LONDON, SEPT. 14, 2002 ( The specter of U.S. military action against Iraq has prompted many religious leaders to urge further negotiations, or at least U.N. intervention, to avert an invasion or other form of aggression.
But some have come out in favor of the military option.
In England, the Anglican bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, said that Western leaders had a responsibility to fight terror, and Iraq had already proved itself capable of invading its neighbors and of attacking its own people, the Telegraph reported Sept. 5.

In the United States, one of the largest religious groups, the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, also approved the use of force. An article published Sept. 9 by Baptist Press reported comments by Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Among the justifying factors for action cited by Land was the development by Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction that “he plans to use against America and her allies.” He noted how the Iraqi leader “has broken all agreements that were a condition of the cease-fire in the Gulf War, including allowing arms inspectors in his country.”

Land also referred to recent satellite photographs that found new construction and other unexplained changes at several nuclear-related sites in Iraq. “Military action against the Iraqi government would be a defensive action,” Land said. “The human cost of not taking Hussein out and removing his government as a producer, proliferator and proponent of the use of weapons of mass destruction means we can either pay now or we can pay a lot more later.”

More-qualified support came from Rich Cizik, the National Association of Evangelicals’ vice president of government affairs. Cizik thinks that Saddam’s involvement with al-Qaida provides ample justification for attack; nevertheless, he says Congress needs to ratify the decision. “This, along with building a coalition of allies, would signify proper authority,” Cizik said, according to the Sept. 2 issue of Christianity Today magazine.

Promoting dialogue

Opposition to military action comes from a wide variety of sources. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, called for further dialogue, in an interview published Sept. 10 by the Italian daily Avvenire.

If this option fails, he said, any military action should be a matter for the international community to decide through the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council should consider the negative effects an invasion would have on the civilian population, as well as the repercussions for regional and global stability, the archbishop said. Not following this process would lead to a situation where the strongest impose their own law on others, he concluded.

U.S. bishops also called for restraint. A Sept. 10 statement by their conference’s administrative committee said that, in the “necessary task” of fighting terrorism, “we must ensure restraint in the use of military force, insisting that traditional moral norms governing war and protecting the innocent must be observed.” It added: “This ‘war on terrorism’ should be fought with the support of the international community and primarily by non-military means.”

In England, the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, came out against the use of force, in an article published Sept. 5 by the Times. The English primate acknowledged that there “are good reasons why many, including our own and the U.S. government, regard the regime in Iraq as a threat to the security of the region and, presumably, the West.”

But he warned: “A war in Iraq would cause great destruction and suffering. It would also entail grave consequences for our own country and for the world.” Further, he demanded clear evidence “that the threat posed by Iraq is both grave and imminent, and that the regime must change itself or be changed.”

The cardinal concluded that “the wisdom of specific actions or policies with international impact must ultimately be judged by the extent to which they improve the lot of all mankind, especially the poorest, and enhance the prospects for world peace. At present there are genuine reasons to doubt that military action against Iraq would pass that test.”

The Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, also urged caution. “I respect the Prime Minister but I personally believe that no action should taken until there is a strong consensus in the U.N.,” he said, according a BBC report Sept. 10.

Carey’s designated successor, Rowan Williams, opposes military action against Iraq. He was among 2,500 signatories of a peace petition delivered to Tony Blair’s residence, BBC reported Aug. 6. The declaration, drawn up by the Christian peace group Pax Christi, calls any attack on Iraq “immoral and illegal.” Six other bishops, both Anglican and Catholic, also signed the letter.

By peaceful means

In the United States, an Aug. 30 press release by Jim Winkler, chief staff executive of the United Methodist Church’s advocacy and action agency, called on President George W. Bush not to attack Iraq and to seek a peaceful solution through the United Nations. The declaration noted that both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are Methodists.

Winkler stated: “Our church categorically opposes interventions by more powerful nations against weaker ones. We recognize the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among nations.”

“A pre-emptive war represents a major and dangerous change in U.S. foreign policy. It also sets a terrible precedent for other nations,” Winkler’s press release said. “Pre-emptive war cannot become a universalized principle lest disaster and chaos result.”

The World Council of Churches also weighed in. In an Aug. 30 press release, 37 of its leaders from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada called upon the American and British governments to use restraint. They expressed concern about the “likely human costs of war with Iraq, particularly for civilians.”

That same day, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Mark S. Hanson, published a declaration saying he was deeply concerned about a possible pre-emptive military strike. He too cited the great suffering that Iraqi civilians would face. He also noted that most other nations oppose the use of force and prefer the option of weapons inspections.

On Sept. 6 the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, Frank Griswold, admitted: “The problem of Iraq admits no easy solution.” Yet, he continued, “through diplomatic and multilateral initiatives, we can both serve our common interests and seek to contain the national security threats posed by Saddam Hussein’s rule of Iraq.” As the world waits uneasily, the debate on Iraq will continue.