War of Indepence: A Just War?

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by Moireach, Jun 30, 2012.

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  1. Moireach

    Moireach Puritan Board Freshman

    Will most of you guys be celebrating on the 4th of July?

    As a Brit my perception of the war of Independence comes from American movies and tv and it's always been portrayed as the best thing that ever happened to the world. But when I heard the reasons behind it I was very confused as to how an American Christian justified it at the time and celebrates it today.

    I say this because from what I've heard the main reasons behind it seem to have been tax.

    If you are celebrating, could you offer your own personal Biblical justification? If you are not, the same goes.

    And please no arguments that in effect say the end justifies the means.
  2. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    I do not believe it was a just war.

    However, I do like things that blow up.
  3. Unoriginalname

    Unoriginalname Puritan Board Junior

    I celebrate having a day off and fireworks. That is really it. I have have often stated it not a just war, taxation and representation are not biblicially valid reasons for starting a war.
  4. PreservedKillick

    PreservedKillick Puritan Board Freshman

    I have long been conflicted about this as an American, especially since I had Patriot ancestors in North Carolina at the time. In light of Romans 13 I would say that it was not a just war. Keep in mind, also, that at least 20% of the American colonists also did not see the rebellion as just and sided with the British, many bearing arms in Tory regiments. In some regions, especially the South, the Revolution was very much a civil war.

    Taxes were certainly a big catalyst, but it went much deeper than that. What you had going on were two different interpretations on either side of the Atlantic about what it meant to be British and have the "rights of Englishmen." American colonists believed themselves to be British subjects and therefore entitled to all the rights of Englishmen, including representation. The problem was, they believed representation was direct--i.e., you vote for members of a colonial assembly who then represent you. Parliament and the British ministry believed representation to be virtual--Parliament virtually represented the whole empire and could therefore legislate for the whole empire whether American colonists voted for them or not. The issue for critics of British imperial policy in the colonies wasn't so much the size of the taxes, but the dangerous precedent being set that a Parliament you didn't elect could take your property without your consent. Bear in mind that the right to hold property without government simply taking it was seen as the basis of liberty. This was combined with the stationing of British troops in key colonial port cities, irksome to colonists who shared the traditional English discomfort with standing armies in time of peace. All of it looked like a conspiracy against the English liberties of American colonists. Meanwhile, the British ministry, far from pursuing a conspiracy, was just trying to pay off the Seven Years'/French and Indian War debt, a war started to defend the English colonies, while upholding Parliament's right to legislate for the colonies.

    This isn't to say there were no religious motivations. New England Congregationalists were upset by the Quebec Act which recognized the Roman church in that colony. This was seen as a betrayal of Protestant religion, which had been one of the motivations to volunteer to fight the French in the French and Indian War. Some colonists feared assaults on religious liberty and the establishment of Anglican bishops, and American Calvinists were often Patriots, coming from traditions that supported a right to rebel against a tyrant.

    None of this tells me that the war could be justified biblically, especially since other settler colonies within the British empire achieved the same results peacefully, such as Australia and Canada (if you don't count the 1837 rebellion.) In addition, since the war was so long ago and so mythologized, we often lose sight of how long and bloody it was, with atrocities on both sides.

    Sorry this was a little long--I'm a history teacher and I take about two-three weeks to cover this.
  5. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    July 4th is far and away the most important day of the year for me. ;)
  6. PreservedKillick

    PreservedKillick Puritan Board Freshman

    I suppose the larger question is whether rebellon is justified. Thoughts?
  7. PhilA

    PhilA Puritan Board Sophomore

    Many happy returns in advance.
  8. Galatians220

    Galatians220 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    We wanted to be free of British rule or rule by any European nation; specifically, we wanted to be out from under King George III. We wanted to form a free and separate nation and wanted "no taxation without representation." We've come full circle on that now.

