Magazine article The Christian Century

Jean Bethke Elshtain, 72, Christian Ethicist

Magazine article The Christian Century

Jean Bethke Elshtain, 72, Christian Ethicist

Article excerpt

Christian ethicist Jean Bethke Elshtain, a scholar at the University of Chicago who shaped national conversations on war and peace, died August 11 at age 72.

She'd had two heart attacks in 2012 and, according to the school, she had another "cardiac incident" earlier this summer that led to her death.

The widely admired political philosopher regularly wrote and lectured on ethics, politics and religion. She defended American military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan using "just war theory," a position that suggests there are times when it is necessary and perhaps right to go to war.

When a hundred scholars and ethicists signed a petition that read, "As Christian ethicists, we share a common moral presumption against a preemptive war on Iraq by the United States," Elshtain took the opposite view, publishing the book Just War against Terror in 2003.

"You won't get a better person for combining philosophy and theological ethics with comment on the contemporary scene," said Martin Marty, the dean of American church historians. A longtime friend and colleague of Elshtain, Marty differed with her on issues like the Iraq war, but added: "If you reduce her to the Iraq war, you'll miss her."

Elshtain, who contracted polio as a child in Colorado, was raised Lutheran and was part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America but converted to Catholicism later in life.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago called Elshtain a "woman of deeply held principles. Her many academic accomplishments were integrated into her personal concerns for family, for the public life of women in society, for good and just government, for religion's contribution to the common good. …

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