Lutherans will be of various minds regarding an impending
war with Iraq. If you are like I am, you are still trying to sort
out the "issues." At this point, I do not know what we should say,
but I am convinced that we should be involved in the debate.
Specifically, I am convinced that Christians, particularly those of
a Lutheran persuasion, have an important role to play, but it will
take three things: public listening, public speaking, and public
 Alas! I did say public listening, public speaking, and
public deliberation. You see at the outset why this is such a
challenge to Lutherans: we don't do public anything. Perhaps
Garrison Keillor's portraits of us ring truer than we care to
admit. We cherish our reputation as "the quiet Christians." We
prefer to remain out of the public spotlight entirely. We let the
American flags that grace our sanctuaries and Sunday School rooms
do all the public work for us. When we use our public voice to make
official statement, we do it with that wonderful and paradoxical
Lutheran combination of boldness and humility. There's a bumper
sticker here somewhere: "Lutherans do it dialectically." When we
err, we always err on the side of humility. I maintain that it is
precisely because of our characteristic caution that we have a
particular role to play in this debate on war-if, that is, we can
be persuaded to listen, speak, and deliberate in public.
Public listening  I regard "listening" as a
denominational strength. As Lutherans, we are pretty good at it.
But the kind of public listening called for will stretch us. We
need to listen on a number of levels. We need to listen to all
sides of the debate-and understand that there may be more than two.
We need to listen to what is being said, what is not being said-and
by whom. We need to listen to people we do not agree with; we also
need to listen to people who do not agree with us. That listening
is harder to do, because sometimes these latter voices are
silent-or silenced. I remember the shock waves of September 11th,
as Americans grappled with the realization that there were people
out there who despised us. They were simply not on our radar screen
as "enemies." In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich
Bonhoeffer observes that Scripture designates "enemies" with a
double edge. The word "enemy" refers both to the people whom we
dislike and the people who dislike us.1
 If we engage in this public listening, we will find that we
hear a lot of language that is eerily familiar to people with a
religiously trained ear. Americans may hold to a separation of
church and state, but there is no equivalent separation of
religious and political language. There is a lot of religious
language seeping into the political sphere. Certainly the events of
September 11th activate the apocalyptic imagination, but the
language of evil permeates our political discourse in ways that
make a good Lutheran squirm: "axis of evil," "evil-doers," etc.
 I want to be clear: I do believe that evil is alive and well
in the world. It is our easy ability to label us "good" and
them-whoever they are-"evil" that is worrisome. To name something
as evil is to arrogate to oneself the side of the good-or at the
very least, the side that is beyond critique. In the context of
war, assuming the side of "the good" is potentially unfaithful and
possibly even unpatriotic. Even the patriot's allegiance to "my
country, right or wrong" admits the possibility that a nation could
err in its judgment. A nation could misjudge or misperceive itself
or another country.
 Listen again to the sobering judgment of H. Richard Niebuhr
from the mid-twentieth century. Writing as the nations marched into
World War II, Niebuhr understand the how hard it was to claim the
moral high ground. The generation before him had experienced what
they thought was "The Great War." These men and women had no way of
knowing that "The Great War" was only the first of two world wars
that would scar the century. In war Niebuhr found the judgment of
God, brought down on just and unjust alike. He wrote: the
"structure of the universe, that creative will . . . of God, does
bring war and depression upon us when we bring it upon ourselves,
for we live in the kind of world which visits our iniquities upon
us and our children, no matter how much we pray and desire that it
 As good Lutherans our secret weapon against arrogance is an
anthropology of stark realism. We understand human creatures are
both sainted and sinning, simul justus et peccator. Errors in
judgment happen all the time. We remember Paul's words to the
Corinthians on false apostles: "Even Satan distinguishes himself as
an angel of light." (2 Cor. 11:14, NRSV) We recall Luther's
declaration: "Sin boldly-but even more boldly believe and rejoice
in Christ" (pecca fortiter-sed fortius fide et gaude in Christo).
At times that sentence-especially when shortened to the first part,
"Sin boldly!", defines whatever Lutherans can claim as "attitude."
But in these darker times, after September 11th and before-we know
not what is before us-the emphasis falls on the word "sin." We are
reminded that we see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12),
especially when we are looking at ourselves and our own times.
Again, I have stolen from St. Paul, who may well be the apostle for
these murky, in-between times.
 Finally, we need to listen for the word of God, lest it be
drowned out by all the shouting. Prayer, reading of scripture, the
liturgies: all of these Christian practices are important
especially in these times. I do not want to suggest that God speaks
only in these contexts. Rather I want to emphasize that we need to
tune our ears to the frequencies of God's word, so that we can hear
it outside these contexts amidst all the other static.
 I found the word of God boldly preached in the PBS
documentary: "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero." One of the sections
of the broadcast was entitled: "Where was God?" The question mark
at the end of the subtitle was intended as a judgment against God.
