There is something chillingly on-target about the words of 2 Samuel 11:1 ("In the spring of the year, when kings go forth to war"). But that pattern is hardly a prescription for action today. Some experts are suggesting weather-related strategies that would get a U.S.-led coalition in and out of Iraq before the end of April. Moral prescriptions for military action are harder to come by than climatological ones.
In a previous editorial ("Bully Culprit," Oct. 7, 2002), we argued that the high probability of an imminent and serious attack could meet the "just cause" criterion of just-war thinking. And if strong evidence of such an attack came into American hands, a pre-emptive attack could be an act of Christian love. We did not argue that it was time to go to war with Iraq (although some correspondents thought we did).
At this writing, we are waiting for the Secretary of State to deliver the intelligence that would make a compelling case for a coalition to disarm Iraq by force. By the time you read this, you will have had the chance to judge for yourself whether Colin Powell has made a persuasive case. (At press time, our unscientific online poll showed that 61 percent said an attack was already justified, while 36 percent believed that an attack was not yet justified.)
Regardless of our views on this particular conflict, the Christian community has plenty to motivate it into action.
The witness of humanitarian service should be near the top of our agenda. At the end of January, a group of key relief agencies (many of whose names appear regularly in our pages) convened in the Middle East to prepare for a flood of refugees from Iraq. The head of one of the most Middle East-savvy of these agencies told Christianity Today that in the case of an attack, the agencies were expecting around 600,000 Iraqis to flee their nation. This leader also told us that he had "never seen the desire for united and cooperative response" among relief agencies like he has this time. A similar (but smaller-scale) effort during the Gulf War in 1991-92 proved to be a wonderful witness for the church in the Middle East. This effort merits our support through the participating agencies.
The ministry of physical presence with endangered people is the special calling of a few Christians. On February 1, Christian Peacemaker Teams sent a delegation to stand with the Iraqi people, who have suffered much and who will suffer much more if a U.S.-led coalition attacks Saddam Hussein's regime. cpt is a ministry that enters areas of conflict to bear witness to the possibility of peace, to observe and report atrocities, and to stand with people whose lives are in peril.
The ministry of physical presence is dangerous. Sometimes lethal dangers are all too familiar: During cpt's January mission to Iraq, 73-year-old George Weber died in a car crash. But Weber had risked his life before by, among other things, escorting Palestinian children to school in violence-torn Hebron.
The ministry of military chaplains and other faith-filled encouragers in the armed forces also needs our support. A reporter for Newsweek recently sent us e-mail from an aircraft carrier in the waters near the Middle East. He described his deep admiration for the chaplain on board the vessel. We hope to bring you a detailed look at this shipboard encourager soon. Such chaplains play a vital spiritual role for those who are forced by war to confront death and face life's biggest questions. Pray for their ministry.
The ministry of prayer belongs to all of us. In a recent Washington Post article, Bill Broadway reported the concerted prayer efforts of Ted Haggard's World Prayer Team, which had sent "an e-mail around the world urging Christians to pray that Hussein would choose to go into exile, that the United States would allow his departure, and that the United Nations would facilitate it." Several weeks later, the Bush administration said it would welcome such a plan and Arab leaders began urging Saddam to accept the offer. Broadway asked Haggard if there was a direct correlation with the prayer effort. "No doubt about it," Haggard said. "When people pray for benevolent ideas, good things happen." Haggard stands in a fine tradition.
In 1936, before the outbreak of World War II, the great intercessor Rees Thomas saw that Hitler was a major threat to world evangelization. He urged the Bible College of Wales family to pray against Hitler's success. After England joined the war, prayer at the Bible College of Wales and all over England increased dramatically. At the end of May 1940, with the British Expeditionary Force stranded in France, believers at the Bible College of Wales locked themselves in the chapel and vowed to stay and intercede for their countrymen until God answered their prayer. The story of the "Miracle of Dunkirk" is now well known: how a strangely calm sea and a mysterious fog allowed the safe evacuation of 338,000 British troops by fishing boats and other craft hardly suited to the purpose.
The believers in Wales claimed a spiritual victory. Christians all over Britain joined them in a National Day of Prayer that same weekend. Curiously, when church leaders first proposed a National Day of Prayer, the Archbishop of Canterbury opposed it—on the grounds that people might misinterpret it! Street-level Christians now know what the Archbishop missed: In peace and in war, Christians pray their way through.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today's previous editorial, "Bully Culprit," is posted online.
Previous Christianity Today articles and commentary on the possible war with Iraq include:
Just War in Iraq | Sometimes going to war is the charitable thing to do.
Bully Culprit | Can a pre-emptive strike against the tyrant of Baghdad be justified? (Sept. 30, 2001)
Christian Leaders Respond to Bush's National Security Strategy | The White House outlines foreign policy in a changing world. (September 25, 2002)
Is Attacking Iraq Moral? | Christian leaders disagree, too. (September 4, 2002)
Recently, Christianity Today Associate News Editor Stan Guthrie reported on the plight of Iraqi Christians.
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