Jim Wallis was factually wrong but perceptually right when he wrote that only Southern Baptists favor war against Iraq.
Writing in Sojourner’s e-newsletter, Wallis said, “Except for the Southern Baptists, virtually every church body in the U.S. that has spoken on the war question has concluded this would not be a ‘just war.'”
Factually, Southern Baptists, as a denominational body, have not spoken in support of war with Iraq. In terms of historic Baptist polity, no Southern Baptist speaks for another Southern Baptist. In terms of tradition, which assigns value to resolutions, the most recent Southern Baptist Convention did not pass a resolution calling for war against Iraq.
Perceptually, Southern Baptists are seen as pro-war, mostly because the executive director of the SBC’s public policy office has beaten the pro-war drum. Even though he avoided his own opportunity to fight in Vietnam, he is habitually bellicose about deploying American forces. He seems to believe that every American war is a just war.
However, other Southern Baptists have said that war with Iraq does not pass the test of just war theory. At least four Southern Baptist ethicists joined 100 other Christian ethicists agreeing with a simple statement: “As Christian ethicists we share a common moral presumption against a preemptive war on Iraq by the United States.”
A professor at a small, conservative Baptist college, who did not sign the statement, wrote that the threshold for a just war with Iraq had not been reached.
Some Southern Baptist pastors have written with deep reservations about going to war. Others make praying for peace a clear theme in the pastoral prayers.
The editor of the Baptist Standard, the Baptist newspaper with the largest circulation, wrote yesterday, “Guns of war should remain silent until the Bush administration demonstrates that an assault on Iraq would measure up to the five principles of just war theory.”
His position shifted from a September 2002 editorial which called Baptists to use just war theory to think carefully about war. Now he argued that the president had an obligation to use just war theory to justify launching a war.
An unscientific EthicsDaily.com poll found that 67 percent of the respondents said that Bush had not made an adequate case for war with Iraq, while 33 percent said that he had.
The most accurate statement that may be made about Southern Baptists is that they do not speak with one voice or opinion about war in Iraq. In fact, Southern Baptists do have voices opposed to war.
For those Southern Baptists who are ambivalent about war, they would do well to consider Wallis’ question: “What does it mean when the leaders of the international body of Christ are united in opposition to a war?”
Now is the time for prayerful discernment, dispassionate thinking and the things that make for peace.
Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.