Despite protest, some Christians justify war


Published: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 28, 2003 at 11:15 p.m.
President Bush has been trying for months to make the case for using force against Saddam Hussein, but he has won little support from leaders of American and European churches.
Yet after heavy, perhaps unprecedented, church agitation and peace appeals from the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury, two prominent lay Christians have emerged to provide intellectual support for war with Iraq.
Jean Bethke Elshtain, a Protestant professor of social ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and Michael Novak, a Roman Catholic philosopher at the American Enterprise Institute, each opposed the Vietnam War.
But each has argued recently that a conflict with Iraq meets the demands of Christianity's "just war" doctrine - the theological tests for deciding the morality of war that dates back to the fifth century.
The doctrine says war must be a last resort; openly declared by proper authority; in response to unjust aggression; and that success must be probable. During warfare, it insists, the desired good ends must outweigh the destructive means and noncombatants must be protected.
Dovish clergy have said an attack on Iraq fails various just-war tests, and dire consequences might result. Others argue that arms inspectors need more time or that a war must have United Nations sanction before becoming a reasonable last resort.
In response, Elshtain and Novak maintain that with or without the United Nations, American action against Saddam would fit the doctrine comfortably.
Whatever the past links between Saddam and al-Qaeda, Novak warned, Iraq has attitudes and military means that can easily unite with terrorists' plans.
He concluded that history shows it's imprudent for public authorities, who are morally responsible for protecting the citizenry from unprovoked attack, to trust "the sanity and good will of Saddam Hussein."
Elshtain, who has a book on just wars due in April, hedged her support for attack until late last year.
Besides Novak-style arguments, she emphasizes the Christian duty to defend the innocent, not only within one's own country but elsewhere.
"Not going to war can be a tragedy, just as going to war can be a tragedy," Elshtain told a Cleveland audience this month.
Observing fellow mainline Protestants, Elshtain sees a split between clergy and laity over a conflict.
Dovish clergy are failing to realistically acknowledge human sinfulness and the duty to restrain it, she maintains, while many in their congregations understand something has to be done.

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