From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: Chicago religious leaders ask President Bush to give peace a chance
Mon, 2 Dec 2002 16:49:37 -0500
December 2, 2002
Episcopalians: Chicago religious leaders ask President Bush
to give peace a chance
by David Skidmore
(ENS) Religious moderates, long overshadowed by their
conservative counterparts in the debate over Iraq, found their
way back to center stage at a press conference at the Episcopal
Church Center in Chicago December 1. In their first joint
statement on a national political issue, members of the Council
of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago urged President
Bush to make war "among the last options our nation might
elect," and work with other nations to ensure a long-term
stability in the Middle East and around the world.
In a letter to President Bush drafted Thanksgiving week and
signed by over 30 of the 47 denominational and faith group
leaders making up the council, Chicago's religious leaders urged
the President to continue working with other nations for greater
security in the Middle East and Persian Gulf "while avoiding, if
at all possible, a costly, dangerous and destructive war." The
leaders, acknowledging their past difficulty achieving consensus
on the 1990-91 Gulf War as well as last year's intervention in
Afghanistan, were able to find common ground on the issue of
whether war with Iraq is justified at this time. It is not, they
While some members believe war can never be justified, and
others hold that just war is possible under narrow guidelines,
the council as a whole decided "that in the present situation
conditions justifying war have not been met," stated the leaders
in their letter. Noting that "compelling evidence" of an
imminent Iraqi attack is missing, and that diplomacy has not
been exhausted, the leaders stressed "that there is ample time
and latitude for pursuing alternatives that could avert warfare,
saving untold thousands of lives."
War should be 'absolute last resort'
The United States needs to allow the U.N. inspection teams
time to do their work, said Bishop William Persell of the
Episcopal Diocese of Chicago at the press conference. Persell,
who is president of the Chicago religious leaders council, said
the U.N. teams should be tough and thorough in their
inspections, and that member nations should "hold Saddam
Hussein's feet to the fire and not let him get away with
anything. We have to really push him to comply with past U.N.
resolutions on disarmament."
War, said Persell, should remain an "absolute last resort."
That sentiment was shared by Bishop Joseph Sprague of the
United Methodist Church's Northern Illinois Conference. "It is
impossible to think about war with anything other than a heart
of sadness," he said. "War has to be the very last option if
there is to be any kind of human dignity and decency."
Several of the leaders present for the press conference hoped
the letter would be a signal for a broad-based public debate on
U.S. policy in the Middle East, a debate that has been nearly
monopolized by religious conservatives, they said.
"There is always a reluctance to do this," said the Rev. Paul
Rutgers, executive director of the Chicago Presbytery and the
council's executive director. "We feel that as well. But
hopefully this will be part of a democratic process that will
have people open up and express their feelings."
Sprague said that on visits to Washington D.C. senators have
been asking him why the progressive voice of religion has been
haphazard in its engagement of public policy issues, allowing
the Christian Coalition to monopolize the headlines. By drafting
this letter, the council now has an answer, he said.
"Today that voice is being articulated and I do believe that
they want to hear it because it is representing them in the
grassroots of this nation," said Sprague.
Letter is first for council
Given the council's diversity -- a religious mosaic of Catholic,
Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Islamic faith groups -- forging
solidarity was no mean feat. Rutgers noted that this is the
first time the council has taken a public stand on national
political issues, a watershed event in its fifteen-year history.
Organized by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin of the Catholic
Archdiocese of Chicago to address the city's racial tension, the
Council of Religious Leaders meets monthly to discuss social
issues affecting local communities and faith groups. In a rare
public statement, the council last spring called for more
stringent safeguards to prevent clergy sexual misconduct.
Though council members had talked informally with each other
about a response to the rising tensions with Iraq earlier this
year, efforts to draft a statement didn't get underway until an
October dinner hosted by Persell and his wife Nancy at their
home. Those conversations continued through email exchanges,
culminating in a day-long retreat November 26 where the leaders
composed a letter to President Bush. For Bishop Timothy Lyne,
auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the galvanizing
force has been the rapport and trust shared among the leaders.
"We have different ways of thinking about many things, but
the men and women who are part of this organization have a
unique ability to talk to each other honestly because we trust
each other," he said.
Given the diversity of organizations on the council --
besides most mainstream Protestant and Catholic denominations,
members include the Chicago Board of Rabbis, the Council of
Islamic Organizations, several Baptist conventions, the
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, the Salvation Army, and the
Unitarian Church -- the letter should catch the eye, and perhaps
the heart, of the nation's leaders, said Rabbi Ira Youdovin of
the Chicago Board of Rabbis.
"This demonstrates that opposition to a war at this time
transcends denominational boundaries. It transcends ideological
boundaries," said Youdovin. "It unites people who may disagree
on many things, but we agree that this is an important issue and
something that our country dare not do at this time."
Later this week, after other religious leaders have had a
chance to read the letter and add their names to it, the letter
will be mailed to the White House.
David Skidmore is director of communications for the Episcopal
Diocese of Chicago. The text of the letter is available on the
diocesan web site at www.epischicago.org.
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