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Church pastors face questions of war

April 07, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

As they pray for peace, they discuss war.

Church pastors are talking about the United States' war with Iraq because it's on so many minds. Some analyze, some guide; all try to comfort.

"We feel war is the right thing," the Rev. Dan Jordan of Williamsport Assembly of God said of his church. "Freedom always has a price to be paid for it."

The Rev. Johnny Kelly of Westview Baptist Church in Martinsburg, W.Va., said he told his congregation how irritated he was that "liberal TV media" showed a lot of war protesters, but few war supporters.

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Lately, he's noticed a better balance.

"I think it has passed," he said.

Kelly said he thinks he knows why.

"Most evangelical Christians don't want to be seen as warmongers," so at first they were hesitant to speak out, he said.

Some clergymen interviewed last week drew on Bible passages that they say support the U.S. war effort.

Pastor Donald Kretzer of Tribe of Judah Word Ministries in Hagerstown cited Peter 1:13-14, which says, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well."

God knows that there are evil people and that some men desire to control other men "by the sword," Kretzer said.

It is justifiable to go to war to eliminate such oppression, which is prevalent in Iraq, he said.

The U.S. and its allies are there "to go in and give that country back to the people," Kretzer said.

The Bible explains that government was ordained by God, said Pastor David Sword of First Church of God in Hagerstown.

"The only time we go against government is if it's going against God," Sword said.

The Rev. Torben Aarsand's sermon at Haven Lutheran Church in Hagerstown last Sunday was called "A Christian 'To Do' List Now That We Are At War."

He encouraged congregants to pray for soldiers, political leaders, military chaplains and embedded journalists.

He also said people should pray for enemies and anyone whose life is affected by war "because Jesus made that clear."

He said he does not take a side in the war debate when he talks to his congregation.

"I don't want it to be a thing that we start fighting over ...," he said. "I think what we need to do is pray. It's a common ground."

Aarsand noted that war is expensive and takes money away from humanitarian causes and that war personally affects people with friends or relatives serving in the military.

He encouraged parishioners to be "people of hope," optimistic that conflict will end.

At a recent meeting, Aarsand said, one Lutheran pastor told his colleagues that he questions the war, but is worried about backlash from parishioners if he speaks candidly.

Aarsand said others told the pastor that his most important role is to take care of others. Public stances can be left to higher-up church officials.

At Faith United Methodist Church in Waynesboro, Pa., "there is tremendous concern for the citizens of Iraq," said the Rev. Dr. Lynn D. Trutt.

But, again, peace and a quick resolution are the focus.

Only God can bring about peace, Trutt said.

Asked how support for the war meshes with "Thou shalt not kill," Sword said the commandment refers to "unlawful murder."

Romans, in the New Testament, says citizens may go to battle if their government calls them to duty, Sword said. That could include killing.

"There's such a thing as lawful murder," he said.

Innocent people sometimes die during a war, which is "not a hard concept for conservative Christians (to understand), as opposed to someone more liberal," Jordan said.

Kretzer said he understands the literal translation of the commandment to be "Thou shalt not murder," which suggests premeditation and intent, and no cause.

"The commandment deals with individuals," Kelly said. "This is society."

Based on the Scriptures, "I don't have any problem saying it's a just war," he said.

Trutt told his congregation how British Prime Minister Winston Churchill urged every citizen to pray for one minute at 9 each night during World War II.

Faith UMC and other local churches have revived the practice, Trutt said.

Faith UMC also keeps a board near the entrance of the business office. People write names of people they know in the military. Each service member is mentioned in the congregation's prayers, Trutt said.

The day after the war against Iraq began, Aarsand set up a war-time prayer area in a church coatroom. The public is welcome to use it.

Kelly helped organize a march to support the troops. It will be April 19 at 10 a.m. in Martinsburg, starting at the church on South Louisiana Avenue.

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