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No War on Iraq – or Anywhere!

Chris Barfoot

The pacifist case against the proposed war on Iraq rests not on the justice or otherwise of this particular war, but on the justice of war itself. Even if weapons are found in Iraq and the United Nations sanctions military action, war is still not the remedy.

War is never the remedy - no matter how big the problem - a Christian Pacifist shares his views.

Those who argue from the merits of particular wars or weapons will face the difficulty of differentiating between just and unjust wars, offensive and defensive weapons and discriminate and indiscriminate bombing. As Christians our starting point is not political, or military, or legal considerations, but the New Testament. We believe that in Christ is revealed the true nature both of God and of humankind and that his way is the true and only remedy for the world's problems.

The basic assumptions underlying the remedy of war conflict with the way of Christ in five important areas.

First of all, the encouragement of hostility towards others and reliance on the method of war denies God's love for humankind and our salvation through the cross.1

God loves us all as his children whether we are western or eastern, Christians, Moslems, Arabs, citizens of a democracy or citizens of a dictatorship.2 Because we are God's children, as Paul Oestreicher has said, "every war is a civil war".3 Also, in the words of poet John Donne, "No man is an island". When one part of humanity suffers, we all suffer.

God's love for us is shown in the cross. His forgiveness through the cross is for all people4 whatever sins they are guilty of — and all of us are guilty before him.5 Moreover, by the power of the cross God breaks down the walls of hostility between us and our fellow humans.6 He frees us from those feelings and attitudes which drive us to build these walls and enables us to give ourselves to serve7 and to love one another according to his example.8

Secondly, to ascribe evil to particular nations or groups of people and to fight them with physical weapons is to misrepresent both the true nature of evil and God's way of overcoming it through Christ9 We are directed not to resist the evildoer10 but evil itself.11

It is naive to ascribe evil to others and overlook the fact that evil is in our own hearts.12 Moreover, military retaliation is not Christ's way to fight evil.13 The weapons he gives us for this purpose are full of his power and include the sword of the Spirit, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, the shoes of the Gospel of peace, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth.14 He tells us to persist in prayer,15 not to take revenge,16 to overcome evil with good17 and to love our enemies.18

Thirdly, the use of war as an instrument of justice reflects more the adversarial and retributive justice system of the western world than the restorative nature of Christian, or indeed biblical, justice. Restored or reconciled to peace with God ourselves, we are to be reconcilers,19 to work for right relationships in every situation in which we are involved — in the family, in the community, both national and international.

Justice in the Biblical sense means restoration and healing of what has gone wrong,20 building what Israel called 'shalom': peace, social well-being and wholeness, social integration as opposed to social dis-ease. Justice with mercy leads to shalom or peace.21

According to Howard Zehr in his book Changing Lenses justice is restorative and involves the victim, the offender and the community in a search for solutions which promote repair, reconciliation and reassurance. However, justice which uses lethal violence against the offender takes away this option. It is a no-exit road where we substitute our judgement for the judgement of God.22

Fourthly, the huge expenditure on arms and the minuscule amounts given to overseas aid which reflect the reliance on war are a travesty of the Christian concept of the duty of a nation. We believe that the nations to which we belong hold their authority from God as servants of God.23 They are to follow the example of Christ, to care for the poor and the oppressed and the weak24 and to use their power to build up the shalom or unity and well being of the world community. As President Eisenhower in his State of the Union Address in 1953 said: "Every gun which is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed."

Fifthly, national leaders who deliberately demonise their enemies and stir up feelings of hatred, revenge and national pride for political purposes are in danger of putting themselves under the power of the one whose methods they employ. Walter Wink25 speaks of the powers and the principalities26 and their fearsome influence on human institutions which they gain through human greed, ambition and hatred. It would seem that the transcendental side of human nature — which can be the source of so much good — is also the source of uncontrolled racial, religious and national passions which are totally destructive in their effect.

"The use of the technology of modern war" said the Lambeth Anglican Bishops' Conference in 1978, "is the most striking example of corporate sin and the prostitution of God's gifts."

What then is the answer of a Christian pacifist or peace maker to the Iraq situation? What is the Christian way to ensure justice?

First of all, there is a need to renounce all the attitudes and actions which are not of Christ and which hinder a solution of the problem. Examples include the encouragement of hatred, revenge and distrust by demonisation; the reliance on military power to protect, retaliate or intimidate; the lack of openness and truth; the stirring up of patriotism of the most destructive kind and the mischief-making tendency of the media to see high news value in conflict and the images of war.

Secondly, there is the need for all parties concerned to get together and to try to find out why relationships have gone wrong. This gathering would include not only the Middle Eastern nations (including Israel) but countries which have a vital economic interest in the region, such as America. It would explore both the areas in dispute and the areas which both antagonists can agree on.

Legitimate security and national interests for America and Iraq and the whole of the Gulf or Middle Eastern region would be identified. Why should Israel and Iraq feel any need to develop weapons of mass destruction? Can their understandable need for security be met in any other way? What are Iraq's other needs? Money for reconstruction, medicines and an assured market for oil? What is America's need? An assured supply of oil? A friendly government in Iraq? Is there any real reason why these problems cannot be solved?

Sadly, the difficulty is not so much with genuinely conflicting interests as with destructive collective attitudes. The need is therefore to turn the focus away from war and even from weapons inspections and to concentrate on actual identifiable interests, either through the UN or through a regional conference.

Our prayer is that destructive emotions may be overcome and the real needs of all people in this situation met, so that the innocent may not suffer.