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February 8, 2003
Column #1,119

Is War in Iraq Justifiable?

     A week before Sec. Colin Powell presented his powerful evidence to the UN about Iraq's both creating and hiding weapons of mass destruction, United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, speaking for the National Council of Churches, announced in an ad on CNN that the U.S. threat to invade Iraq "violates international law."

     "It violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Iraq hasn't wronged us. War will only create more terrorists. And a more dangerous world for our children."

     In an interview, he added, "I don't see where Iraq is a threat to the security of this country. War is not the way to settle conflict between nations. Diplomacy has not been exhausted. We have inspectors in there." 

     I noted that the President cited UN data that Iraq had 25,000 liters of anthrax, enough to kill several million people and 30,000 munitions to deliver them, and had neither turned them over or provided evidence they were destroyed. Talbert replied, "What about Korea? It is saying that it is building atomic weapons; and we extend an olive branch. Let's be consistent."

     On the other hand, Talbert opposed the Persian Gulf war too, after Iraq invaded Kuwait. 

     At the opposite extreme religiously is Dr. Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. recently, who said, "If your opponent has a conscience, then follow Gandhi. But if your enemy has no conscience, like Hitler, then follow Bonhoeffer," the German Lutheran theologian who participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944. He was killed in a concentration camp a month before war's end.

     Gandhi challenged the British in India, and King, the segregated South, with "disciplined non-violent disobedience and demonstration against injustice, a morally superior path," said Land. 

     "However, when your enemy, in his implacable evil, has no conscience, then violence may be permissible and necessary. With Saddam Hussein, we are dealing with a sadomasochistic sociopath who has murdered his way to absolute power. His hero is Joseph Stalin, a man of monstrous evil...

     "I ask those who demonstrate and protest this potential war to contemplate this question: is their opponent President Bush or Saddam Hussein? If their opponent is Bush, then protest peacefully, because he has a conscience to which they may appeal. But if the enemy is a conscience-less Hussein - as I believe he is - then, like Bonhoeffer, do we not have a moral imperative to use force to oppose such evil?"

     Closer to the NCC are the Catholic bishops who said, "Based on the facts known to us, we continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature...We are deeply concerned about recent proposals to expand dramatically traditional limits on just cause to include preventive uses of military forces to overthrow threatening regimes."

     They argued there should be no war without the support of the United Nations, which has legitimate authority "if recourse to force were deemed necessary." And they expressed concern that the war "could have unpredictable consequences not only for Iraq but for peace and stability elsewhere in the Middle East. The use of force might provoke the very kind of attacks that it is intended to prevent."

     America's evangelicals are far more ambivalent. Richard Cizik, Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals, drafted a position statement for the leaders of 50 denominations which have 10 million members. First, it called for prayer. Second, it asked, "Who but the United States can be the sheriff against the outlaws of the world who would use weapons of mass destruction against innocent civilians?" NAE took no stand for three reasons:

  1. Any statement by NAE might be used against Christians in Muslim areas, such as the 1.2 million Christians in Iraq who have had religious freedom under Hussein, and who suffered a major massacre at the hands of Kurds and other Muslims in 1919-1920. Three Baptist missionaries were killed recently. Thousand of others are at risk.
  2. Evangelical leaders don't feel they have sufficient information on either Iraq's threat or about the probability of success and proportionality to make conclusions. "Why declare a war just that has not happened and may not be necessary," as one put it.
  3. Excessive rhetoric by Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham and others who called Mohammad a terrorist and a killer have poisoned the well among Muslims against evangelicals.

     Colin Powell answered the doubting evangelicals and Catholics. 

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