Bahai News -- Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY
Transcript: Show #322
January 28, 2000

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Coming up, the new debate over just war. When is it morally justified to intervene with force inside a sovereign nation?

Also, when a church in a well-to-do Chicago suburb opens a homeless shelter, the village government intervenes.

Mr. JOHN MAUCK (Church Attorney): Who controls? Is it the church that controls its own destiny and decides what ministries it will have within its building, or is it the zoning board and the city council that have the final say?

ABERNETHY: And, American religious groups protesting widespread hunger try to end American-led economic sanctions against Iraq.

ABERNETHY: Welcome. I'm Bob Abernethy. Good to have you with us.

BOB ABERNETHY: More signs this week of the major battles ahead for some of the nation's mainline Protestant denominations over the issue of homosexuality. Conservatives in the Presbyterian Church USA have drafted two resolutions urging the 3.6 million-member body to consider a formal split when its legislative assembly meets in June. One bill asks the assembly to declare an irreconcilable impasse on several theological issues, including whether to ordain homosexuals. The second proposes finding a way for liberals to leave the denomination and take their church property with them.

Homosexuality also will be a divisive issue at the national meetings of the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church later this year. We'll have more on that next week.

BOB ABERNETHY: Overseas, officials of the Church of England this week unveiled a proposal that would allow millions of divorced people to remarry in a church wedding. The new proposal would allow church weddings only if all loose ends from the previous marriage have been cleared up and if the new relationship was not the cause of the breakup of the old one. The proposal is a major departure from traditional church teaching, although many local pastors are already conducting such ceremonies. The official change could have particular interest for Prince Charles, next in line as monarch and temporal head of the church. His longtime companion, Camilla Parker Bowles, is divorced.

BOB ABERNETHY: Violence between Muslims and Christians continued in Indonesia, where local Christians issued an urgent appeal asking for international intervention in the spiraling crisis. Religious rioting in the world's most populous Muslim nation has spread across the Maluku islands and the tourist island of Lombok. This week, President Abdurrahman Wahid accused disgruntled generals and Muslim radicals of fomenting the violence.

Also this week, Indonesia's vice president traveled to the Maluku islands, meeting with religious leaders and visiting wounded civilians. Many community leaders say the Indonesian government has not done enough to stop the killing.

BOB ABERNETHY: Our cover story today: new rules of engagement. The fighting in Indonesia pits one group of citizens against another, but what if the problem is a government's violence against some of its own people, as in Kosovo, Sudan, Rwanda? Should outsiders intervene militarily in a sovereign nation to protect human rights? From the U.N. to the Pentagon, officials and scholars are debating that question, and many of them cite Roman Catholic teachings about just war. Jeff Sheler of U.S. News & World Report examines the argument.

JEFF SHELER: Intervening in World War II was easy to justify morally. Nazi Germany had invaded its neighbors and threatened all of Europe. The sovereignty of nations was at stake. Hitler had to be stopped. In today's world, military intervention against a sovereign nation can be perceived as an altruistic act in defense of human rights, not as an act of aggression.

Pope JOHN PAUL II: (Latin spoken)

SHELER: Even Pope John Paul II, in his New Year's message on world peace, declared that nations sometimes have a moral obligation to take up arms against another to protect innocent citizens against human rights abuses. The pope's message was grounded in an ancient set of Christian moral principles known as the just war tradition. It is a tradition that has guided nations in the proper use of military force since the days of the Roman Empire.

Professor JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN (Professor of Ethics, University of Chicago):

The just war tradition still applies. If we go all the way back to St. Augustine in the fourth century, he said protecting the innocent from certain harm is one of the most important features of what he calls neighbor love within the Christian tradition.

SHELER: But in today's post-Cold War world, the just war principles are being tested and re-examined by religious thinkers, government leaders and military strategists who don't always agree on when intervention is justified.

Dr. AL PIERCE (PhD; Ethics Center, United States Naval Academy): At what point does an abuse of human rights become so massive and so systemic that it truly warrants being considered a just cause? That's the issue we're just beginning to think our way through.

Reverend BRYAN HEHIR (Harvard Divinity School): You can make a moral case for humanitarian military intervention. You could do that, I think, in Kosovo. I think you could have done it in Somalia. I think it should have been done in Rwanda. I think myself it should be considered in Sudan. At the same time, it is very difficult at the present moment to make a political and legal case for justifiable military intervention because both international law and the regime of the United Nations places a great emphasis on protecting the sovereignty of states.

SHELER: For a war to be considered just, it must be aimed at repelling aggression or stopping massive human rights abuses, authorized by a legitimate governing body. It must have a strong probability of success and must only be used as a last resort. In the just conduct of a war, damage inflicted must be held to a minimum, and innocent civilians must never be targeted.

President Bush directly invoked just war principles in justifying the Gulf War.

