NEWS STORY: Church Leaders Propose Iraq Peace Plan Without Recourse to War

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c. 2003 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ As an increasingly impatient Bush administration presses the world community to give its backing to a massive American-British military strike against Iraq, a group of U.S. leaders has offered a six-point plan to defeat Saddam Hussein without recourse to war.

“The world is desperate for a `third way’ between war and ineffectual responses _ an alternative to war as the way to defeat Saddam Hussein,” says the plan, being circulated this week among church and other leaders. “If we are to find an effective response to Saddam instead of a full-scale military assault against Iraq, that `instead’ must be strong enough to be a serious alternative to war.”

The six-point plan was primarily drafted by the Rev. Jim Wallis, executive director and editor in chief of Sojourners magazine, and Bishop John Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. It has the backing of Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA); Bishop Melvin Talbert, ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops; and the Rev. Daniel Weiss, immediate past general secretary of the American Baptist Churches in the USA. All were part of a delegation of church leaders that met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Feb. 18.

According to the six-point plan, a top priority is to remove Saddam and the Baath party from power. “Target him but protect them (the Iraqi people),” the three-page plan says. It urges the United Nations Security Council to establish an international tribunal to indict Saddam and his top officials “for war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Such an indictment, it said, “would set into motion both internal and external forces that might remove him from power.”

Secondly, the plan calls for enforcing “coercive disarmament” by intensifying inspections on a broader and more aggressive scale.

“Rather than simply increasing the number of inspectors, inspections must be conducted more aggressively and on a much broader scale,” the religious leaders said. It called for restructuring the U.S. military poised for war against Iraq into a multinational force with a U.N. mandate “to support and enforce inspections.”

“The force would accompany inspectors to conduct extremely intrusive inspections, be authorized to enter any site, retaliate against any interference, and destroy any weapons of mass destruction that it found,” according to the plan.

Other points called for fostering a democratic Iraq, organizing a massive humanitarian effort now for the people of Iraq, recommitting the United States to a “road map to peace” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reinvigorating the war against terrorism.

“A morally rooted and pragmatically minded initiative, broadly supported by people of faith and people of goodwill, might help achieve a historic breakthrough and set a precedent for decisive and effective international action in the many crises we face in the post-Sept. 11 world,” they said.

The plan comes on the heels of a number of religious and moral initiatives at home and abroad on the Iraq issue.

On Sunday (March 9), former President Jimmy Carter, an active Southern Baptist layman, joined the chorus of those who argue a massive military strike against Iraq at this time would not meet the classic Christian criteria of a just war.

“It is clear that a substantially unilateral attack on Iraq does not meet these standards,” Carter wrote in the Sunday New York Times.

And the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the 5.1 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said he was “very disappointed” by President Bush’s refusal to meet with a group of mainline Protestant and Orthodox Church leaders to hear their concerns.

“If the president severs himself from moral leaders in the society and hears and heeds only the voices that are advising him in terms of what is strategically the right military response, then I think we have essentially had our president turn his back on moral leaders,” Hanson said.

At the same time, a group of religious leaders who have generally supported the Bush policy issued a statement urging Americans to pray and fast for peace during Lent while noting they believed a war would be morally justified.

“Christians, as the people of God who follow the Prince of Peace, should be doing everything in our power to bring peace into the world,” the statement said.

The statement was released by Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship and was signed by Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse; religious broadcasters Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson; Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries; the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, president of the Institute for Religion and Public Life; Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America; and Joseph Stowell, president of the Moody Bible Institute.


In Scotland and Ireland, meanwhile, church leaders also stepped up their opposition to the war.

In Scotland, the head of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland’s influential Church and Nations Committee has asked for assurances from Scotland’s 72 members of Parliament that they will not support any military action against Iraq that does not have the backing of the U.N. Security Council.

“The backing of a specific (second) United Nations mandate is the minimum requirement for an attack,” the Rev. Alan D. McDonald said in his letter. He said while issues such as proportionality and caring for victims were very important, “first and foremost the United Nations must provide the legal authority.”

In Ireland, Anglican Archbishops Robin Eames of Armagh and John Neill of Dublin issued a joint statement calling on the U.N. Security Council to uphold the principles of the U.N. Charter in resolving the Iraq crisis.

“While we acknowledge the iniquities of the regime in Iraq and the complexities of the current situation, we hold the view that war in Iraq will deepen a humanitarian crisis of grave magnitude, with untold human suffering and loss of life, especially for the children of Iraq,” they said.

They called on the Security Council to uphold charter provisions that “strictly limit the legitimate use of military force and to refrain from lowering the thresholds for using violent means to solve international conflicts.”

“We appeal to the political leaders of the United States and the United Kingdom to refrain from military action against Iraq without the clear mandate of the United Nations Security Council,” they said.

(Robert Nowell in London contributed to this report).


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