Should Christians Support Military Intervention Into Ukraine?

17 March 2022

3.5 MINS

What does just war theory have to tell us about the situation in Ukraine? Would establishing a no-fly zone alleviate the suffering, or escalate the war?

Our screens are filled with crying mothers and bombed-out maternity hospitals.

Traumatised Ukrainians walk their devastated streets, howling with grief at the loss of kin and country. Evidence is mounting that the Russian military is conducting deliberate strikes on civilian targets, amounting to a war crime under international law.

As Christians watch these disturbing reports, we can’t help but be affected.

We feel grief. We’re sad, even outraged. Many wonder how long this can continue without increased military intervention from the West. In the face of these alleged atrocities, shouldn’t we heed the call of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and provide a ‘no-fly zone’ over Ukraine, limiting such attacks?

While no Western government is (yet) supporting such military intervention, the pressure to intervene will increase as pictures of dead and wounded civilians keep filling our screens.

But should Christians join the call for greater military action?

Here are 7 questions we should think through before we start calling for more intervention:

1) Does the Bible Support the Use Of Military Force?

While many look at Jesus’ commands to love your enemies and turn the other cheek as confirmation that the New Testament calls on Christians to eschew war, the picture is more complex:

  • God gives governments the ‘sword’ to punish evil (Rom 13:1-6). In the context of the day, this refers to governments using lethal force to enforce justice.

  • When soldiers came to the fiery John the Baptist asking what they should do, he didn’t demand they forsake the profession of arms, but rather to act justly as soldiers. (Luke 3:14)

  • Jesus commends a Roman centurion for his faith (Matthew 8:5-13), and Cornelius, another Roman soldier, is caught up in God’s plan of salvation (Acts 10). Neither soldier is told to give up their soldiering.

Thus, a careful reading of the New Testament doesn’t lead us to pacificism, but an understanding that state-sanctioned military force is appropriate in limited circumstances.

Christian theologians have reflected on this throughout the ages and have developed the Christian ‘Just War’ theory. The following questions are based on this doctrine.

2) Is the Cause Just?

Is defending Ukrainian sovereignty and Ukrainian people against Russian military aggression a just and right cause?

According to Christian Just War Theory, defending against an unprovoked military aggressor is cause for the use of military force.

It’s important to note a just cause does not require a sinlessly perfect victim. Ukraine isn’t exactly innocent so far as government corruption and treatment of its ethnic minorities is concerned. But neither were the Allies in World War 2 — and yet, who would argue that fighting the Nazis was not a just cause? We need to distinguish between the cause and the victim.

3) What Is Our Responsibility to Ukraine?

Do we have an obligation to help Ukraine in its hour of need?

Arguably, the US does have a political obligation, based on the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, where Ukraine gave up its post-Soviet nuclear arsenal in exchange for guarantees from the US and Russia to defend Ukraine. But what about the rest of us?

As I argued in an earlier post, Galatians 6:10 commands Christians to do good for others, tempered by the qualifier ‘as we have opportunity’.

While this command is for Christians, it fits the broader moral landscape of our world, including nation-states. Thus, Christians, let alone nation-states, can’t be held responsible for righting every wrong across the globe. However, considering NATO nations neighbour Ukraine and have the means to uphold a no-fly zone, they have an opportunity to intervene.

Whether or not to intervene, however, requires answering more questions.

4) Do We Have the Right Intentions?

Intervention must be done with the intent of advancing good and avoiding evil.

Furthermore, we shouldn’t intervene based on an emotional reaction to the horrors of war. Instead, we need a reasoned thoughtfulness that considers the complexity of the situation.

5) Is Military Intervention the Only Way to Right the Wrong?

While a proposed ‘no-fly zone’ is touted as the only way to stop the bombing of civilians, we need to ensure this is the only way to right the wrong.

Could other interventions short of a no-fly zone also have an impact?

6) Is There a Reasonable Hope for Success?

This is a critical question.

There’s no point intervening if the chances of success are limited. Intervention against a nuclear-armed Russia could — and most likely would — escalate the conflict. There are no guarantees in war. And while we should weep over bombed maternity wards, we must also think carefully: intervention could widen this conflict, leading to even more loss of life.

As former PM Tony Abbott has pointed out: ‘things are never so bad that they can’t get worse’.

7) Would the Intervention be Waged by a Proper Authority?

The called-for no-fly zone would presumably be waged under NATO authority, with UN sanction.

If so, this would ensure a more accountable and controlled operation.

The moral complexity of our fallen world

While Western Christians are moved to lament and pray for the humanitarian disaster in Ukraine, we need to think carefully before supporting any calls for increased military intervention.

Yes, a case can be made for a no-fly zone. But such an act could escalate the war, leading to even more suffering of innocent lives. Sadly, there are no good answers to our moral complexities. Not this side of eternity…


Originally published at Photo by Max Vakhtbovych from Pexels.

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One Comment

  1. Tincha 21 March 2022 at 11:33 pm - Reply

    An article directly addressing the questions that a lot of Christians, thinkers, philosophers, etc. have had without doubt, these past few weeks concerning military intervention.
    A good case in summarising the choices at hand. The time is short for Ukraine and sense Psalm 7:14-16 Behold the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit digging it out and falls into the hole he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head and on his own skull his violence descends.” Personally, speaking this out loud in faith, knowing this truth will occur when God has worked this miracle and peace has resumed.

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