Divinity School faculty sign petition against war

By Tom Gaulkin

By Tom Gaulkin

Maroon News Contributor

A majority of the Divinity School faculty has issued a formal statement opposing the Bush administration’s plans for war in Iraq.

Titled “A Statement Of Conviction About the Possibility of War With Iraq,” the one-paragraph petition, which was sent for consideration to all current and emeritus Divinity School faculty, calls on the nation’s political leaders “to provide evidence for the justification of war or to continue vigorous pursuit, in concert with the community of nations, of peaceful address to the danger [posed by the leadership in Iraq].”

Out of roughly 45 faculty contacted, 32 chose to endorse the statement.

Franklin Gamwell, professor of religious ethics, and one of four Divinity School professors who drafted the statement, said that “clearly the lion’s share of the faculty” were in support.

The statement’s release comes amid other recent protests against war across the country, including an October 26 march in downtown Chicago. Reiterating claims that the White House’s rationale for war is inadequate, the statement goes on to express the faculty’s belief that “a preventative war could be justified only if the threat of harm to innocents is imminent, grave, and apparent and will, so far as foresight extends, be reduced by war. We are not convinced that this condition is now met.”

According to Gamwell, the statement emerged from informal discussions among himself and Professors William Schweiker, Bernard McGinn, and Anthony Yu. Their concern about the direction the administration is taking toward war prompted them to prepare the statement, which was then circulated to the other faculty for endorsement.

It was released October 22 to the Chicago media, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. Copies were also sent to the Illinois Congressional delegation, President Bush, and senior officers at the American Academy of Religions.

Among those who endorsed the statement is Saba Mahmood, assistant professor of the history of religions and specialist on the Middle East. Mahmood fears that a war in Iraq would increase the instability of the region and, like many other faculty who signed the statement, she believes that unilateral action against Iraq would be unprovoked and therefore unjustified.

“The U.S. has no business reorganizing the world in its own image,” Mahmood said. “Are we in the business of colonialism again? Are we going to re-map the world alone according to our own interests?”

Mahmood would like to see more questions being asked by U of C faculty about the proposed war. “Faculty on campus who [study] these issues should really educate the public and students,” she said. “Those without related expertise have an equal responsibility to think through the moral questions that any war raises.”

Addressing the University community as a whole, Mahmood continued, “I hope [the statement] will provoke people to ask why we signed it, why we are opposed to war, and help further debate about the question of war on university campuses, especially here.”

Alison Boden, dean of Rockefeller Chapel and senior lecturer in the Divinity School, agrees with Mahmood. In addition to the political concerns of the statement, Boden is troubled by the moral discourse underlying President Bush’s campaign for war.

“The president would have us believe we have a moral mandate to do this,” Boden said. “But many of us in the religious community oppose the resulting loss of life on moral grounds as well.”

Campus discussion of the religious community’s politics has not been confined to public statements. Martin Marty, professor emeritus of the history of modern Christianity, and a frequent contributor to Sightings, a biweekly electronic editorial published by the Marty Center at the Divinity School, often comments on the portrayal of religious leadership in the press.

In an October missive, Marty expressed his frustration over the media’s neglect of the religious community’s opposition to war. “Not a single quoted leader wanted to underestimate the evil of the Hussein regime or the potential for destruction,” Marty wrote. “No one is reported as expecting the Bush administration to pay attention to the voices of religious questioning. […] When war impinges, as in this case, only supportive religious leaders are heeded, cited, and responded to.”

“These are very critical times,” Boden said, speaking of the importance of the statement for both academic and religious communities. “I worry that in retrospect we’ll see that we all had a lot of opinions, but didn’t say anything about them.”