President Bush is out of step with the leadership of the American religious community in his rush to war with Iraq.
Despite having made faith-based initiatives a key component to his domestic policy and being the most overtly religious president in over 20 years, Bush appears deaf to the multiplying voices of wisdom within the Christian community.
Most recently, the National Council of Churches began airing TV ads in which Methodist Bishop Melvin G. Talbert says the pending war against Iraq “violates God’s law.”
Forty-six Protestant and Orthodox leaders signed a letter asking to meet with President Bush to express their continued “uneasiness about the moral justification for war on Iraq.”
These leaders, including representatives of the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said war was a moral matter of the highest order, not only a military matter.
Among the signers were 20 bishops of the United Methodist Church, the denomination to which Bush belongs.
But opposition to the war extends beyond the mainline Protestant churches.
Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan of New York said in a Vatican teleconference that “the truth of the danger must be established beyond any doubt” before the United States goes to war.
“We continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq,” said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in their November meeting.
The bishops said, “We fear that resort to war, under present circumstances and in light of current public information, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force.”
Leading conservative evangelicals are reticent about war.
The board of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 51 denominations, refused to take a public stand in favor of war. The board rejected a staff-drafted statement that endorsed Bush’s position.
The president of the country’s largest evangelical seminary encouraged evangelicals to consider whether war with Iraq would pass just war theory.
“We must confess that we fail to see the rush to war as a rational expression of the compassionate conservatism that you promised to the county,” said the bishops of the conservative Church of God in Christ in a letter to Bush.
Even Southern Baptist voices oppose the rush to war. The editor of the Baptist newspaper with the largest circulation wrote, “Guns of war should remain silent until the Bush administration demonstrates that an assault on Iraq would measure up to the five principles of just war theory.”
Some of the usually vocal Christian fundamentalists have been mute, perhaps reflecting their emerging understanding of what might happen to their missionaries in the event of war.
What does it say to Bush that the leadership of the Christian community doubts the moral justification for this war? And why can’t he hear?
Robert M. Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.