October 7, 2002
-- Martin E. Marty
These days and weeks U. S. citizens are largely bystanders as the administration most fatefully ponders a religion-laden set of questions as to the when, how and why of attacking Iraq. No longer are religious leaders silent, as they seemed to be weeks ago.
The Wall Street Journal (September 26) condensed all issues in an editorial "Wayward Christian Soldiers" subtitled "New church doctrine: Only a U.N. war is a just war." The Journal people ecumenically fault the Vatican and Protestant conciliar leadership and choose ecumenically to distort their views and concerns.
More responsibly, reporter Bill Broadway quotes both sides and -- in step with the new attention being shown religious leaders -- The Washington Post (September 18) devoted a full feature page to "Religious Leaders' Voices Rise on Iraq" subtitled "Most Question U.S. Moves Toward War" (and, to no one's surprise) "but Evangelicals Embrace Bush Policy as Assault on Evil." Broadway quotes the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, "the president has articulated a faith much like our own, [and] a stated belief in Jesus Christ and the existence of 'evil' in the form of people like Hussein" and the leading Southern Baptist Convention spokesman (he supports "whatever military means are necessary.")
For the rest, subheads report on a "Broad Spectrum of Opinion" and "An Ecumenical Consensus." The article cites questioning by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, among others. Contra The Wall Street Journal report, there is very slight mention of the United Nations, though it is sometimes implied in the critiques of unilateralism. Instead there is reference to "just war;" concern for the vast majority of innocent Iraqi people, who would suffer most; critique of "blind support" of presidential powers; "the moral dimension of using military force;" concern that "moral reflection" has not yet occurred or been encouraged; fear of what a unilateral attack would do to American credibility and Iraqi and American civilization; the biblical words of Jesus; whether all nonviolent means have been exhausted; that military action be defensive ("just war"); whether a decision as to the justness of a war should be in the hands of a single individual; and calls to make counter-terrorism efforts and Arab-Israeli issues the priority concerns. Not a single quoted leader wanted to underestimate the evil of the Hussein regime or the potential for destruction. No one is reported as expecting the Bush administration to pay attention to the voices of religious questioning.
When war impinges, as in this case, only supportive religious leaders are heeded, cited, and responded to. We'll stay alert.