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War and Faith

Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church
Eugene, Oregon
February 23, 2003

Micah 4:1-4

As a nation, and even as a world, we are on the eve of war in the very cradle of civilization itself.  With the crumbling of our sense of security in a tower of ash and dust on 9/11, we appear to be a nation eager to show the world that we are not afraid of those who would do us harm, covering our anxieties with plastic, duct tape and $100 billion dollars of military muscle.  The eyes of the world are upon us like never before. 

         To be blunt and to the point, I believe war on Iraq, if it proceeds as planned, may well be the single greatest mistake by an American government in our history, period.  Not that I have any strong opinion, mind you.  In a moment I'll tell you why, concluding with some reflections on how our faith comes to bear in such matters.  Before I do, let me make clear that I speak for no one other than myself, though I know many here share my feelings.  I also know others here do not.  And that is OK.  I do not expect everyone to agree with me nor do I even wish it as well, maybe a little.  My desire has always been for a church that is diverse and includes a broad spectrum of beliefs, but where we can be open and honest with each others about those beliefs, sharing, as our founders often said, ≥In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty and in all things charity.≤ 

         To that end I invite you to remain after the service today for some dialogue.  I want to hear what you think about these things.  To get us started, I have asked outspoken letter-to-the-editor writer, Darrell Rothauge, to respond and to offer his viewpoint.  Having said my piece, my intent will be to listen.  After the service we'll take about a ten-minute break for coffee and then turn it over to Darrell.

         So fasten your seat belts, I am going to count down my top ten reasons why we should not start a war against Iraq:

12.     There is no mandate to fight this war.

OK, so I lied.  I couldn't keep it to ten.  Scott Ritter, the ex-Marine and former U.N. arms inspector, said that giving President Bush sole power to wage war is "like going to a doctor who says you have a brain tumor and that he needs to chop off your head so he can dig it out. You say, 'Wait, that's kind of extreme. May I see the X rays?' And the doctor says, 'Don't worry about X-rays. Just trust me on this.' "[i]

Should we?  Everyone across the spectrum from the most conservative hawk to the most liberal dove agrees that Saddam Hussein is a very bad guy.  The question is, why are we going to war against a country that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11, has not fire a single shot outside its borders since the invasion of Kuwait thirteen years ago and now has a military by all accounts that is 1/5 the strength it was in 1991?  Cynics say the answer is Florida.  With an economy in the dumps and federal deficits skyrocketing, a President who lost the popular vote in the last election will be an easy target in the next.  A solid victory in Iraq, however, will yield many votes in Florida and elsewhere. 

I have a hard time believing our President is that callous.  I am inclined to believe that the President feels he must deliver some kind of victory against the evil of terrorism and Saddam Hussein is simply the most available candidate.  A majority of the American public apparently agree, however, a NYTimes/CBS poll found that 42% in this country believed that Saddam Hussein was somehow responsible for 9/11, a rather astounding statistic given that there is not one iota of evidence to support that and no one in our government has made that claim.  Thus much of the support for this war is based plain and simple upon ignorance and propaganda.  Even then, 59% in our country say we should give UN and weapons inspections more time and 54% oppose a war if thousands of Iraqi civilians would be killed.

11.     War is bad for the environment

Remember the burning oil fields of Kuwait?  There is great concern Hussein will do the same in Iraq creating an even greater environmental disaster.  Thousands upon thousands of Gulf War Veterans have a mysterious ailment we have labeled Gulf War Syndrome.  Burning oil fields is one possible cause, another is depleted uranium, a special armor-piercing munition made with radioactive material.  We used it for the first time in the Gulf War, firing over 300 tons of depleted uranium.  French, Canadian, British and US veterans with Gulf War Syndrome have received no help from their own governments on the relationship between depleted uranium and their illness.  The only government researching the effects of depleted uranium is the Iraqi government.  Ironically, veteran organizations in this country have been forced to turn to research scientists in Baghdad to understand what depleted uranium does.  

