Interfaith panel ponders war
By Eric Burkett
Anchorage Daily News
(Published: October 28, 2001)
Consider the Sawzall.
The wicked-looking saw manufactured by Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. can cut through just about anything, the Rev. Rick Koch said with considerable admiration. And the tool's enthusiasts will look for just about any excuse to use it.
Koch, pastor at First Congregational Church of Anchorage, removed his Sawzall from its red metal carrying case and held it up for the small audience in the theater of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art to admire.
After a particularly exhilarating bout of sawing through, well, anything, "you can't help but say Hooowha!' " Koch said. But despite the tool's many splendored abilities, it isn't appropriate for everything, he said.
And just as the Sawzall isn't the perfect tool for every job, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with the crisis in which the United States has found itself since Sept. 11.
Koch was the presenter at the quarterly forum of the Interfaith Council of Anchorage, an event that drew representatives from at least eight denominations and religions. The evening's topic was "Justice, Retribution and Revenge: Theologies of Conflict in Response to Terrorism."
Priests, ministers and lay members from each group attempted to explain their faiths' stance on war and retribution to the other members of the audience.
"Does your tradition have a just war' type theory?" went one question. "What are its criteria?"
The just war, a concept first explained by St. Augustine in the fifth century, has long found acceptance by many Christians, Koch explained, though it has never been universally embraced by all. Many Christian military leaders use the definition of a just war as defined by Augustine, and later St. Thomas Aquinas, as their litmus test as they try to determine whether they can support a particular military action, Koch said. If they can't, they offer up their resignation before going to battle.
That point took on added depth when the Rev. Leo Walsh, priest at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Eagle River, pointed out, "One of the realities of human experience is violence."
Over time, Walsh said, the Christian viewpoint on violence has evolved from "an eye for an eye," as is called for in the Old Testament, to the Golden Rule's admonition to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you."
For Buddhists, however, the issue took on a somewhat different hue. Representatives from three Buddhist denominations -- Soka Gakkai, Jodo Shinshu and Soto Zen -- were present, and they were all opposed to the concept of a just war.
In Buddhism, there is no such thing as a just war, said the Rev. Yuho Van Parijs, a Shin Buddhist and the priest at the White Lotus Center for Shin Buddhism. But having said that, he noted that Buddhism recognizes no absolutes.
"Depending on how insecure you are, an action of self-defense can seem like aggression to others," said Karen Laing, a lay member of the Anchorage Zen Community.
Baha'is, represented at the forum by David Baumgartner, added yet another layer to the evening's discussion.
"One of the fundamental teachings of the (Baha'i) faith is unity," Baumgartner said. "Conflict is a lack of unity."
By Baha'i teachings, individuals must avoid conflict of any kind but communities may defend themselves, he explained.
Throughout the evening, the dialogue was friendly and laid-back, but then again, that was the point. Originally founded as a way for the members of the Interfaith Council to discuss and better understand one another's beliefs and varying approaches to current issues, the forum has become an important element of the council over the past couple of years.
Wednesday night's event incorporated two significant changes, however. In addition to the forum's being held in a public venue with the opportunity for members of the public to participate by asking questions or adding their own comments, there were also rules.
The rules, Walsh explained, were "born of pain."
"Participants in the dialogue seek only to inform, not to convince, the others of the basic tenets and beliefs of their respective religious traditions," Walsh read to the audience at the beginning of the event.
At the council's last forum, held during summer, the event had been co-opted by someone a little too eager to make a point, Walsh said, undermining the premise of the forum. Hence the rules. After all, despite the organization's religious basis, no one is out to win converts.
At least not during the forum.
The next forum is slated for January.
©Copyright 2001, Anchorage Daily News