1998 NCC News Archives

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NCC Leadership Urges Humanitarian, Not Military, Option in Iraq
Policy-Setting Executive Board, in Letter to President Clinton, Collects Religious Voices for Restraint

Following is an excerpt from a related NCC news release. You may follow this link to read the full story.
CWS to Provide Food, Medicine, Blankets to Suffering Iraqis

NEW YORK, Feb. 6, 1998 ---- As increasing alarm about a possible United States military strike combines with heightened concern about frayed social and economic conditions in Iraq, Church World Service (CWS) will provide blankets and layettes and will seek funds for desperately needed medicine in support of a $2 million global appeal to aid the internally displaced and other vulnerable people in Iraq.

   NEW YORK, February 16, 1998 -- The National Council of Churches' Executive Board -- its policy setting body -- today unanimously approved and then forwarded the following letter to President Clinton, counseling: "Seek a humanitarian and diplomatic, not a military, solution to the present confrontation with Iraq's leadership."

February 16, 1998
The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
The White House
Washington DC 20005

Dear Mr. President:

The burden of leadership in the face of the Iraqi government's defiance of UN mandates is now, we believe, especially heavy and it is unavoidably yours to bear. As religious leaders, we write respectfully to offer you counsel rooted in the experience and the deeply held commitments of numerous religious communities both within and beyond our membership:

Continue diplomacy patiently, even doggedly. Insist on UN compliance but practice restraint. Pursue a humanitarian, not a military, option.

The overwhelming reality is that there are no easy or readily apparent solutions to the current impasse. No options appear that are free of risks altogether. Our counsel: Listen to that reality. Quick solutions pursued in a clouded landscape are morally suspect and historically dangerous.

Engaging in military action, the unleashing of the awesome USA arsenal which you have often demonstrated a reluctance to pursue, clearly announces the failure of diplomacy on all sides and its exhaustion. But the choice of muscle is the suspect equivalent of belligerence, always morally ambiguous. Embracing such a choice is a special temptation reserved for strong men and women who see themselves pursuing a course that is right. Even our earlier military action failed to end repressive government in Iraq or stop the potential for belligerence. Our counsel: Resist. The lure of military muscle is sometimes a false attraction.

We are not a body of pacifist religious communities, though there are strong pacifist traditions among us that often command our spiritual and ethical respect. Historically many of our churches have affirmed the defensive use of military power and even its deterrent value in a sinful world. We have however never supported its "first strike" use. We cannot support it now.

Our counsel arises from numerous and even varied religious voices now speaking with urgency. We have listened. We offer to you the recurring theme in their statements: Seek a humanitarian and diplomatic, not a military, solution to the present confrontation with Iraq's leadership.

We affirm and identify with the careful reasoning of the United States Catholic Conference offered in counsel to the Secretary of State by Archbishop McCarrick. We too underscore international, multilateral efforts to address Iraq's non-compliance with UN authorization for weapons inspections. We too urge increased efforts to relieve the undeserved suffering of the Iraqi people while maintaining a ban on military supplies. We are especially hopeful that the terms of the embargo against Iraq can be shifted to allow the community of nations to address the need for food, clean water and healthcare for the Iraqi people. Thereby we believe there can be an end to the malnutrition and disease resulting in death which has now struck over one million Iraqis, half of them children. Through the embargo our nation has participated in an only partially effective strategy at the cost of needless human suffering, This must end! But the central message remains clear: a means of resolution short of war must be found.

The official position of the United Methodist Church is strong: our moral duty is to resolve conflicts by peaceful means. Its established social policy rejects war as ever being a legitimate instrument of foreign policy. United Methodist leaders affirm that there is no moral argument for inflicting further injury on any who hurt as the Iraqi people presently do.

The Black Church Liaison Committee of this Council, representative of the historic African-American Churches, said that in addition to Christian conscience and humanitarian concerns, it urges strongly that diplomacy continue. It spoke against any hasty government action that would result in further dehumanization and loss of innocent life in Iraq, and possibly escalate into a sacrifice of American lives as well.

