Churches divided on meaning of Gulf War

Some say it’s a fulfilment of prophesy; not so, say others
The Jamaica Observer, Mar. 23, 2003
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/
PAT ROXBOROUGH-WRIGHT, Observer writer

Churchmen like Pastor Rohan Edwards say the United States’ war against Iraq is a very significant milestone in the fulfilment of Biblical prophesy.

Those like Calvin Simpson, a representative of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, say it’s not a significant milestone, rather a part of a composite sign that the end is near. On the other end of the religious spectrum, others like Archbishop Edgerton Clarke say they’d rather not use the scriptures that way.

“I know that there are certain groups of Christians that believe in war in the name of God,” says Clarke. “I don’t want to be judgmental of these groups, but in the Catholic Church we don’t use the scriptures that way, not with the new covenant God has made with his people.”

Archbishop Clarke, who described war as “the evidence of man’s injustice to man”, says it is not the instrument to bring healing. “It’s something we are against, except in cases of self-defence. Jesus teaches forgiveness and reconciliation and as far as I’m concerned, peace is what we need to pursue.”

All well and good to want peace, says Pastor Leighton Smith of the Faith Evangelical Ministries located on Wall Street in New York. But that’s where they part company.

“We are supposed to pursue peace and all that, but sometimes we are called to warfare as a means to peace. For nations to be free, thousands of people have to die, blood must be shed, we don’t like it but that’s how it is,” he told the Sunday Observer in a telephone interview from his residence in New York yesterday.

In a move that undermined the United Nations Security Council, United States president, George W Bush, initiated military action against Iraq last Wednesday with a view to pushing President Saddam Hussein, the dictator who has controlled the country for almost two decades, out of power.

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The war, which Bush said was necessary to free the people of Iraq and defend the world from grave danger, increased anti-war protests worldwide, some of the largest taking place in the US and its chief ally, Britain.

Smith described these protests yesterday as tools — albeit futile — of the devil.

“No amount of praying could have stopped this war,” he said. “It is a direct fulfilment of biblical prophesy…. Isaiah chapter 13.”

Isaiah, one of the ancient prophets whose writings make up the compilation of scriptures in the Bible‘s Old Testament, wrote extensively, like his counterpart, Jeremiah, about a devastation that the Almighty would bring upon Babylon, now known as Iraq, as a result of atrocities perpetuated against Israel.

Israel is characterised throughout the Bible as a special nation, chosen by the Almighty to set an example for other nations.

Today, many still believe that it is a blessed nation, destined to prosper.

“Israel will not be put down. Israel will flourish,” said the Quakers’ Pastor Eugene Woollery. “That’s not to say I’m against the Palestinians.”

Like the Reverend Dr Sheila McKeithen of the Universal Centre of Truth, a non-denominational organisation that describes itself as a ‘new thought Christian teaching Church’, Woollery’s primary concern isn’t with a blow for blow link between current world events and the scriptures.

“I have not gone into that phase of it, to be truthful,” he said. “I really don’t know what will happen as a result of this war. I don’t know if it will raise the ire of the Muslims, I really don’t know,” he said.

Woollery and McKeithen spoke with much more certainty however, about the need for a halt to the destructive course on which mankind seemed to be embarked.

“I think that this war is calling all of us to love, love being the idea of oneness,” said McKeithen. “My prayer is that people everywhere will get a deep sense of submitting themselves to the Holy Spirit to see how we can work together for peace.”

But Smith, in a harsh condemnation of the “oneness argument”, said the Bible didn’t point in that direction.

“I know Christians will chew me up for this, but I have to say it as I see it. It’s like this. Israel is the city of God, Babylon — Iraq — is the city of Satan,” Smith said. “What happens physically in both countries is always paralleled by similar activities on a spiritual level. For instance, the rebirth of Israel in 1948 was paralleled by positive developments in the Christendom. Billy Graham, Oral Roberts’ healing waters ministry… Then in 1958 Israel was attacked through the Suez Canal, Roberts had to shut down his ministry and the church faced other tribulations, so the trend continued right up to today where we see Israel again being attacked by suicide bombings and similarly the church is being bombarded by a spiritual Babylon which takes the form of a religious theory of inclusiveness.”

