Offering Hospitality: Questioning Christian Approaches to War by Caron E. Gentry

Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 35 (2):204-205 (2015)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Offering Hospitality: Questioning Christian Approaches to War by Caron E. GentryAndrew C. WrightOffering Hospitality: Questioning Christian Approaches to War Caron E. Gentry notre dame, in: university of notre dame press, 2013. 200 pp. $20.00Caron E. Gentry provides a constructive proposal for transforming jus ad bellum’s last-resort criterion through the reconceptualization of hospitality as “an essential practice” (2) in international relations, one that helps jus ad bellum “operate proactively instead of coercively and reactively” (35) by seeking to protect “without interest the good and the bad of humanity and humans” (3). Gentry is particularly concerned with marginalized peoples who inhabit failed states, whose realities are willfully ignored through the “abstraction” and “hegemonic masculinity” in international relations, as well as in the dominant voices in political theology (Reinhold Niebuhr, Stanley Hauerwas, and Jean Bethke Elshtain) that support an “uncritical complicity with power … unable to deal with vulnerable populations outside of the West” (27). Understood in Christian terms as a practice of “agape,” or “self-giving love,” Gentry demonstrates how hospitality may be a plausible alternative to the paradigmatic approach to power in international relations, suggesting that acting without self-interest is a path to greater and more sustainable security (62).Gentry engages an impressive array of sources to structure her argument. For her critique of international relations discourse, she turns to feminist analyses of state sovereignty to demonstrate how a masculinized understanding of power abstracts the realities of war experienced by human populations (18). Drawing on a “human security” perspective (35), Gentry suggests that the prevention of violent conflict requires a proactive practice—using tools such as the Failed State Index—that attends to the realities of vulnerable populations within states before they erupt into violent conflict (34). Her emphasis on vulnerability and the mutual need for the other reveals Emmanuel Levinas as the primary influence on Gentry’s approach. Refracted through this vision, she opts for a practice of hospitality that moves beyond the realist, pacifist, and just war traditions to cultivate a “proactive last resort” that would extend care to the needs of the vulnerable beyond one’s own borders (136).Strengthening jus ad bellum’s last-resort criterion through a reconceived, proactive practice of hospitality is Gentry’s most compelling contribution, one that is particularly insightful for practitioners and theorists of the just war tradition. Yet readers may get the sense that Gentry wants to push her [End Page 204] contribution beyond the limits of political theology to shape the normative practices of international affairs; this is where Gentry’s persuasive force begins to wane. Specifically, Gentry obscures the genuine differences between an ecclesial practice of agape, embedded in a particular understanding of the nature of God, and the international affairs of a state, embedded in a game of realpolitik, where invulnerability is the rule. In order for Gentry to stake a claim in such a context, she needs to develop a more grounded account of how states could accept vulnerability as a normative practice in order to act without self-interest.Certainly, interdependence and mutual vulnerability are the right place to start. However, this kind of change does not simply concern the dominant patterns of international relations but also involves a change in shared conceptions about basic human nature. As such, her wider contribution may be less about a comprehensive framework and more about a potentially transformational question for theorists in international relations, political philosophy, and Christian ethics alike: What will it require for populations within states to recognize their own vulnerability and dependency, to see the well-being of “the other,” including the enemy, as essential to their own security? After Gentry, any answer to this question must move beyond patterns of hegemony and abstraction, toward proactive engagement with the realities of vulnerable populations.Andrew C. WrightFuller Theological SeminaryCopyright © 2015 Society of Christian Ethics...

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