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Church executive urges Bush not to attack Iraq

9/3/2002

NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photograph of Jim Winkler is available at http://umns.umc.org/photos/headshots.html online.

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - The chief staff executive of the United Methodist Church's advocacy and action agency is calling on the White House not to attack Iraq but to seek a peaceful solution through the United Nations.

"The Bush administration has declared its intent to launch a war against Iraq, ignoring the advice of its allies, many members of Congress, key experts and millions of U.S. citizens," said Jim Winkler, staff head of the denomination's Board of Church and Society, in an Aug. 30 statement.

"With unprecedented disregard for democratic ideals and with an astonishing lack of evidence justifying such a pre-emptive attack, the president has all but given the order to fire," he said.

He urged United Methodists "to oppose this reckless measure" and to encourage President Bush to find peaceful means for resolving the threat posed by Iraq. U.S. officials are concerned about reports that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

"Our church categorically opposes interventions by more powerful nations against weaker ones," Winkler said. "We recognize the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among nations." He cited the denomination's resolution "Support for Self-Determination and Nonintervention," originally passed by the church's highest legislative body in 1988, then amended and readopted in 2000. That body, the General Conference, determines United Methodist policy.

"United Methodists have a particular duty to speak out against an unprovoked attack," Winkler said. "President Bush and Vice President Cheney are members of our denomination. Our silence now could be interpreted as tacit approval of war.

"I beseech the president and vice president to provide leadership into a new era of Christian discipleship," he said. "We must as a people and nation recast our personal and national priorities so that God's creation and the needs of the least, the last, and the lost are first in our hearts."

Winkler's statement followed an Aug. 29 plea from 37 Christian leaders from the United States, Britain and Canada attending a meeting of the World Council of Churches Central Committee in Geneva (see UMNS story #382). The signers included several United Methodists, among them the top staff executive of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

The conflict between the United States and Iraq "can and should be dealt with by the United Nations," Winkler said. "No member nation has the right to take unilateral military action without the approval of the U.N. Security Council, approval the United States has not received. Without such approval, the United Sates will stand in violation of international law."

Questions of noncompliance with weapons inspections should be handled by the United Nations, Winkler said.

"A pre-emptive war represents a major and dangerous change in U.S. foreign policy," he said. "It also sets a terrible precedent for other nations. For example, what would then stop India or Pakistan from carrying out such an attack on one another on the grounds they themselves might be attacked? Pre-emptive war cannot become a universalized principle, lest disaster and chaos result."

This would not be "a just war," Winkler stated. Proof of a real threat to the United States has not been offered, he said, noting that no evidence has shown that Iraq has a nuclear warhead aimed at the United States or even deliverable weapons of mass destruction. "No case can be made that a war against Iraq is justified for the self-defense of the United States. Further, Iraq's neighbors are not calling for assistance from the United States."

Winkler raised questions about the potential loss of life on all sides, the financial costs of a war and its aftermath, and the consequences for the future of Iraq.

"Congress must exercise its constitutional responsibilities and vote on the question of undertaking an invasion of Iraq," he wrote. "The length of conflict, level of long-term involvement and final outcome are by no means assured."

He warned that Baghdad, a huge city with innocent civilians, would be a major target. "Accidentally or not, we have seen the death of too many noncombatants in Afghanistan in recent months as the result of poor targeting and decision-making. How many more civilians will die?"

"The United Nations estimates its own sanctions [against Iraq], the most severe to ever be imposed on any nation, have already resulted in the deaths of one million people," Winkler observed. And, he noted, the regime of Saddam Hussein has committed many atrocities against its own people, causing great suffering for many years. Winkler offered prayers for the Iraqi people and expressed a yearning "for a just and peaceful government in Iraq."

He urged United Methodists to take seriously Jesus' instructions to be peacemakers and seek justice. "We must speak out now - to the president, members of Congress and our local media - that the path upon which the president seeks to embark is counter to the teachings of Jesus, [is] inconsistent with the position of the United Methodist Church and is one that threatens the rule of law as a fundamental principle of democracy.