The theory described by Smith is taught by an organisation called the United Religious Initiative. That theory encourages a oneness among religions. This, according to Smith, will be destroyed, but only after its physical counterpart goes. “The Bible says first the physical and then the spiritual,” he said.

In the 13th chapter of his contribution to the Bible, Isaiah says that the world will be punished for the evils of Babylon and that the ancient city would be destroyed to the extent that it would become totally uninhabitable.

Just days after the war started in Iraq, troops began to surrender, giving hope that the war will be short. However, Smith said that more war would be visited on the country.

“Iraq has not experienced that total devastation yet,” he said. “So there will be more war to come… there will be radioactive activity there, making it uninhabitable.”

In a brief overview of his take on the issue, Smith said that the war on Iraq was triggered by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in which hijacked commercial jets were used to bomb and destroy the World Trade Centre twin towers in New York and damage the Pentagon building in Washington, D C.

Approximately 5,000 lives were lost in the attacks which sent psychological, emotional and economic shocks to many countries around the world.

Smith said that the bombing was also a fulfilment of Bible prophesy on a spiritual level in that it represented the destruction of the commercial aspect of Babylon.

Revelation chapter 18 verses 10 and 9 speak about it,” he said.

The book of Revelation, the last of the 66 comprising the King James version of the Bible, speaks of the destruction by fire of Babylon taking place within an hour.

“Read it,” urged Smith. “You’ll see it’s a reference to the commercial aspect of Babylon which is represented by the World Trade Centre right here in New York. It had to happen, because if there was no 9/11, Bush would not have been moved to go against Iraq in this way, but I don’t think that he is even aware of the religious significance of his actions. The war started on March 19, which is celebrated by the Jews as the feast of Purim, the day on which Queen Esther began to fast for the saving of her people. In 1991, the Gulf War led by a coalition of armed troops against Iraq as a result of its invasion of Kuwait ended on the feast of Purim. I’m sure neither Bush, nor his father were aware of the significance of these dates. He is being used by God to fulfil prophesy,” Smith added.

Based on Smith’s interpretation of the scriptures, peace doesn’t seem to be on the immediate horizon. On this point, at least, other members of the clergy, while not sharing Smith’s interpretation of the scriptures, are agreed.

“I don’t see it (peace) too soon, but I haven’t totally given up hope,” said Clement ‘Sepie’ Dawes, a founding member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Linstead. “But until the nations of the world can meet around the conference table and iron out their differences, there will not be peace. The United Nations can’t facilitate it, they have lost all credibility and should resign. As for this thing about America being used to destroy Iraq as Babylon as a fulfilment of the Bible, that is just a little thing that people are saying because they are afraid to talk out against America’s genocidal behaviour and lose their visas and other little things that they throw down to us from the West.”

Dawes said his church was “not putting any religious significance to the war at this time”. However, they regard it as one in a long line of conflicts that will continue until the end of time.

“Each is clear indication that the coming of the Lord is near,” he said, “and we should do all we can to preserve peace.”

Princess Lowers, the director of communications, public affairs and religious liberty at the Seventh-day Adventists Union, feels that Christians should not be the perpetrators of war.

Additionally, religious leaders agree that there’s no time like the present for people to prepare themselves spiritually.

“That is the most important thing right now,” said Simpson, whose sect’s most defining characteristic is the emphasis placed on door-to-door evangelising.

He told the Sunday Observer that Jehovah’s Witnesses would be intensifying their campaign to spread the scriptures by putting even more hours into their evangelical ministry.

“We have three categories of members, the publishers, who spend about 10 hours each month; pioneers, who give about 70; and auxiliary pioneers, who we will be asking to give about 50,” he said.

Their message will involve an analysis of world events to support the theory that Armageddon, the battle described in the Bible, is at hand.

“Definitely, we are saying Armageddon — a spiritual battle which will see the forces of evil being destroyed by Jesus Christ — is near, we don’t know when, no man knows the day nor the hour, but just like a woman about to have a baby, we are at that stage when it can happen any time,” said Simpson

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