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Statement on War in Iraq

Daniel E. H. Bryant
Not in Our Name Rally -- Federal Courthouse
Eugene, Oregon
October 5, 2002


Though I am the pastor of First Christian Church and President of the City Club of Eugene, I cannot speak for those two fine institutions as neither has taken a position on the issue before us.  I do know that many of the members of both are very much opposed to the war and many of them are here today.  But I can speak as a minister and a representative of organized religion.  Organized religion has often been portrayed as part of the problem, and that may be true, but it is also part of the solution.  I want to share with you just some of the statements from church leaders against a possible war on Iraq because these are voices, the voices of organized religion, that we have not heard in the media.

The Board of Directors of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, a group of 17 diverse Christian communions, has just recently taken a stand against the war, stating that though "we have differing perspectives on the need and justification for war, we all agree that the call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a call to the values of peace, justice, compassion, reconciliation, and care for neighbor.  We acknowledge that the government of Iraq is a deeply corrupt and criminal regime.  However, we join with many of our constituent denominations, to express our opposition to pre-emptive and unilateral military action against Iraq."

"We believe that pre-emptive, unilateral military action towards any nation is not consistent with US and UN policy and would set an unsettling precedent for other nations.  Our conviction is that the values of peace, justice, compassion, reconciliation, and care for neighbor expressed by our Christian faith calls us to a different course of action.  We call upon President Bush and the government of the United States to fully explore diplomatic means of diminishing the threat Saddam Hussein including a new weapons-inspection program and renewed international peace efforts."

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) issued this statement last month:

"Recalling and reaffirming the words of the WCC First General Assembly (1948): War as a method of settling disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The part which war plays in our present international life is a sin against God and a degradation of humanity."

"Reiterating its conviction that under the sovereignty of God, no nation or group of nations is entitled to prosecute vengeance against another.  Nor is any nation entitled to make unilateral judgments and take unilateral actions that lead to the devastation of another nation and the massive suffering of its people."

"Calls upon the Government of Iraq to respect the resolutions of the UN Security Council [and] calls insistently upon the Government of the United States of America to desist from any military threats against Iraq and any further development of plans for military actions against that country." 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a letter on September 13 stating in part, "The United States and the international community have two grave moral obligations: to protect the common good against any Iraqi threats to peace and to do so in a way that conforms with fundamental moral norms."  The letter goes on to define those norms under the concept of 'just war' and concludes with this request of President Bush: "We respectfully urge you to step back from the brink of war and help lead the world to act together to fashion an effective global response to Iraq's threats that conforms with traditional moral limits on the use of military force."

The National Council of Churches also has issued a declaration against the war signed by 48 Christian leaders, including the heads of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, The Episcopal Church, USA, the Mennonite Church, the Church of the Brethren, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalists, Evangelicals for Social Action as well as the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches and many others.  The statement reads, in part:

"We, leaders of American churches and church-related organizations, are alarmed by recent statements by yourself and others in the Administration about pre-emptive military action against Iraq for the expressed purpose of toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein.  Understanding that Mr. Hussein poses a threat to his neighbors and to his own people, we nevertheless believe it is wrong, as well as detrimental to U.S. interests to take such action."

"The pre-emptive use of military force by the United States to deal with proliferation problems, as serious they may be, establishes a dangerous precedent, particularly for other nations that feel threatened by the weapons capabilities of their neighbors.  Furthermore, unilaterally overthrowing enemy governments heightens concern in other countries about American respect for their integrity as nations, as well as for international law."

"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 of pursuing peace, not war; working with the community of nations, not overthrowing governments by force; respecting internal law and treaties while holding in high regard all human life." 

Given these statements from all of these church leaders, I want to know, just to what church does President Bush belong?  The President has stated that he has nothing but "hate in his heart" for Saddam Hussein.  I do not know what church teaches that, but I know it is not mine.  I do not know any religion that teaches that, but I know it is not mine.  Jesus said, "You have heard it said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemies,' but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  There is a sign in the back of this crowd that says "Trust Jesus".  I believe that is precisely right.  We can trust Jesus in this, that love is the stronger force than hate.

The President has called the war on terrorism a "war on evil".  But is not evil a spiritual entity?  How does one fight a spiritual matter with military means?  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."

I do not know what God the President worships, but the God I worship calls us to "turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks" as declared by the prophet Isaiah.  The God I worship calls us to turn bombs into bread and butter.  The God I worship seeks to overcome hate with love, evil with good, war with peace.

You are a wonderful crowd to preach to!  I am pleased to stand with you here today.  May God truly bless you.


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