Dr. Richard Land at Center of 'Just War' Debate

Dwayne Hastings | Baptist Press | Thursday, October 17, 2002
Dr. Richard Land at Center of 'Just War' Debate

Dr. Richard Land at Center of 'Just War' Debate

DALLAS (BP)--In refusing to rule out military force against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, President Bush has an ally in Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land -- and that has the talking heads talking.

"I have stirred up a hornet's nest," Richard Land said Oct. 12 on his weekly talk show, "Richard Land Live!"

"It seems that I have surprised many Americans, at least those in the media, with my views about 'just war' theory and how it applies to the unfolding situation in Iraq," said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Land was broadcasting from a studio in the Salem Radio Network's headquarters in Dallas. The nation's leading radio broadcaster of religious and family themed programming, Salem syndicates "Richard Land Live!" nationally.

Land was the lead signatory on an Oct. 3 letter to President George W. Bush that affirmed the president's policies concerning Hussein's Iraqi regime were "right and just." Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, were among others who signed the letter that said the administration's efforts were "within the time-honored criteria" of just war theory.

NBC News sent a camera crew to capture Land talking with listeners about the subject during his Saturday afternoon syndicated radio program. The SBC executive has been featured in The New York Times, the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal and on Fox News, National Public Radio and MSNBC, among others, for his views on possible military action against Iraq.

Land contends the president is now free to pursue military action against the Iraqi leaders, noting Congress gave the president approval to use lethal force and that the situation now fully meets the criteria of just war theory.

The bipartisan resolution authorizes President Bush to use lethal force, if necessary, to bring about the neutralization and disarmament of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Adopted by the U.S. Senate Oct. 11 after House approval a day earlier, the resolution urges Bush to exhaust all diplomatic means before launching an attack but allows the president to move forward against the Iraqi government without the United Nations' approval.

Just war theory, Land explained, was constructed by St. Augustine and other early church fathers in the late 4th and early 5th century A.D. as a tool to determine when military action could be justified within a Christian framework.

"We cannot give blind allegiance to the government; we can't give over control of our conscience to the government," Land noted. "Jesus made clear that ultimate allegiance must always be to God, not Caesar. We cannot allow the government to take control of our ethical and moral decision-making process."

Land said Jesus made clear individuals are not to seek private retribution for wrongs done against them. "Romans 13 tells us God ordained the civil magistrate to punish evildoers and reward those who do right and that the state bears not the sword in vain," he said, noting the Greek word the apostle Paul used for sword in this instance was the lethal instrument used to decapitate those found guilty of capital crimes.

"We do not have the right to take the law into our own hands. Only the government is authorized to use lethal force," said Land, explaining the foundation of just war theory.

"Sometimes war is necessary; sometimes war is permissible under certain criteria," he continued, noting the theory requires a "just cause" be in place. "Only defensive war is defensible," he said.

Lethal military action must have a just intent; the motive must not be revenge, conquest or economic benefit, Land said. And such action must be a last resort, he said, noting that Saddam Hussein has had 11 years to comply with U.N. sanctions and resolutions.

The issue of legitimate authority was settled when Congress gave Bush authority to use force against Hussein, Land added.

"The United Nations Security Council is not the legitimate authority for the use of American military power," Land said, disagreeing with those who argue that America should wait until a U.N. green light for military action against the Iraqi government.

"The legitimate authority for the exercise of American military forces is Congress," Land said. "I am not willing to give veto power over America's security interest to France, Russia and China -- members of the U.N.'s Security Council."

Among the opponents of Land's view on military action against Iraq is Jim Winkler, identified as a "leading ethicist for the United Methodist Church" in an Oct. 11 Wall Street Journal editorial titled, "The War of Theology."

In reference to Land's assertion that Bush's policies on war with Iraq are just, Winkler called Southern Baptists a "war church." Winkler told The Journal that the Iraqi situation was far from being a last resort and, if there is such a thing as war ever being justified, it wasn't in this case.

Land's stance on the war apparently pushed Winkler to question Southern Baptists' faith in Jesus Christ, saying, "I don't know whether they [SBC] are a Christian body at all."

"We are not a war church," Land responded, "but Southern Baptists do believe in just war theory. The vast majority of Southern Baptists believe the president's policies meet the criteria for just war."

Land questioned Winkler's basis for speculating about Southern Baptists' beliefs.

"If I were a Methodist working in Methodist Church House in Washington, D.C., in the first decade of the 21st century, I would hesitate before calling anyone's orthodoxy into question," he said. "Just what do modern Methodists believe? Any attempt to sort through the beliefs of modern-day Methodism is like trying to nail Jello to a tree," he concluded.