President GEORGE BUSH: (From 1991) You, the people of Iraq, are not our enemy. We do not seek your destruction. We have treated your POWs with kindness. Coalition forces fought this war only as a last resort.

SHELER: In Kosovo, the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes also seemed to fit the just war principles.

President BILL CLINTON: (From 1999) You see innocent people taken from their homes, forced to kneel in the dirt and sprayed with bullets; Kosovar men dragged from their families, fathers and sons together lined up and shot in cold blood. This is not war in the traditional sense. It is an attack by tanks and artillery on a largely defenseless people whose leaders already have agreed to peace. Ending this tragedy is a moral imperative.

SHELER: But in the case of Rwanda, the nations of the world failed to intervene when ethnic hatred exploded in the deaths of an estimated 800,000. It was seemingly a textbook case for just war intervention. The United Nations later confessed that its failure to act was shameful.

Rev. HEHIR: Well, I think there ought to be a number of guilty consciences about Rwanda, my own as a citizen of this country as well as lots of others, about willingness to push our own government to take responsible action. And in terms of guilty consciences of nation states and of the U.N.

Prof. ELSHTAIN: The fact that the United Nations now has looked back and said, 'What we did was too little, too late; this simply shouldn't have gone forward,' is a good sign, because it shows, I think, that we're trying to come up with some uniform norm about the grounds for intervention. And I think it's important to do that so that you don't create a situation in which people say, 'Yeah, now the United States will intervene if its interests are at stake or if it's in Europe, but if it's something happening in Africa, we don't care.'

SHELER: Even when a just cause for going to war can be clearly established, as in Kosovo, keeping the conduct of a war morally just is seldom easy.

Prof. ELSHTAIN: The United States in that conflict was more prepared to put Serbian civilians at risk than to put its own armed men and women at risk. It's very clear that that was our policy. That seems to me ethically problematic, to say the least, within the just war tradition.

SHELER: Keeping in mind the political consequences of televised images of dead American soldiers, the administration pursued a policy of minimal U.S. casualties.

Dr. PIERCE: In an evident desire to keep our military casualties as low as we could, we enabled a situation in which the Serbs could, for quite a number of weeks, perpetrate serious destruction on the people we were going in to try to protect. We were not willing to pay a proportionate price to accomplish a worthy, a noble objective.

SHELER: As both Kosovo and the Persian Gulf illustrated, it's not always possible to avoid killing or causing hardship for civilians, especially when targets have both military and civilian use.

Prof. ELSHTAIN: But if you start to bomb waterworks and you start to bomb electrical supplies and so on, you are destroying the whole basis for civilian life. And we know that the Iraqi people have suffered terribly in the aftermath of that conflict.

Dr. PIERCE: There were also some of those targets that the allies chose not to attack, even with precision weapons, because we couldn't hit them without doing undue collateral damage to civilians. And the allies made those decisions not to attack those targets understanding full well that by not taking them out, we were putting American and other allied pilots at greater risk.

SHELER: Some have said Russia's actions in Chechnya violate human rights, but intervening there would be especially problematic.

Prof. ELSHTAIN: You've got a very complicated situation where power issues are going to come into play, geopolitical issues of a very serious kind, pragmatic limits to our capacity to intervene in a situation that is that far removed and where you'd actually be pitting yourself against a major power, namely of Russia and the Russian army. So I think there are all sorts of pragmatic and prudent reasons to say military intervention won't work.

Dr. PIERCE: The just war principles don't say only if this is a just cause, you should go to war. There are a lot of other practical considerations built into the just war: probability of success, the chances of doing more good than harm. Those are real practical considerations that are integral parts of the just war, and they need to be thought through by political and military leaders together.

SHELER: Despite the wide acceptance of just war principles, unjust wars still are fought, aggressors go unpunished, innocent people suffer. Yet proponents argue that without the restraints of just war thinking, the violence and aggression would undoubtedly be worse. At least presidents and generals must wrestle with the moral issues involved in waging war, and that, at least, is reason for hope. For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I'm Jeff Sheler in Washington.

BOB ABERNETHY: In other news, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch this week abandoned his presidential bid. Political experts say Hatch's campaign was poorly organized and poorly funded, but the Republican senator said another factor behind his last-place finish in the Iowa caucuses may have been an anti-Mormon bias. He said many conservative Christians who should have agreed with his voting record have what he called the absolutely loony belief that Mormons are not Christians. The Southern Baptist Convention is among several groups that do believe Mormons must be converted to Christianity.

BOB ABERNETHY: The Reverend Jerry Falwell is suing the White House and FBI for violation of his privacy. Falwell claims the Justice Department keeps a secret database on him and other religious leaders. He says the government denied his Freedom of Information Act request to see the files. A White House attorney says the Freedom of Information Act does not establish a right to the records Falwell requested, quote, "if such records exist."

