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Sometimes Methodists Are 'Situational Militarists'

by Joseph Slife

(Athens, GA) As a lay leader in my local United Methodist Church in Athens, Ga., I'd like to say a few things about my faith and war.

Brendan Miniter refers to the Rev. Jim Winkler [in The War Theology] as "a leading ethicist for the United Methodist Church." He may be that, but his views often are at odds with many in his denomination.

Mr. Winkler heads the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, a liberal-leaning and quite controversial agency within the UMC. (At the last General Conference--the quadrennial meeting of denominational representatives--almost one-third of delegates voted to eliminate the Board.)

The Board does not speak for the UM church. Only the General Conference has authority to speak for the church.

What the Board is supposed to do is to promote the UM Social Principles adopted by the General Conference. Unfortunately, it does so selectively.

The Social Principles are hammered out by hundreds of delegates meeting in a general assembly, so they often end up simply giving both sides of an issue.

On the war issue, for example, the Social Principles state:

"From the beginning, the Christian conscience has struggled with the harsh realities of violence and war, for these evils clearly frustrate God's loving purposes for humankind. We yearn for the day when there will be no more war and people will live together in peace and justice.

"Some of us believe that war, and other acts of violence, are never acceptable to Christians.

"We also acknowledge that most Christians regretfully realize that, when peaceful alternatives have failed, the force of arms may be preferable to unchecked aggression, tyranny and genocide."

In short: War is a reality in a fallen world; in the eternal Kingdom wars will cease; in the here-and-now some Methodists are pacifists, others aren't; we respect both sides; and we acknowledge that at times in a fallen world, war is preferable to the alternative (i.e. "just war" theory).

Officially speaking, Methodists are both "situation pacifists" (to use Mr. Winkler's term) and "situational militarists." It all depends on whether "peaceful alternatives have failed."

To me this seems to be the exact position held by a United Methodist named George W. Bush.


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