|United Methodists reflect on costs of Iraq war|
U.S. Army soldiers patrol the Iraq province of Al Anbar in
September 2006. A UMNS file photo by Cpl. Trenton Elijah Harris, U.S.
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
April 7, 2008
As the Iraq war enters its sixth year, the costs extend far beyond
the more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers and 600,000 Iraqis who have died in
Thousands have been left wounded in their bodies, minds and souls––and
face a lifetime of struggles related to the experience, says a United
Methodist chaplain who has seen those wounds up close.
"I am deeply concerned about the returning troops and the mental and
physical wounds they have sustained," said the Rev. Laura Bender, a Navy
chaplain who served in a field hospital in Iraq. "This all-volunteer
force has borne the full weight of this war through multiple,
back-to-back deployments and has done so at great cost."
United Methodist Celeste Zappala (left), whose son was killed in
Iraq, stands with other protesters at a March 7 demonstration in Washington. A UMNS photo
by Jay Mallin.
The Associated Press reported that 29,320 soldiers had been wounded and
31,325 others treated for non-combat injuries and illness as of March 1,
According to research by the U.S. Veterans Administration, 144 veterans
from Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide from 2001 to the end of
2005, and thousands face potential mental health problems and
post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I saw what those wounds looked like," Bender said, noting that many are life-altering and will require extensive aftercare.
Many others wounds, however, are not as visible as missing limbs, she said.
"We do not have the resources in place to provide what is needed, and I
am afraid that many will fall through the cracks. If The United
Methodist Church wants to take a stand on the war, I'd like to see us
champion the cause of these returning veterans," she said.
Bender was among United Methodists who reflected on the effects of
the war on the five-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
A United Methodist pastor and chaplain who asked not to be identified
said he isn't sure what the answer is but "to continue as we have been
is the wrong answer."
"My initial reaction to the war when it started in Afghanistan was that
it was a necessary evil," he said. "When it started in Iraq, I was
somewhat more skeptical of the justification being offered. I am still
skeptical about the initial justification. I have mixed feelings about
our continuing presence there. I deal with the human cost every day.
“...I have made the decision that now is
the time to … deal with this enemy, and now is the time to spread
freedom as the great alternative to the ideology they adhere to.”
–President George W. Bush
"On the one hand I would like to see the bloodshed stop; on the other
hand I don't want to think that the lives of so many young men and
women have been spent to no good end."
The death toll of U.S. soldiers now surpasses the total killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
U.S. President George W. Bush, a member of The United Methodist Church, has consistently defended his war policy.
In a March 11 address to National Religious Broadcasters, the president
spoke of fighting against the "enemy," including Taliban extremists in
Afghanistan and "terrorists" in Iraq, according to a report by Religion
"I wish I didn't have to talk about war," Bush told the broadcasters
gathered in Nashville, Tenn. "No president wants to be a war president.
But when confronted with the realities of the world, I have made the
decision that now is the time to confront, now is the time to deal with
this enemy, and now is the time to spread freedom as the great
alternative to the ideology they adhere to."
U.S. Army Chaplain John Read and retired United Methodist
Bishop Woodie White pray with a wounded soldier in February 2007 in
Landstuhl, Germany. A UMNS file photo
by Hilly Hicks.
Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church
and Society, is among denominational leaders who have spoken out against
the war since its beginning in 2003. The church's social advocacy
agency has released numerous statements calling for peace and withdrawal
Now, he said, the "unholy mess" will pass to Bush's successor.
"The leading Republican candidate for the nomination, Sen. McCain, has
no intention of ending the war if he is elected president," Winkler said
in a recent column on the board's Web site. "And, it remains uncertain
what Sens. Clinton or Obama would do if either is elected, although they
have both stated they plan to end the war."
Winkler cites estimates from The Lancet, a leading British
medical journal, that more than 600,000 Iraqis have died from
war-related violence from March 2003 to July 2006. The journal cites
gunshot wounds, air strikes, mortar fire, car bombings, preventable
disease and lack of access to health care. Another have 12,000 died from
unknown violent causes and 12,000 from accidents attributable to
violence, the journal reports.
"As best I can tell, few of our clergy or lay leaders say anything
against the war," said Winkler. "Maybe this is because of fear or
misguided patriotism or a desire to avoid ruffling feathers. And it may
well be they will not be held accountable for their silence as long as
they walk on the earth. I’m not so sure, however, they will avoid
judgment in the life to come."
The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, top executive of the National Council of
Churches, has said the war has been a "disastrous mistake" that, instead
of making America safe from terrorism, has made it less secure.
"Anyone can observe that U.S. aggression is spawning new generations of
terrorists, but the Christian critique runs deeper," Kinnamon said.
"Because human life is interdependent, because we are all children of
one Creator, security can never be won through unilateral defense."
Because Bush is a United Methodist, the church should have found a way
to talk to him, said the Rev. Beauty Maenzknise, dean of the Faculty of
Theology at United Methodist-related Africa University in Zimbabwe.
In the five years since the United States invaded Iraq, more
than 4,000 U.S. soldiers have died and more than 60,000 have been
wounded. A UMNS photo by
Kathleen T. Rhem.
"If they can manage to talk to other members of the church when they are
doing immoral things that are affecting other people, why not him?" she
The church needs to encourage politicians to dialogue so the powerless
won't be harmed, she said. "Politicians are not the ones who are going
to be harmed. Women and children and the powerless have suffered and are
still suffering and dying."
Taking a stand
The Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global
Ministries has publicly prayed for peace since 2002. United Methodist
women wrote thousands of prayer cards and spent a week reading the
prayers aloud outside the White House, said Harriett Olson, top
executive of the division.
"In each of these settings, we have remembered our service personnel who
are in harm's way as a result of this war," she said. "We grieve for
loss of life of civilians and all service personnel who are caught up in
this conflict, and for the lives forever changed as persons are injured
and more lives are lost every day."
Last November, the United Methodist Council of Bishops called on leaders
of all nations to begin an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq,
declaring that war is "incompatible with the teachings and example of
“We grieve for loss of life of civilians
and all service personnel who are caught up in this conflict, and for
the lives forever changed as persons are injured....”The United Methodist
Committee on Relief established a fund, Advance Special (#623225), for
humanitarian work in Iraq when the country stabilizes enough for relief
work to begin.
The United Methodist Church has struggled with the issue of war since the church's founding. The Book of Discipline,
the denomination's law book, states: "We believe war is incompatible
with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an
instrument of national foreign policy, to be employed only as a last
resort in the prevention of such evils as genocide, brutal suppression
of human rights, and unprovoked international aggression…."
At the 2004 General Conference, the denomination passed resolutions
calling for prayers for peace and military personnel. The church's
lawmaking body condemned terrorism and called for a full investigation
of the alleged abuse of prisoners of war and for better relationships
between Christians and Muslims.
The 2008 General Conference will hear similar resolutions when it meets in Fort Worth, Texas, April 23-May 2.
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sew For Peace
Mother, son speak out against Iraq war
Council of Bishops calls for immediate Iraq withdrawal
Interfaith fast calls for end to Iraq war
Christians arrested in march to end Iraq war
Council of Bishops
United Methodist Board of Church and Society
United Methodist Committee on Relief