BOB ABERNETHY: Now church vs. state in the comfortable Chicago suburb of Western Springs. A church there shelters the homeless, but many of its neighbors say, 'Not in my back yard.' Village officials insist the church needs a new zoning permit. The church says helping the needy is part of its mission, and its mission is none of the government's business. Judy Valente has the details.

JUDY VALENTE: The First United Methodist Church in Western Springs is a small, family-oriented congregation, but lately the church's relations with the community around it have been anything but friendly, not since First United Methodist decided to join six other area churches in housing the homeless one night a week.

Reverend SYLVIA PLEAS (Pastor): It was disturbing when I heard, 'We don't want the homeless, we don't want those persons.' Those persons -- that word bothers me, those two words.

Ms. BARBARA LENNIE (Formerly Homeless): There were a lot of people who just had no idea what the shelter was about, and that we don't want all these drug dealers and child molesters and everything else in our community. They wouldn't listen to reason.

Mr. TOM HEANEY (Resident): Well, I think people are afraid that if you bring homeless people into this community, that it will affect the community, and I think they feel the property values will go down.

VALENTE: Residents objected to the fact that the shelter is located across the street from an elementary school, though the shelter is only open on Saturday night.

Ms. KRISTEN KARTHAN (Resident): It's a very young community with young kids, and people are concerned for the welfare of the kids that are close by in the neighborhood. And also just getting the people brought in and then out in an efficient matter so that it doesn't change the way that Western Springs is.

VALENTE: Western Springs is a well-to-do commuter suburb of Chicago, with large homes and well-manicured streets. The church encountered the widespread belief that there simply are no homeless in the area.

Unidentified Man #1: There's more than you would even care to think about. They're everywhere. They -- they're hidden everywhere that you wouldn't even imagine.

Unidentified Man #2: That rich neighborhood didn't want us; that's all it was. And I can almost understand that. You know, the way they think about homeless people is like, you know, the trash and they're going to bring the property values down. But, you know, one night a week to stay in a church, that's no big deal. It's not a big deal at all, you know.

VALENTE: Was part of the problem that people felt they weren't consulted in the church?

Ms. KARTHAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. We didn't -- it was heard about after the fact. We didn't ever get a vote on it. It was just pretty much this is the way it's going to be, and we were to accept it.

VALENTE: When residents complained, the village government responded. It declared that opening a shelter marked a change of use for the church. If it were going to have people sleeping overnight, two things would have to happen:

It would have to install an expensive fire system, and it would have to apply for a new zoning permit.

All over the country, churches are doing battle with local governments over zoning issues. Often disputes arise over matters like noise and congestion or the location of the church itself. In Western Springs, the First United Methodist Church feels the village is trying to prevent it from fulfilling one of its basic missions.

Ms. CYNTHIA SCHILSKY (Homeless Program): We are doing what churches were meant to do. There's a real strong feeling on this part of the -- of this church in particular that this is a mission that they would like to carry through.

Mr. MARTY BOURKE (Village Manager): The church had no plans to improve their fire safety. They had no fire alarms. They had no smoke detectors, heat detectors. They didn't have fire-rated doors. About 15 percent of these people that are going to be there have problems with either alcohol or drugs or mental illness. Those are the kind of people that are very difficult to get out of a fire situation.

Unidentified Man #3: This is one of the exit signs and the emergency lighting that was required...

VALENTE: So far, the church has spent $26,000 on the required safety improvements, but it has balked at going through a lengthy zoning review and has decided to fight that review in court in a case that has broad implications: How and when do zoning laws infringe on a church's religious freedom?

Mr. JOHN MAUCK (Church Attorney): Who controls? Is it the church that controls its own destiny and decides what ministries it will have within its building, or is it the zoning board and the city council that have the final say?

Ms. SCHILSKY: It's one night a week, and it's open from 7 PM until 7 AM. I mean, it's not a whole lot different than having a bunch of kids sleep over in a church.

VALENTE: Which is something the church says scout troops and other groups have done in the past without any interference from the village. In addition to the cost of the safety improvements, the church has spent more than $20,000 in legal fees to support its case. Other congregations have offered financial support, but none has offered to take in the homeless from First United Methodist, fearing a similar confrontation with local government.

Rev. PLEAS: Because of all of the discussion that has happened around our site, there's a little trepidation.

Mr. MAUCK: They're trying to help these people because they believe in following Jesus Christ, and this is what Jesus has told them to do. And yet here comes their government saying, 'Well, you can't do that. We have to give you permission.' And I don't think it's fair to say people can't help the poor unless the government gives them permission, especially when the government interest is so likely to be tinged by self-interests of neighbors who are fearful.

VALENTE: Village officials say religious freedom isn't the question; it's simply that churches must adhere to the same safety and zoning rules as every other public building.

