In recent years there has been a lively discussion in the Catholic community about whether Christians should always rely on nonviolent responses to serious injustices or whether armed force is sometimes a legitimate way to right grave wrongs. This debate is between those who see nonviolence as a requirement of Christian discipleship and those who continue to support the just war approach that has been a central part of the Catholic tradition since the time of St. Augustine. The discussion raises important political and theological issues.
This debate raises questions about how effective nonviolence is in resisting injustice. Can nonviolent actions successfully secure the peace and justice they seek? Can they do so in all circumstances? Or is resorting to force sometimes regrettably necessary to obtain justice in an effective way? To be sure, the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance to injustice is not the only concern in this discussion. There are also important theological and ethical issues at stake.
We know from the Bible that avoiding the resort to violence is important in a faithful Christian life. All Christians, and indeed all persons, whether Christian or not, are bound by the Biblical commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” This commandment certainly requires avoiding the use of lethal force when nonviolent action will achieve the goal of promoting justice. The importance of avoiding violent action is reinforced for Christians by Jesus’ teaching that his followers should work for peace.