But anyone expecting stories of the fatalities of faith in the
aftermath of September 11th was sorely disappointed. Those
interviewed-children, siblings, husbands, wives, and partners of
those who had been killed-testified calmly and with great eloquence
to "where God was" and "where God had been" in the midst of their
anguishing loss. Even a man who went to the beach to yell at God
seemed certain someone was there to listen. He was himself
following the great Hebrew tradition of shaking one's fist at God
and demanding an audience. We need in these times to listen for
God's voice, wherever that voice speaks.
Public speaking  Having listened, we
Lutherans will find that we also need to speak up and speak out.
This is tough. As I suggested, we are a shy and largely obedient
folk. Yet our characteristic realism carves out a position between
the hawks and the doves in this contemporary context. If you could
just get us to open our mouths, Lutherans could speak from a
helpful middle ground for two reasons.
 First, Lutherans are not afraid of suffering. It is indeed
that the citizens of a "nation challenged," as the media constantly
intones, have actually been asked to make little sacrifice.
Americans can still drive big cars that use lots of gasoline:
conservation has not been a part of the nation's challenge.
Further, there is no military draft at this point. Excepting the
long lines at airports, there have been no major lifestyle changes
for the majority of citizens.
 Lutherans could step up to the plate, if more were
demanded. This particular tribe of Christians gets anxious with
triumphalism; we know that "everyone lived happily ever after"
happens only in fairy tales. Discipleship in the shadow of the
cross is costly, and following in Jesus' footsteps is hard.
 What we really ought to discern, though, is whose footsteps
we would be following in, if the United States moves toward a
pre-emptive strike against Iraq. We need to consider whether or not
this will produce needless suffering for our own citizens and the
citizens of a country we say we want to liberate from the hands of
a ruthless dictator. If there is hand-to-hand combat in the streets
of Baghdad, enormous loss of life on all sides will be the result.
Are we prepared for this? More importantly, is this where God is
 Asking questions such as these is what the freedom of a
Christian allows us. Our quiet fearlessness confers a certain
freedom: freedom to ask the tough questions, entertain the messy
solutions, and embrace compromise without losing face. Lutherans
could ask the tough questions about the costs and consequences of
war, so long as the toughest question remains ever before us: what
is the consonance of our action or inaction with the Gospel? We
won't be able to answer all these questions definitively, but we
could preface whatever we say with the kind of statement that the
earliest disciples did: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit
and to us. . . ." (Acts 15:28).
 Second, Lutherans need to speak up and demand that this
conversation on war stay close to the ground. After all, we have
been trained in a highly incarnational theology: God became human.
God took to the ground literally, and we can demand that everything
else be concrete as well. I worry that these "rumors of war" remain
unsubstantiated. Facts are unclear; evidence is not forthcoming.
Iraq may have weapons of mass destruction; Saddam Hussein may be
targeting the United States, if he has the means of delivery at his
command. We do not know anything for certain. There is a lot of
supposition, but the rhetoric of war is amped up anyway. Contrast
this with Adlai Stevenson's presentation to the United Nations
during the Cuban missile crisis, complete with satellite pictures
and documented evidence.
 In the absence of concrete details and on-the-ground
evidence, "war" becomes a dangerous metaphor, a fatal
The highly technologized Gulf War reduced war to a video game, and
the nightly rehearsal of attacks on television looked very much
like a video game. Perhaps the display anesthetized viewers to the
horror of war, but Americans do not react to talk of war with
appropriate gravity. The term "war" has taken on unreality like a
leaky boat takes on water. All sides are guilty of this game. The
hawks prescribe war to wage the fight against evil, the doves decry
war as the embodiment of evil.
 War is no abstract metaphor: it is irrevocably and
irreversibly concrete. No who has visited the great killing fields
of the last century-Auschwitz, Rwanda, El Mozote in El Salvador,
Quiche in Guatemala-can use the word "war" as a metaphor. Recently
contractors putting up a building in the Baltic region discovered a
mass grave and gradually realized they had stumbled upon bodies
from Napoleon's attempted invasion of Russia. The soldiers'
uniforms had turned to dust centuries ago, but their buttons
remained, mute testimony to the thousands who had died of cold and
 The tradition of "just war" in which Lutherans stand
refuses to consider war in the abstract.4 War is as concrete and
quantifiable as the body bags that have trickled in from another
war still in progress in Afghanistan. We need to shift rhetoric
from hysterical urgency to careful and calm deliberation of the
cost of our action or inaction. Most of all, we need to figure the
consonance of our action or inaction with the Gospel. This-and this
alone-should be our most urgent task.
Public deliberation  A third aspect of our
role as Lutherans in the context of war is public deliberation.
Many ethicists wonder if "just war" theory still holds in a world
of transnational terrorism and weapons of mass
Many Lutherans identify themselves as pacifists and reject "just
war" theory in principle. Yet, I want to commend "just war" theory
to both pacifists and supporters of war. Certainly, "just war"
theory offers rules of engagement, traditionally known as what
constitutes justice in war (jus in bello). More importantly,
though, "just war" theory stipulates rules of deliberation,
traditionally known as what constitutes justice approaching war
(jus ad bellum). For this reason, "just war" thinking serves all of
us well, whatever our position on this or any war.
