23 February 2003

Pastoral letter on Iraq from the President and Vice President of Conference to all Methodists in Britain

Methodist churches across Britain are invited to read this letter out during services on 23 February 2003.

Dear friends,

We greet you in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

At the request of the Methodist Council, we write to all members and friends of the Methodist Church in Britain at this critical juncture in international affairs. We shall also copy this letter to the Prime Minister.

We are aware of deep feelings of anxiety in all sections of British society at the prospect of the possible use of military force against Iraq. Many Methodists have asked us where our Church stands on such momentous issues and this is our current position:

Since the summer of 2002 we have urged our Government to act through the United Nations to give every reasonable opportunity for the government of Iraq to comply with the resolutions of the UN Security Council. The work of the Weapons Inspectors is crucial. So is continuing diplomatic activity to find a peaceful resolution.

If military force against Iraq should be judged to be politically necessary, it should be used only as a last resort. It is essential that such action is authorised by a new resolution of the UN Security Council.

We invite Methodists to consider the following matters as we all continue to think about the developing situation.

1. Complex international crises always provoke heated arguments and conflicts of political and economic judgment. Methodists have divergent opinions about the motives of various governments and about what should be done. We are often frustrated because we do not have enough information. We must listen patiently to one another, however deep our feelings run.

2. Even if the UN were to authorise military action in relation to Iraq, that will not bring the debate to an end. Christians will still have the responsibility of making judgments which are informed by our faith, and of pressing their case with their elected representatives and with the government.

3. The Christian tradition prompts us to listen carefully to a range of ethical positions as we debate together what action should be taken in a situation like the present one.

Some in the Church are pacifists, who believe that there can never be a moral justification for war or military action.

Others in the Church, probably the majority, believe that military action may be supported, as the lesser of evils and as a last resort, under certain strict conditions. For those who adopt this position, there will still be questions to explore, for example:

  • Is there a just cause for military action?
  • Has every other means of resolving the crisis been tried?
  • Are the aims of military action likely to result in greater justice and security?
  • Is there a reasonable expectation that overall the good will outweigh the evil that will inevitably result from military action?

One of our deepest concerns in recent months has been the increase in religious and racial tension in British society. Methodists are committed to developing relations of friendship with people of all world faiths. Methodists do this in the spirit of our founder, John Wesley, who urged his followers to show themselves 'the friends of all, the enemies of none'. We invite you today to take a fresh initiative to offer the hand of friendship to members of other faith communities in your neighbourhood.

With all this in mind we call upon the whole Church to pray for all who are involved in the current international crisis. In our prayers we need to remember the many different ways in which people are affected.

Lord of all -
May your wisdom
          enable the search for justice,
Your light
          reveal the path of hope,
And your love
          embrace the world you created.
In these days of tension and uncertainty,
May your gift of peace
          be shared with all people.

The peace of the Lord be with you and with all people. We shall continue to pray for you.

The Reverend Ian T White, President of the Methodist Conference
Professor Peter Howdle, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference

Further resources and prayers on the Church and Iraq

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