Is Bush deaf to church doubts on Iraq war?
Boston Globe By Jim Wallis, 12/9/2002
NEWS stories indicate that the White House and new Republican controlled
Congress intend to put the president's faith-based initiative high on the
agenda for 2003. But the president is not acknowledging another faith-based
initiative - the strong majority of Christian leaders opposing a war against
It took a long time for most of the American churches to come out against
the war in Vietnam. This time, the church protest of war is significant,
both in its breadth and its early clarity. Opposition to war with Iraq has
come from a wide spectrum of the churches - Roman Catholic, Protestant denominations,
Evangelical, Pentecostal, black churches, Orthodox. All of the statements,
letters, and resolutions from church leaders and bodies take the threat posed
by Saddam Hussein seriously, but they refuse war as the best response.
Importantly, these church leaders are not making their decision based
on whether or not they approve of President George W. Bush - some do and
some don't. Rather, they are doing so on the basis of Christian theology
and moral teaching. The tradition of Christian non-violence and pacifism,
of course, rules out all war as a way to resolve conflicts. Most remarkable,
however, in this instance, is that the majority of American church leaders
who have spoken against prospective military action are not pacifists. They
are opposing war because they believe it does not meet the standards of a
Church leaders have used the traditional just war criteria dating back
to St. Augustine in the 4th century. These criteria start with a presumption
against war, then apply a series of judgments to determine whether that presumption
can be overridden. And most church leaders have concluded that in the current
circumstances, it cannot - a war against Iraq would not be just. They have
asked whether there is a just cause, and concluded that a doctrine of preemptive
war to change a regime, however evil or threatening that regime may be, is
They have looked at proportionality - are the damage to be caused and
the costs incurred by war proportionate to the good expected? They argue
that initiating a major war in an area of the world already in turmoil could
destabilize governments and increase political extremism throughout the Middle
East and beyond.
It could exacerbate anti-American hatred and produce new recruits for
terror attacks against the United States and Israel. A unilateral war could
also undermine the continued political cooperation needed for the international
campaign to isolate terrorist networks.
The United States could very well win a battle against Iraq and lose
the campaign against terrorism. If a war is launched, would it be proportionate
and discriminate? What amount of military force would be used and what is
the likelihood of disproportionate damage to civilian life and property?
Would care be taken to avoid or at least minimize harm to civilians?
Most have concluded that if the military strategy includes massive air
attacks and urban warfare in the streets of Baghdad, tens of thousands of
innocent civilians could lose their lives. This alone makes such a military
attack morally unacceptable. In addition, the people of Iraq continue to
suffer severely from the effects of the Gulf War, the resulting decade of
sanctions, and the neglect and oppression of a brutal dictator.
Rather than inflicting further suffering on them through a costly war,
we ought to assist in rebuilding their country and alleviating their suffering.
The casualties among attacking forces - our sons and daughters - could also
be very high. Church leaders say that the potential suffering of both the
Iraqi people and our own society should lead to prudent caution.
Finally, is a war at this time really a last resort? Have all peaceful
alternatives been tried and failed? It seems clear that, just as UN inspectors
are entering Iraq to begin their mission, we cannot say they have failed.
Continued diplomatic cooperation with the United Nations in pursuing rigorously
effective and thoroughly comprehensive weapons inspections, linked to the
gradual lifting of economic sanctions as a reward for compliance, might achieve
the disarmament of Iraq without the risks and costs of military attack.
Bush has frequently reminded us of Martin Luther King's teaching that
''The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of
the state, but rather the conscience of the state.'' As a war with Iraq approaches,
the churches are fulfilling that vocation.
Is Bush listening?
Jim Wallis is executive director and editor of Sojourners.
This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 12/9/2002.