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After killing of Iranian general, religious leaders call on Americans to #PrayForPeace

Protesters demonstrate over the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, Friday Jan. 3, 2020. Iran has vowed “harsh retaliation” for the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed Tehran’s top general and the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing.
Vahid Salemi, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — American religious leaders are divided over the assassination of Iran’s top military official, with some praising the attack as an important stand against injustice and others viewing it as an unwelcome and dangerous act of war.

Some of those who oppose President Donald Trump’s decision to kill Gen. Qassem Soleimani by drone strike called on people of faith to pray for peace. War with Iran would lead to more injustice, not less, they said.

“There is no justice on this path to yet another reckless war,” tweeted Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, the author of a forthcoming book on politically liberal Christians.

Similarly, Shane Claiborne, a Christian activist with nearly 100,000 Twitter followers who often criticizes the Trump administration, highlighted his faith-based opposition to war, tweeting about the Bible’s celebration of “peacemakers.”

“No war with Iran ... or anyone else. #PrayforPeace,” he said.

Religious leaders who praised the Trump administration’s decision argued the assassination was justified and that it will help U.S. officials bring peace to the Middle East.

“Qassem Soleimani was responsible for countless deaths inside & outside Iran & (and) was actively planning more terrorist attacks. We need to pray that God would give (Trump) wisdom & protect him, his family & and our troops in that region from evil,” tweeted Franklin Graham, who is one of the president’s top evangelical Christian advisers.

This is far from the first time American religious leaders have clashed over the ethics of military intervention in the Middle East.

In 2002, many pastors and other religious activists called on the White House to avoid war with Iraq, while others, most notably evangelical Christian leaders, said Saddam Hussein had to be stopped, even if it required an escalation of violence, as The Washington Post reported at the time.

Members of the different camps did agree that military intervention is a morally significant act, the article noted.

However, some criticisms of the attack on Soleimani went beyond familiar faith-based condemnations of violence. Many religious leaders questioned the timing of the attack, arguing that Trump was wrongly using military action to boost his image after the House impeachment vote.

“The U.S. killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani could have been done at anytime. But everyone knew it could cause great retaliation against Americans. He was a very bloody killer himself. But why now? Could a war with Iran be used to distract from an impeachment trial?” tweeted the Rev. Jim Wallis, a prominent Christian social justice activist.

The Rev. Chuck Currie, who leads the Center for Peace and Spirituality at Pacific University, tweeted a more direct rebuke, calling the drone strike an “impulsive act by an impeachment president.”

Trump administration officials and other supporters of the president rejected claims like these as ridiculous, arguing the drone strike was justified and had nothing to do with ongoing impeachment drama.

Soleimani directed Iran’s military operations for the past two decades, guiding the country’s involvement in violence in Iraq, Syria, Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East. He planned to lead attacks on U.S. personnel stationed abroad, tweeted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, characterized the military official very differently in a Thursday evening tweet, arguing that Soleimani stood up against ISIS, Al Qaeda and other extremist groups. He described the U.S. drone strike as an “act of international terrorism.”

The assassination is an “extremely dangerous and foolish escalation,” he said.

Mike Huckabee, a leader in the evangelical Christian community and former Republican presidential candidate, tweeted that anyone who questions Trump’s attack on Suleimani is an “irrational” loon.

We “should applaud (the president) for taking out one of the worst terrorists in the world,” he said.