The Church of the Brethren strongly urges US restraint.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, rightly reminding us of the aggressive commitment of President Hussein to develop further the horrible weapons of mass destruction, urges the Iraqi government to accept the UN mandates, a necessary contribution to a peaceful outcome.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through its 208th General Assembly has voiced its deep concern for the deplorable life conditions of the people of Iraq. The Iraqi poor "have been swept away in the torrent of deprivation." "Food and medicine for oil" has been insufficient. People have been sacrificed for political and economic interests and the United Nations has been caught in between. While deploring the intransigence and cruelty of the present Iraqi regime, the General Assembly has spoken especially clearly on behalf of those who innocently suffer.

The American Friends Service Committee, typically active for peace, is now providing over one thousand "Friendship Kits" for Iraqis. It urges patient diplomacy, notes the militarization of the Middle East as a whole and questions the consequences of any military action: Will all inspections then be sacrificed? Will such actions actually strengthen support for President Hussein even beyond the Middle East?

Our friends in The Middle East Council of Churches offer counsel informed by their life in the threatened region: seek a solution based in peace, not war, in diplomacy not violence. Iraq is not the only nation which has defied UN mandates without confronting military reprisal. Negotiations must continue.

The American Muslim Council speaks of the danger of turning world opinion against the US instead of destabilizing the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein. Further it questions the effectiveness of air strikes in achieving any resolution and brands them pointless, except for inflicting suffering on the innocent.

Religious voices in Canada sound similar themes in their counsel to Prime Minister Chretien. They urge him to decline the invitation to join Canadian forces to a military action. They cite the lack of evidence that a military attack will succeed where diplomacy has failed. They raise concern for infectious atmospheric leaks from damage to chemical or biological weapons from air attacks unleashing threats to life beyond control. In company with Middle East voices they note the weakened capacity of UN mandates in the light of the continuing defiance of other Security Council resolutions related to the Middle East. Finally they base their counsel in the moral and even strategic indefensibility of inflicting further suffering on the Iraqi people.

Other religious voices are being heard. These references are only samples. The full texts currently available are attached. The theme is consistent: Pursue diplomacy; do not choose military action.

Finally, we have asked ourselves, is there a morally defensible course of action that can offer US policy the "high ground"? We believe the key lies in allowing the Iraqi people to see the United States and the community of nations as compassionate friends, not agents of injury, threat and pain. The demonizing portrayal of the United States by the Iraq Government will only be confirmed by resorting to military action.

Alternatively an aggressive humanitarian embrace of Iraqi people offers a resolution through compassion and puts forward a sign of hope. It is not too late for such a course and it can be pursued at a fraction of the cost of war. It builds on the provisions of aid in which our member churches and other religious communities have long engaged. It promises to draw Iraq back into the family of nations in place of a future of greater isolation and disrespect. It offers healing not further hurt. It conforms to the best in the hearts of the American people.

We are attracted to the Mennonite proposal of "a massive effort to provide medicine and food for starving and sick Iraqi people…" Suppose our planes and personnel were commissioned to deliver aid, not drop bombs. Suppose our policy was to resupply hospitals, offer skilled medical care, open access to foodstuffs, rebuild the infrastructure needed for the flow of life, pursue economic development and other foundational ingredients of peace. It is a vision with practical and strategic possibility.

We believe such a massive humanitarian response is possible. It offers "high ground." It would allow the world to breathe easier beyond anxiety and tension. It would conform to the religious instincts of the American people and give voice to our most deeply shared commitments of faith. It would be an act of brave leadership in the heritage of President Lincoln who reached out to heal in the wake of the civil war.

There is practical wisdom as well as spiritual counsel in the words of Scripture: "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord… Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good…"

You, as President, and others who lead our nation in this difficult time will continue in our prayers. We offer the communities of faith we represent as partners in a humanitarian course of response to Iraq. We are eager to provide aid and healing. We counsel:

Pursue diplomacy. Urge Iraqi compliance. Resist the military option. Offer aid and healing. Build peace.

Respectfully, with our prayers for God's wisdom and our courage to follow,

The Right Rev. Craig B. Anderson, President
The Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary


Bishop Melvin B. Talbert Immediate Past President
Dr. Sylvia M. Faulk Vice President-at-Large
Dr. Will L:. Herzfeld Vice President, Church World Service
The Rev. Dr.Elenora Giddings Ivory Vice President, National Ministries Unit
The Rev. Dr. Margaret J. Thomas Treasurer


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