A handful of U.S. Christian leaders and commentators weighed in last week on U.S. military force against Libya, while some Christian quarters were silent.
Leading an international coalition, the United States fired more than 112 cruise missiles at Libyan targets March 19. President Barack Obama said the goal was to protect civilians.
The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued a statement March 23 condemning a bombing in Jerusalem but made no moral statement about U.S. military involvement in Libya.
The National Council of Churches took a similar step. The NCC issued a statement March 25 deploring the terrorist bombing of a bus in Israel without issuing a statement on the allied bombing in North Africa of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s government.
In a March 24 letter to White House National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed apprehension and applied just war tradition to allied actions in Libya.
“Important questions include: How is the use of force protecting the civilian population of Libya? Is the force employed proportionate to the goal of protecting civilians? Is it producing evils graver than the evil it hopes to address? What are the implications of the use of force for the future welfare of the Libyan people and the stability of the region?” asked Hubbard.
Catholic blogger Bryan Cones wrote on U.S. Catholic:
“Less than a week into this operation, I worry that what we have is another intervention by Western colonial powers to secure the natural resources of a weaker nation. Muammar Gaddafi, like Saddam Hussen before him, may be a bad man who does cruel things and oppresses his people. But the world is filled with those kinds of people, and we aren’t bombing them,” he wrote.
Christian right leaders predictably advocated for war and criticized Obama.
“[T]here are times when a great nation can and must do something. And for the past several weeks, forces loyal to the brutal dictator Muammar Qaddafi bombed and strafed innocent civilians along with the rebel forces they had targeted. And the U.S. did nothing,” wrote Chuck Colson. “And now the U.S. has been shamed into action by, of all things, the United Nations, which declared a no-fly zone over Libya.”
Colson charged that the Obama administration “dawdled too long,” comparing the Libyan inaction to the Rwandan inaction.
An estimated 800,000 people were murdered in approximately 100 days in Rwanda in 1994.
“I can’t imagine a more just and proportional response to the massacre of innocent people than to establish a no-fly zone,” said Colson. “So I was mystified and chagrined by our nation’s inaction.”
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Accusing Obama of “acting more like a monarch than a president,” American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer criticized Obama for failing to obtain the authorization from Congress and praised President George W. Bush for getting the approval of Congress to invade Iraq.
Fischer said the United States had no “moral right to intervene,” but should “take out Gadhafi for authorizing the Lockerbie bombing.”
In 1988, Pan American World Airways’ Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground. Gadhafi was accused of being behind that terrorist bombing.
Like Fischer, other Christian right leaders also advocated killing Gadhafi.
A Christian left leader, Susan Brooks Thislethwaite, supported the use of force against Gadhafi based on her belief that the Libyan leader was “fully capable of engaging in genocidal violence.”
Thislethwaite, a former president of Chicago Theological Seminary and an ordained United Church of Christ minister, wrote that “it is simply intolerable to allow genocide to take place.”
A panelist on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” page, Sojourners’ Jim Wallis wrote that “the military actions in Libya are not a just war; they are just another war that the U. S. has gotten involved in.”
Wallis said: “The U.S. hasn’t felt a moral obligation to protect civilians in much clearer situations such as Darfur, is not defending civilians who are under attack from oppressive regimes allied with the U.S. in Bahrain and Yemen, and has shown reluctance to even strongly support nonviolent democratic revolutions across the Middle East – preferring stability over democracy as it has for decades.”
“Our actions in Libya are not clear interventions for democracy – as support for nonviolent protests are,” Wallis wrote. “They are an intervention in a civil war, without any real knowledge of who we are supporting.”
Robert Parham, executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, said Obama bypassed the rules of just war in his attack on Libya. Parham’s moral critique first appeared March 23 in a short version on the Washington Post and later in a longer version on EthicsDaily.com.