NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The U.S.-NATO bombing of Yugoslavia fits the historic “just-war theory,” from one Baptist leader’s analysis.
From two other Baptist leaders’ perspective, however, the warfare should be called to a halt.
Holding the just war theory is Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, who has issued a four-page commentary on Yugoslav Serbia’s “ethnic cleansing” of Albanian citizens from the province of Kosovo.
Signers of an Easter-season “ecumenical appeal” for a halt to the U.S.-led bombings, meanwhile, included Denton Lotz, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, and Karl Heinz Walter, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation and BWA regional secretary for the continent. Lotz told Baptist Press April 6 he was in Korea when the ecumenical draft was circulated and that Walter added his (Lotz’s) signature to the appeal.
The appeal was circulated by a World Council of Churches official, Dwain C. Epps, coordinator of international relations, and signed by leaders from worldwide Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed and Baptist communions.
Lotz issued an additional statement to Baptist Press April 6, noting, “We are concerned in the BWA for our brothers and sisters who are suffering the pain and agony of lost lives, the wounded, the refugees, the innocent children.” Additionally, Lotz voiced hope that Christians will “make a strong statement to the world that only in Jesus Christ can the world find peace. We worship him who said that they who use the sword shall perish by the sword. We are called upon to be peacemakers. Therefore, of course, we want the bombing to cease, for refugees to return, for an end to violence and ethnic cleansing.”
Land, in his commentary on the Kosovo crisis, dated April 5, noted, “Sadly, the resort to armed conflict is the price human beings must periodically pay for the right to live in a moral universe.”
The just-war theory, Land recounted, “was adopted by early church leaders, particularly Augustine, to deal with the reality of war in a fallen, sinful world of empires and nations in which Christians were increasingly a significant and crucial part of the population.”
“While there have been persistent elements of pacifism within the Christian tradition, for most Christians, in most places, at most times, the answer has been that, yes, resort to military conflict by legitimately constituted civil authority is justifiable,” Land wrote.
Just-war theory “was never intended to justify war,” Land continued. “Instead, it tries to bring war under the sway of justice as understood by Christians and to ensure that war, when it does occur, is hedged about by limits which reduce its barbarity.
“In fact, if all parties accepted just-war criteria, there would be no wars, since the theory’s first rule clearly states no war is just unless it is a defense against aggression,” Land wrote, reiterating, “only defensive war is defensible.”
Another key facet of just-war theory, Land wrote, involves “noncombatant immunity.”
“No war can be just,” he wrote, “which does not disqualify noncombatants as legitimate military targets and which does not seek to minimize collateral civilian casualties.”
Further, “The intent must be to secure justice for all involved. It is to be a last resort only authorized by legitimate civil authority. There must be limited goals and the question of proportionality must accompany all actions,” Land wrote.
In comments to Baptist Press April 6, Land said of those who urge a cease fire, “They act as if we haven’t exhausted diplomatic efforts with ‘the butcher of the Balkans.’ Milosevic is the head of what is now the first full-fledged fascist dictatorship to emerge in post-Cold War Europe. We have exhausted every diplomatic effort possible, and it is the brutal, barbaric intransigence and ethnically motivated genocide of Milosevic that has united the NATO alliance in unanimously agreeing that armed force was the only option left.
“I believe this is clearly a situation where just-war doctrine is met. This is a last resort,” Land said.
“And once having started, to stop before the goals are met just encourages someone like Milosevic.”
In his commentary, Land addressed those who contend the United States has become involved in another nation’s civil war. “In a sense, perhaps that is so,” he wrote. “But if the American government denied all the basic human rights of 90 percent of a state’s population because of their ethnicity and sought to terrorize, slaughter and forcibly remove that population from the state, I would argue that the American government had forfeited the right to govern that state.”
To those who question intervening in Kosovo when the United States did not intervene in other times of horrific bloodshed like central Africa’s Hutu-Tutsi strife, Land wrote, “The inability of the United States, even as the world’s only remaining superpower, to intervene effectively everywhere does not relieve us of the moral responsibility of intervening where we can make a critical difference.
“Also, Europe is not everywhere; it is somewhere that regional conflicts like Kosovo have been known to, left unchecked, escalate into the two bloodiest wars in human history in which millions of Americans had to fight to salvage the entire continent from its worst instincts at enormous cost both to Europeans and Americans,” Land wrote, referring to World Wars I and II.
In a news story issued April 6 by the ERLC, Land cited Article XVI of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement which describes war as the symptom of sin and calls for “the Christian to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness.” The article also states that “in accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they [Christians] should do all in their power to put an end to war. The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love.”
Lotz, in his statement to Baptist Press, noted Baptists in Eastern Europe “are a minority and we are concerned about our future witness. Christ is above nations and cultures, and the gospel must never be associated with any particular party or culture.”
Lotz concluded: “We want to encourage all Baptists in Slavic countries to be true to the gospel and yet be viable witnesses in their culture and contextual setting. We call upon Baptists worldwide to pray for our suffering brothers and sisters, and to work and support BWA efforts for peacemaking and funding of projects of compassion.”
The six-paragraph “ecumenical appeal” Lotz and Walter joined other religious leaders in signing, stated: “… we appeal to christians [sic] around the world in these high holy days [of Easter] to join their hearts and spirits in this prayer that the bombings may cease, and that the guns may fall silent, and that Christ’s spirit descend among us and inspire in us the courage to sacrifice our individual wills in order that peace may prevail for all those caught in war and the ever-rising spiral of violence in the world.”
The religious leaders said they lament the “failure [of] imagination [and] collective will and human spirit made manifest in the incapacity of all involved to address the causes of conflict through peaceful means. … Leaders of christian [sic] churches in both East and West, and leaders of other religious faiths, have appealed in recent days to reason and for a cessation of such acts of violence. Regrettably, such voices have not yet been heard over the clamor of charges and countercharges, and the roar of bombs, landmines and guns.”
Land, in his commentary, concluded by noting, “The harshly learned lessons of Vietnam endure.” There is a resolve among Americans, he wrote: “Never again will we allow our soldiers to be placed at the uncertain end of a long tether without sufficient support and resolve at home to give them all the necessary means to do the job. If it is worth American soldiers dying, it is worth winning. … And as Vietnam taught us, the worst and most destabilizing thing that could be done is to intervene indecisively, inviting a protracted struggle with no final goal or exit strategy. … To our elected leaders, I say, ‘If you send our young people to war, you must have firm, acceptable answers to these questions. We are accountable for asking. You are accountable for your answers. Make the case to the American people, they will respond when they understand what is at stake.’ It is well past time to put Slobodan Milosevic out of the world’s misery. It must be done and it must be done quickly, before his evil tribe of imitators metastasizes exponentially.”
Douglas Baker and Dwayne Hastings contributed to this article.