    From "ThisNation.com:"

    [h=2]The American Revolution[/h]For the most part, the American colonists had come to the "New World" seeking political, religious and economic liberty. Consequently, when King George III and the British parliament began encroaching on these new-found freedoms, the colonists were greatly alarmed. There was no single act or event which led the colonists to commence a war against the British Crown. Rather, there was a litany of abuses and insults which, taken together, convinced the colonists that revolution was their only acceptable course of action.
    The colonists were perhaps the most likely of people in the history of the world to commence a revolution against a tyrannical government. Generally well-read, the colonists had "devoured" the writings of 17th Century English Civil War writers and their successors, such as Milton, Neville, Trenchard and Gordon. From these authors, the colonists acquired a powerful sense of moral indignation toward political corruption of any kind.1 Moreover, while recognizing that government is necessary to save man from the "state of nature" depicted by Hobbes and Locke, they also believed that their liberty rested on their ability to maintain superiority, i.e. physical military power, over their government. As the British government continually pressed itself and its authority on the colonists, they concluded that England's dominion over the colonies was essentially the power to destroy their liberty.2 Together, these beliefs laid the philosophical foundations for the Revolution.
    1. Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1967), 47.
    2. Ibid., 55-56

    I had three ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. I don't "celebrate" per se, and certainly not in any religious sense, but I do like the holiday itself. One year, my family and I were in England on the Fourth and we felt as though we needed to do "something," so we went to an American bar in London for dinner that day, where they were celebrating.

    An American cannot help but appreciate this video, of the Coldstream Guards on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001: Coldstream Guards Play Star Spangled Banner - YouTube. How the world has changed since then!

    No one here, at least not outside of David Barton, talks about religious justification or lack of same regarding the Revolution. I'm glad it happened, however, and I love my country, even as it starts to crumble from within like the Hindenburg.

    Mr. Barnes, you must love the War of 1812!!!

  9. rbcbob

    rbcbob Puritan Board Graduate

    This has been discussed before here:

  10. Rich Koster

    Rich Koster Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I am glad that The Declaration of Independence was written. To oversimplify it, the war resulted because the king refused to accept it. Unfortunately, I think our current gov't has become about as oppressive as what we fought to come out from under.
  11. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    Technically our Constitutional rights (as British subjects under the British constitution) were being violated, not just on taxation but a score of other reasons.
  12. Loopie

    Loopie Puritan Board Freshman

    I suppose I can jump in here and try to explain my position as clearly as possible. I want to say first though that I am presenting my view as a current military officer and pilot in the USAF. I have always tried to allow the Bible to form my worldview, rather than forcing it to fit my preconceived worldview.

    With that said, I believe that 'just war' is possible, that Christians are not disobeying God by serving in the military (even of a secular society), and that the American war for independence was a 'just war'.

    Allow me to please go into more detail about 'just war'. I have gained a lot of insight by reading Augustine's City of God, since he goes into some depth on the concept of 'just war':

    "But the wise man, they say, will wage just wars. Surely, ife remembers that he is a human being, he will rather lament the fact that he is faced with the necessity of waging just wars; for if they were not just, he would not have to engage in them, and consequently there would be no wars for a wise man. For it is the injustice of the opposing side that lays on the wise man the duty of waging wars; and this injustice is assuredly to be deplored by a human being, since it is the injustice of human beings, even though no necessity for war should arise from it." (City of God, Book XIX, Chapter 7)

    What Augustine seems to be saying is that it is because of the evil and injustice of some people that a wise man is justified in waging war. Normally the wise man would not engage in war. In fact, war should be deplorable by the wise man. But when faced with the evil and injustice of others, it in fact becomes necessary for the wise man to wage a just war.

    Now, allow me to also clarify another piece. War is consists of many different levels (Strategic, Operational, Tactical). For instance, the Israelites going to war against the city of Ai was a 'just war' (it was commanded by God). Yet Achan sinned against the Lord by disobeying the command not to take certain things that were prohibited for the Israelites to take. I recognize the fact that Achan's sin was against God, and not against the enemies of the Israelites. Yet it is important to understand that the 'justness' of a war isn't merely dependant upon our actions towards our enemies. It is also dependant on our actions towards God.