Mr. BOURKE: If there is a change in use or a modification or intensification, they need to come through for a different new permit. That entails a public hearing process before our plan commission and ultimately an ordinance to be passed by the village board.

VALENTE: The public discussions were sometimes bitter. Barbara Lennie is a longtime area resident who never thought she'd be homeless. She attended an angry public meeting on the shelter, and after listening to two hours of tense debate, she stood up and announced she had used the homeless shelter.

Ms. LENNIE: And, boy, I could see all the jaws dropping and people stopping to think what they had said about us for the last two hours. They all figured they knew what we would look like. One woman who was very much against the shelter program was sitting right in front of me, and after I spoke, she got up and turned around and said, 'You broke my heart. I don't mind you being here; it's all those other people that I don't want.'

Rev. PLEAS: I think this whole issue was a wake-up call to the village of Western Springs. I have said that I think it's providential. I think God is stirring up our own faith within this village, and God is helping us to see that we need to reach out to all persons and not prejudge who belongs in Western Springs and who does not.

VALENTE: If First United Methodist were to apply for a new zoning permit, the permit would probably be granted. But the church feels that taking in the homeless does not change what a church is and that applying for the permit would be to surrender some of its freedom. That is why it is fighting in court. For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I'm Judy Valente in Western Springs, Illinois.

BOB ABERNETHY: Just before Congress reconvened this week, many representatives were given baskets of food. The gifts were part of a national lobbying campaign by Catholics, Quakers, Mennonites and others to lift the U.N. sanctions against Iraq. The idea is to show congressmen how little each Iraqi now has to eat. We talked with two Dominican nuns as they filled food baskets in Racine, Wisconsin.

Sister JANET WEYKER (Vice President, Racine Dominicans): We call it the Iraqi food basket. The project is to raise awareness amongst all United States representatives about an effort to end the sanctions, the economic sanctions against Iraq.

Sister RUTH SCHAAF (Racine Dominicans): The Dominicans across the country and other religious groups, too, are presenting them with a box that contains the food rations for an adult Iraqi for one week. We put in five pounds of flour and one pound of rice and one pound of sugar, eight ounces of oil and a half an ounce of cheese, an ounce of salt and a couple ounces of tea and--and two ounces of lentils. No matter what Saddam Hussein has done, with 5,000 and 6,000 children dying every month, we have to do something about that.

When I hear the stories of the suffering, I am very uncomfortable being on the side that's levying these sanctions on the people. And I really almost want to squirm to get out from under it and do something different. We are all called by the example of Jesus and by the message of Jesus to be attentive to the suffering of other people and not to put our pleasure and our leisure ahead of someone else's need. And I really believe that.

Sister WEYKER: I believe that when we love our neighbor, it's a way of showing that we love our God. And in justice, I need to help love our neighbors in Iraq by urging our government to end these sanctions.

BOB ABERNETHY: Baha'is worldwide are mourning the death of Ruhiyyih Rabbani, who was considered the pre-eminent member of that faith. Funeral services for Mrs. Rabbani were held this past week in Haifa, Israel, international headquarters of the Baha'is. Mrs. Rabbani, who was 89, died on January 19th. She was the widow of the last official Baha'i leader. The world's more than five million Baha'is are now governed by a council. The Baha'i faith, which teaches the unity of all religions, began in the 19th century in Iran, where it continues to suffer severe persecution.

BOB ABERNETHY: And finally, in the West Bank town of Jericho, a complicated two-week-old standoff between Palestinian police, Russian officials and two American nuns, one the sister of TV commentator and former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos. Sister Maria, George's sister, and her colleague Sister Xeina have been holed up at the Jericho Garden Monastery since January 15th. They're protesting Palestinian attempts to turn the monastery over to the control of Russian Orthodox officials in Moscow.

For decades, the monastery has been under the control of a rival church group, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, also known as the 'White' Russian Church, based in New York. After the 1917 revolution, when Communists seized control of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church, anti-Communists set up the so-called 'White' Church and won control of the Russian shrines in the Holy Land.

Now after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Moscow patriarchate wants the Holy Land property back. Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat apparently agreed earlier this month to give the Jericho monastery to Moscow officials. But Sister Maria, a member of the 'White Church,' says she can't in good conscience let that happen. Born Anastasia Stephanopoulos, she's the daughter of the Reverend Robert Stephanopoulos and his wife Nikki, prominent members of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Sister Maria says she and Sister Xeina will not be forcibly evicted, even though they were initially roughed up by Russian officials.

American, Palestinian and Russian diplomats are trying to work out a solution.

We'll try to keep you posted.

BOB ABERNETHY: That's our program for now. I'm Bob Abernethy.


©Copyright 2000, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

Page last updated/revised 021121
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page