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Waco Laypeople Draw Attention to Impending Iraq Action

WACO–While another war with Iraq may appear inevitable, a small group of Baptists is asking “why” as they attempt to raise discussion about the issue among churches.

Friends of Peace, an advocacy group based in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Waco, believes any attack on Iraq would be not only unwise, but un-Christian as well.
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Charles Reed, former mayor of Waco and member of CalvaryBaptistChurch there, has mailed out an article he wrote titled “Should America start a war against Iraq?” to more than 200 religious leaders in the area and e-mailed it to Christian leaders around the nation.
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So far, he has been unsuccessful in finding Christian support for the group’s message. “I was very disappointed,” Reed said. “I don’t think anybody’s discussing (the issue), and that’s my real concern.”
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The group of friends, who are members of CalvaryBaptistChurch and LakeShoreBaptistChurch, began meeting in October, motivated by fears of retribution after the Sept. 11 attacks. Months later, after failed attempts to link Iraq with the terrorist networks, President Bush indicated his desire to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Concerned that war was on the horizon, the group of six Baptists composed and signed a cover letter for Reed’s treatise that was sent out in June.
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The cover letter urges fellow Christians to “speak truth to power” through vocal opposition of the administration’s plans for invasion, warning them not to “follow the crowd” in silent approval of war. In the article, Reed argues that attacking Iraq would violate the Christian theory of “just war,” citing sections of the United Nations Charter which prohibit unprovoked use of force.
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Most church members are afraid to discuss or even bring up the issue, noted Skip Londos, informal leader of the group. “Even now, you may be labeled un-patriotic; there’s social pressure not to do it.”
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Londos fears nationalism has become a kind of idolatry in recent months.
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“The complacency that seems to be at work in this country is very frightening,” Reed said. Londos agreed, saying, “It seems to me most Baptist churches don’t want to counter our political mainstream.”
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Londos also fears Christians have “bought into” the cultural values of a consumptive society, thus conforming to views that favor the interests of the economy.
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Many church leaders, though, have cited Paul’s message to the church in Romans 13:1-5 as a justification for military action in the context of human justice, arguing that governments should not collectively “turn the other cheek.”
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The Romans passage says that “everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities” because “there is no authority except that which God has established.” According to Scripture, “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.”
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Government “does not bear the sword for nothing,” the passage says.
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Conservative Baptist pastor and author John Piper, for example, wrote in a statement on his website that “God wills that human justice hold sway among governments and between citizens and civil authority. He does not prescribe that governments always turn the other cheek. The government ‘does not bear the sword for nothing.’ … We will put away malicious hatred and private vengeance. But at the public level, we will also magnify the justice of God by praying and working for justice to be done on the earth, if necessary through wise and measured force from God-ordained authority.”
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Londos, however, believes the words and spirit of Christ speak strongest on the issue, citing examples of Jesus’ peaceful actions toward his Roman captors, his commentary such as “blessed are the peacemakers,” and his commands to those who would follow him recorded in Luke 6:27: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
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The Southern Baptist Convention, like Piper, sees things differently, as evidenced in its 2002 resolution on the war on terrorism. Citing Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Timothy 2:1-2, the resolution urges President Bush, congressional leaders and military authorities “to address the growing threat of terrorist-supportive nations and the vicious quest to attain weapons of mass destruction.”
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Nevertheless, the Waco group has found some support for their view. Evangelical Christian author and speaker Tony Campolo wrote a personal letter to Reed. “Jesus said to do good to those who would do evil; to love your enemies. I don’t see how Christian leaders can read Scripture and then violate all of these principles on grounds that they think are pragmatic,” Campolo wrote.
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Although they may be lonely voices in the Christian community, the Friends of Peace are not the only ones warning against another war with Iraq. Support from member NATO countries is lacking, while international criticism of intermittent U.S. and British air strikes in Iraqi no-fly zones continues.
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Government figures such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have warned that an attack on Iraq would be a “dangerous mistake.”
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Scott Ritter, former chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq and Marine Corps veteran of the first war with Iraq, said at a lecture in Boston that there is no justification for another attack nor any military threat from their dismantled infrastructure, despite undocumented claims by military leaders that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction.
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Ritter was among 18 former high-ranking U.S. military leaders, diplomats and prominent citizens who signed a letter to President Bush warning that “a new war would increase instability inside Iraq,” would kill more Iraqi civilians and result in “an increase in anti-American sentiments in the Middle East and in Muslim countries.”
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Although a Republican himself, he said an attack that could occur this fall has “everything” to do with mid-term congressional elections.
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A similar criticism of the 1998 attack on Iraq ordered by then-President Bill Clinton was made by a Baptist ethicist. Clinton’s attack was ordered on the evening of scheduled debate on the House floor concerning his impeachment.
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Robert Parham, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.,-based BaptistCenter for Ethics, said the 1998 attack contained “too much heat and not enough light.”
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Still, the Friends of Peace see potential for change because of Christ’s message of peace and the influence that Christians have on the rest of the world. “If the religious community would stand up against this thing, the administration would back off,” Reed said.
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Londos admits Jesus’ message of peace may seem idealistic to the average person. However, Jesus was pragmatic in the ultimate sense of applying a spiritual worldview, he suggested: “I think he was saying with his life that it’s achievable.”
 
Brandon Kirk is a staff writer for the Baptist Standard. Used by permission.