10.      The cost of this war is prohibitive

Just a couple of years ago Congress was fighting over what to do with the enormous surplus in the federal budget.  In just two years we have gone from a projected surplus of $5.6 trillion to the largest deficits we have ever known.  Social services of all kinds are being cut back or eliminated, many of them essential to our most vulnerable citizens.  The war in Afghanistan has cost us $37 billion so far and the war in Iraq is projected to cost up to $100 billion, that is about $1000 for every American household.  How will we pay for this war debt?  By borrowing more money. Why?  Because like LBJ in the Vietnam era, President Bush knows that if we had to actually pay for the war as we fought it, Congress would pull the plug faster than you can say tax hike. In other words, the cost of fighting this war will be thrown upon future generations which will have fewer options for education, health care, job training, retirement, etc. as a result of this war.

Meanwhile the people of Afghanistan still wait for the aid that was promised to help them rebuild their country.  Johnny Wray, director of Week of Compassion, was there in January.  He reports that one out of every four children die before the age of five.  The average income is less than 50 cents a day.  700,000 women have been widowed from 23 years of war.  10 million land mines and unexploded ordinances remain scattered across the landscape.  This is what war does.  The good news is that Disciples have provided nearly $250,000 to buy livestock, seed, tools, building materials and more to make a real difference in Afghanistan through Week of Compassion.  The bad news is that another war will only create more need, especially given that 60% of the Iraqi people are already dependent upon the UN for food.

9.       There are better means to disarm Iraq

Just as everyone agrees that Saddam is a very bad guy, so too everyone agrees that he must be disarmed.  Is there anyway proven way to do that outside of war?  As a matter of fact, the UN inspections resulted in the destruction of more weapons from 1991 to 1998 than where destroyed by the Gulf War.  Furthermore, many of the weapons Iraq does possess were developed or purchased with the help of western companies.  The Iraqi documents turned over to the UN in the latest round of inspections reveal more than 150 American, British and other foreign companies that supplied Iraq with its nuclear, chemical  and missile technology, many of them in illegal transactions.  The combination of thorough inspections and selective sanctions in the long run will be safer, cheaper and more productive than war.  I would concur that without the threat of force, inspections are meaningless.  Using that force, however, before the inspections have fully run their course is senseless.  Had the League of Nations been given the kind of teeth the UN has today and imposed inspections and sanctions upon Germany in 1934, I believe we would have avoided the Holocaust and WWII, saving millions of lives.

8.       Unintended consequences

Every war since the beginning of civilization yields unintended consequences.  After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the CIA poured millions of dollars of training and equipment into the opposition.  The unintended consequence was the training of the future leaders of Al Qaeda.  During the last Gulf War we established a military presence in Saudia Arabia that helped us to win that war.  Unintended consequence?  It was our presence in Saudia Arabia that prompted Osama bin Laden to begun his campaign of terror. 

Senator Byrd delivered this warning with to the US Senate just last week, naming a number of such possible unintended consequences:

Will our war inflame the Muslim world resulting in devastating attacks on Israel?  Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal?  Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which has much closer ties to terrorism than Iraq?

Could a disruption of the world's oil supply lead to a world-wide recession?  Has our senselessly bellicose language and our callous disregard of the interests and opinions of other nations increased the global race to join the nuclear club and made proliferation an even more lucrative practice for nations which need the income?[ii]

This much seems clear:  even though he considers Saddam to be an infidel himself, attacking Iraq will give Osama bin Laden the very rally cry he needs to recruit even more mass assassins.

