As President Barack Obama prepared to meet with Israeli Leader Benjamin Netanyahu on March 5, Presbyterian leaders urged direct negotiations between the United States and Iran over that country’s unsettling nuclear program.
On Feb. 11, the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta adopted an overture to the upcoming Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly that calls on the denomination to “oppose preemptive military action by any nation against Iran.”
Instead, Greater Atlanta — one of the largest of the PC(USA)’s 173 presbyteries — called for “direct, unconditional negotiations between the United States and Iran with the goal of… implementing a peaceful resolution.”
In an unrelated action on Feb. 21, General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons wrote to President Obama, stating, “The Christian tradition we share urges us to seek limits to violence and, therefore, requires us to oppose any rush to initiate another war in the Middle East.”
Parsons continued: “It seems that the lessons of the second Iraq war and the continuing war in Afghanistan are being ignored, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, including our own soldiers, are being disregarded.”
On March 1, Parsons commented: “Negotiations do work. Look at the North Korean decision to suspend their nuclear program.”
In his letter, Parsons noted the widespread “uncertainties regarding the actual status of Iran’s nuclear program,” and the economic sanctions already being applied by the US and Europe.
Both Parsons and Greater Atlanta make moral arguments against going to war without good cause. The presbytery’s overture states: “We are convinced that collateral damage and loss of innocent life would be severe and unjustified in any such attack, let alone the possible deaths of millions should the war escalate and become nuclear.”
Citing “Just War” theory, long a pillar of PC(USA) peacemaking policy, Parsons notes that none of the Just War criteria — “use of force as a last resort in defense, legitimate authorization, proportionality, and the probability of a just order after hostilities — “…have been met…”
The Greater Atlanta overture lists the possible consequences of “United States or Israeli military action against Iran:” higher oil prices,” “increased terrorism throughout the world” and “a prolonged recession.”
The Atlanta Presbyterians said they “are not confident, judging from past experience, that the U.S.A. has given sufficient thought… to the consequences of such an attack in Iran itself and across the Middle East.”
Parsons’ letter concludes: “As followers of the Prince of Peace, it is our fervent hope that the United States will encourage the democratic energies we have seen in Iran in peaceful ways, rather than be pulled into yet another war of questionable necessity that could well increase, rather than diminish, threats to our own nation.”
The full text of Parsons’ letter to President Obama, dated Feb. 21, 2012:
We write on behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), alarmed by what appear to be preparations for a war with Iran and efforts to persuade the U.S. population that such a war is necessary.
The Christian tradition we share urges us to seek limits to violence and, therefore, requires us to oppose any rush to initiate another war in the Middle East. It seems that the lessons of the second Iraq war and the continuing war in Afghanistan are being ignored, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands ofpeople, including our own soldiers, are being disregarded. As you know, representatives of almost all churches in the U.S.-and many around the world-opposed the second Iraq war and were proven right as to its lack of sufficient cause and enormously tragic consequences.
In light of uncertainties regarding the actual status of Iran's nuclear program and doubts raised about its intent and time line by your own advisors and many in the Israeli intelligence service, we strongly encourage you to take the greatest possible steps to prevent hasty action on either side. Such initiatives should involve the wider international community, which is already engaged in recently intensified economic sanctions. A firm stand by you cautioning against any sort of preemptive military attack on Iran is all the more imperative in light of statements by Israeli leaders that clearly raise the danger of escalation.
From your speech in receiving the Nobel peace prize, and from your measured support of the Libyan insurgency, we are aware that you are familiar with Just War criteria, such as the use of force as a last resort in defense, legitimate authorization, proportionality, and the probability of a just order after hostilities. At this time, we do not see that any of these criteria for war have been met; therefore, our intention should be focused on improving options for the Iranian people and seeking to reduce rather than magnify tensions.
We are aware that the U.S. is sending more forces into the Persian Gulf, and that various
members of Congress are proposing legislation that would restrict diplomacy and further demonize Iran. Yet, just peace is the larger goal toward which we believe the United States should deploy its “hard” and “soft” power.
As followers of the Prince of Peace, it is our fervent hope that the United States will encourage the democratic energies we have seen in Iran in peaceful ways, rather than be pulled into yet another war of questionable necessity that could well increase, rather than diminish, threats to our own nation.
In prayers for wisdom and creative alternatives to repeated war.
The full text of the overture (OVT-49) submitted to the 220th General Assembly (2012) by the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta:
On Supporting a Peaceful, Diplomatic Solution to the U.S.-Iran Issues — From the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.
The Presbytery of Greater Atlanta overtures the 220th General Assembly (2012) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to:
- 1. Reaffirm the church’s support of a peaceful, diplomatic means to resolve the tensions developing as a result of Iran’s nuclear program, between the United States and Iran.
- 2. Call for the direct, unconditional negotiations between the United States and Iran with the goal of finding and implementing a peaceful resolution.
3. Oppose preemptive military action by any nation against Iran.
- 4. Call for a renewed effort at all levels – people-to-people, interfaith groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGA’s), and government – to help the United States and Iran eliminate the tensions that have existed between our two nations and to unite the American and Iranian people in a common effort to solve the problems of poverty, illness, and climate change.
- 5. Direct the Stated Clerk to communicate this resolution to the church, and to the president of the United States, the Secretary of State of the United States, every member of Congress, the Secretary General of the United Nations, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, and all missions to the United Nations.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has called upon us to be peacemakers: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt. 5:9).
The people of the United States and Iran want to live in peace. They do not want war. Visits by citizen peace delegations have shown that there is much goodwill on the part of Iranians toward Americans.
We are convinced that collateral damage and loss of innocent civilian life would be severe and unjustified in any such attack, let alone the possible deaths of millions of civilians should the war escalate or become nuclear.
Such a war would likely cause Iran to strike against U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Such a war could lead to moves by Iran through its surrogates Hamas and Hezbollah that would greatly complicate the process of finding a basis for peace in Israel-Palestine.
We are not confident, judging from past experience, that the U.S.A. has given sufficient thought and planning to the consequences of such an attack in Iran itself and across the Middle East.
United States or Israeli military action against Iran would likely cause increased terrorism throughout the world, including here in the United States.
War with Iran could result in a partial or complete shutdown in the flow of Persian Gulf oil, causing a massive increase in the price of fuel and a major economic crisis.
With a weakened economy and consumer and investor confidence already shaken by a series of financial crises, another major shock such as war with Iran and the shutdown of Persian Gulf oil could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and sends the world into a prolonged recession or even a depression. Millions of people would suffer greatly if this comes to pass.
This resolution is in harmony with the peacemaking principles of the PC(USA) as recognized by the 210th General Assembly (1998), including “the promotion and preferential use of nonviolent means for conflict resolution and age,” “the strengthening of international cooperation through the United Nations, including its peacemaking and peacekeeping roles:’ “the use of unilateral peacemaking initiatives to reduce risks of conflict;” and the importance of self-examination and repentance in international relations as steps in the healing of conflict and the promotion of reconciliation (Minutes, 1998, Part I, pp.75, 457).
A successful peaceful, diplomatic solution to the U.S.-Iran issues would give humanity renewed hope that lasting peace and justice are indeed possible and plant the seeds of future peacemaking endeavors all over the world.