Clergy: Bush Shalt Not Kill

Clergy: Bush Shalt Not Kill
Illustration By Doug Potter

More than 70 clergy and religious leaders from several different faiths and religious institutions came together last Thursday to denounce President George W. Bush's drive for war with Iraq. Meeting at University Baptist Church, the religious leaders crowded the stage to overflowing and told attendees that they had signed a letter to the president urging him to seek nonviolent ways of dealing with Saddam Hussein.

Donald Bobb, a retired minister from Hyde Park Presbyterian Church, noted that "the debate has often focused on the safety of the American people. But we also need to consider the spiritual and moral dimensions. ... We should not be silent. We should speak out. As a nation, before we go to war, we should, as American people, fully understand the consequences of our actions -- the cost in human lives, in economic costs, in international relations, in increased regional hatred toward the U.S., and the diminishment of our soul as a nation and as a community."

More pointed were the comments of Rev. Chuck Merrill of University United Methodist Church. Noting that the hunt for Osama bin Laden had mysteriously morphed into a crusade against Saddam -- and insisting that he spoke only for himself, not his congregation -- he accused Bush of rushing to war without proving it was necessary. He also reminded the audience that, "Originally, we made Saddam Hussein," and he wondered if the United States had become the new Roman Empire.

While the clergy were united in opposing this war (and all said they opposed the first Gulf War as well), they had varying reasons. Some were flatly pacifist -- Merrill and others said there is no such thing as a just war. Imam Safdar Razi of the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Association, on the other hand, said that Islam teaches to defend oneself when unjustly attacked -- but pointed out that Iraq had not attacked us. Minister Davidson Loehr of First Unitarian Universalist said that the Sept. 11 attacks were not an attack on America, but an attack on arrogance. But Susan Sprig, an associate pastor of Trinity United Methodist, disagreed: Sept. 11 "was an attack on us, and I felt deeply it needed a response, and we launched one .... But now [the administration] is saying that getting Saddam will take care of terrorism. If it would, I would favor it."

However, all the ministers agreed with her on this point: "We need to try just means first. We haven't exhausted those."

Doggett Talks Back to Bush

What if they held a war, and nobody covered it? President George W. Bush went to the American public Monday night to make the case for war with Iraq -- and of the four major networks, only Fox chose to carry the speech. Thankfully, local ABC affiliate KVUE realized that the prospect of a bloody war might actually interest the citizenry, and not only aired the speech but also hosted a rebuttal by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett.

"I agree with [Bush] completely that Saddam Hussein is a thug, that our first concern should be disarming him and protecting American families," Doggett told KVUE. "Where I continue to strongly disagree with him is [Bush's contention] that this rush to war will afford more security for American families." Doggett reminded Austinites that despite Bush's assertions, the secular Iraqi government and the fundamentalist al Qaeda aren't too keen on each other -- quoting Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser for the senior Bush, that "Saddam Hussein is probably on Osama bin Laden's hit list."

"Though [Bush] said he thought we would be viewed as friends of the Iraqis," Doggett concluded, "I think when they see 200,000 young Americans poking their guns around over there, they may not greet us quite as friendly as the reception he suggested we might get."

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