From the Worldwide Faith News archives

United Methodist bishop talks peace with Tony Blair

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Wed, 19 Feb 2003 14:36:40 -0600

Feb. 19, 2003  News media contact: Linda Bloom7(212)870-38037New York

NOTE: This report is accompanied by two sidebars, UMNS stories #088 and #089.
A head-and-shoulders photograph of Bishop Melvin Talbert is available. 

By Kathleen LaCamera*

LONDON (UMNS) - The results of war with Iraq would be catastrophic, a group
of church leaders, including United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, told
British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a face-to-face meeting Feb. 18.

Only days after U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix presented his latest
report to the U.N. Security Council and more than 6 million peace protestors
took to the streets worldwide, a U.S. National Council of Churches delegation
visited Blair to express deep concern about a military response against Iraq.

During the 50-minute conversation at Blair's 10 Downing Street offices,
delegates told the prime minister that the major U.S. churches have never
been so united against a war. Only the Southern Baptists have issued a
statement supporting military intervention.

The delegation also met separately with Britain's international development
secretary, Clare Short, who has been one of the most prominent voices within
the Blair Cabinet calling for military restraint. Short's department
administers several billion dollars' worth of international aid distributed
by Britain each year.  

At the press conference that followed, Talbert and the six other members of
the NCC delegation called the discussions "engaging, productive and honest."

"I found Blair cordial, very frank and someone who was genuinely listening to
us. We came not to badger but to encourage the prime minister to use his
leadership for peace and justice," Talbert said.  
Jim Wallis, delegation leader and editor of Sojourners magazine, said that a
"real relationship was established" with Blair during what he called a
"crucial" conversation.   

"The British government and the British people are in a position to shape
this decision (about war with Iraq) more than any other people or government
in the world," said Wallis. "I believe that the prime minister may be the
best person in the world to open up the possibilities of a better way beyond
the deadlocks we're now experiencing." 
The Rev. Dan Weiss, of the American Baptist Church USA, explained that what
was supposed to be a 15-minute conversation turned into a discussion that
lasted for almost an hour. "We were delighted to meet the prime minister,
even as our own president won't see us," Weiss said. 

The White House has yet to respond to a request by church leaders for a
similar face-to-face meeting with President George W. Bush.  
"We will go home and ask for another meeting with Bush, based on the success
of this meeting with Tony Blair," Wallis said. "(Bush) needs to take the
interfaith, ecumenical community seriously. He hasn't up to this point; quite
clearly, the British government has."

Wallis and others in the delegation expressed concern that Bush, a United
Methodist, has "walled himself off" from critical voices. They are
disappointed that the president has been unwilling to meet on this
"faith-based initiative for peace" with leaders whom he has previously met
with on other issues.

Of equal concern to Bishop John Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
is the fact that there has been virtually no debate within Congress on a war
with Iraq. "The churches are bringing that debate to the center of the public
forum," he added. "We are hopeful about that."	  

Officially, the meeting with Blair was "private and off the record." Wallis
reported that during their conversation, Blair and the delegates spoke
candidly as fellow Christians sharing mutual and moral concerns about global
terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Key to their discussions was the
central role that the United Nations must play in resolving these crises. The
delegation also made clear its conviction that a peaceful resolution of the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict is crucial. 

"Find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and you will
isolate Saddam Hussein," Chane said. "That's an issue that's not even being
addressed back in the U.S."

"We, as an American, British and international delegation, feel these issues
should not be resolved by the last remaining superpower but by collective
international efforts," Wallis said. 

While delegation members urged the prime minister to take the lead in
"helping the world to solve problems differently," they admitted no one could
afford to walk away from the problems that have led to calls for military
action. Their discussions identified practical solutions, including the
possibility of the need for U.N. protectorates and international courts with
strong enforcement mechanisms against the Saddam Husseins and Slobodan
Milosevics of the world. 

"This is a peace pilgrimage. We're not supporting Saddam Hussein. We're not
identifying with the outlaw," Talbert said. "We are very concerned about what
will happen to innocent people in Iraq in the rush to war. Over half the
population of Iraq is under the age of 15."

Talbert has twice visited Iraq and as recently as January met with Christian
and Muslim leaders there as well as with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq

During two full days of events in the United Kingdom organized by Churches
Together in Britain and Ireland, delegation members also met with a range of
British religious leaders including the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan

Delegation participants included Talbert; Wallis; Chane; Weiss; the Rev.
Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk, Presbyterian Church USA; the Rt. Rev.
Clive Handford, bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf; the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal
of Jerusalem; and the Most Rev. Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, South

Accompanying the delegation were Bishop Peter Price, Anglican bishop of Bath
and Wells; Bishop John Gladwin, Anglican bishop of Guildford and chairman of
the Board of Christian Aid; the Rev. David Coffey, general secretary, Baptist
Union of Great Britain; the Rev. John Waller, moderator, United Reformed
Church; the Rev. Keith Clements, general secretary, Conference of European
Churches; David Goodbourn, general secretary, Churches Together in Britain
and Ireland; and Paul Renshaw, coordinating secretary for international
affairs, CTBI.

# # #

*LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.

United Methodist News Service
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