Bishop speaks on building human security

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Bishop speaks on building human security

May 3, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0479}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

Though impossible to obtain absolute security in this earthly life, it is possible to improve security some by building relationships within a community.

That assertion was made by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker in his recent keynote address at the Church World Service Forum on Domestic Disaster Ministry March 27-31 at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, N.J.
“The biblical revelation of God’s purpose for us as a human society in history is community.  There can be no security without community,” Whitaker said. “This biblical vision of God’s purpose for the world is expressed through the church’s doctrines of creation and reconciliation.”
Speaking on the topic “Building Human Security,” Whitaker discussed the various ways society seeks security, including gated communities, safer airports and borders, and even disaster insurance. He reminded his audience to consider pausing for reflection on the idea that “there is no absolute security in this world, that human existence is being thrown into contingencies, that we are mortal.”
Whitaker, who also serves The United Methodist Church as chairman of the Council of Bishops’ Standing Committee on Teaching Concerns, believes the United States overreacted in its response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“No one questions the right and the need for the United States, or any nation, to use appropriate means to defend its citizens from lawless attacks, including the use of force against terrorists,” he said. “Yet, the search for absolute security by relying upon our power can cause us to overreact. We overreact when we overestimate our ability to guarantee our security by using our power.”

The two primary overreactions of the United States are the adoption by the government of the National Security Strategy in September 2002, which includes the doctrine of preemptive war, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Whitaker said. The doctrine of preemptive war is the idea the United States has the right to conduct war against so-called rogue states in order to “forestall or prevent” hostile acts by adversaries, according to Whitaker.

By adopting the doctrine Whitaker said the United States is “presuming that the moral rules governing when to go to war do not apply to it in the new situation of the threat of international terrorism.”

“The United States is claiming the right to initiate war even if there is no imminent threat in order to prevent a possible catastrophe,” he said. “Yet, the established norms for waging war have always included a prohibition against a nation attacking another nation when there is no imminent threat.”

The bishop noted preemptive war allows room for miscalculation of a perceived threat, as well as violating the moral rule that war should be a last resort.

“Operation Iraqi Freedom was an implementation of the doctrine of preemptive war,” he said.

Whitaker emphasized two reasons the war would be considered unjust: it was waged before inspectors finished their work in finding evidence of weapons of mass destruction and the “United States did not possess legitimate authority to invade Iraq to change the regime.”

Whitaker also named several other reasons why he and other leaders opposed the war.

“I mention how the United States adopted the doctrine of preemptive war and launched an attack upon Iraq to illustrate how dangerous it is when a nation begins to feel its vulnerability and then tries to obtain absolute security by projecting its power to try to control events,” he said.

In an interview with e-Review prior to his keynote address, Whitaker said he understands the concerns people sometimes express to him about any critical remarks he makes on the war in Iraq.

“I am not trying to make anybody uncomfortable,” he said. “I do think we have to keep discussing it some. I think Christians have a responsibility to keep discussing whether the invasion and occupation of Iraq is justified.”

During his talk, Whitaker also discussed a recent study done by the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church called In Search of Security. Bishops from all over the world discussed what security meant for their communities, and reflected on a paper written by Bishop “Walter Klaiber, a former bishop of Germany. In the paper, Klaiber quoted Theodore Webber’s comments on “a politics of reconciliation, which attempts to overcome hostilities, conciliate interests, and generally strengthen the fabric of social relationships.”

“I ask you to compare the vision of a politics of reconciliation in the era of terrorism with a politics of unilateral national actions, including a preemptive war. Which is more likely to create a more secure world?” Whitaker said. “ … The politics of reconciliation works because it is based upon reality, the reality that we are made for community.”

Whitaker cited the volunteer response to Hurricane Katrina as an example of community at work.

“Those of you (who) are involved in disaster response have no power to prevent disaster, but have the power to help us to learn how to work together as a community to prepare for disasters and to come together as a community after a disaster to help one another,” he said.

In conclusion, Whitaker reminded his audience where we can find security.

“Whatever security can be obtained in this life is found in God, who calls us into communion with God and community with one another and care for the creation,” he said.

The conference was themed “Do No Harm” and covered a broad range of issues related to security, such as “the needs of vulnerable populations, and challenges posed by natural disasters, technological disasters and bioterrorism.”

More information on Church World Service and disaster preparedness and relief is available at

The complete text of Whitaker’s presentation is posted on the conference Web site at


This article relates to Peace With Justice.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.

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