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Social Principles spell out church's stand on war

3/20/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: UMNS story #161 is available as a sidebar to this report.

By United Methodist News Service

As the United States begins military action against Iraq, many United Methodists are wondering where their denomination stands on the issue of war.

The United Methodist Church believes war is incompatible with the teachings of Christ and urges the peaceful settlement of disputes among nations, according to the Book of Resolutions and the Book of Discipline. However, the church acknowledges that when peaceful alternatives have failed, armed force may be necessary.

Many church leaders have addressed the current crisis with Iraq directly in recent months. However, the General Conference is the only entity that speaks for the entire denomination. The legislative assembly, which gathers every four years, will meet in 2004 in Pittsburgh.

Over the years, General Conference has adopted several resolutions and positions related to the issue of war. Those are included in the church's Book of Resolutions and Book of Discipline. The most succinct positions are found in the Social Principles, which appear in both books.

"We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ," the church states in Paragraph 165C on "War and Peace." "We therefore reject war as a usual instrument of national foreign policy and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them."

The passage goes on to say "that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international controls."

While deploring war, the church also notes that most Christians realize armed force may be necessary in some situations.

"We deplore war and urge the peaceful settlement of all disputes among nations," the church states in Paragraph 164G on "Military Service." "From the beginning, the Christian conscience has struggled with the harsh realities of violence and war, for these evils clearly frustrate God's loving purposes for humankind. … Some of us believe that war and other acts of violence are never acceptable to Christians.

"We also acknowledge that most Christians regretfully realize that, when peaceful alternatives have failed, the force of arms may be preferable to unchecked aggression, tyranny and genocide," the passage continues. "We honor the witness of pacifists who will not allow us to become complacent about war and violence. We also respect those who support the use of force, but only in extreme situations and only when the need is clear beyond reasonable doubt, and through appropriate international organizations.

"We urge the establishment of the rule of law in international affairs as a means of elimination of war, violence and coercion in these affairs.

The church also supports people who may take differing viewpoints on the issue of war, whether they choose or refuse to serve in the armed forces.

"We support and extend the ministry of the church to those persons who conscientiously oppose all war, or any particular war, and who therefore refuse to serve in the armed forces or to cooperate with the systems of military conscription," the church states. "We also support and extend the church's ministry to those persons who conscientiously choose to serve in the armed forces or to accept alternative service."

Resolutions adopted by General Conference address a variety of other topics related to war, such as military conscription and the consequences of conflict, as well as a specific resolution on the sanctions against Iraq. More information is available at online.

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