Against the backdrop of ongoing hostilities in Iraq, a panel of military chaplains and peace activists considered war in a forum Wednesday night, but mostly as a way to talk about peace.
The Episcopal Church is committed to being a “peace” church, said Bishop George Packard, suffragan for chaplaincies, including those to the armed forces.
“[But] on the way to the kingdom, I believe that coercive force may have to be used,” he said.
Given the destructive impact of modern warfare, the difficult question for responsible Christians to ponder is “when that coercive force is necessary”–or even useful.
The conversation also addressed the questions: “How can we balance ethical demands with the need to feel secure?” and “How can we think about war, especially the Christian idea of a ‘just war,’ when faced with crises like those in Afghanistan, Iraq and throughout the Middle East?”
The Rev. Kristina Coppinger said the military has the difficult and important task of defending the nation “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Coppinger, chaplain at the U.S. Air Force Reserves at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, said, “all of us have the responsibility to get involved domestically and internationally to try to avoid war.”
Even the majority of the military, she said, would prefer to be “ambassadors, if you will, for the cause of peace, and not the instrument of force when that peace fails.”
Taking two trips to Afghanistan to help rebuild a mosque destroyed by coalition bombing helped show the Rev. Stephen Holton, founder of the Episcopal-Muslim Relations Committee of the Diocese of New York, “how we can build our security on ethics, and our ethics on love, and our love—finally—on the love from God.”
Blessed with “enormous wealth and power,” the United States needs to use them responsibly, and to recognize the need to address national issues of social injustice before interfering with other countries, said Deborah Stokes of Southern Ohio, chair of the Standing Commission for National Concerns. “I had always been taught that you should clean your own house before going to clean others; and my brothers and sisters, our house is not clean,” she said. “Oh yes, my brothers and sisters, there should be a war—a war against poverty, inequality and injustice.”