 Personally, I am shocked that there has been so little
public debate on a possible war in Iraq. The United States seems to
be careening in that direction blindly, and with great urgency. A
case with solid, documented evidence has not been made-at least not
to this quiet, cautious Lutheran. To the extent that there has been
public debate in regard to a war on Iraq, the debate thus far has
been fixed on only a part of "just war" theory: rules of
engagement. Here Americans have been adept at applying the rules of
engagement to our presumptive enemies. We have cited the injustice
of using weapons of mass destruction in a pre-emptive strike
against us and our allies. We have appealed to the horror of the
attacks on the World Trade Towers. Ironically, these attacks
deployed, not weapons of mass destruction, but airplanes loaded
with fuel and hijackers who had a clear exit
debate on war has started here-it is a pretty riveting
 But we need to step back for a moment and ask about just
deliberation as we consider war. "Just war" theory demands some
hard thinking about just cause, proper authorization, motivation,
proportionality, acting defensively not offensively, using war as a
last resort, and reasonable hope of success.7 Two criteria of "just war"
theory are particularly germane: Is there just cause? Who properly
 Let me pose some questions for public deliberation. Having
suffered a pre-emptive attack a year ago on September 11, 2001, the
United States is prepared to defend itself in kind. Yet, unless our
administrators can establish links between the World Trade Center
attacks and the Iraqi regime, the United States would act
offensively against Iraq, a move disallowed by "just war" theory.
Have the connections between Al Qaeda and Iraq been established?
How do we assess the fact that none of the hijackers came from
Iraq? Most were from Saudi Arabia, arguably a highly repressive
regime, but one the United States does not want to change at
present, because it favors us. Until some connection between Al
Qaeda and Iraq has been established, the United States as a nation
does not have just cause for a pre-emptive and unilateral
 Moreover, have we calculated the consequences of our
action? Several nations are poised to follow our example, on the
basis of equally flimsy evidence against groups or nations they
consider a threat: Spain and the Basque insurgents, India and
Pakistan, Russian and the region of Chechnya. Will an American
pre-emptive strike against Iraq set off a chain of copy-cat actions
that could destabilize what little global peace we currently
 In regard to weapons of mass destruction, John Langan
points in the latest issue of America that lots of countries have
weapons of mass destruction, some of whom we trust, like Israel,
and some of whom we need, like Pakistan. But by what criteria do we
allow some nations do have such weaponry and others
not?8 Who are
we to say?
 These questions lead to a final concern: who should
properly authorize this war? There is a internal debate on this
question. Was the President, also Commander-in-Chief, was granted
power to engage Iraq by decade-old legislation passed during the
Gulf War? or does Congress alone retain constitutional power to
declare war? Is this internal debate moot, because proper
authorization of this war lies outside its borders entirely? Unless
the United States sets troubling precedent of one nation judging
the legitimacy of the regime of another, the United Nations is the
appropriate body to adjudicate the situation in Iraq.
 Frustration with the United Nations is real, and President
Bush's powerful speech of September 12, 2002 galvanized the U.N. to
act. As of this writing, the Iraqi government has conceded to
unconditional inspections. People with far more expertise than I
find this instant Iraqi compliance specious. But "just war"
criteria demand that we scrutinize our motivations, not the
motivations of our enemies. That is a helpful-if
 These are some of the tough questions that ought to be up
for public deliberation. I risk raising controversy in naming some
of them here, but if politeness wins out over hard thinking in this
context, the results could be disastrous. It seems to me part of
the ministry of a seminary is to pose the tough questions in the
only context Lutherans really care about: the context of table and
font which orient our worship of the one God.
1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York:
Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, 1959), pp. 146-154.
2 "A Communication: The Only Way into the Kingdom of God,"
The Christian Century 29 (April 6, 1932), 447. H. Richard
The Christian Century. Along with other Christian responses to the
Manchurian Crisis, World War II, Vietnam, the Cold War, and the
Gulf War, they are reprinted in Richard B. Miller (ed.), War in the
Twentieth Century: Sources in Theological Ethics (Louisville:
Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992).
3 Susan Sontag, "War? Real Battles and Empty Metaphors,"
The New York Times: Op-Ed (Tuesday, September 10, 2002), A31.
4 Lisa Sowle Cahill, Love Your Enemies: Discipleship,
Pacifism, and Just War Theory (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994).
Cahill treats Luther in a section on Reformation perspectives on
war and peace.
5 See the section in Richard
Criteria," ibid., pp. 347-438.
6 I allude here to Secretary of State Colin
exhaust all other means first, have a clear exit strategy, and use
elaboration of these criteria in his "introduction," ibid., pp.
8 John Langan, "Should We Attack Iraq?" America, Vol. 187:
6 (September 9, 2002), 10.