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
"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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.