7.       This war threatens to undermine NATO and the UN

Do we really want to make the UN a meaningless ≥debating society≤ as the President suggests will happen if it does not agree to our demands?  What will happen to NATO if we lock out France and Germany as Secretary Rumsfeld has threatened to do?  This is a very dangerous game of diplomacy we are playing.  Again, quoting Senator Byrd (five people sent me his speech, four from this congregation so I figure I should make good use of it!):

Calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil,
denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant -- these types of
crude insensitivities can do our great nation no good.  We may have
massive military might, but we cannot fight a global war on terrorism
alone.  We need the cooperation and friendship of our time-honored
allies as well as the newer found friends whom we can attract with our
wealth.  Our awesome military machine will do us little good if we
suffer another devastating attack on our homeland which severely
damages our economy.


6.       A pre-emptive war sets bad precedent

A pre-emptive strike against Iraq would set an exceptionally bad precedent for other nations to follow.  It would also be a clear violation of the UN Charter and international law.  Witness the statement from the government of North Korea that they would not hesitate to use pre-emptive means if they felt they were next on our target list.  Given that they have the means to produce and deliver nuclear weapons, this is an unintended consequence of disastrous proportions waiting to happen. 

5.       War on Iraq will lead to rapid deterioration of our international relations

Why do they hate us? In the eyes of the Arab world, the case for requiring Israel to leave the West Bank is just as great as the US demand for Saddam to disarm.  Israel is in material breach of Resolution 242, passed by the Security Council in 1967 with the approval of the US.  How can we require Iraq to comply with UN resolutions when we haven't required Israel to do the same for over 35 years? The US has vetoed 34 resolutions on Israel, yet we would undo all the good the UN has wrought because France threatens to veto one resolution on Iraq?  Imagine how that looks to the Muslim world.

But it is not just the Muslim world that is unhappy with us. The European edition of Time magazine asked it readers "Which country poses the greatest danger to world peace in 2003?"  Out of 318,000 votes cast on their website, North Korea received 7%, Iraq 8% and the US 84%.  You have to take such unscientific measurements with a grain of salt, but it does grab your attention.

Legitimate polls in Europe however in just the last few weeks place opposition to war in Iraq at 73% in Italy, 90% in Spain, 90% in Britain and 94% in Turkey.  What happens if this war causes the governments of those countries to collapse?  What happens if it causes the government of Pakistan to collapse, a government which already possesses nuclear missiles?  On February 15 there were more protests in more than 600 cities worldwide, half of those outside the U.S., with some 8 million people gathered.  British spy novelist John leCarrČ recently said that "America has entered one of its periods of historic madness, but this is the worst I can remember."  And a columnist in a major British newspaper even went so far as call our government "the Third Reich of our times"[iv]

Ironically it was candidate George Bush who said in the 2nd Presidential debate, "It really depends on how our nation conducts itself in foreign policy.  If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us.  If we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us." 

4.       This war will increase our insecurity

         It took bin Laden ten years to put together the 9/11 attack on our country.  Even if we win this war easily, we will not be able to rest for decades to come.  You cannot root out terrorism with terror just as you cannot eradicate evil with evil. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.  Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it."  This war will only multiply the evil we would destroy.  It will take a turn of our hearts, not a roll of duct tape, to save us from this evil.

3.       Civilian casualties will negate any victory

13,000 civilians were killed in Gulf War plus another 70,000 in aftermath. Former UN inspector Scott Ritter observes,

"Keep this in the back of your head: About 3,000 Iraqi children are starving to death each month -- outside the view of American heartstrings, But we're only talking about dead brown people.  Don't let that little fact get in the way. If 250,000 white babies were going to starve to death, this sanctions policy wouldn't last long at all. But somehow a child's death doesn't hurt brown mothers as much as it hurts white mothers."[v]

The Pentagon tells us that they will shatter Iraq  "physically, emotionally and psychologically" by launching  800 cruise missiles in two days, twice the number used in the entire Gulf War.  A military strategist named Harlan Ullman told American television:

"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad. The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.  You have this  simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but minutes."[vi]  Recall that in 1991 one such cruise metal hit a command bunker of key military leaders.  Only the intelligence was wrong.  The bunker was filled with women and children, over 450 of which were killed. The World Health Organization estimates up to 500,000 people will need treatment in a country whose health care system is already in shambles before a shot has been fired, creating epidemics of enormous proportions.

