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Public Theology: Bishop Has Deep Concern about Iraq War
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Bishop Has Deep Concern about Iraq War
ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson writes to the church about Iraq.

By Mark Hanson

March 19, 2003

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Amid the flood of emotions we experience as the tragic realities of war unfold, I write to you out of our shared call to radical discipleship and responsible leadership. This call, heard in Sundayís Gospel, continues to echo throughout the church. "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake and, for the sake of the gospel, will save it" (Mark 8:34-35).

How do we as leaders and members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America continue to address our differing and sometimes stridently opposing views of the war without losing faith that the deeper unity we share in Christ will not be severed? No matter how grave our differences, let us be united in the affirmation that it is through the gospel that the Holy Spirit calls and gathers people from all nations to worship and witness to the God of peace. As we say in the ELCA social statement, "For Peace in Godís World," the most valuable mission for peace for the church "is to keep alive the news of Godís resolve for peace, declaring that all are responsible to God for earthly peace and announcing forgiveness, healing and hope in the name of Jesus Christ."

I am aware of how many members of ELCA congregations, including you, are experiencing warís reality as family members are sent into battle. Please know that we pray for all families so directly impacted. We also pray for the people of Iraq. As a church based in the United States, we bear a special responsibility financially to support humanitarian relief and assistance to the thousands of refugees who will be fleeing the extensive U.S. bombing of Iraq.

Our call to leadership includes proclaiming Christ in Word and sacrament, offering pastoral care to all affected, and exercising our role as public leaders engaged in prophetic speech and moral deliberation. Let us also be attentive to language, both our own and that of our political leaders who speak of peace and war. As people of faith, the language of peace and reconciliation and of liberation and justice must be spoken and heard within the context of the biblical story and our confession of faith, and not the rhetoric of battle. We must reclaim for ourselves any language of faith that has been used to wage war and ensure that it is used for the sake of peace and reconciliation.

I want you to know that I, as Presiding Bishop of this church, today have released the attached public statement expressing my profound concern that the United States has chosen to take the step of a pre-emptive military strike. In the statement I express my understanding that our country, especially because of its wealth and might, has a particular responsibility to pursue policies of cooperation and to seek to resolve conflicts peacefully. I indicate that we cannot limit our response to the specific matter of this war, but need to continue to raise broader questions. I call on all members of our church to pray for peace, for the members of our military, and for all who come in harmís way because of this war.

"The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7).

In Godís grace,

Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

P.S. The ELCA Web site has information and resources to assist you during this time of war. You will find information about International Disaster Response on the page. Resources for worship and prayer in a time of war are available on the page.


Statement from Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson in response to U.S. pre-emptive military strike on Iraq

In the midst of the anguish of todayís events, and aware of the continuing unfolding and unknown consequences of war, we in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America share with all Christians the call to be peacemakers. This call is grounded in the belief that God in Christ reconciles the whole creation and sends us forth in a ministry of peace and reconciliation. In our liturgies we pray "for the peace of the whole world," uniting our faith in the Triune God with our worldís suffering and hopes.

The decision of the United States to attack Iraq with a pre-emptive military strike without the support of the United Nations marks a sobering moment for this nation and world. I express my profound concern that the United States has chosen to take this step. Our country, especially because of its wealth and might, has a particular responsibility to pursue policies of cooperation and to seek to resolve conflicts peacefully. In my view, neither has the United States responsibly exercised its leadership role within the United Nations and in related diplomatic efforts to avert war, nor have our national leaders sufficiently made the case that they have pursued all reasonable avenues other than war. I am particularly troubled that this decision has been made without broad consensus and support within the international community.

As a church our task of engaging in moral deliberation about this war, and its wider implications, does not and will not end now that war has begun. We will continue to press the ongoing moral and ethical questions, which include-but are not limited to-the conduct of war or the leadership of Saddam Hussein. We must continue to ask questions about the humanitarian effects of the decision to go to war, especially protection for noncombatants and the scale of military force used. We must be prepared to respond to the needs of displaced persons and refugees, address the regional destabilization which the war will cause, and demonstrate a readiness to assist with rebuilding after the war. We must ensure that the human rights of all, both within and outside of the United States, are respected and protected. Our searching questions include how our nation addresses the poverty and sense of hopelessness that pervade the Middle East.

