The Word of God?

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 16 July 2003 0 Comments
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What will become of the world if the U.N. collapses under this mutiny of the world's superpowers?


Dear Heidi,

Your intense and deeply personal letter, from which I have abstracted this profound question, was much appreciated. There is no doubt that the United Nations has been diminished by the Iraqi war. The question now is whether that damage is reparable.

The United Nations reflects the power structure of World War II. The five permanent Security Council seats, possessing veto power, and filled by the allies of World War II, the United States, Russia, Britain, China and France. Some changes have occurred in the power equation since that war and are reflected in the U.N. structure. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has collapsed and Russia, the major power in that union, has the USSR seat. The Nationalist Chinese, who were driven out of the mainland to Taiwan, have been replaced by the formerly Communist regime that controls China. But there are other changes that need to be faced to reflect new realities.

The conquered Axis powers of Japan and Germany are now vibrant players in world political and economic affairs. Japan has the world's second largest economy. Germany is by every measure Europe's strongest power. India, in particular, and Pakistan to a lesser degree, have emerged as world-class military powers equal to Great Britain, France, Russia and China. In time, some adjustments must be made in the United Nation's structure to reflect these realities.

But the other change that is present is that the United States has emerged as the only super power in the world today and this means that the United States will be tempted to dismantle the United Nations and impose its own pax Americana on the world. The doctrine of preemptive strikes and the willingness of the Anglo-American forces to invade Iraq without a U.N. resolution, which they most assuredly could not have gotten, are manifestations of that attitude.

I think this administration needs to be challenged on this behavior. Being the world's only super power means that the United States has a responsibility in this world that no one else has. It is the responsibility of leadership. But the best way to lead is not by intimidation but by example. Leadership is best demonstrated when others want to follow the example you have set. The worst way to lead is by being a bully and forcing others to follow out of fear. I fear we are in the USA, at this moment, moving in the wrong direction. A correction is surely in order. I hope it happens soon.

John Shelby Spong





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