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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 2, 2003

Hawai'i clergy split on question of 'just war'

 •  War with Iraq would cost Hawai'i dearly
 •  Bikini Atoll survivors recall horror of nuclear explosion

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

When Brien Hallett, an associate professor at the Matsunaga Institute for Peace at the University of Hawai'i, spoke about the theology of war recently at Central Union Church, he concluded that anyone can invoke the name of God to back up a position.

How some U.S. faith groups stand on war with Iraq

NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES (November): The assembly, representing 36 "mainline" Protestant and Orthodox denominations, was "deeply disturbed" about possible strikes. It said the United States is "increasingly militaristic and unilateral" and commended work through the United Nations to ensure Iraq's compliance "without going to war."

UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS (February): Reaffirming a November statement from all U.S. bishops, the group's president said "it is difficult to justify resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature" or of Iraq's involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.

SOUTHERN BAPTISTS CONVENTION (January): Social issues spokesman Richard Land said it is "only a matter of time" before al-Qaida uses Iraqi weapons against the United States, so "we have a right to defend our allies and ourselves," with or without the United Nations. But war should be a last resort and minimize civilian casualties.

UNITED METHODIST CHURCH (October): Its Board of Church and Society advocated peaceful U.N. efforts to disarm Iraq and concluded, "We do not believe that war would achieve a safer or better world."

CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM (November): The United Synagogue supported eliminating Iraq's weaponry through continued U.N. diplomacy.

ORTHODOX JUDAISM (February): The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations' chief executive said it would fully support as a "just war" any U.S. military action "required to eradicate this evil."

REFORM JUDAISM (September): Union of American Hebrew Congregations leaders said the United States should pursue international support and nonmilitary options but — if necessary, and if Congress approves — it would "support unilateral military action."

ISLAM (January): The American Muslim Alliance, American Muslim Council, Council on American-Islamic Relations and Muslim Public Affairs Council jointly urged Saddam Hussein to resign and President Bush to bar military action, which would destabilize the region, build support for terrorism, fuel anti-Americanism, endanger soldiers "for no convincing reason" and cost "many innocent Iraqi lives."

— Associated Press

True enough — when it comes to debate among Hawai'i religious leaders about war in Iraq, there's plenty of talk of God to go around.

The Rev. Barbara Grace Ripple, superintendent of the Hawai'i district of the United Methodist Church, said President Bush, a Methodist, stands in opposition to 90 percent of his fellow congregants on the question of whether an attack on Iraq fits the "just war" criteria.

"We don't think this qualifies," she said. "We are actively against this war. While at some point there may be some war that qualifies, we don't believe this one does."

Methodists allow room for individual conscience, however: "We allow people to make up their own minds about where God is leading them," Ripple added.

"Just war" theory goes back to the teachings of St. Augustine, and was built upon by Thomas Aquinas, according to the Rev. Marc Alexander, the Honolulu Catholic diocese theologian.

Simply put, Augustine preached that taking a life is wrong, even in self-defense. Killing is justified only to keep someone from harming someone else, and then only as a last resort. It's a matter of loving one's enemy, Alexander said.

He has heard the argument: "If we knew Hitler was going to be the way he was, shouldn't we have stopped him?"

"Unfortunately, we can't predict the future," Alexander said. "We can only know the data before us in the present moment and make decisions based on that."

Just-war theory has a second part. Once the first part, "jus ad bellum" (justification for war), is satisfied, theorists are concerned with "jus in bello" (ability to conduct a war justly), Alexander said.

This part focuses on conduct, keeping the response proportionate and using no more force than necessary. Saddam Hussein's threat to his citizens, including using them as shields against attackers, makes a far-from-convincing jus in bello, Alexander said, because innocents would be killed.

"Once you've decided to go to war — and I don't think the argument has been made — there's the probability of success in battle itself, and (but not necessarily) serving the long-term good. That's what's missing from this," he said.

Hatred of Americans in the Middle East won't be helped by a U.S. attack, the Catholic theologian said. "Would our actions contribute to the long-term stabilization of that region? I doubt it."

Not all in O'ahu's faith community adhere to "just war" criteria. Temple Emanu-El's Rabbi Avi Magid said Jews use their own theological standards. And Hakim Ouansafi, head of the Muslim Association of Hawai'i, said, "Islam teaches there is no such a thing as offensive war." The only moral position for war is to defend oneself, he said.

"By far, and by the opinion of the world, this does not qualify as long as there is room for peaceful resolution. ... North Korea causes us greater threat than Iraq does, yet we choose to follow peaceful channels with them," Ouansafi said.

Albert Lui, president of the Hawaii Association of International Buddhists, said a first strike is morally wrong.

"Being Buddhists, we believe all humans should live in peace with one another, even though we have differences in culture and differences in philosophy," Lui said. "We should find a way to solve our conflicts peacefully. Violence should never be one of the options to solve problems, unless in the situation of self-defense."

Sharing his views is Marjorie Cox, who notes that the Quaker church has long been active in the peace movement.

"We believe there's God in every person, and if so, how can we go kill someone else? ... Most Quakers believe there must be better ways of solving problems," Cox said. "There are no rigid doctrines, so each Quaker has the right to believe as he wishes, but most would say there's no such thing as a just war."

Monsignor Joe Estabrook, a chaplain at the Kane'ohe Marine Corps base, recently gave his 10-minute, 2,841-word sermon on whether a war against Iraq is morally justified. He believes it is, and it's better to get on with it.

"Inaction or delay isn't necessarily the high road," he said. "As the pope said, (war with Iraq) is the very last option. I agree with that. Question is, how far do you go before you go to the last option?"

Saddam is an imminent danger to our society, he said. "When we look at some of the examples in history, sometimes by delay we've caused more harm."

Ralph Moore, the senior pastor at Hope Chapel Kaneohe, agrees.

"I tend to be pragmatic — that sooner is better than later," he said.

Those are Moore's personal views. He hasn't talked about war in church, except to pray for the 100 Marines in the congregation who are being deployed. Some, he knows, won't return.

"I view 9/11 as a first strike," the evangelical Christian pastor said. "I do think it's a clash of cultures, the first shot in what could be a prolonged war if we allow it to be."

If you're opposed to war, as Ouansafi is, and your flock includes military people, how does a faith leader minister to them?

"I don't have an easy answer for them," he said. "This is not a case of defending self and country. ... Obviously they have made a pledge to defend the country and will do so. I tell them the blood of both people about to die will be on George Bush and his administration, because he's making them do that."

Willis A. Moore, who attends St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral, said he and other congregants wish more leaders would speak their conscience.

"I remember when (then-President Ronald) Reagan came to St. Andrew's during a visit in the '80s," he said. "(Then-Bishop) Ed Browning wasn't out to do anything mean or ugly, but as a man of faith had to speak out about China and the Cold War. He used the opportunity to speak out boldly."

Afterward, Reagan did come out to shake the bishop's hand. But his only remark was "it's a lovely church," Moore recalled, laughing.

Bishop Richard Chang said he agrees with his presiding Episcopal bishop Frank Griswold's statements that encourage restraint on the part of the United States against Iraq.

"I think we need to work through the U.N. in finding alternatives to war," he said, adding that he spoke for himself, not the diocese.

"When (it comes to) a person speaking from the pulpit, different clergy take different positions," Chang said. "As bishop of a diocese, I can speak for the diocese when we've reached consensus."

Consensus won't always be easily found, said professor Hallett.

"There's extraordinary ambiguity and uncertainty in the faith community, reflecting the larger community," he said. "I don't think the faith community is any different."

Reach Mary Kaye Ritz at mritz@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8035.