When It Comes To The Issue Of War, The Final Answer Is In Spiritual Discernment
By Michael H. Brown
It's an interesting question: who do we listen to about the current world situation, in particular military matters: George Bush or Pope John Paul II? It's an interesting question because both men are enormously powerful, both are known to pray, and both have come to diametrically opposed conclusions when it comes to what appears to be a looming Iraqi "war" (actually, more a "strike"). Bush seems determined to remove Saddam Hussein -- something his father was criticized for not doing -- while the Pope and his emissaries have grown increasingly vocal in their opposition to severe military action, doing so even after the Secretary of State's presentation last week before the United Nations.
Nor is the Pontiff alone. Opposition has been strongly voiced by many other Christian leaders, including a bishop in the President's own denomination who claims a Baghdad strike would "violate the teachings of Jesus Christ" and, last week, a representative of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate. Likewise, Catholic leaders in Iraq itself have decried military action. Reports Reuters: "Christian church leaders and lay people are taking an unusually prominent role in the anti-war movement, arguing that an attack against Iraq would not fit the theological definition of a 'just war.' Leading Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran clergy have for months been issuing statements and writing petitions against the war and urging their followers to join anti-war demonstrations." One history professor, Barbara Epstein of the University of California in Santa Cruz, California, says church leaders have opposed many past U.S. wars but that the extent of their involvement this time is "remarkable."
Doubly remarkable, of course, is that Bush is a good Christian who considers Jesus his role model and whose election was decided on the feast day of Guadalupe. Just a few days ago, we carried a report on how, during lunch with a Christian author, Bush remarked that "when I stay on my knees, that's when I have power." During an appearance that same week at the National Prayer Breakfast, he specifically asked for prayers so that he has clarity of mind and makes the right decisions. A "born-again" Christian, the president considers the current time "a time of testing." At the prayer meeting he said that in his own moments of religious contemplation he prays "for strength. I pray for guidance. I pray for forgiveness. And I pray to offer my thanks for a kind and generous Almighty God." In his State of the Union address, the President went so far as to mention God's "miracles." Others in his administration, notably National Security Director Condoleeza Rice and Attorney General John Ashcroft, are also vocal Christians. Ashcroft appears to be quite advanced in his spirituality (he openly prays with staff in his office) and almost certainly has prevented major terrorist strikes as a result of that devotion. We sense there is a great untold story here. Let us add that President Bush enjoys strong support among many Protestants, non-denominational Christians, and Catholics, both in leadership positions and in the rank and file. A poll shows 57 percent of Americans support a strike against Iraq, even over U.N. objections. As president he has a special anointing to make military decisions.
But what about the Pope?
He of course also has an anointing, in fact the strongest known anointing. To him do we listen, above all others. He is successor to Peter the Apostle -- and, of course, he is also the foremost man of prayer. We can't really compare a secular leader to him. According to biographer Tad Szulc, John Paul II is said "to pray as many as seven hours a day: at his private chapel at dawn, sometimes prostrate before the altar, then with invited guests before breakfast, often in his study next to his bedroom, at Masses and services in Rome or on the road, aboard the plane, and on the back seat of his black Mercedes limousine. The Pope has a power of concentration that wholly insulates him from his temporal surroundings as he slides into prayer or meditation, even facing large crowds," noted Szulc. "The expression on his face is otherworldly; he shuts his eyes so tight that he seems to be in pain, and, occasionally, his lips move lightly in silent prayer."
Does he receive mystical revelations? Many who have met him believe he has.
The Pope's major concern is that the precepts for a "just war" be met (the Vatican says such have not yet been demonstrated) and the prospect that innocent Iraqis will be maimed. We must also fully weigh what may occur after an Iraqi strike: While a U.S. attack would probably be a smashing triumph (with huge kudos immediately after, as happened with "Operation Desert Storm"), the situation should be viewed in a larger context. Let us recall that while Desert Storm seemed like a slam-dunk, the subsequent years would reveal "Gulf War Syndrome," a mysterious ailment from which more than a fifth of the troops are now allegedly suffering and which may be from the oil fires Hussein set during the last conflict, or from chemical and biological agents. In addition, that war, which was over oil, led to the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and greatly energized Al Qaeda throughout that decade. (Meanwhile, despite astronomical popularity immediately after, George Bush Sr. lost the next election.)
These were not great "fruits," and so we can only go to God (and our spiritual leaders) for the answers. In the end, it may come down to a matter of obedience. It also comes down to a "holy war" -- one that will rage the rest of our lives. How to handle it? Can we defang the enemy now -- and prevent future bloodshed? Or is this the incitement for which potential terrorists have long been waiting?
It is a holy war; it greatly heightened on September 11; and it will not stop in Iraq.
Does that mean we turn tail and run away?
No. Perhaps, as the President has discerned, a strike against Iraq will prevent more terrorism than it will cause. Perhaps. At the same time, we're still unclear about how the removal of a single leader will halt multi-national terrorists. We will discuss the future of cities such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City shortly. The only sure thing is that in the end, at crunch time, such discernment can not be political; it can come only on our knees. It will only come if we are humble. As always -- as through history -- there is only so much we can foresee intellectually.
Never mind the generals. Never mind the diplomats. Never mind the pundits. There are too many variables. When it comes to the future, the true discernment will come only through prayer, and not only at the White House or at the Vatican
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