As citizens of a country of immense power, influence, and wealth, and as members of the ELCA, we are compelled, I believe, to grapple with questions of how to use our power and wealth responsibly to disarm Iraq, to alleviate human suffering in the region, and to exercise leadership within the international community. The ELCA grounds its position on these matters in its social statement, "For Peace in God's World:"

+ We also affirm that governments should vigorously pursue less coercive measures over more coercive ones: consent over compulsion, nonviolence over violence, diplomacy over military engagement, and deterrence over war.

+ With its significant economic, political, cultural, and military power, the United States plays a vital leadership role in world affairs. It cannot and should not withdraw or isolate itself from the rest of the world. Neither should it seek to control or police the world. Global challenges cannot be addressed by the United States alone; yet few can be met without the United States' participation.

+ In pursuing their interests, all nations, including the United States, have an obligation to respect the interests of other states and international actors and to comply with international law. Nations should seek their own common good in the context of the global common good. International bodies should work for the welfare of all nations.

In the days and weeks ahead I call on all ELCA members to pray fervently for peace, for the members of our military, and for all who come in harmís way because of this war. I continue to encourage all ELCA members to engage in moral deliberation and to live out their baptismal vocations striving for justice and peace in all the earth.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson Presiding Bishop Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Chicago - March 19, 2003

--------------------------------- Below is an earlier letter from the bishop.

February 13, 2003

Please note: I am using the opportunity of my occasional e-mail correspondence with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) rostered leaders to address the possibility of war with Iraq. The situation we are in troubles me greatly. My intention in writing this letter is to support you as you exercise leadership in your congregation and community. Please use the letter in any way that is helpful to you.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

I am writing to you because of my deep concern about the grave possibility of imminent war facing not only our nation, but also the human family. As I listen to the voices of pastors throughout the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I realize we are struggling with how to exercise the pastoral, priestly, and prophetic dimensions of our call at such a time. I am also mindful that our baptismal vocation calls us to "serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth" (Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 201).

As weapons inspectors continue their work; the United Nations debates next steps; the Iraqi people suffer; and our government moves closer to war, we must not abdicate our responsibility both to pray for peace and to engage in public conversation regarding what is a just response that might lead to peace.

I do not seek to minimize the complexity of our current situation. The combination of the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein; the possible use of weapons of mass destruction; the immense United States military strength; and an already unstable Middle East means there are no easy answers. That is precisely why we need broad-based conversations in which we articulate our convictions and are willing to challenge and be challenged by others.

War should never become a military response severed from its moral dimensions. As people of faith, we will always be asking hard ethical questions regarding the reasons for war and the conduct and consequences of it. No, I do not expect the members of the ELCA to be of one mind regarding these questions. Rather, it is my plea that we be united in our commitment to pray, to engage in public deliberation, and to work for peace.

I commend to you the ELCA's social statement, "For Peace in God's World" ( as an important resource for assisting us in responding to this crisis. This statement grounded in both the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions constitutes the social policy of the ELCA on matters of peace and war. It affirms that, as the baptized people of God, we share with the Church of Jesus Christ in all times and places the calling to be peacemakers. It also affirms that, as people of faith, we begin with a strong presumption against all war.

As Lutherans we acknowledge in these discussions the principles of the "just/unjust war" tradition which, recognizing the reality of sin in our world, permits recourse to war only in very exceptional circumstances and under strictly defined conditions. We must ask hard questions about the causes, activities, and consequences of this war. The statement also affirms that as a church we are committed to denouncing beliefs and actions that find ultimate security in weapons and warfare, and that despair of any possibility for peace.

In "For Peace in God's World" we are clear that this church supports "the vocation of men and women in the military who in conscience directly face the ambiguities of relative evils, and who may suffer and die to defend their neighbor" (page 12). At the same time, "we strongly support efforts to develop the potential of nonviolence to bring about just and peaceful change and we provide pastoral support of those in conscience who undertake nonviolent action for peace" (page 20).

It is important that you are aware of the many messages that I have received from churches around the world, both Lutheran and ecumenical. One response came in a bulky envelope from Lutherans in Japan. It included a petition with 283 names, testifying to their experience of war. They want us to know of their prayers and solidarity for all efforts to achieve peace. They also put challenging questions to us, which we have an obligation to consider, about whether it is too late to find a peaceful solution to this crisis, about the humanitarian consequences of war on the people of Iraq, and about the destabilizing effects of war within the region and throughout the world.

As people of faith, let us not grow weary in our diligent prayer, our moral deliberations, and our baptismal calling to work for peace. Let us continue to hold each other and our ministries in our daily prayers. "And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, . . . guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

In God's grace,

Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop

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Date Added: 3/4/2003 Date Revised: 3/20/2003

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