2.       There can be no Just War against Iraq

1600 years ago St. Augustine developed the concept of Just War to justify Christians taking up arms to defend themselves.  Ever since the concept of Just War has been used to guide Christians and non-Christians on the morality of war.  The principles of Just War are:

  • One must have a just cause, such as the defense from just aggression.  Settling a grievance is not a just cause.
  • One must have a "right intention" to restore order and justice.  Hatred and a desire for vengeance are not appropriate motives.
  • Force must be used by a lawful authority with responsibility to the common good.
  • There must be a reasonable probability of success and the means used must be proportionate to the end sought.  You do not use sledge hammer to drive a thumb tack.
  • All peaceful means to resolve the conflict must be exhausted.  War is always the last resort.

A sixth criteria was added later that specifically forbids the targeting of civilian populations. I have serious questions whether our cause is just or our intention right, but others will make that case.  Clearly when there has been no act of aggression on us, the only lawful authority in this case is the UN.  A pre-emptive attack without the UN would be against international law and contrary to the principles of Just War.  Just as clear all peaceful means to resolve this conflict have not been exhausted.  Lastly, given the prospect that we would used nuclear weapons under certain circumstances, it is unlikely that we could avoid hitting large numbers of civilians.  Pope John XXIII concluded that in the nuclear age "it no longer makes sense to maintain that war is a fit instrument with which to repair the violation of justice."[vii]  Ronald Osborn led a study group of leading Disciple scholars in 1985 that came to the same conclusion.

1.       The war is contrary to Christian faith

Not only cannot I find justification for this war, I find that it is contrary to every thing I believe to be true about my faith in a loving God as exemplified in the life of Jesus.  The National Council of Churches issued this statement in November.  It still holds true today: 

As do many in the world, we look to the United States government to set an example for the international community.  As Christian religious leaders responsible for millions of U.S. citizens we expect our government to reflect the morals and values we hold dear - pursuing peace, not war; working with the community of nations, not overthrowing governments by force; respecting international law and treaties while holding in high regard all human life. [viii]

In communities across this nation interfaith services were held after 9/11.  In one such service in Hawaii, the President of the Muslim Association of Hawaii asked the crowd to join hands as he read this statement from the prophet Muhammad:  "Whoever kills one single being is as if he kills the entire humanity. And whoever saves a single life is as if he saves the entire humanity."[ix]

What should we do? I believe now is the time to do as Micah and Isaiah both say, to turn our swords into plowshares. JoAnne Flanders has been passing out bags of rice with the address on the White House and this scripture from Romans 12, "If your enemies are hungry, feed them," and a message that says, please send this rice, not bombs, to Iraq.  Which is precisely what the Week of Compassion will be doing, only let us hope they will be doing it instead of war rather than after it.  Jesus put it this way:  "You have heard it said, 'Love your neighbor, hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."[x]  This is the way, the only way, to fight evil.

[i] A Call to Arms By an Enemy of War Against Iraq by Courtland Milloy. Washington Post, November 13, 2002.

[ii] Reckless Administration May Reap Disastrous Consequences, by US Senator Robert Byrd, Senate Floor Speech, February 12, 2003.

[iii] ibid.

[iv] Blood on his hands By John Pilger,  The Mirror (UK), January 29, 2002.

[v] Milloy.

[vi] Pilger .

[vii] ≥The Catholic Position of the Morality of War≤, Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.

[viii] Letter to President Bush that was delivered to the White House and State Department on Thursday, September 12, the day of the President's address to the United Nations General Assembly.  The letter was widely disseminated to the media and released at a Capitol Hill press conference.  It was signed by nearly 50 U.S. Christian leaders including the heads of many Protestant denominations and Catholic religious orders.

[ix] Reverberations in distant Hawaii, The Christian Century, September 25, 2001.

[x] Matthew 5:43-44.


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