Christian Leaders Express Concern Over Pre-emptive War

Mar 01, 2003 03:35 PM EST

WASHINGTON – Christian leaders from America and Europe gathered at the Senate hearing room to discuss international anti-war efforts, Feb. 26. A chorus of the Latin hymn, ‘Dona nobis pacem” – “Give us peace” opened the press briefing. The speakers expressed concern over the possible pre-emptive American war against Iraq.

I want to show you what we’re talking about here,” said National Council of Churches head Bob Edgar. He help up a poster-board sized photograph of a young Presbyterian Iraqi girl that he met in Baghdad. “Most Americans don’t even know that there are Presbyterians in Baghdad.”

The leaders noted that though world leaders such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin have schedueled or have met with church leaders upon request, President Bush has yet to respond.

“The only government that refuses to speak with its church leaders is our own,” said Jim Winkler, head of the United Methodist Church’s social-concerns agency in Washington.

However, groups of Christian leaders have met with both the Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the war.

Polls have shown the gerneral American population to be supportive of the pre-emptive war, however, most major Christian denominations have publically opposed Bush’s intent to declare war without U.N. backing.

International leaders have expressed mixed feelings over the war.

“I have to tell you that, although our prime minister stands shoulder to shoulder with your president, the churches in Great Britain have taken a clear stand [in opposition to Bush’s plans for war],” said Alan McDonald, Presbyterian pastor and convener of the Church of Scotland’s social-concerns committee. “We’re here not as politicians. We’re here because we’re part of the Body of Christ and worship the Prince of Peace.”

The British House of Commons, however, voted 393-199 to back Blair in his support for Bush’s war plans.

Bush himself continues to justify the pre-emptive war on Iraq. During his speech at the annual American Enterprise Institution, Feb. 25, Bush linked the Sept. 11 attacks to possible terrorist attacks in the future.

“In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world -- and we will not allow it,” Bush said. “This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country -- and America will not permit it. The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away.”

Nonetheless, the religious leaders warned of several moral and ethical problems they see in Bush’s plan for war. Along with countless deaths, the pre-emptive war on Iraq without UN backing would undermine the international organization; the speakers were also concerned of creating something akin to a “holy war” between the Islamic-Arab Middle East and the Judeo-Christian West.

“A war in Iraq would be a catastrophe for the moderate Arabic and Muslim world,” said Jean Arnold de Clermont, president of the French Protestant Federation. Repeating many terrorism experts’ predictions that anti-American sentiment created by a war in Iraq could contribute to increased recruitment for Islamic extremist groups, he added, “We desperately hope that President Bush would not be successful where al-Qaida has failed.”

The leaders repeatedly cited UN figures of severe food shortages in the immediate aftermath of war. “We are intending to unleash hell on Iraq and all of its people, not just [Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein,” said Winkler. “I have worshiped with Iraqi Christians and walked the streets of Baghdad. The people of Iraq are not our enemies.”

Winkler continued. “My opposition to war is deeply rooted in my faith,” he said at the congressional briefing. “I cannot profess Christ as my savior and simultaneously support pre-emptive war.”

By Paulina C.