United Methodism’s Capitol Hill lobby office is the first church agency to denounce U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Here’s that statement:
We are deeply disappointed by President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran Deal. Even though we are disappointed, The United Methodist Church will continue to support diplomacy as an effective tool for peacebuilding around the world. As followers of the Prince of Peace, we can do no less.
The facts show that the Deal is working, and the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to verify the efficacy of the safeguards in fulfillment of the terms of the Deal. The Deal put in place international safeguards and procedures to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China stand by the Deal, and strongly oppose the decision to pull the U.S. out of the Deal.
Reinstating sanctions on Iran is concerning on many levels, but most pressing: it will worsen living conditions for the Iranian people. Further, the call for regime change of the Iranian government by high-ranking U.S. officials has all the markings of comments leading to war. The words of President Trump today are very similar to sentiments the public heard in the lead up to the Iraq war. We must not allow that to become reality.
We are encouraged that the other signers, including Iran, have signaled a commitment to working together for the continued implementation of the Deal.
The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state “the first moral duty of all nations is work together to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between and among nations.”
The Iran Nuclear Deal is a concrete step forward to ensure peace with Iran is not illusory, but a reality. We continue to pray for peace, wisdom, and an increased priority for diplomacy with Iran and among nations across the world.
Doubtless some other denominational agencies and church voices will follow suit in coming days. Jim Wallis of Sojourners starting during the Bush Administration organizing a religious coalition opposing military action against Iran and was vocal for the nuclear deal, about which he doubtless will soon speak again. In 2015 he explained it was a “good” and “Christian” option.
But strategic maneuverings among nations are rarely if ever clearly “Christian” and “good” or clearly not so. The previous administration gained the deal only after sanctions and implied military threats, which the Methodist statement opposes, and believed it was the best available means for restricting Iran from nuclear development for at least the duration of the agreement, at whose conclusion it was hoped other options would be available, or the nature of Iran’s Islamist regime changed.
Opponents of that deal believe it was at best a very flawed and temporary fix that empowered the Islamist regime by lifting sanctions, and that this newly empowered Iran has consequently asserted itself throughout the Mideast, especially in Syria.
The Methodist statement and earlier Sojourners pronouncements on Iran have avoided acknowledging the reality of Iran’s Islamist dictatorship, its repression of its own people, its strategic ambitions, its regional aggressions, and most disturbing, its apocalyptic religious outlook conducive to possibly suicidal acts that are difficult to deter.
Church groups that are pacifist like the Methodist lobby and Sojourners rightfully have little meaningful to say about statecraft, all of which is undergird directly or indirectly by force. They like diplomacy but ignore that diplomacy is waged by coercive states. And they tend to pretend that all governments are of the same nature, as though Iranian nukes would be no more troubling than French or British nukes. Jim Wallis seems actually to think the U.S. is possibly worse than Iran, as he cites the CIA’s role in the 1953 coup as legitimizing of Iranian Islamist rapid anti-Americanism.
Religious advocacy by Wallis, the Methodist lobby & similar groups would be more serious if they affirmed historic Christian teaching about a legitimate state’s vocation for force in some important circumstances. Instead, the Methodists foreswear even sanctions, as though diplomacy even with recalcitrant tyrants can be effective solely through appeals to good will. It also would be more moral, more Christian and more realistic if these church voices admitted that some regimes are considerably more sinister than others. Iran’s mullahs brutalize their own people and aren’t exactly cordial to neighboring states. Shouldn’t Christian voices seeking justice be concerned?
The Methodist statement specifically faulted desires for regime change in Iran. But shouldn’t all believers in God-given human dignity at least pray and hope that Iran some day is free of its current theocratic dictatorship?
If there are good and realistic arguments for the Iran deal, these religious voices avoid them in favor of a fantasy-based vision of the world. Their choice to neglect the historic ethical tools of their faith about war, peace and power is sad and requires they not be treated seriously. It’s their loss, but it’s also ours. Hopefully other Christian voices will speak with more fidelity and sobriety.