ANOTHER VIEW: All noncombatants are equal

The Bush administration's failure to act decisively for peacemaking in the war in Lebanon sadly resembles its failure to act decisively for the poor in Katrina-destroyed Louisiana.

Beirut deserves our nation's best efforts at restraining Israel's disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, as New Orleans deserved our nation's best efforts at speedy aid.

Instead of the United States exerting full diplomatic and political pressure on all parties to end hostilities, the Bush administration has turned a blind eye to noncombatant casualties in Lebanon and has blamed others for violence it is unwilling to stop.

The president's own behavior discloses a frightening moral disengagement. A few days ago, smacking on a buttered roll, he uttered profanity in a conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, blaming Syria for the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel and disclosing a lack of verbal articulation about the crisis.

On Thursday, he vetoed a Senate-passed bill that would have allowed federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, saying that the bill “crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect." He showed more concern for frozen embryos that will inevitably be discarded as medical waste than he did for fully human children in Beirut.

Killing Lebanese noncombatants apparently is not a moral boundary for Bush.

That position found substantive voice in U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who said there is no moral equivalence between civilian casualties from Israeli attacks against Lebanon and civilian casualties from Hezbollah's attacks against Israel -- what he terms “malicious terrorist acts.”

Bolton's flawed moral thinking holds that when Israel kills Lebanese civilians it's OK, but when Hezbollah kills Israel civilians it's malicious murder. Such a dichotomy is morally unsustainable. It is an immoral smoke screen behind which he justifies Lebanese noncombatant deaths.

Just war theory spells out with moral clarity that all innocent civilians deserve protection as noncombatants. Killing innocent civilians is never justified, and neither motive nor geography is an acceptable excuse.

What, then, shall we do? What shall we do when our government refuses to do the right thing?

First, we need to make a conscious decision that we will not be pressured into the Bush administration's war mentality. We need not bend to flawed moral reasoning.

A lad once asked an old prophet why he kept warning villagers about their moral transgressions, for nobody was listening. The prophet said he cried for change to keep himself from being changed by the villagers.

Second, we need to speak up. In private and public conversations, we need to speak for the principle of noncombatant immunity regardless of nationality. Lebanese civilians are as valuable as Israeli civilians. One is neither superior nor inferior to the other.

Advancing moral rightness anywhere advances moral rightness everywhere.

Third, we need to advocate for peacemaking when even our leaders abandon it. As Baptists, we take the whole Bible seriously, specifically the direct teachings of Jesus about proactive peacemaking. Just peacemaking is a Christian duty and one that compels us to speak to the state.

Fourth, we need to address our elected officials, urging them to encourage the U.S. government to press Israel for an immediate ceasefire and to use their political weight without delay to end this conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Fifth, we need to talk in Sunday school about just peacemaking, an end to conflict and a beginning of recovery in all affected nations.

Sixth, we need congregational leaders to pray for peace and for governmental leaders to show moral discernment, beginning with an awareness of the sins of omission and commission.

Seventh, we need to support the humanitarian relief efforts of Lebanese Baptists in Beirut through Baptist World Aid.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.