Baha'i News -- Area religious leaders: Push for peace with Iraq, Saddam

Area religious leaders: Push for peace with Iraq, Saddam

Clergy opinions differ on when a war would be appropriate

October 27, 2002

of the Journal Star

Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who oppresses the people of Iraq, but that doesn't justify invasion by the United States, a local Muslim leader says.

addam Hussein is a tyrant who oppresses the people of Iraq, but that doesn't justify invasion by the United States, a local Muslim leader says.

"I personally recognize - and the Muslim nation as a whole, they recognize - the tyranny and oppression of Saddam Hussein," Imam Abu Usamah At-Thahabi of the Islamic Center of Peoria said. The people of predominantly Muslim Iraq, At-Thahabi said, are "unjustly dealt with as a result of the leadership of their country."

"That man (Saddam) does not represent Islam nor does he have the best interest of his people at heart," the imam said.

But At-Thahabi questioned why Iraq is being singled out when nations such as North Korea have been proven to have weapons of mass destruction.

"We feel it's another double standard, and it's a bogus claim by George Bush," he said.

The Quran does teach that war is necessary sometimes, the imam said.

"We believe in the 'just war' theory," he said. "We even would support the Iraqi people to overthrow that government if they had the ability, but more than likely if they tried to do that, they're going to create bigger problems for themselves."

It would help matters if other predominantly Muslim nations stood up to Saddam, he said.

"I think Americans have the ability to get rid of Saddam Hussein and to minimize the damage in that process," he said. "Now we're going to exacerbate the problem even more by going to war with them?"

Other religious leaders also expressed hope for a peaceful resolution of the situation but had different ideas of when a war would be appropriate.

"I feel that prior to war, all peaceful means of bringing resolve to this have to be exercised, and I don't feel we've gotten to that point yet," Bishop Warren Freiheit of the Central-Southern Illinois Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said.

If there is a possibility of United Nations inspections of Iraq's weapons' abilities, then "by all means follow through with that option before we bomb, before we go in, and have genuine proof that there are indeed weapons of mass destruction instead of what appears to be assumptions and emotional convictions," he said.

"After 9-11, I hear what's being said about 'Let's not let the proof be a mushroom cloud,' but by the same token I don't want to make moves hastily that we later will regret," Freiheit said.

The Rev. Michael Brown of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Peoria said that he's hoping the United States doesn't go to war.

"We all have a moral obligation to pursue peace at all times," he said. "It is also true that there are times when war may be unavoidable, but I do not believe we are currently at such a juncture. I certainly do not see the necessity for us to initiate a war."

Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria said he stands with statements made by American Catholic leaders.

"Before you go to war, in the Catholic tradition, you really have to have exhausted all means" of working out problems peacefully, Jenky said. "You also have to work not to hurt any innocent noncombatants."

Jenky said it doesn't appear as if all means have been exhausted, but he added that "I don't feel as bishop I'm infallible on political issues."

"Why we would go to war directly with Iraq when the world is filled with people who hate us is not clear to me," he said.

The Rev. Ben Johnston, senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church, said that he felt a strike would be justified if the targets were military ones and if the United States was seeking out offensive weapons of mass destruction. A proven link between al-Qaida and Saddam would also lend support to a strike, he said.

But, he added, "It's a lot of speculation, from what I'm seeing in the paper."

"There's always the 'just war' theory, and what we found out on Sept. 11, 2001, is sometimes that you need to be pre-emptive in order to protect lives," Johnston said.

"Ultimately, the goal is peace and defending peace. The Lord is the one who raises up governments and powers and authorities."

The Rev. Alphonso Lyons of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Peoria said whether an attack would be justified is "a tough question to answer."

"I would say that probably we do need to go in, and we need to be as sensitive about it as possible," Lyons said, adding that while he'd rather find a peaceful way to accomplish U.S. goals, "I'm not so sure that there is."

Bishop Keith Ackerman of the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy said he didn't feel like he had "enough pertinent data to form a very strong opinion about the appropriateness" of an attack.

"While I would support disarmament (of Iraq), I would need more information before I could say that the next step would be," Ackerman said.

The bishop also encouraged political leaders to follow the conflict-resolution pattern found in Matthew 18.

War "by our nation at this juncture would be unjust," the Rev. Clay Macaulay of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Peoria said.

"There may be a time when the commitment of our armed forces is necessary and called for. But that time is not yet here," the pastor said.

The United States is "bullying our allies" in its efforts to gain support for a war, the Rev. Bob Gillogly of First Federated Church in Peoria said.

"What on earth or in heaven justifies our administration actually talking about unilaterally initiating a war against Iraq, bullying our allies, scouring every corner for some evidence worthy of war, mobilizing our troops, manipulating the media, beating drums, waving flags, ignoring dissent?" Gillogly wrote in a recent church newsletter. "Do we have nothing better to do, given all our American potential for doing good in the world, than this trumped-up example of human and historical ignorance?"

A statement by Bishop Sharon Christopher, president of the United Methodist Church's Bishops Council and spiritual leader of the Illinois Area of the UMC, also disapproved of an attack.

"A pre-emptive war by the United States against a nation like Iraq goes against the very grain of our understanding of the Gospel, our church's teachings and our conscience," she said. "Pre-emptive strike does not reflect restraint and does not allow for the adequate pursuit of peaceful means for resolving conflict. To be silent in the face of such a prospect is not an option for followers of Christ."

Christopher said that while Saddam's treatment of people has been horrifying, "Jesus rejects the violent response to evil."

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America said in a statement that "while it is preferable for this threat to be neutralized through diplomacy, should these efforts fail, the United States has every right and obligation under the United Nations Charter and international law to take firm and appropriate action."

The executive committee of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which is the Reform Jewish movement in America, approved a resolution which gave support to a war with Iraq if the United States had made every effort to gain international cooperation, exhausted diplomatic and other peaceful efforts, and had congressional approval.

Local representatives of the Baha'i Faith pointed to their religion's teaching that leaders should pursue consultation as much as possible when approaching such situations.

©Copyright 2002, The Peoria Journal Star

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