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March 22, 2003
Column #1,125

Public Supports War Despite Church Leaders

     Not since before Pearl Harbor in 1941 have American religious leaders been so stridently opposed to the outbreak of hostilities, says Martin Marty, 75, America's most distinguished religious historian. 

     Yet the people in the pews have not been persuaded. A Gallup Poll taken this week found that 66 percent approved of President Bush's decision to go to war unless Saddam Hussein left Iraq within 48 hours. Only 30 percent disapproved.

     The National Council of Churches sent anti-war delegations to France, Germany, Italy Russia and Great Britain. Dr. Robert Edgar, its General Secretary, asserted his group represented "50 million members in 36 denominations and the Roman Catholic Church with nearly 64 million U.S. members."

     Such a claim is "ludicrous," counters James Heidinger, editor of Good News, a conservative magazine of United Methodists. "It is simply untrue. American Christians, while certainly not eager for war, are still largely in support of the President's policy."

     Episcopal Bishop John Chane of Washington and Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA published an ad agreeing that "We must disarm Saddam Hussein" and "remove him from power," but without war. 

     How? "Indict Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity and send a clear signal he has no future in Iraq, setting into motion internal and external forces that could remove him from power."

     What forces? Hussein has killed a million countrymen to remain in power. A delegation of Arab nations met with him offering a safe exile. He refused. 

     The liberal church leaders suggested bringing Hussein "to trial at the International Court in The Hague. History has shown, as with Slobodan Milosevic, that this can help bring down a criminal regime."

     Have these religious leaders forgotten how Milosevic was driven from power? After a decade of "ethnic cleansing" attacks, culminating in driving 700,000 Muslim Albanians from their homes, The United Nations did nothing. But the U.S. led a NATO bombing campaign that lasted 72 days followed by 50,000 NATO troops in Kosovo who kept warring factions apart. Milosevic rigged elections to keep power, which led to mass protests that drove him from office.

     The only "internal and external force" that could remove Saddam Hussein is an American-led armed struggle. On Wednesday night, after military operations began, President Bush promised to "make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm." Indeed, he tried to target a bomb on Hussein himself, which could have avoided war. Sadly, the intelligence was faulty.

     "America," a Catholic magazine editorialized: "War against Iraq will be a defeat for U.S. security...It will intensify anti-Americanism abroad and bring with it the terrorist threat."

     Dr. Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School and author of "Is The Father of Jesus The God of Muhammad?" agrees that in the short term, America's invasion will be seen by Muslims as a new "Crusade" like that of Richard the Lion-Hearted, to crush Islam.

     However, he adds that "Long term, if Iraq can be freed of its tyranny that Saddam Hussein represents, it could be the best hope emerging of a new opportunity for democracy in that part of the world a bridge of understanding between the two cultures."

     Finally, the cost of inaction must be calculated. Any remaining doubts about the connection between Saddam and global terrorism disappeared last weekend when he told his commanders: "When the enemy starts a large-scale battle, he must realize that the battle between us will be open wherever there is sky, land and water in the entire world."

     As President Bush said Wednesday night, the United States and its allies "will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy...and Marines so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities."

     The terrorist threat is new to America and baffling. We have never had an enemy whose goal is not conquest but destabilizing civilization. The war will doubtless produce more terrorist cells. Hopefully, America will seize Hussein's poison gas and deadly bacteria before it gets in their hands. 

     Chuck Colson's Breakpoint radio commentary concluded, "The doctrine of just war...flows out of the Christian command to love your neighbor. It is an act of love to wield the sword against evil and against threats to innocent lives." 

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