Tobias Winright, PhD (University of Notre Dame) is Associate Professor of Theological Ethics at Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri.  He is the coauthor of After the Smoke Clears: The Just War Tradition and Post War Justice as well as the editor of Green Discipleship: Catholic Theological Ethics and the Environment. He is also a former law enforcement officer who was John Howard Yoder’s graduate assistant for two years at Notre Dame.

The man clearly knows how to sport a turtleneck. By the way, is that made of kevlar?

This should prove to be interesting.


1) Going with the obvious question first: Did John Howard Yoder teach you how to be a better police officer?

Obvious answer, or question as an answer: Am I in law enforcement now? For the most part, being a professor of theological ethics is safer (although whenever there is a shooting on a university campus somewhere, I wonder) and doesn’t involve the use of force (although some students who earn poor grades may disagree, but at least that isn’t lethal, I hope) or the swearing of oaths (just some swearing, though I try not to do that in the classroom anymore). Professor Yoder was always interested in my (and my family’s) previous experience in law enforcement. My first paper I wrote for his graduate seminar on war and peace explored how just war reasoning operates in policing (e.g., proportionate force, last resort, discriminating force, etc.), and he was pleased to see it published in the journal Criminal Justice Ethics. His last e-mail to me, which he sent twenty minutes before his death was about two things: 1) he offered advice for my upcoming on-campus job interview at Simpson College; 2) he gave me feedback about a paper I was preparing to present on “Two Rival Versions of Just War Theory and the Use of Force in Policing” at the upcoming meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics. During those years, he’d also give me a memo here and there about things like holding local police accountable concerning coerced confessions. On prisons and corrections, moreover, Yoder was brainstorming about how the biblical cities of refuge could offer a sort of model for prisons today. Of course, we also talked about capital punishment. After his death and while I was teaching at Simpson, I taught ethics for the Des Moines Police Department and donned a uniform (and carried a 9 mm Sig Sauer) as a reserve police officer for a couple of years. Yoder never absolutely ruled out the possibility that a Christian could serve and protect as a police officer, but he also confessed that he had never met anyone who convincingly witnessed such a calling. I used to wonder about what he would have had to say if he were still alive as I did that. But, as I said at the beginning, I am no longer wearing a badge (though I do miss that sometimes, especially when someone runs a red light and barely misses hitting me on my bicycle). By the way, you should interview my good friend Lee Camp and ask him about a certain dream he had while at Notre Dame in which Yoder–in a police uniform–finds him trespassing in the football stadium–and shoots him in the leg….

2) Outside of enabling Christians to find acceptable reasons to disobey Jesus, what else were you hoping to convey in After the Smoke Clears?

I like how pacifist Christians are fine with doing violence to just-war Christians’ work!

First of all, my coauthor, Mark Allman, and I hoped to do what Yoder often sought to do: get just war people to be more honest about just war so that it actually might “have teeth,” as he would say, and hopefully lessen the violence and the suffering from war–including that which happens in the wake of war. As we write in the Introduction, “Surely those who are injured, suffering, homeless, fearful, hungry, or grieving the deaths of loved ones in the wake of violent conflict–be they Afghans or Iraqis, or American soldiers serving in such places and their families–are the very people Jesus would have us love. Those who have suffered immensely through war are in special need of God’s peace and justice, of reconciliation and restoration.” Traditionally, just war people, Christian or not, have tended to neglect war’s aftermath. We sought to address that lacuna. In the Conclusion we write, “If Christians are going to continue to view armed intervention as sometimes regrettably justified–whether we call it ‘just war’ or ‘legitimate defense’ or ‘the responsibility to protect’–there needs to be not only criteria to help warrant such forceful actions (jus ad bellum) and criteria to govern conduct during these interventions (jus in bello), but also criteria to guide us in establishing a just and lasting peace (jus post bellum).” That “if” at the very beginning of that sentence, which I wrote, is indeed key.


Holy crap, Mike Budde really is Grizzly Adams!!! (Making Steve Long 'Mad Jack' and Amy Laura Hall 'Ben'.)

3) Which pacifist would you rather have on your side in a bar fight: Steve Long, Michael Budde, or Amy Laura Hall?

I recall a sermon that Steve Long gave in chapel when he was a doctoral student (and I was working on my M.Div.) at Duke, and he reminisced about playing with toy soldiers when he was a child. Steve’s one of the toughest debaters I know, but his recent bicycling accident shows that his bones break too easily. Michael Budde, with that hair, looks like a crazy motorcycle gang member, but I know he’s really a gentle guy like Grizzly Adams. Amy Laura Hall, however, who is a Texan like Stanley Hauerwas but also George W. Bush and Rick Perry, would, I think, verbally disarm the hostile crowd. She reminds me of Owen Meany, and I’m sure her words in such a scenario would appear in ALL CAPS if they were written down later. She would stop people in their tracks.


4) Switching gears here: in your latest book, Green Discipleship, you seek, primarily, Catholic resources for why it’s integral to Christian discipleship to live an ecologically-friendly life. My question is, if we’re banking on historic Christian resources for help are we in serious trouble?

First, I would never use that word “banking.”

After writing so much about war, policing, and capital punishment over the years, I felt the need to go to my “happy place.” I love the outdoors: the mountains, the prairies, the oceans (unlike you, I was never a surfer, but I did used to be a beach bum when I lived on the gulf coast of Florida–my high school was only one block from the beach; imagine that), and, yes, even the city. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both observed, however, the connection between our maltreatment of one another (e.g., war) and our maltreatment of creation. This book, which contains twenty chapters written by theological ethicists (and a few scientists with theological credentials) from around the country (well, including the Vatican, since there’s a chapter by the current pope), considers many theological dimensions to this subject: biblical, traditional, liturgical, moral, social, etc. It’s meant to serve the church primarily as a college textbook. A lot of my students are already interested in ecology, and I find that many of them are surprised, initially, and happy, afterwards, to discover that Christianity has much to offer them. In other words, they don’t have to jettison or shelve their faith in order to care for creation. Indeed, such creation care, they find, is essential to their life of discipleship.


5) Does it help to have a friend on the editorial team of a journal like, say, oh . . . speaking just off the top of my head here . . . Political Theology, in terms of getting them to review of one of my, I mean, someone’s books?

This (Blue) Devil swears nada.


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