    The point I am trying to make from this brief example is that even in a 'just war', men often commit sinful acts. But just because sinful acts are committed at a lower level (tactical), does not mean that the war is no longer 'just'. A 'just war' does not maintain itself as 'just' by remaining spotless and free from sin at every and all levels. That would be impossible, and there would not be any such thing as a 'just war'.

    With regard to the next point, I know it has been discussed many times on this board whether or not Christians should serve in the military. All I will say on this point is that scripture does not give us any example of a converted Roman Centurion being commanded as new Christian to quit his position, or refuse to fight for Rome. Some might say that the Roman soldier was already a soldier before he became a Christian, so he is not really accountable for being in that position when he was called to Christ. This would imply that if a person becomes a Christian first, they should not join the Roman Army. The only thing I would say to this is that none of the Christian Roman soldiers in scripture are commanded to not re-enlist when it was time to. If I am not mistaken, a Roman soldier swore an oath of service that was renewed every year. If being a soldier of a secular army was incompatible with being a Christian, then we would at least see in scripture that Roman soldiers were encouraged to finish their current commitment to the army, but don't renew their oath if they can help it (get out when they can). But we don't see that anywhere.

    Applying this concept to my own personal situation, I recognize that I am engaging in warfare at the Tactical Level. I don't know everything about the Big Picture, and I don't have the level of information that the President, or the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have. I also recognize that as a secular nation (which is more evident today than ever before), not every war that America fights will be a 'just war'. Certainly the Roman Empire didn't always fight in 'just wars'. But if there was no prescription against being a Christian AND a Roman Soldier, there certainly cannot be any prescription against being a Christian AND a member of the United States Military. So even if the United States engages in a wicked and unjust war, this does not mean that as a Christian I am sinning by simply being a part of that military.

    Consider at least for a moment that Roman soldiers weren't really given the 'freedom' to question the orders of their commanding officer. At least in the United States Military, we are taught to recognize whether an order is immoral or unconsitutional. So even when the nation as a whole is engaged in a wicked and unjust war, I, as a Christian, can continue to act in accordance with my conscience. I am never a robot just following orders. I act based on my belief whether the orders I am given are moral and constitutional. If my commander orders me to kill unarmed women and children, I would certainly be able to act in accordance with my faith and refuse those orders.

    So for the reasons stated above, I believe A) That 'just wars' do exist B) That there is no prescription against Christians serving even in secular militaries. From here we now have to look at the American War of Independence.

    This obviously could take a long period of time to fully discuss, so I will try to be brief. Essentially, I believe that it is wrong for a Christian (as a citizen of a particular nation) to seek to overthrow or remove from power those who have been placed in authority over them. But here we must be clear about something. I believe that there is a FUNDAMENTAL difference between seeking to FORCIBLY REMOVE a king or leader from power, and seeking to SEPARATE YOURSELF from their authority. In the case of the American War of Independence, I highly doubt that the strategic goal of the Americans was to forcibly remove or kill King George III. That would be immoral and unbiblical. But to seek to separate one's self from another ruler must be treated as a separate issue.

    With that said, we now need to figure out if the Americans had good, legitimate, reasons for seeking separation. Honestly, I am not an expert in the American War of Independence. Yet it is very likely that there were NUMEROUS motivations behind every person that sought independence. Do I think that the SOLE motivation for most people was taxes (coupled with what they felt was a lack of representation in Parliament)? Perhaps. But maybe some people had more selfish reasons. Still, I think the general motivation of most colonials was legitimate.

    In conclusion, I do believe that the American War of Independence could satisfy the requirements of a 'just war'. This does not mean that every person who fought the war was doing it for the right reasons. Yet I certainly do not hold to the understanding that separation from a ruler is to be equated with the unbiblical concept of overthrowing a ruler. As previously shown, I also do not believe it to be wrong for a Christian to serve in the armed forces of even a secular nation, even if that nation engages in an unjust or wicked war.
  13. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Not in this case.

