What Makes a War 'Just'? Christian Ethicists Send Bush 'Yellow light'.(NATION)(CULTURE, ET CETERA)

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Byline: Larry Witham, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Three Christian ethicists yesterday opposed a "pre-emptive war on Iraq," echoing a statement signed by 100 Christian thinkers who wanted to heat up the Washington debate on "just war" approaches to the Iraqi threat.

"We see and hear no moral account" for the Bush administration's proposal to invade Iraq, the Rev. Shaun Casey of Wesley Theological Seminary said at a news conference here.

More open discussion on the just-war tradition, which was formed over centuries of Christian thinking, would help "structure the public argument" over U.S. military actions, said Mr. Casey, who organized the signature drive.

The statement says: "As Christian ethicists, we share a common moral presumption against a pre-emptive war on Iraq by the United States."

Since Mr. Bush delivered his Iraq policy speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12, leaders in the more liberal Protestant denominations have opposed an attack. The Catholic Church hierarchy said they found it "difficult to justify extending the war on terrorism to Iraq."

Conservative evangelicals and some Southern Baptist policy leaders have said an invasion is justified to abort the evil intentions of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is said to be near to securing nuclear weapons.

This week, the National Council of Churches mounted a "prayer and faxing" lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill to persuade Congress to oppose a military operation.

Meanwhile, the White House issued its global geopolitical strategy last Friday, saying the United States would keep world peace by a superior military force and by "acting pre-emptively" so that "freedom, democracy and free enterprise" and centrist Islamic states can prosper.

The new debate, the Christian ethicists said yesterday, is about pre-emptive war, or attacking before being attacked.

While agreeing that Saddam's demise is a moral good, they said a military invasion could produce even greater harm by sparking war in the Middle East or between India and Pakistan, which might copy the pre-emption doctrine.

"Our president is putting this in such simplistic terms: 'We want to get rid of those evil people,'" said the Rev. Cheryl Sanders, professor of Christian ethics at Howard Divinity School. "The analysis of evil is very one-sided."

She likened the bombings of churches during the 1960s civil rights clashes to "terrorism" and said America was just as sinful as any other country, so it had no moral right to meddle abroad.

"The war against terrorism [on blacks] was won, but won with weapons of righteousness," she said, referring to civil rights demonstrations.

The Rev. John Langan, a scholar of Catholic social thought at Georgetown University, said a "mature" Christian ethic allows imperfect countries to wage a just war.

"I'm not totally opposed to the principle of pre-emptive war because it can be defensive in intent," he said. But the threat must be "imminent and grave" - a threshold that the Iraq problem has not reached.

He said the 100 ethicists' statement was a "flashing yellow light" to the Bush administration, not a condemnation.

All the signers, he said, hope it spurs more reflection on the morality of American actions in a world changed by the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon last year.

Just-war theory is a product of Christian efforts to balance the ideals of love and justice with the need for violence in self-defense, the panelists said.

The theory says a war must have just reasons, such as self-defense or to prevent great destruction, and it must be a last resort with a prospect for success. …