A just war or not: Members grapple with Iraq toll
The 21-year-old church member from Conway, Ark., viewed the war as a fight against terrorists who could harm his loved ones, said his mother, Penny Kendall.
Three years after the U.S. launched the Iraq war, an emotional debate rages as the toll rises: 2,300 American soldier deaths and $250 billion in military expenses. It’s as divisive a topic in the church as in the halls of Congress.
In Penny Kendall’sview, the nation must honor the sacrifices of those who have died.
To her, that meanscompleting the mission.
“There’s a lot ofmoms who have given up their sons because of this war, and I want to see itthrough,” Kendall, a missionary to Tartu, Estonia, with her husband, Brandi, said a fewdays after their son’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
But in a fellowshipthat mostly favored pacifism before the two World Wars, some church scholarsoffer a different perspective.
“It is difficult toimagine Jesus counseling us to finish the job in order to honor the memory ofour war dead,” said Richard Hughes, who directs the Center for Faith andLearning at Pepperdine University, Malibu, Calif.
Penny Kendall draws aspiritual parallel to her son’s sacrifice, suggesting: “It wasn’t free for usas Christians either.”
However, Hughespoints to Jesus’ instruction to “love your enemies and do good to those whohate you.”
“It seems to me,” hesaid, “that if we want to ‘finish the job’ by taking even more lives than havealready been taken, we are responding first and foremost as American citizens,not first and foremost as Christians.”
In the first part ofthe 20th century, various forms of pacifism were popular among many Christiangroups, including churches of Christ, said Mark E. Powell, an assistantprofessor of Christian doctrine at Harding University Graduate School ofReligion, Memphis, Tenn. However, the two World Wars changedmany church members’ thinking about war.
“For pacifists, thisshift represents an unfortunate compromise with society on the part of thechurch,” Powell said. “For ‘just war’ proponents, the two World Wars simplyillustrate the inadequacy of pacifism. War was viewed as a justifiable, andeven necessary, means of stopping German aggression.”
Unlike Hughes, Powellsaid he believes certain wars can be justified. For example, he supported the U.S. assault on Afghanistan after the 2001terrorist attacks. However, Powell questions whether the Iraq war fits“the important conditions of ‘just cause’ and ‘right intention.’”
While stressing thathe supports U.S.troops and their “honorable and necessary profession in a fallen world,”
Powell saidChristians have a responsibility to criticize the unjustified use of violence.
“Such criticism mightprevent our country and troops from participating in questionable wars in thefuture,” he said. “A similar situation would be our general support of policeofficers, though we might need to question particular instances of unjustifiedviolence.”
‘THE GOOD THAT IS BEING DONE’
Misti Stevens’husband, Army Lt. Col. Robert Stevens, returned to Iraq for the second time inJanuary. An Arizonachurch member, she blames the war’s unpopularity on “a biased press thatrefuses to print the good that is being done.”
Stevens, whosefather, Ken Leach, preaches at the Monte Vista church, Phoenix, points to the atrocities underousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein: mass killings, rapes and soldiers pokingout children’s eyes in front of their fathers.
“On the other hand,American and coalition forces have used military doctors to train Iraqi doctorswith new technology, built new schools that young girls can also attend, builtbridges to help commerce and strengthen their infrastructure, and restored thesimplest comforts such as running drinkable water,” Stevens said.
Moreover, Stevens —who mails her husband unleavened bread for his weekly communion — said the U.S.military action helps open Iraq to religious freedom.
“Aren’t we doing whatwe’re supposed to do by helping spread the gospel?” she said.
In peace times,Kenneth Roberts worships at the Northlake church, Tucker, Ga. He enjoys spending time with his wifeand daughters and attending his son’s baseball games and track meets.
But since last year,Col. Roberts has been in Iraq,where he serves as the executive officer for the Georgia National Guard’s 48thBrigade Combat Team. The team has lost 25 soldiers since the unit deployed inMay 2005, and more than 160 wounded soldiers have received Purple Hearts.
Improvised explosivedevices remain the largest lethal threat to soldiers, but the most memorablemoments are the soldiers’ relationships and interactions with the Iraqi people,Roberts told the Chronicle in an e-mail from Iraq.
“Iraqi soldiers,farmers, business people, children, sheiks … genuinely appreciate our effortsand make the sacrifices we have made worthy,” Roberts said. Americans would beproud of the “example of humanity displayed by our young soldiers.”
From Roberts’perspective, the key to U.S.success in Iraqis patience.
“That’s somethingthat Americans and western civilizations as a whole lack over history,” hesaid. “I believe that challenges generally look uncertain while in the moment.Yet when we take it step by step and stay the course, time has a way ofsoftening our perspective of how perilous things might have been.”
Some soldiers fromthe Georgia 48th recently arranged to send a 3-month-old Iraqi girl known asBaby Noor to the United States for urgent surgery to treat adangerous birth defect. The gesture made international headlines.
“I believe moregood-news stories like this should be revealed,” Roberts said, “as I believesuccess feeds success and not enough of the good in this endeavor is reportedto the world.”
Still, Roberts andother church members in the war zone understand the risks that they face.
Dustin Kendall diedJan. 15 when his Humvee accidentally struck a tank and rolled over. Before heleft for Iraq, Kendall -— an adventurous sort known for his charisma andcontagious smile — talked about his spiritual life and made it clear he knew hemight die, his mom said.
“We’re just crushedthat we won’t get to see him again in this life,” Penny Kendall said. “Somemoments, the sadness is so deep, it’s hard to believe we’ll get over it.
“But God is holdingus up, and we really believe we’ll see him again.”
March 1, 2006