From the Worldwide Faith News archives

U.S. congregations struggle with possibility of war

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Thu, 6 Feb 2003 15:16:27 -0600

Feb. 6, 2003  News media contact: Kathy Gilbert7(615)742-54707Nashville,
Tenn.	10-21-71BI{062}

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert and Linda Green*

As America edges closer to a possible war with Iraq, United Methodists are
praying for peace, divine guidance for world leaders and the safety of U.S.

The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans are in
favor of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, 22 percent are opposed and 28 percent are
unsure. The poll was taken after Secretary of State Colin Powell's address to
the United Nations Security Council. The poll suggested his speech had little
impact on how Americans stood on the issue despite the belief that he
presented a strong case.

Like most of their countrymen, United Methodists in the United States are
divided over whether there is enough evidence to go to war with Iraq. Shortly
before Powell's speech, United Methodist News Service conducted a random
phone sampling across the church's five U.S. jurisdictions to ask what
pastors and church members are thinking and doing in the face of a possible

Despite strong feelings on both sides of the issue, everyone agrees they are
praying for a peace.

"Everyone feels that war is wrong and is against God's teachings that we
should love one another," says Jamie McSwain, lay leader and secretary of
Ashdown (Ark.) United Methodist Church. "But we realize that there is evil in
the world, and sometimes Christians have to stand up and do something about
the evil, and sometimes that does mean war. We as Christians would continue
to pray that there are other ways of dealing with the situation. We will pray
for our leaders and that they will go to God in any decision they undertake."

"I have heard comments that were very much against going to war and others
that comment our leaders probably know more than we do and we have to trust
them to do what is right," says the Rev. John Crede, Aledo (Ill.) United
Methodist Church. "We have had some conversations after 9-11 about our
responsibilities to make disciples and to spread the Word, wondering if some
of our lack of doing so has brought us to a place that we (Americans) are so

The United Methodist Church, in its Book of Resolutions, states that war is
incompatible with the teachings of Christ and urges the peaceful settlement
of disputes among nations. However, the church acknowledges that when
peaceful alternatives have failed, armed force may be necessary.

Many congregations are directly affected by the possibilities of war because
members have either already been deployed or may soon be called into service.

First United Methodist Church in Hinesville, Ga., is near Fort Stewart, one
of the first military posts to be deployed.

"Of course our congregation desires for us not to have to go to war," says
the Rev. Anita Pringle, associate pastor. "The military people feel that is
what they are called to do, this is their job, and they need to go and do it
and do it well. We try to support them in their desire to carry out what they
feel they have been called to do. We are praying constantly for peace while
trying to be very supportive of those in our congregation and in the
community who are faced with the possibility of war," she says.

Mary Lee Clark United Methodist Church in Del City, Okla., is also located
near a military post, Tinker Air Force Base.

"We are a Native American congregation and have several veterans who are
taking a wait-and-see attitude," says the Rev. William Stoneroad. "With them
having been in conflict, like myself, we don't want to see a war. But if it
comes, war will be accepted. The people in the congregation will support it.
"Coming from a ministerial point of view, I try to get them to realize that
there has to be compassion and that compassion begins with the person. It is
difficult as a veteran to think of conflict and that it should be averted,
but as a Christian to realize that we are all made by the same God," he says.
"The difficulty arises in thinking if there should be war or should we be
engaged in a peaceful venture. We don't want war but realize that lives are
being damaged by Saddam Hussein. We are dealing with a person on the brink of

Some of those contacted have strong words of support for President George
Bush, while others feel he is rushing to war.

"The president is of the opinion that for America and the world to be a safe
place, Saddam must be removed from power," says the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell,
pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston and a friend of
the president's.

"I don't want to oversimplify a complicated and painful situation, but that
is the long and short of it. He (President Bush) really, really does not want
to go to war. But more than that, he really wants to remove Saddam." 

"Our president is a United Methodist," says the Rev. Lenny Stadler,
Weddington United Methodist Church in Matthews, N.C. "I want the president to
know there are United Methodist clergy and laity - an overwhelming majority -
who are supportive of him. I don't want him to think all United Methodists
are holding to passive views at this point.

"I don't want to go to war, but when you look at the alternatives, what
option do we really have?" he asks. "It is not a question of how much more
time we are going to give inspectors; it is a question of how much more time
we are going to give Saddam to keep stalling and delaying and deceiving.

"I hope we can truly as a nation not get divided over this but get behind the
president with our prayers and support," he adds.

Allen O. Morris, on the board of an unofficial church organization called
Concerned Methodists, agrees that President Bush is in the best position to
make a decision about whether to go to war or not. According to its Web site,
Concerned Methodists is a "renewal" group working within the United Methodist
Church, urging it to greater biblical faithfulness to its Wesleyan heritage.

"What we should do is pray for the president, pray for his discretion and be
confident in his Christian walk," Morris says.