"That the end justifies the means is the weakest of all possible arguments. Our nation deserves better and the world expects better of us."
# # #
The full statement follows:

Press Statement

Aug. 30, 2002

For immediate release

Bush Urged to Turn Back From War

The following is a statement of General Secretary Jim Winkler of The United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society:

The Bush administration has declared its intent to launch a war against Iraq, ignoring the advice of its allies, many members of Congress, key experts, and millions of U.S. citizens. With unprecedented disregard for democratic ideals and with an astonishing lack of evidence justifying such a pre-emptive attack, the President has all but given the order to fire.

I ask United Methodists to oppose this reckless measure and urge the President to immediately pursue other means to resolve the threat posed by Iraq. The United Methodist Church has called for "Support for Self-Determination and Nonintervention" for all nations (2000 Book of Resolutions #277). Our Church categorically opposes interventions by more powerful nations against weaker ones. We recognize the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among nations.

United Methodists have a particular duty to speak out against an unprovoked attack. President Bush and Vice-President Cheney are members of our denomination. Our silence now could be interpreted as tacit approval of war. Christ came to break old cycles of revenge and violence. Too often, we have said we worship and follow Jesus but have failed to change our ways. Jesus proved on the cross the failure of state-sponsored revenge. It is inconceivable that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior and the Prince of Peace, would support this proposed attack. I beseech the President and Vice-President to provide leadership into a new era of Christian discipleship.

This matter can and should be dealt with by the United Nations. Our Church "support(s) regional and international negotiations arranged in cooperation with the United Nations and held without resort to political posturing." (2000 Book of Resolutions, p. 684) No member nation has the right to take unilateral military action without the approval of the UN Security Council, approval the United States has not received. Without such approval, the United Sates will stand in violation of international law. The administration's proposed attack is essentially a unilateral U.S. effort that uses as its rationale Iraq's non-compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 requiring full compliance with UN weapons inspectors. Arab and European governments strongly oppose an invasion of Iraq. Their views cannot and should not be disregarded. The question of weapons inspection non-compliance should be a matter for the United Nations.

There are those who argue that some military actions are just, however this would not be a just war. No proof has been provided that Iraq has nuclear weapons mounted on launchers aimed at the United States or troops massed on its borders or has developed deliverable weapons of mass destruction. No case can be made that a war against Iraq is justified for the self-defense of the United States. Further, Iraq's neighbors are not calling for assistance from the United States.

A pre-emptive war represents a major and dangerous change in US foreign policy. It also sets a terrible precedent for other nations. For example, what would then stop India or Pakistan from carrying out such an attack on one another on the grounds they themselves might be attacked? Pre-emptive war cannot become a universalized principle lest disaster and chaos result.

There are questions yet to be asked and answered about many matters including the potential loss of life on all sides, the financial cost of a war and its aftermath, and consequences for the future of Iraq. Congress must exercise its constitutional responsibilities and vote on the question of undertaking an invasion of Iraq. The length of conflict, level of long-term involvement, and final outcome are by no means assured. Presumably, Baghdad, a huge city filled with innocent civilians, must be a major objective of attack. Accidentally or not, we have seen the deaths of too many noncombatants in Afghanistan in recent months as the result of poor targeting and decision-making. How many more civilians will die? What is the reasonable chance of success in this war? How long would it take to rebuild destroyed areas? Can the United States effectively carry out regime change?

The regime of Saddam Hussein has carried out many atrocities against its own people and has been a highly negative influence in international and regional affairs. We all yearn for a just and peaceful government in Iraq. The Iraqi people have suffered greatly for many years and our prayers are with them. The United Nations estimates its own sanctions, the most severe to ever be imposed on any nation, have already resulted in the deaths of one million people.

If we, as United Methodists, are to take seriously the words of Jesus to become peacemakers and seek justice and peace with one another (Matthew 5:1-12), we must speak out now - to the president, members of Congress, and our local media - that the path upon which the President seeks to embark is counter to the teachings of Jesus, inconsistent with the position of the United Methodist Church, and is one that threatens the rule of law as a fundamental principle of democracy. That the ends justify the means is the weakest of all possible arguments. Our nation deserves better, and the world expects better of us.

General Conference is the highest decision-making body of the United Methodist Church. The General Board of Church and Society is mandated by General Conference to seek the implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements on Christian social concerns through forthright witness and action.

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