Presbyterian Leaders Oppose Rush to War with Iran

by Jerry L. Van Marter
from Presbyterian News Service

As President Barack Obama prepared to meet with Israeli Leader Benjamin Netanyahu on March 5, Presbyterian leaders urged direct negotiations between the United States and Iran over that country’s unsettling nuclear program.

On Feb. 11, the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta adopted an overture to the upcoming Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly that calls on the denomination to “oppose preemptive military action by any nation against Iran.”

Instead, Greater Atlanta — one of the largest of the PC(USA)’s 173 presbyteries — called for “direct, unconditional negotiations between the United States and Iran with the goal of… implementing a peaceful resolution.”

In an unrelated action on Feb. 21, General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons wrote to President Obama, stating, “The Christian tradition we share urges us to seek limits to violence and, therefore, requires us to oppose any rush to initiate another war in the Middle East.”

Parsons continued: “It seems that the lessons of the second Iraq war and the continuing war in Afghanistan are being ignored, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, including our own soldiers, are being disregarded.”

On March 1, Parsons commented: “Negotiations do work. Look at the North Korean decision to suspend their nuclear program.”

In his letter, Parsons noted the widespread “uncertainties regarding the actual status of Iran’s nuclear program,” and the economic sanctions already being applied by the US and Europe.

Both Parsons and Greater Atlanta make moral arguments against going to war without good cause. The presbytery’s overture states: “We are convinced that collateral damage and loss of innocent life would be severe and unjustified in any such attack, let alone the possible deaths of millions should the war escalate and become nuclear.”

Citing “Just War” theory, long a pillar of PC(USA) peacemaking policy, Parsons notes that none of the Just War criteria — “use of force as a last resort in defense, legitimate authorization, proportionality, and the probability of a just order after hostilities — “…have been met…”

The Greater Atlanta overture lists the possible consequences of “United States or Israeli military action against Iran:” higher oil prices,” “increased terrorism throughout the world” and “a prolonged recession.”

The Atlanta Presbyterians said they “are not confident, judging from past experience, that the U.S.A. has given sufficient thought… to the consequences of such an attack in Iran itself and across the Middle East.”

Parsons’ letter concludes: “As followers of the Prince of Peace, it is our fervent hope that the United States will encourage the democratic energies we have seen in Iran in peaceful ways, rather than be pulled into yet another war of questionable necessity that could well increase, rather than diminish, threats to our own nation.”

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