Spiritual leaders voice opinion on war with Iraq

Some state the U.S. has failed to provide criteria for a “just war,” while others back the president.

By Alex Catanese/Special to the Malibu Times

As the United States-led invasion of Iraq continues, several of Malibu’s religious leaders are addressing the war publicly with their congregations. All agree that any war is an unfortunate occurrence and must only be used as a last resort, and all are praying daily for a quick end to the conflict and for minimum casualties on both sides. However, based on their faith, many are questioning whether this is a ‘just war,’ while others support U.S. actions and see no remaining alternative.

In regard to the legitimacy of the current war, Susan Klein, pastor of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, stated that, for most Christian leaders, the invasion of Iraq is seen as having failed to pass many of the criteria for a ‘just war.’

Agreeing with this position, she further explained, “We have failed to convince most of the main countries in the Security Council of the United Nations that it was necessary to invade Iraq, or even that a ‘regime change’ was a moral and political necessity.”

A similar sentiment came from Nadadur Vardhan, Secretary of the Malibu Hindu Temple.


“The Bhagavad Gita says that you must fight violence with violence, but the cause must be just,” Vardhan said.

He went on to say that this is not a ‘just war’ because he feels the U.S. cannot attack alone without global backing. Vardhan stressed the need for checks and balances before taking military action and suggested that there was perhaps more moral justification for the removal of other dictatorships.

Other members of Malibu’s clergy have come to similar conclusions regarding the war. Reflecting the strong position of the Malibu United Methodist Church, Rev. Larry Peacock explained that the basic United Methodist position is that war is incompatible with Christ’s teachings. As to alternatives to armed conflict, Peacock invoked the names of Gandhi and Martin Luther King as having been effective examples of nonviolence.

“I don’t think we have tried passive resistance,” Peacock said. “As brilliant as the world community is, it seems like we can come up with better.”

Expressing sadness over the war being the worst possible solution, Rev. William Kerze of Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church voiced similar disappointment.

“I feel embarrassed that we as a nation cannot solve this problem by other means,” Kerze said. “We have the resources and the smarts.”

Citing a passage from the New Testament in Matthew, Chapter Five, where Jesus describes justice as “an eye for an eye,” Kerze concludes that although these words seemingly support retaliation, this is not the way to peace.

He explained further, “The Gospel is saying that retaliation leads to retaliation.”

As with any debate, there are those who view the situation in Iraq differently. While explaining that, at a fundamental level, no one wants a war, Rev. Dave Owen of the Malibu Vineyard Christian Fellowship respects President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for following through with their convictions.

“Bad things happen when good people do nothing,” Owen stated. He later added, “This is a ‘just war’ because the removal of an individual is for the greater good.”

Holding a similar view, Rabbi Levi Cunin of Chabad of Malibu stated that he personally thinks the U.S. position on Iraq is very courageous of President Bush.

“We have a responsibility and sometimes have to take a tougher stance,” said Cunin, who related the conflict to that of the relationship between a parent and a drug-addicted child.

Reminding us that Saddam Hussein is a dictator, who has created an entire environment absent of basic freedoms, Cunin said the U.S. is acting responsibly given our prior attempts at diplomacy. Regarding the U.S. decision to invade Iraq versus the idea that there may be more justification to remove other brutal regimes, Cunin drew parallels between the invasion and the starfish tale from Judaism. The story illustrates a young man who tries to save starfish that have been stranded on the beach by a low ocean tide. An older man passing by questions the boy’s actions by exclaiming that there are millions of starfish there and not all of them can be saved. The young man replies that he is indeed making a difference by saving some, which is far better than saving none.

Opinions on the necessity of U.S. actions aside, Malibu’s religious leaders remain committed to serving their congregations by being a source of comfort and guidance. Many leaders are encouraging people to look inward and to be part of the spiritual community. Rev. Klein of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, who has conducted three open forums about the war, stated, “It is highly recommended that people take, if they can, 30 minutes a day for prayer or meditation, especially if anxious. Secondly, I tell people not to isolate themselves and to talk about their fears and concerns, to be a part of the community of faith.”

On the importance of prayer, Rev. Peacock of Malibu United Methodist Church, said, “During uncertain times, it is important for people to gather together to pray.” He further added, “Prayer at an individual level needs to root out any violence within. It needs to come from love and compassion, not fear and hatred.”

Malibu Vineyard will hold an all-night pray-for-peace vigil this Friday starting at 7 p.m. The entire community is welcome.

The Jewish-Christian interfaith community of Malibu has organized a public prayer gathering on the first day of Passover, April 17, at noon near the Civic Center. Among the participants thus far will be Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church, Malibu United Methodist Church and St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church.

For those who find the actions of the U.S. questionable as well as for those who view war as the only remaining option, this will be an opportunity to join together and focus on common hopes for peace.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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