27 November 2002

President warns that Iraq conflict may harm Christian-Muslim relations in Britain

The President of the Methodist Church has issued a warning that military action in Iraq could damage relations between Christians and Muslims in Britain.

In letters today to the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain and to the Prime Minister, the Rev Ian White says that, in the event of the Iraqi government failing to fully comply with the current UN resolution, Britain should not support immediate military action without exploring all possible diplomatic solutions.

He says: "The Methodist Church will urge the Government not to proceed immediately to military action, even if lamentably the Iraqi Government fails in the first instance fully to comply with the requirements of the UN Resolution. Our hope is that the international diplomatic community can explore creatively and speedily positive inducements which will enable the Government of Iraq to reconsider its long term interests and co-operate with the removal of any weapons of mass destruction because it sees great benefits from such a course of action."

The President tells the Prime Minister that he hopes Mr Blair will "make every effort on your part to protect a spirit of friendship and co-operation between the Muslim and Christian faiths in Britain. We are eager to remain in dialogue with the Government and with each other in these uncertain times".

In a separate letter to Iqbal Sacranie, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, the President writes: "The Methodist Church is committed to building understanding and respect between faiths and does not want to see an increase of tension between Muslims and Christians. One of our fundamental commitments in our multi-religious society in Britain is to develop relationships of friendship with people of all world faiths. We do this in the spirit of words of our founder, John Wesley, who urged Methodists to show themselves 'the friends of all, the enemies of none'.

"Among Christians there is a long and honourable pacifist tradition. In the light of this, many Christians, including a considerable number of Methodists, would say that there is never sufficient justification for war or military action. The majority position among Christians, however, is that war and armed conflict, whilst always evil, might be justified as the lesser of evils and as a 'last resort' under certain strict conditions. These conditions include:

  • There must be Just Cause; an example would be upholding a UN Resolution;
  • Every other means of resolving conflict should have been tried;
  • There must be a proper declaration of war or military action by a lawful authority;
  • There must be a reasonable balance between the evil that will inevitably result from military action and the good that might accrue;
  • There must be a 'moral certainty' that the side of justice will emerge victorious. This implies that there should be a clear aim of how a war could be concluded.

"In addition, Christian teaching enunciates a series of principles regarding conduct during a war, most of which are also found in Islamic sources. These are largely incorporated into international law in the Hague Convention of 1907, the Law of Geneva of 1949, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of 1998.

"The Methodist Church calls on the Government of the United Kingdom to take account of this teaching and these provisions before committing its armed forces to military action, and in all cases to observe the requirements of international law.

"Taking a wider view, Christians share a long-term commitment to peace, which is more than an absence of war; it includes human flourishing and a fairer distribution of the world's resources. Within Britain, we are committed to promoting a society in which people of all faiths can worship without fear of discrimination or acts of religious hatred. Should Britain's forces be involved in military action against Iraq, we will not give support to any who seek to use the conflict to create divisions between citizens of this country, be they Muslim, Christian or another faith."

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