Whose side is God on?
Where local Christian leaders stand on war with Iraq
On the assumption that all politics is local, and that perhaps the same could be said for spiritual insight, the News & Review surveyed a number of local Christian religious leaders as to their positions on a potential war between the United States and Iraq.
While most of the opinions offered reflect a combination of religious belief and political conviction, they range from an acceptance of the war as inevitable because it coincides with biblical prophesy to an unwillingness to accept war—any war—as anything but contrary to the will of God and therefore never moral.
To Camille Coleman, assistant pastor of Chico Tabernacle Church, the war is nothing less than the fulfillment of biblical prophesies of the second coming of Jesus Christ.
“I believe we’re going into the seven years of tribulation,” she said, adding that at the end of those seven years the world will be plunged into the final battle of Armageddon. “What’s happening now is all in Revelations, and it’s bringing about the coming of the Lord.”
While this view might lead some believers to rush out and cash in their life insurance policies in order to buy a lot of things with seven-year warranties, even the most irreligious among us must have entertained the possibility that the war in the Persian Gulf could get out of hand, leading to whatever secularists think of when they conceive of the end of the world.
Dwight Deaton, pastor of the Assembly of God Church in Gridley, would agree with Coleman that war in the Gulf is inevitable—assuming Saddam Hussein would never step down voluntarily—but otherwise his perspective differs greatly from Pastor Coleman’s.
“I believe my stance is more of a practical view of the situation,” said Deaton. “Saddam is like the bully on the block who has to be dealt with or he’ll keep on bullying.”
Rev. Deaton added that he accepted the Bush administration’s argument that, even if Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction now, he is certainly trying to develop them, and delaying action against Iraq now could be catastrophic when he does acquire such weapons. “In the climate of the world today, I’m in favor, in certain situations, of pre-emptive strikes.”
Dennis Day, assistant pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Oroville, bases his support for the course President Bush has set us on by appealing to a “moral man” theory of obedience to authority.
“I believe George Bush is a moral man,” said Rev. Day. “Not just because he is an evangelical, but because he has surrounded himself with advisers who are very bright and moral people. All I can do is trust in God and in the leadership God has in place in our country right now.”
Rev. Day tempered his support for war somewhat, saying, “Anyone who tells you they don’t feel some conflict between their political and religious beliefs I don’t think is in touch with what it means to be human in God’s world. War is a horrible thing.”
Pastor Steve Hatcher of the First Baptist Church of Paradise has reached the same conclusion as Rev. Day has, but he has approached the issue from the opposite direction.
“We all pray for peace,” said Hatcher, “but there are very evil people in the world from whom we must be protected.” He added that, considering the sinfulness of human beings, no one should be surprised that wars happen. “History tells us that war is inevitable, and to ignore that would only make it worse.”
In contrast, the Rev. Richard Yale, of St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Chico, sees his job less as a fount of moral wisdom for his flock than as a facilitator of the spiritual quest that each parishioner must make himself.
“My job as pastor,” he said, “is to help people with the resources of our faith to pray and to navigate the important questions together in light of that faith.”
And Father Benedict DeLeon, of Oroville’s St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, doesn’t equivocate when expressing his feeling about a potential war.
“A war instigated by our country would be unjustified at this time,” said Father DeLeon, adding that even if such a war could be somehow justified at a later time, “I don’t think we’ve reached any type of criteria that could justify this war now.”
Father DeLeon, who spent time in Israel working as an anthropologist and living in a Palestinian community, insists that the push for war is the result of a lack of understanding by Americans generally of the Islamic world view.
“I think the question we have to ask—but have not at the highest levels—is, ‘Why are they so angry with us?'”
Asked what bearing that question has on the immediate situation in Iraq, in light of the threat the Bush administration says Iraq is to our national security, Father DeLeon responded, “Considering it took Iraq three years to shoot down one of our unmanned planes, I hardly think they have the capability to threaten us.”
The question of political legitimacy with regard to potential U.S. action against Iraq shouldn’t even be a consideration, as far as Father Michael Rome, of Sts. Cyril and Methodist Orthodox Church of Chico, is concerned.
“War is not inevitable; all things can be halted,” said Father Rome. “God created us in his image, which means we are sovereign over our own actions. He created us to love our fellow man, and there is no way we can do that and wage war and still accomplish the will of God.”
Father Rome insisted there is no right side or wrong side in war. In the religious sense, he said, "War is always a failure."