- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

The nation's faiths have united around messages of resolve and prudence, but if America goes to war, clergy and churchgoers may diverge as they have in past conflicts, historians said yesterday.
"There have been arguments among the churches in every one of America's wars," said the Rev. Douglas Strong, a church historian at Wesley Theological Seminary in the District.
He said that historically, Christians have opted either for pacifism or a belief in a "just war" when faced with the moral implications of Americans going into battle.
Today, Christian thinkers mostly lean to pacifism, he said. But the Cold War's "holy crusade" against atheistic communism still resonates with many Christians, and people in pews usually think that defending the national interest is enough to justify a war.
"I wonder now if we're looking at Islam as a counterpart to communism," Mr. Strong said. "Some Christians might feel there is a crusade against us, so it is right to start a crusade against them."
Up until World War II, the "peace churches" such as Mennonites, Quakers and Brethren had stood alone for a doctrinaire pacifism. However, liberal mainline Protestant leaders today sound increasingly as nonbelligerent as the older pacifist churches, said Douglas Jacobsen, a church historian at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.
"That distance has closed between pacifists and the mainline," he said. And since the Vietnam War, "peace churches felt they had to speak [in opposition] to government" in times of military conflict, Mr. Jacobsen added.
Pacifist Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders are signing by the hundreds a "Deny Them Their Victory" statement that offers "a word of sober restraint as our nation discerns what its response will be."
The guilty must "not escape accountability," it said, "but we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate" and harm innocent people.
The U.S. Catholic hierarchy has backed Pope John Paul II's call to "conquer evil by good," and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington drew on the "just war" tradition by saying a U.S. response to last week's terrorist attacks must come "within the boundaries of our system of law" and values and avoid "killing of the innocent."
American Jewish Committee Director David Harris emphasized the ethical demand for justice, and that the U.S. government "take measures necessary to punish the individuals, groups and countries responsible."
The polarizing debate over America's involvement in the Vietnam War opened a wide gap between clergy and churchgoers, said Mr. Jacobsen, because of the anti-war activism of many ministers. "That contributed to people listening less to what's said in the pulpit," he said.
However, in the past week, "people are pretty much in sync with what they hear in the pulpits," he said. "In the months ahead, my hunch is that there may be more tension."
Historically, the country's Roman Catholics have been both divided and united in war, depending on the particular conflict, said Harold D. Langley, a historian at Catholic University of America.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide