MethodistThinker.com is presenting a retrospective on Bishop Lindsey Davis’ 12 years as the episcopal leader of the North Georgia Conference, now the largest U.S. Conference in the United Methodist Church. His term in North Georgia concludes at the end of this month.
On March 20, 2003, Bishop Davis issued a “pastoral letter” in response to the decision by the U.S. and its allies to use military force to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Four days later, he expanded on the themes of that letter in a sermon at the United Methodist Center in the Atlanta area.
The text of his pastoral letter is below, followed by audio of the sermon.
For months now we have been praying that the dispute between Iraq and the United States would be solved by peaceful negotiations.
There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator and should be removed from power in Iraq. He has been a significant threat for years to the peace in the region and throughout the world. He possesses weapons of mass destruction and is seeking to develop more instruments of terror. He is guilty of terrible atrocities and has held his nation hostage since the 1970s.
I believe he needs to be removed from leadership in Iraq, but I had prayed that the efforts of the United States and other nations could resolve these issues without resorting to armed conflict.
Christians struggle with the harsh realities of violence and war. No one readily embraces war as a solution to disputes among nations, and there are some in the Christian community who believe that war is never acceptable.
However, the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church does not take that position. In the Discipline we read these words:
[M]ost Christians regretfully realize that, when peaceful alternatives have failed, the force of arms may be preferable to unchecked aggression, tyranny and genocide.
We honor the witness of pacifists who will not allow us to become complacent about war and violence. We also respect those who support the use of force, but only in extreme situations and only when the need is clear beyond reasonable doubt, and through appropriate international organizations.
We urge the establishment of the rule of law in international affairs as a means of elimination of war, violence, and coercion in these affairs.
My prayers today have now turned to those who are in harm’s way. I am praying for our troops in the field, their families at home, and the innocent civilians who will no doubt be harmed in the process of war.
I pray particularly for our chaplains who are in the field with the troops, that they may be able to bring comfort to those who are involved and to those who become injured.
I pray for our president and other national leaders, that they may have God’s compassion and wisdom in the days to come.
Like so many of my fellow Americans, I pray that this conflict will end quickly.
The United Methodist Church, through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), is already planning ways in which relief can be extended to the people of Iraq. We will be, along with our international partners, among the first to enter Iraq with relief supplies when the fighting has ended. To be among the first is a part of the ethos of the United Methodist Church.
Please continue to pray and to ask God to bring His peace upon our world.
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad Your Spirit that all people and nations may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Listen to streaming audio of Bishop Davis’ March 24, 2003 sermon below (16 min.) — or download the mp3 file (3.7MB).