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

The President of the Methodist Church has issued a warning thatmilitary action in Iraq could damage relations between Christiansand Muslims in Britain.

In letters today to the Secretary General of the Muslim Councilof Britain and to the Prime Minister, the Rev Ian White says that,in the event of the Iraqi government failing to fully comply withthe current UN resolution, Britain should not support immediatemilitary action without exploring all possible diplomaticsolutions.

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

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

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

"Among Christians there is a long and honourable pacifisttradition. In the light of this, many Christians, including aconsiderable number of Methodists, would say that there is neversufficient justification for war or military action. The majorityposition among Christians, however, is that war and armed conflict,whilst always evil, might be justified as the lesser of evils andas a 'last resort' under certain strict conditions. Theseconditions include:

  • There must be Just Cause; an example would be upholding a UNResolution;
  • Every other means of resolving conflict should have beentried;
  • There must be a proper declaration of war or military action bya lawful authority;
  • There must be a reasonable balance between the evil that willinevitably result from military action and the good that mightaccrue;
  • There must be a 'moral certainty' that the side of justice willemerge victorious. This implies that there should be a clear aim ofhow a war could be concluded.

"In addition, Christian teaching enunciates a series ofprinciples regarding conduct during a war, most of which are alsofound in Islamic sources. These are largely incorporated intointernational law in the Hague Convention of 1907, the Law ofGeneva of 1949, and the Rome Statute of the International CriminalCourt of 1998.

"The Methodist Church calls on the Government of the UnitedKingdom to take account of this teaching and these provisionsbefore committing its armed forces to military action, and in allcases to observe the requirements of international law.

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