  14. Jerusalem Blade

    Jerusalem Blade Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Thanks for that video, Margaret!
  15. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    One of the major issues at the time was that the English Parliament, which only had the authority to tax England, was taxing the American colonies--which were British (i. e., part of the empire), but not English. Furthermore, it was being upheld by their King, who was in this sense overstepping his prerogatives. It would be like Northern Ireland taxing England with the Monarch's support.

    That's my understanding of how the Empire worked back then. I'm not sure how the UK functions now.
  16. Miss Marple

    Miss Marple Puritan Board Junior

    Great insight about separation as opposed to overthrow of a king, Eric. I never thought of it that way before. It definitely helps me to adjust my attitude.
  17. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    What I'm getting at is that the issues were constitutional in nature.
  18. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Joshua's words, in my estimation, are most to the point. The argument for the biblical justification of the War for Independence can be made either way, depending on a number of things and the perspective taken. This is not as easy as it looks. I find it troubling that some are so quick to say simply "it was unjust" or "it was wrong" when so many of our Presbyterian forbears, both here and in Scotland, did not believe so as a part of it.

    I happen personally to lean one way on the War for Independence and another on the War between the States. I have read widely in the relevant disciplines (and the relevant disciplines are more than history) and have a graduate degree in Colonial American Intellectual History. What about the English Civil War (1640-49) or the Glorious Revolution (1688-9)? I could multiply this out. I think it best to seek to understand what happened all around the board, but to go rather lightly on the judgments as to whether the wars were just or not.

    I could make an argument, for instance, that not a single American or British War fought was just, including the two world wars. Observe these two things: those who argue that rebellion is never justified, fall outside of the historic Reformed faith, which has always embraced some form of rebellion theory, recognizing that no earthly authority is absolute. Romans 13 is no more to be read without any qualification than is the authority of the husband or of parents. Secondly, it's its own peculiar form of rebellion, arguably, to think that the justness of any particular was can simply be determined by us as individuals and not require, at least, some sort of judgment by the church at the time (and which church is that?) acting in its corporate capacity.

    I have all sorts of questions, for example, to take it out of the two biggies (the War for Independence and the War Between the States), about the War of 1812 and the Mexican War (1846-48). So what? Am I personally competent to pronounce them "unjust" according to "just war theory?" I don't think so, and the notion that I am brings its own sort of anarchy with it. They may not have been just, along with a lot of our other wars. I don't think that the way to go here, however, is to skip back through all our wars and make our pronouncements. I question our competency as individuals to do so.

    That having been said, I am thankful for the providence of God in the English Civil War, Glorious Revolution, American War for Independence and the U.S. Civil War. Much sin was had on all sides in those wars and we cannot sort that out fully (God does such in His perfect judgment). But we can rejoice that we have a God who rules and overrules even when men do their worst. I tell my students that the great man theory of history needs to be replaced with the Great God understanding of history: the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. Despite all our sin and failures, even in church history, the story that emerges can be explained in no other way than a gracious God ruling and overruling to bring about His good purposes even through our sin. Well, I've pontificated enough. I simply want to relieve all the good people here of a fruitless exercise and suggest a better way through this exceedingly complex maze called human history.

  19. PreservedKillick

    PreservedKillick Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you. I had wondered if this had been discussed before on this board.

  20. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    I think your first conception about America back when it was first founded is highly incorrect. America wasn't a Christian nation. God never ordained it to be so, he never called us out of Egypt to be his own, and he never set us apart as a special nation like he did Israel. So if you set that misconception out of the way, then you have to view America as you would any other nation. I believe that as a nation it was the right thing to do. Britain was not representing us and they were a tyrannical nation. They had no right to send tropes over begin a war against us after we disowned them. It has nothing to do with Christianity any more than voting in a President who is completely for upholding the Constitution and less government. I don't vote for the "Christian" President just because he says he's Christian. We are NOT Israel. My Pastor belongs at the pulpit and my President belongs in the White House.....I never get the two confused.
  21. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    A little late to do anything about it, don't you think?
  22. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    Didn't the Founding Fathers lay out a list of theses that showed how King George III was in violation of the Bible?
  23. PreservedKillick

    PreservedKillick Puritan Board Freshman

    Thomas Paine wrote a quite disingenuous passage in Common Sense to show how the Old Testament kings proved the evils of monarchy according to scripture, but, as an atheist, was just using the Bible as a rhetorical tool. The list of charges in the Declaration of Independence deals with acts of British tyranny but has nothing to do with the Bible. I'm not sure if either of these are what you are referring to.

