As the United States stands on the verge of war with Iraq, many Baptists are voicing concern over America’s new military strategy of “pre-emptive action.”

Fundamentalist voices are crying for war, while many moderate Baptists in the United States and abroad want to stop the “rush to war.”

Fundamentalist leader Jerry Falwell called Saddam Hussein “a madman who has a cruel history of torture and stark cruelty,” in an article on “We must ensure—at all costs—that America and the rest of the world is protected from this cold-blooded oppressor.”

Falwell, who joined the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, praised President Bush’s recent speech at the United Nation’s General Assembly and criticized U.N. officials, other world leaders and some Democratic leaders, accusing them of taking a “wait-and-see posture in the face of clear and present danger.”

Many Baptist leaders, however, agree that the wait-and-see approach is not necessarily a bad one.

“We’ve all seen the video of the poor mother, attacking her four-year-old daughter in the back seat of her vehicle, in the shopping mall parking lot,” Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid, told “Let’s imagine that in her defense she claimed that she was taking a pre-emptive strike against her little daughter, to stop that little foe first striking her, as it is known that four-year-olds can attack and fight back.”

Montacute said that defense would be laughed out of court because one cannot justify a full-scale attack by an adult on a child.

“The USA/Iraq scenario is similar,” he said. “No one country is justified in making a pre-emptive strike against another sovereign nation. Who will decide who can strike, against whom, and when?”

Montacute said that as a British citizen he has encouraged his government to “make peace, not war” and to “work with and through the United Nations.”

In a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s General Secretary David R. Coffey and President Nigel G. Wright expressed deep concern over the threatened military action against Iraq.

Coffey and Wright said that although the regime in Iraq “has no moral validity,” talk of war must be considered within a larger context.

“If we bring yet further violence into this region on the world, it is our contention that this can only deepen the mistrust, divisions and hatred that already provide the breeding ground for terrorism,” they wrote. “Military conflict cannot address root injustices and inequalities, and cannot itself result in a true peace and security for all.”

American Baptist Churches USA General Secretary A. Roy Medley, along with 36 other international Christian leaders, recently issued statement, “A Call to Stop the Rush to War,” urging cooperation with the U.N.

“As Christians, we are concerned by the likely human costs of war with Iraq, particularly for civilians,” read the statement. “We are unconvinced that the gain for humanity would be proportionate to the loss.”

In its September meeting, the executive committee of the Italian Baptist Union issued a declaration signaling its “concerns about the deafening rumours of war against Iraq.”

“If terrorism is a new form of war then war is the oldest form of terrorism,” wrote the committee. “Similarly to terrorism war inflicts suffering and death on the innocent and suspends democracy and human rights in the nations that promote or suffer it.”

The declaration noted that the only beneficiaries of war would be the “arms manufacturers and the oilmen who are already widely represented within the American Government.”

Asking the Italian government to respect its constitution, “which outlaws war as an instrument of oppression of other nations’ freedom and as a means of resolving international controversy,” the committee called for peace through negotiation.

The committee also invited churches to “pray and mobilise themselves for peace.”

Some who want peace try to justify war as a means to that end.

“Christians will disagree as to whether war might, in certain circumstances, be justifiable,” Coffey told, “but let us never pretend it is anything else but a tragic sign of sinful human failure.”

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.

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