"Along with prayers for the president, we pray for the safety of soldiers on
both sides of the conflict. We pray for Saddam's salvation. Wouldn't it be
great if he had a Damascus Road experience and became a champion of world

Some feel the American people are not getting all the facts.

"If the president and higher officials know something, then they should tell
us," says the Rev. Paul Luckett, Blessed Trinity United Methodist Church in
Jackson, Miss. 

"Saddam and Bush need to stop playing games. I understand egos, but it is
time to come clean and not let innocent people be killed. This is no
plaything. This is life and death. If they want Saddam, go get him, but leave
the innocent people alone. The Bible speaks of war but anytime we can prevent
it, we need to prevent it. People do not have to die."

The Rev. Lee Elder, pastor of Asbury-Mt. Olive United Methodist Church in
Topeka, Kan., has similar views.
"I am opposed to this war," he says. "If the administration has evidence of
weapons of mass destruction, it should let us know and should stop playing
games. If Saddam Hussein is removed, the one replacing him would be worse
than he, and civilians would suffer. The vast majority to die will be
civilians. The same thing happened in the first Gulf War."

He says his congregation is opposed to war and feels it is an issue of oil in
the Middle East and of America just being "arrogant and hypocritical."

"We have weapons of mass destruction, and it is hypocritical to tell others
not to have them," he says.
Michael Graham, a member of Lincoln Park United Methodist Church in
Washington D.C., also feels the conflict is about oil, and he believes Bush
wants revenge on Saddam for trying to assassinate the president's father. "He
slipped up and said that once," Graham says of Bush.

He points out that many young men and women in his congregation are in the
armed services. "We are planning to do a tape of the congregation in various
ministries to send to young people that are in our church that are presently
over there or about to be deployed. It is something that is always on our
minds because it affects our children."

The Rev. Ken Murray, pastor of Seay Hubbard United Methodist Church in
Nashville, Tenn., says his church feels that there isn't enough evidence to
justify military action. "We as a congregation believe that all avenues or
other means of dealing with the issues in Iraq need to be utilized or
exhausted before a war," he says. "We have not been given any evidence of
weapons of mass destruction, and the buildup of forces is premature. It
appears to us and to me that regardless of what the inspectors find, things
for war are already in place. This is going to bring more suffering to the
people, and we don't believe that this is the Christian thing to do. We don't
have the evidence that will justify a war."

The Rev. Gary Main, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Columbus,
Neb., says his congregation "is divided about the possible war. We have both
sides. Some members say that we need more information before considering war.
Others trust the president, and if he says go, they believe we should go.
There is a conservative-liberal dynamic here.
"Before we declare war, we need more information. I would be opposed to war
unless more information is forthcoming and it is reasonable," he says, giving
his personal view.

"The congregation is fairly pro-war, pro-U.S.," says the Rev. Larry Gray,
associate pastor of Memorial United Methodist Church in Farmington, Mo. His
rural congregation "is very patriotic," he says.
"I am an old veteran (Air Force), and I am very much pro about holding the
flag, holding the country and defending the honor," he adds.

"We have been praying for peace," says the Rev. Jesus Bermudez, pastor of El
Buen Samartino United Methodist Church in Albuquerque, N.M. "We believe the
negotiations should be exhausted before going into any war. We don't want war
to happen. The congregation's view is based on the belief that Christians are
called to seek peace in our world. We don't think war will solve anything. It
will be destroying many people.   
"We don't know if Saddam has the arms that the U.S. claims he does," he says.
"The inspectors have not found anything, but if our government knows
something, they should prove it and then confront Saddam and ask him to
destroy the arms."

"I am guessing we as a congregation don't have a single mind about the
possibility of war," says the Rev. Earl Guy, associate pastor of Escondido
(Calif.) First United Methodist Church. "There are probably strong feelings
on many different points of view, and a number that don't have strong
feelings at all.

"I am opposed to war," he adds. "I am generally not in favor of war as a
means of our national interest. I think there may be circumstances where war
is necessary or unavoidable. I don't feel the case has been made that is the
case here."

The Rev. Jim Hall of Hemet (Calif.) United Methodist Church has been actively
protesting the possibility of war. He has participated in anti-war rallies
and is addressing his view in the church newsletter this week.

"My wife and I decided we needed to do something to show our concern and our
dislike for the concept that somehow war is a solution or a way to deal with
problems," he says. "As United Methodists, we are people of peace. We feel we
need to support, promote and encourage that understanding. We need to look at
every diplomatic way we can to deal with things. To run off and start massing
troops and threatening people is just inconceivable to me," he says.

He says he has had a lot of support for his viewpoint in his congregation,
and some have even joined in the rallies with him. On the other hand, he
says, one couple told him they were leaving the church and all churches.

"Some are opposed to where I am, but we are in dialogue and we are talking
about it. That is what United Methodist do. We don't have to agree; we have
the right to different views." 
# # #
*Gilbert and Green are United Methodist News Service staff members in
Nashville, Tenn.

United Methodist News Service
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