  24. Moireach

    Moireach Puritan Board Freshman

    It's celebrated annually, so it's not too late to stop celebrating it if it shouldn't be celebrated.
  25. Shawn Mathis

    Shawn Mathis Puritan Board Sophomore

    Well said.

    ...any good books your recommend? :)
  26. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Actually, no. Parliament represented the whole of Great Britain, not just England. After 1707, the Scottish Parliament was dissolved and Scotland began sending representatives to Westminster (Commons and Peers). So legally, yes, Parliament did have that authority.

    I haven't found an argument for independence that I am comfortable with, so I find myself a Tory. Parliament was exercising legitimate power to fund the defence of its colonies.
  27. Moireach

    Moireach Puritan Board Freshman

    Some good responses on here and some unhelpful ones that don't answer my question at all.
    It's not helpful to say well I'm glad it happened anyway and to offer no Biblical reason. Or to make vague comments like "the British were tyrannical" and to say therefore it was just. I asked for Biblical justification for your positions. Stating that they were "tyrannical", or even being a being a little more specific and stating that they acted unconstitutionally still doesn't come near to answering my question because it doesn't address the question of is there Biblical justification to take up arms against your King if he acts "unconstitutionally" for example. You need to state the specific fact and then the Biblical passage which shows that this is just reason to rebel.

    Some passages which absolutely need to be alluded to are Romans 13 (which has been quoted), and the passage where Christ tells the Pharisees to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. Christ crushed Israelite hopes of a rebellion against the Romans. Were the British as tyrannical as the Romans? Nowhere near. Where they as sinful as the Romans? Nowhere near. Yet Christ urged submission. How was this different?

    There have been some some interesting points and arguments offered. But I'm not satisfied that the above has really been fully addressed.

    And I don't think this is "fruitless" because "its too late to do anything about it" when lots of Christians celebrate and lots don't. If I celebrated my country's military achievements in building the British Empire would you not question why as a Christian I was celebrating what was sinful? (I'm not implying the war of Independence definitely was sinful I'm just saying lots believe it was so it's a legitimate discussion).
  28. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    Please read my post above for the context of what I say here (#19).

    I would, I hope in love and humbly, challenge everyone here in terms of reading history the way that it's being read by some here. We can celebrate American independence just as we can the abolition of slavery, though much sin was involved in all of it. There is no historical movement, and even moment, without sin because it's the history of a fallen people. Even the history of the renewed people is fraught with such. I think that we have altogether too rosy a view of ourselves. It is our God who alone is worthy of all praise , honor, and glory.

    My dear brother Scotsman, there's plenty to criticize in terms of Scottish history. In fact, it was Scotsmen more than any who gave the theological and philosophical justification for the War for Independence. That does not make it all right. But there was plenty wrong on the English side and there was a fairly serious breach of the constitution, in the English sense of the term: after the Seven Years War the Crown in Parliament started making internal demands of the colonies that it had never made (save for empire-wide concerns, like the Navigation Acts of 1650 and 1696) and had, arguably, no right to make. Note the support of someone like Edmund Burke (who supported American freedom while opposing the French Revolution). I am not saying that the War was thus justified simpliciter but there certainly were more grounds than many seem to think for it (and I've said virtually nothing).

    All this is to say, in general we should not approach history in this moralistic way, with a desire to pronounce everything right or wrong. We never have all the facts, have a partial view of things, and if, Romans 14, among other places, would warn us against an undue judging of others (we are all His servants), would not this apply to figures in history? Am I forbidden from wrongly or hastily or partially judging my fellow believer but free to do so to historical figures? Yes, we must assess but we must do so humbly. We do not have infallible records of the past, except in the Word of God. We can judge an Esau or a Judas rather clearly because we have an infallible record that tells us what they did and interprets them for us. (Even then, we have to be careful, I think, with a Saul or some others.)

