Commentary: For Christians, every war is a civil war
2/20/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: A photograph of the Rev. Peter Storey is available.
A UMNS Commentary By the Rev. Peter Storey*
By the Rev. Peter Storey*
Anything the church says about the looming attack on Iraq is
deeply compromised because of our disobedience to Jesus on the issue of
After 300 years of pacifism, the church, in
exchange for Caesar's dubious friendship, made peace with war. The
nonviolence of Jesus was quietly shelved, and the church was left with
the contradiction of trying to rationalize the barbaric act of war,
while simultaneously attempting to hedge its barbarism around with a
list of rules - the "just war" doctrine.
Caesar has exploited
that contradiction ever since, both flouting the rules and claiming
religious sanction for his war-making. Christian pacifists are convinced
that so long as people place their trust in what seminary professor and
author Walter Wink calls "the myth of redemptive violence," nations
will continue to sacrifice their citizens and kill other people in the
vain belief that war actually solves anything.
that most Christians today are not pacifists but claim to adhere to a
"just war" ethic, there are a number of reasons - valid for pacifist and
"just war" Christians alike - why we should question President Bush's
unseemly rush toward war. Coming from Africa, I offer them together with
something of a Third World perspective on this crisis.
need to remember that war is always about lying, and when leaders
everywhere decide on war, they tend to be less than candid, emphasizing
what they think will gain support and downplaying less worthy motives.
Even if some of what they say is true, there is often a subtext not
offered to the public. American leaders are no exception, and have
frequently deceived their people about war aims. We should view the
stated reasons for war on Iraq with skepticism.
A second concern
is Mr. Bush's outrageous doctrine of "pre-emptive war," in which the
military power of the United States will be used against a nation
because of something it might do, rather than what it has done. How can
he claim that this illegal action would be in "the highest moral
traditions of our country"? The notion of "pre-emptive war" negates all
"just war" criteria and flouts international law.
In the rest of
the world, we are extremely concerned that such behavior by the United
States will invite similar "pre-emptive" violence in places where
nations have fragile relationships or records of past hostility with
their neighbors. The Korean Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent and the
Lakes Region of Africa are scary examples.
inconsistency of U.S. foreign policy provides a third concern. Iraq is
singled out for disarmament by war because it has produced weapons of
mass destruction and defied the United Nations. Israel, funded and armed
by the United States, treats equally important U.N. resolutions with
contempt by occupying territory not its own - and it has secretly
produced nuclear devices. If the fear is that Iraq might assist
terrorists, the obvious question is why this U.S. administration will
not use its enormous leverage to secure a just settlement of the
bleeding Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Resentment of the U.S. role in
that conflict is surely the primary reason for most Arab-sponsored
Would Mr. Bush be as bellicose if it were not for
the fact that war-making may have become too easy for this nation? Since
the Gulf War, in Kosovo and Afghanistan, U.S. technology and weaponry
have made it possible to win wars, often from 30,000 feet, with minimal
American casualties. Relying increasingly on professionals to wage its
wars, the rest of America can go about its business as if nothing is
happening. When wars can be virtually bloodless for "our" side, an
important brake on war-making in a democracy is removed.
becomes more serious when those with the most power to wage war have had
no experience of war on their own soil for more than a century. The
terrible atrocities of 9-11, horrific as they were, do not compare
with the ravages wrought by years of sustained war in large parts of
Europe, Asia and Africa. Yet, given the inordinate degree of fear and
horror among Americans after that single morning of terrorist butchery,
one would expect a greater curiosity about the death and suffering this
war might bring to other people just like them. I detect little such
One of the most sickening things about reading and
listening to U.S. commentators is the disproportionate value that they
seem to place on American lives, compared to those whom Americans might
kill. In the Gulf war, more than 200,000 Iraqis were killed. How many
will die this time? As a Third World friend said not long ago, "America
goes to war; war comes to us."
Allied to this is the question of
outcomes. Theologian and pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick reminded this
nation in the 1940s that the only certainty about war is that it always
produces consequences different than those originally intended. In the
case of Iraq, there is a legitimate concern that war there might bring a
conflagration in the world's most volatile region, offering an even
more pressing reason to search for every possible alternative to war.
war" proponents agree that war should be an absolute "last resort,"
after all other options have been exhausted. The problem with this is
that the great powers explore so few other "resorts," and, apart from
economic sanctions, seem to be out of ideas. If even 1 percent of
military budgets had been expended on developing alternative, nonviolent
means of pressure to deal with cruel dictators like Saddam Hussein, the
world would have a wider range of options to choose from.
why should the United States assume that it alone has the right to
decide when the "last resort" has been reached? Could it be that in this
administration, we are seeing the arrogant face of empire? It may be
that those who lead this most powerful nation in the world are more sure
than they should be that they can control even unintended outcomes.
was born into the last days of the British Empire, upon which, we were
told, the sun would never set. As I look back on that empire, I recall
how sure we were about how good we were and how right we were. I know
now how often we were neither. Power, of itself, does not bestow
morality or infallibility on any nation.
Why is President Bush so
determined to make his war a litmus test for the United Nations? It is
an open secret that there are those in his administration who despise
the United Nations as an irritating stumbling block. Christians in the
United States need to be reminded that their sisters and brothers in
many smaller countries regard the United Nations, with all its failings,
differently. We resent this president, who has so little knowledge or
even curiosity about the rest of the world, lecturing the United Nations
like a petulant schoolmaster.
We know from experience that the
United States has not always been on the right side of history, and the
world body has sometimes had to give moral leadership where the United
States could give none. An example is the tacit and sometimes active
covert support given to the South African apartheid regime by more than
one U.S. administration. It was the U.N., not the U.S.A., which led the
anti-apartheid struggle, until a growing number of American Christians
mobilized to shame their government into joining it.
millions across the world who turned out to demonstrate on Feb. 15 were
not only protesting the impending war. They were also expressing their
frustration at this careless new confidence that might is right. Other
nations of the world look to the United States for something nobler than
another empire. We hope for something more than the outworn ways of
war. We look for vision and moral leadership, compassion and justice.
we are Christians, we have an even higher reason, pacifist and
non-pacifist alike, to press this administration to resist the
temptation of war. Ultimately, Christians have a higher loyalty than
that of flag or nation. We belong to a wider commonwealth. When Christ
was nailed to the cross, he nailed us to our neighbors, breaking down
the divisions between us. All Christians, whether pacifists or
proponents of the "just war" theory, are bound to acknowledge that for
those who follow Jesus, all wars are civil wars. All wars, everywhere,
are a form of fratricide.
That, above all, is reason to pause.
# # #
is the Williams Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke
University Divinity School in Durham, N.C. He is a former president of
the Methodist Church of South Africa and a former bishop of
Johannesburg. He was an anti-apartheid activist and served as Nelson
Mandela's prison chaplain.
Commentaries provided by United
Methodist News Service do not necessarily represent the opinions or
policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.
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