be guilty of this, Israel's massive bombardments have now crossed some ethical line.
The idea that Iraq is "ours," as conservatives seem to believe, exposes the fundamental moral flaw in the decision to attack a country that had not attacked us. The rest of the world is not ours to do with as we wish.
Any defense of violence, even in the context of just war, must respect the dignity of human persons, both victim and aggressor. If it's necessary to kill in self-defense, we should not use means that divorce us from the soul we are extinguishing.
From a moral point of view perhaps the best that can be said about the case of Syria is that it has the potential to make us rethink the limitations of traditional just war theory. Alternatives to that theory, however, are not going to be simple, easy, or without moral complexity themselves.
There are many versions of the theory of the just war but all of them agree that even limited belligerent action, such as the "surgical strikes" that the Obama administration is contemplating, must have a "just cause" -- that is, an aim that is not merely good or desirable but actually just.
Syria's deliberate targeting of noncombatants violates international law, as well as ancient moral codes about the use of force, known as Just War tradition. But would U.S. military strikes on Syria, as President Obama is considering, constitute a just response?
Unfortunately the Iraq War isn't over. Not only is the Iraqi insurgency still going strong and wreaking havoc, but the American veterans returned home from duty are still dying, still suffering, still looking to God for answers.
These folks don't carry much (or any) political clout. No one in D.C. is listening to them. They don't have the deep pockets or White House access like the older more conservative clan does. So no one hears their voices.
If we are being honest with ourselves, we must admit that our national histories, our ethnic histories, our religious histories, our family histories, our personal histories, all take precedence over the Bible.
Prophet Muhammad is history's first major figure to condemn collateral damage in word and deed. His advanced rules of war established 1,400 years ago a yet unmatched humanitarian standard. And herein lies the solution to modern conflict.
Just because Israelis and Palestinians have different versions of the same history doesn't mean that we can compare (and then judge, and even dehumanize) them fairly on particular measures where one side doesn't measure up.
Centuries of warfare drenched in blood and a common yearning for a more civilized world where would-be aggressors are checked by the rule of law must compel us to act, responsibly and swiftly. Time is of the essence and the time to act is now.