    We do not have infallible records and judgments about the American Revolution, U.S. Civil War, etc. This does not mean that we cannot study them and form opinions, even strong ones. But it should mean that we hold such lightly and not dogmatically, open to revision if that's called for. I grow quite nervous when folk approach history as if we can be as dogmatic about it as about the Bible.

    One could argue that the present English monarch's family came to the throne through a series of usurpations. Does this make the Windsors illegitimate? No. Can we celebrate the queen's sixty years? Yes. All present authority usurped some previous one at some time; that does not mean that we cannot celebrate our independence or the English the queen's reign or the French, even, their independence and the overthrow of the ancien regime. Was the French Revolution a good thing? In many ways, no. But, arguably, not in every way (do you know what monarchy and the church were like before? What of our persecuted brethren?).

    I'll stop for now but I want to encourage everyone here that you don't need to figure out what none of us can (the absolute rightness or wrongness of historical movements) and you need not feel less Christian if you wish, as an American, to thank God for establishing this nation (and lament what we've become and pray for renewal), along with all the others!

  29. Moireach

    Moireach Puritan Board Freshman

    Hmm. I don't think I can agree with this. We know that no movement is going to be free from sin. The Reformation was marred by sin in some cases (plundering of Roman monasteries etc), but the movement itself was not sinful. We know as a fact that there was sin involved in the war of independence, but we also know that we can investigate whether the actual movement was sinful or not in and of itself.

    I hope you don't see my question as a superiority thing between our two countries. It's a genuine question. I have no desire to criticise America, that would be a childish thing to do.

    Ok, this is interesting and specific information. But do these acts really provide Scriptural justification for a Christian to rebel?

    I hope I haven't given this impression. But I think we have plenty accurate information on it to have a discussion and come to a reasonable conclusion based on Biblical principles.

    Well you've answered your own questions but I don't see Biblical justification to celebrate what was sinfully achieved, whether it be the British monarchy or American Independence. For example, to apply this to myself so that people don't think I'm wanting to point the finger at others, if I studied the British monarchy and discovered that they murdered and sinned to overthrow the previous head of state to achieve the status they achieved, and there was a national day of celebration for the British monarchy, I can't see how I as a Christian could celebrate that. However I would continue to submit to the monarchy and pray for them.
  30. JohnGill

    JohnGill Puritan Board Senior

    I think in asking if it was a "just war" we make the mistake of assuming that we can make such a determination better than those who lived during that time. If Christians at that time considered it a "just war", then who are we to gainsay them? We have John Carmichael who wrote, "A Self-Defensive War Lawful" in support of the War of Independence. While Wesley may have been against it, the person who studied under him and brought Methodism to the US was for it. We don't know what prompted those who considered it a just war to be such. Out of charity for our Christian brethren who lived at that time and believed it such, we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

    As to the passage in Romans 13, I would ask this, "Since God forbids infanticide (abortion), the toleration and promotion of sodomy, sodomites, and their pederasty, the replacing of his laws and just punishments with ungodly laws and punishments, should we obey a government that does such? Or ought we to obey God rather than men and change the laws of our nation to conform to his laws? Even in seeking to change such laws we are rebelling against the established authority and condemning it. Is this then wrong? If you say yes, then to be consistent you MUST support all laws that forbid pastors from preaching against the abomination of sodomy and report such pastors to the proper governmental authority, else you are an hypocrite.

    It just seems to me that some of you who are quoting Romans 13 are ignoring the other parts of scripture that would require us to rebel against an ungodly government that promotes such aforementioned abominations or rebel against paying taxes when such taxes are used to promote infanticide, sodomy, murder, and other such things that God condemns. Since in the paying of taxes we are paying for such a government to commit such abominations. Are we not to work even unto death to change such ungodly laws until they all conform to God's word?

    I think the War of Independence was about more than tea and George III's madness.
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