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Church Leaders Statement on Iraq (Sept 2002)

We Church Leaders, meeting in Wellington on 10 September, wish to share our deep anxiety over the US threat of war against Iraq.

We state unequivocally: Pre-emptive war is not a just war.

The problem of terrorism cannot be used to justify an attack on Iraq. In our statement on the September 11 attacks (Joint Church Leaders Statement, 18 September 2001) we supported efforts to identify and bring to justice those who were responsible for the horrifying acts of September 11. The arrest and trial of terrorist agents in properly appointed courts of justice is justified; a pre-emptive military campaign against a sovereign state is not.

The so-called war on terrorism must be distinguished from a military campaign against another country. Christian reflection on the justice of going to war allows nation states the right of lawful self-defence once all peace efforts have failed, and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power to maintain international peace and security. None of these conditions are met in the present case.

First, pre-emptive war by one state against another is always immoral. It is also illegal under the June 1945 United Nations' Charter which states that "the only circumstance under which a sovereign state might invoke the authority to go to war is when an armed attack occurs."

Second, initiating a war before all peace efforts have failed is immoral. Re-introducing UN inspectors to Iraq is a step in the solution of the conflict. We invite those countries calling for the return of inspectors to consider opening their own nuclear, chemical and bacteriological facilities to the same process of international inspection - as a sign of good faith. Third, by-passing the appropriate international authority which does exist, the United Nations Security Council, is immoral. One of the conditions of moral legitimacy is that all other means to avoid war must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective. A US war against Iraq is also illegal.

The UN Charter of June 1945, which the USA has signed, states that a sovereign nation may not go to war until the Security Council "has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security." Lastly, war on Iraq will result in numerous deaths of innocent civilians and unprecedented unrest in the whole region with unpredictable consequences. A crucial condition for a just war is that the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The indiscriminate destruction inevitably brought about by modern means of warfare must weigh very heavily in evaluating this condition.

Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Jesus Christ. He offers all people reconciliation with God and with one another. He is the Prince of Peace who declared that the peacemakers are blessed. Peace is not merely the absence of war, and is not limited to maintaining a balance of power between adversaries. Peace cannot be maintained on earth without justice, respect for human dignity and solidarity between peoples. We believe that an attack on Iraq would be immoral, unjust and illegal. We believe that dealing with the dangers posed by malevolent dictators and terrorists can be achieved only by tackling the root causes of the disputes themselves.

The present course - wars and threats of wars - is leading to human disaster even greater than that endured on 11 September. Violence and war are not inevitable. The basic requirements for the peace we seek is the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, the curbing of the arms trade, and the eradication of massive, endemic poverty. These are essential if humanity is to live in a just peace.


  • David Coles Anglican Bishop of Christchurch
  • Kerry Enright Assembly Executive Secretary Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ
  • John Fulford President, Associated Churches of Christ
  • Charles Hemana Administrator, Anglican Church of Aotearoa NZ & Polynesia
  • Garth McKenzie Chief Secretary, Salvation Army
  • Bryce Morris, Congregational Union of NZ
  • Robin Nairn General Secretary, Anglican Church in NZ
  • Steen Olsen President, Lutheran Church of NZ
  • Michael & Merilyn Payne Yearly Session Clerks, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
  • Edna RichardsonAssociation Secretary, Associated Churches of Christ
  • Aso Samoa Saleupolu President, Methodist Church of NZ
  • Muru Walters Anglican Bishop in Wellington
  • Norman West President-elect, Methodist Church of NZ
  • Thomas Williams Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington and Metropolitan of NZ
  • Brian Winslade National Leader, Baptist Churches of NZ
  • Rob Yule Moderator, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