War on Iraq not justified, Canadian Anglican primate says

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A U.S. invasion of Iraq at this time would fail to meet any of the theological tests by which war can be justified, Archbishop Michael Peers, the Canadian Anglican Primate, says in a letter to church members.

The United States, Archbishop Peers says in the letter, has “introduced a new and perilous set of criteria, justifying an invasion of Iraq based on the American desire for a `regime change’ and as a hedge against the possibility of damage to the American economy should Iraq attack the United States.”

While many Anglicans may not accept all of the principles that the church applies to decide if a war is just, he adds, these principles “provide more than enough reasons to oppose this [`this’ in italics] war.”

Archbishop Peers notes in his letter that in opposing a U.S. war on Iraq, the Anglican Church of Canada joins many other churches and religious organizations including the Canadian and World councils of churches, the U.S. Episcopal House of Bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

He invites Canadian Anglicans to participate “in the international and ecumenical consensus opposing an invasion of Iraq.”

The text of Archbishop Peers’ statement to Canadian Anglicans, posted at www.anglican.ca follows:

January 21, 2003

Dear Friends,

As our world and its people face the prospect of an American invasion of Iraq, as other nations consider whether to support that war, as weapons inspectors continue their work in Iraq, and as leaders begin to establish positions against a backdrop of uncertainty, our churches are asked to take up a deep and difficult challenge.  We are asked, both officially, through offices such as mine, and unofficially, in conversations that occur daily in every part of Canada, to reflect on these uncertain times in light of our faith.

On one level, our Anglican tradition is clear, and its interpretation, in this case, remarkably consistent.  In every corner of the Anglican Communion, the official voices of the churches are calling into question the rationale for such a war, the likelihood that it could achieve the goals it proposes, and the costs it would impose on human lives.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Council of General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, USA, and their Presiding Bishop, as well  as the World Council of Churches and Canadian Council of Churches, and ecumenical partners such as the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops have counselled against military engagement, both on moral and on practical grounds.

Many of the voices clamouring for this war would have us believe that all the risk is aligned on one side.  Delay and negotiation, they claim, simply allow Iraqi leaders to complete their programme of weapons development and encourage them to believe that they can act with impunity.  For those who believe that an invasion will nullify such risks, the voices of peace seem recklessly naive.  But those who advocate and seek a peaceful resolution are simply asking that we pay attention to a wider set of questions about the impact of an invasion on the stability of the Middle East, on relationships among regions, nations and cultures, and on the future of Iraq itself.  Even if one could justify the toll of violent death that will be exacted from the Iraqi people, they argue, the outcome will not be the stability and peace that advocates of this invasion are promising.

In Luke’s Gospel (11.24-26) Jesus speaks of an unclean spirit that, having been driven out of a person, wanders the “waterless waste” and finds no place to rest.  It decides to return to its former home, and finds it swept clean and ready.  “Then it goes and beings seven more spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.”  In its reckless desire to rid itself of Saddam Hussein’s admittedly malignant presence in the life of the world, the United States government and its supporters might ponder what the “last state” of Iraq, of the Middle East, and of the world, is likely to be.  It is wishful thinking of the most irresponsible kind to base an invasion on the fallacy that evil resides in one person alone, or in an axis of three nations, or anywhere else but in the midst of us all.

It is precisely because of evil’s capacity to surprise us in the confidence of our own goodness that Augustine developed a set of principles known as the “just war theory”.  Submitting the justness of a cause to a set of principles allows us to see our intentions through lenses other than our anger, frustration or fear.

  1. A just war can only be waged as a last resort.
  2. A war is only just if it is waged by a legitimate authority.
  3. A just war can only be waged to redress a wrong suffered.
  4. A war is just only if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success.  Deaths and injuries incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
  5. A war us just only if its goal is to re-establish peace.  Moreover, the peace established as a result of the war must be an improvement over the circumstances that would have prevailed had the war not been waged.
  6. A war is just only if the violence used is proportional to the harm suffered.
  7. The weapons used must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.  Non-combatants are never permissible targets of war.  Their deaths are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

As the United States administration seeks to broaden the basis on which war may be prosecuted, it has so far outstripped any notion of a “just war” that it makes no attempt to interpret its intentions in those terms.  Instead, it has introduced a new and perilous set of criteria, justifying an invasion of Iraq based on the American desire for a “regime change”, and as a hedge against the possibility of damage to the American economy should Iraq attack the United States.

It is abundantly clear that the intention of the United States to invade Iraq fails to satisfy these conditions for understanding a war as “just”.  While “just war” principles fall short of the commitment of many Anglicans to a more comprehensive stance against war, they provide more than enough reason to oppose this war.  And while others may balk at the constraints these principles impose on the use of military force, that is what they are meant to do.  The decision to invade a country should require those who intend it to open that intention to public critical reflection, and “just war” principles provide a time-tested middle ground upon which to undertake that reflection.

While I hope that Canadian Anglicans will find ways to participate in the international and ecumenical consensus opposing an invasion of Iraq, and commend the “just war” principles as a way of understanding our participation, we need to come to such decisions by way of time and conversation.  I hope that our churches and their members and leaders will provide opportunities for people to enter into that conversation.  To support such initiatives, the Eco-Justice Committee of the Anglican Church of Canada has produced  a supplement to its 2001 resource, “Just War ? Just Peace !”  The supplement is available online or it may be requested at the address below.  Other resources, Canadian and international are also listed below.  For those who would like to join with others in an ecumenical witness, there is also information on a campaign and petition from the Canadian Council of Churches.

As we continue to reflect on this issue, I would also ask you to continue in prayer for those who serve in the Canadian Forces and for the chaplains responsible for pastoral leadership.  Those who serve do so on behalf of the Canadian people, and are often called on to act with courage and compassion.  If we require those who serve us to be ready to go to war, we owe them both our prayers and our promise that we will not ask them to go to war lightly or without principle.

If we must risk, let us consider taking a risk that is consistent with our humanity, with our vocation to be God’s agents of healing and reconciliation.  Peace will not come as a result of ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein; it will come by ridding ourselves of our perverse habit of imagining that only the other, only the enemy, can provide a vehicle for the advancement of evil.

Yours faithfully, Michael G. Peers, Archbishop and Primate

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For more information, please contact:  Vianney (Sam) Carriere, Acting Director of Information Resources, 416-924-9199 ext. 306; 416-540-3653 (Cell); [email protected],anglican.ca; or

Michael Thompson, Principal Secretary to the Primate. 416-924-9199 ext. 277; [email protected]


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