A Southern Baptist ethicist and ardent supporter of the war in Iraq said on public television it would be immoral for the United States to withdraw troops too soon.

“Just war has as one its important principles proportionality, and what are the costs of staying and what are the costs of going,” Richard Land, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said on PBS’ “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”

“I think it’s very important for us to take into consideration at every step the Iraqis who have believed in us, the Iraqis who have cooperated with us, the Iraqis who have fought side by side with us,” Land said. “Twelve Iraqi soldiers have died for every American solider that has died in this war. And we cannot have a repeat of the disgraceful exit we had from Viet Nam, where we left our friends behind and to a terrible fate.”

Land, one of three ethicists interviewed on the program, acknowledged that Iraqis “are ambivalent about our presence there.”

“A lot of them understand that things could get really bad if we leave, that there could be a bloodbath,” he said. “In fact I think there’s a danger of a regional war between the Sunnis and the Shia, with people coming in from the outside….”

“That’s the administration’s argument,” host Bob Abernethy interjected.

“Well I think it’s a very real concern,” Land responded. “I think we need clearly to be working toward reducing our footprint and increasing the Iraqis’ footprint in their own country as quickly as is feasible.”

Part of just-war theory, Land said, is, “Will the good gained outweigh the damage caused?'”

“That’s not a science,” he said. “That’s an art. And what happens on the ground really matters. It will be won or lost by how many Iraqis grasp and commit to a vision of a democratically elected government and a democratic society.”

Land was one of the earliest and most vocal religious leaders in favor of invading Iraq. In October 2002 he signed a letter with evangelical leaders including Chuck Colson, Bill Bright and D. James Kennedy saying the use of military force to disarm Saddam Hussein met all seven criteria for a just war developed by Christian theologians in the fourth and early fifth centuries.

In September 2002, Land told Baptist Press military action as envisioned by President Bush would meet just-war criteria for several reasons. Among them: “Saddam Hussein is developing at breakneck speed weapons of mass destruction he plans to use against America and her allies.”

In a Christianity Today article that same month, Land compared going after Saddam to Houston’s draining of low-lying areas of water to control its mosquito population.

“I was in Houston last week and didn’t see one solitary mosquito, which is amazing if you knew how Houston was,” Land said. “Like mosquitoes, if you’re going to deal with terrorists you can’t just swat them or use insect repellent. You have to drain the swamp. Saddam Hussein is one of the major swamps. The U.S. would be doing the world a favor and acting in the best interest of future citizens of the U.S. by removing Saddam from power.”

In January 2002, after a delegation of 13 religious leaders including Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches criticized the rush toward war after visiting the country, Land retorted in a column: “When I read Bob Edgar’s statement, I could almost hear the once-familiar sounds of people saying, ‘Give peace a chance.’ Bob, this is not 1968, and this is not Vietnam.”

Three years into the war, Land said in a Beliefnet interview he wished some things had gone differently, but he still supported the decision to go to war.

“My justification for the war was not based upon weapons of mass destruction,” Land said. “To me, and I said so at the time, this was a continuation of Gulf War I, which was an act of aggression by Saddam Hussein. We did not have a peace treaty after Gulf War I, we had a cease-fire. And the cease-fire was predicated upon Saddam Hussein complying with U.N. resolutions, which he did not do for 12 years. So finally, after 12 years, we continued the war against the man who was a very dangerous and de-stabilizing influence. We’re seeing now, with the release of these documents that have just been released to the public, that the connections between Saddam Hussein and terrorists were far more extensive than some had believed.”

Last March in an interview on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Land termed going into Iraq “one of the nobler and finer things we’ve done as a nation” and predicted that it would “in the end, produce a government in Iraq and a society in Iraq that is far more conscious of human rights and far more conscious of human freedom, and in the end it’s going to remake the Middle East.”

In that interview Land repeated his claim that weapons of mass destruction weren’t his main justification for going in. “It was part of a cluster of reasons for going into Iraq,” he said, “and I think the administration made a mistake putting so many of their eggs in that basket.”

Land isn’t the only Southern Baptist leader offering theological justification for the war. Experiencing God author Henry Blackaby told Agape Press in 2003 that people who opposed the war to liberate Iraq needed to read their Bible. Romans 13 authorizes leaders to invoke war, Blackaby said, adding that those who resist the president’s authority bring judgment on themselves.

“Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity of being at the White House for a briefing, and I was profoundly aware of the number of people who really know the Lord who surround the president,” Blackaby said in an interview published April 4, 2003. “The person who talked first [at the briefing] said, ‘You need to know today the president and the White House [are] in perfect peace. He’s been with his Lord.'”

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics has written since before the war that it did not meet just-war criteria.
“Richard has consistently misstated the rules of just war,” Parham said. “Either he doesn’t understand the rules or he misuses them because he is more politically loyal to President Bush than morally faithful to the biblical call for the prophetic voice.”

“Having demanded a wedding ring from the Republican Party, Richard is now so wed to the president’s failed war than he is a court priest for a pro-war denomination.”

“The Bible warns us that when a blind man leads a blind man both fall into a pit. When blind court priests and a blind president collude, the nation, indeed the world, falls into a pit of violence begetting violence with no end in sight.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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