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Feb. 7, 2003


DALLAS (SMU) -- Ethicist and author Joseph L. Allen told pastors gathered this week at the annual Ministers Week at SMU's Perkins School of Theology that a war with Iraq does not at present meet the criteria set down by the Christian just-war tradition.

"I believe that we were justified in going to war against Iraq in 1991. And I believe that we are justified today in using force to combat Al Qaeda and other terrorists. But at the present time I have grave doubt that we would be justified in attacking Iraq," said Allen, professor emeritus of ethics from Perkins School of Theology and author of War -- A Primer for Christians. Allen gave the closing lecture Wednesday at Ministers Week, which featured a variety of lectures and workshops on the issue of faith and popular culture.

While acknowledging other Christian traditions, such as pacifism, which holds that all wars are wrong, Allen explained that the just-war tradition provides several criteria to be considered in determining the justifiability of a war. In regard to the current issue of war with Iraq, Allen cited four pertinent criteria to be considered: just cause -- "some grave wrong to be repaired or prevented," proportionality -- "how the evil effects of going to war are likely to compare to the evil to be prevented and the good outcome to be attained," last resort -- "after all other alternatives have been seriously considered and found inadequate," and right intention -- "inner attitudes embodied in our outer actions." Allen claimed that in the case of Iraq, there is little disputing that there is a just cause, but there is less certainty regarding the criteria of proportionality, last resort and right intention.

"What we are seeing is a radical departure from the national security policy of any administration, under any president, since the end of the Second World War," he said. "The most disturbing aspect of this radical change is … an assumption that because the United States is the one superpower, it no longer needs to try to win the hearts and minds of other people. If this attitude continues to drive national security policy, we are in for great difficulties of our own making."

Allen called plans to launch a preventive attack on Iraq "dubious," suggesting that United Nations inspections along with the threat of an eventual war by a coalition of countries would be a just alternative. "What is most needed now is less crusading rhetoric and more extensive deliberation about these issues," he said to the applause of the assembled pastors.

More than 200 pastors attended the program, which also featured Brenda Brasher of the University of Aberdeen, who spoke on the issue of religion on the Internet; Irving Cotto of Asbury United Methodist Church in Camden, N.J., who addressed the Latino community and liturgy; Alyce McKenzie of Perkins School of Theology, who spoke on preaching in a self-help society; Rebekah Miles of Perkins School of Theology, who addressed work and vocation; Mark Pinksy, author of The Gospel According to the Simpsons, who spoke on religion and popular media; and Thomas Slater of the University of Georgia, who spoke on the Book of Revelation.

Perkins School of Theology, one of the original schools of Southern Methodist University, was founded in 1911 by the Methodist Episcopal Church South, now called The United Methodist Church. Perkins is one of five university-related United Methodist theological schools in the nation. Besides its programs at the main campus in Dallas, Perkins offers programs in Houston-Galveston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.