Panel applies Bible to ‘just war’ theory

Thursday, February 12, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:22 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

United Methodist Church Bishop Bruce Ough is asking some tough questions in a study guide from the church’s four-part series, “Seeking God’s Heart in Time of War.”

“Where is the voice of the church? Have we lost our voices?” the opening segments of the guide ask.

On Wednesday night, the study guide was distributed to Columbia community members who attended a forum on War and Christianity at the Missouri United Methodist Church.

The forum was moderated by R.L. Dessen, dean of the MU School of Law, and included panelists Dr. Steve Friesen, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at MU, and the Honorable William Ray Price Jr.

Friesen and Price discussed personal and biblical perspectives on the concept of war by quoting scripture and past theologians.

Friesen, an outspoken pacifist, debated the idea of a Christian pacifist’s role in American society.

“One of the things I don’t like about the term ‘pacifism’ is it sounds like you’re just waiting around,” Friesen said. “I don’t think that’s accurate to the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, or our best ideals in Church history.”

Friesen urged Christians to use the resources at their disposal to eliminate poverty and other causes of war.

“What we need is active peacemaking,” he said. “What we need to be doing is actively fighting the things that create the warfare.”

But the biblical perspective on war, according to Friesen and Price, is not easy to decipher.

Price guided the group through various Old and New Testament Scriptures, discussing the conflicting needs for and against war expressed in the texts.

The scriptures, Price said, bring forth a moral conflict.

“As a disciple, I look at the Bible, and it looks like a lot of this war cannot be good stuff,” he said. “This war is a human fight that we really ought not to be in. But there’s a lot of reality to the Old Testament where, when you have to fight, you fight.”

The study guide and forum are framed around the conflict between “Just War” and “Pacifism.” Both ideas, according to the study guide and the United Methodist Book of Discipline, are supported by scripture.

Missouri United Methodist Church member Dave Babel, a realtor in Columbia, is torn by the war in Iraq.

“I felt that we had to do something, that something needed to be done,” he said, “I also realize I don’t have the answer.”

Johann Holt, a Columbia business owner, is not so torn.

“I’ve been active in trying to promote peace in Columbia,” he said. “As a person of faith, it’s been a struggle to reconcile times of war.”

While many Christian congregations have taken a strong stance against the war in Iraq, the Missouri United Methodist Church is urging its members to read Scripture and ask questions.

Price admits that, despite his belief in and study of Scripture, he doesn’t have a firm stance. He hopes the questions asked at the forum will lead other Christians to look more deeply at the issue.

“Even if I’ve read everything there is to read, I don’t think I can answer this question,” he said. “But at least by clicking down the criteria, you’re forcing yourself to address what’s going on. It is the dilemma of being a human being and trying to be a Christian.”

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