From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Chorus of religious voices opposed to war with Iraq growing louder

Date Fri, 21 Feb 2003 15:09:22 -0500

February 21, 2003


Episcopalians: Chorus of religious voices opposed to war with 
Iraq growing louder

by James Solheim

(ENS) As US troop build-up continues, and the threat of war with 
Iraq increases, the chorus of religious voices opposed to war is 
growing louder. Episcopalians are joining other Christians in 
protest marches, prayer services and peace fasts, trying to deal 
with a growing anxiety over the implications of war.

At a meeting in Chicago, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said 
in an interview with the Sun-Times that Americans are "living 
with a level of anxiety, a sense of insecurity, which is 
bolstered now by the economic situation, the specter of war, and 
no sense of what the consequences of a military invasion of Iraq 
might be."

He added, "Listening to Anglican voices in the Middle East, it 
is clear to me that they sense it will be a complete 
destabilization of the entire Middle East. And what may be 
perceived here as a focused attack on one particular country is 
going to erupt into something involving the whole region, if not 
the whole world."

Pope John Paul II again stated his opposition, arguing in a 
meeting with religious leaders from Indonesia that Christians, 
Muslims and other faithful should not let themselves be driven 
further apart by the threat of war. The delegation appealed to 
the pope to step up his diplomatic efforts to find a "fair and 
peaceful solution" to the Iraqi crisis "based on humanitarian 
and moral principles shared by all the religions of the world," 
according to Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. 

A tragedy for religion

The pontiff has met recently with U.N. Secretary General Kofi 
Annan, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and German Foreign 
Minister Joschka Fischer to explore how to avert war with Iraq, 
a Muslim country. A special papal envoy met with Saddam Hussein 
last week to press him to comply with U.N. disarmament 

"With the real possibility of war looming on the horizon, we 
must not permit politics to become a source of further division 
among the world's religions," John Paul told the Indonesian 
delegation. "As religious leaders committed to peace, we should 
work together with our own people, with those of other religious 
beliefs and with all men and women of good will to ensure 
understanding, cooperation and solidarity," the pontiff said. 

John Paul then repeated his remarks, delivered last month to 
diplomats accredited to the Holy See, that "war is always a 
defeat for humanity." This time he added: "It is also a tragedy 
for religion." 

The road to Baghdad

The pope will meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great 
Britain who has been supporting the US on the Iraq issue. Blair 
met with five American church leaders who have been visiting key 
European leaders to argue against war. "The British government 
and the British people are in a position to shape this decision 
more than any other people or government in the world," said Jim 
Wallis of Sojourners, leader of the delegation that included 
several Anglicans--Bishop John Chane of Washington, Bishop Clive 
Handford of Cyprus and the Gulf, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal of 
Jerusalem, and Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of South Africa. 
The delegation, under sponsorship of the National Council of 
Churches, earlier visited Rome, Paris, Berlin and Moscow to meet 
with political and religious leaders.

Chane expressed concern that there has been virtually no debate 
in Congress on a war. "The churches are bringing that debate to 
the center of the public forum," he said. Expressing a shared 
conviction among the delegation that a peaceful resolution to 
the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is crucial, he said, "Find a 
peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and you will 
isolate Saddam Hussein." Riah was even more blunt. "The road to 
Baghdad leads through Jerusalem," he said during the meeting 
with Blair. 

In the meantime, his colleague Bishop Munib Younan of the 
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem was preaching at an 
ecumenical prayer service against the war. Speaking for the 
Middle East churches who have been living with war and its 
suffering, he said that "war kills the humanity of human beings 
and destroys the image of God in us." He quoted Martin Luther 
King Jr. about the necessity to find alternatives to war. "We do 
not want war against Iraq because it may be interpreted as war 
between the West and the Muslim world."

Ndungane said that "any war will affect us--in the redirection 
of resources away from poverty relief, the HIV epidemic and 
other crises. We in South Africa can offer an example of how to 
disarm that could reduce the temperature of this conflict."

Moral doubts

In Great Britain itself public opinion is running heavily 
against war. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and 
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor issued a joint statement in 
which they said, "War is always a deeply disturbing prospect; 
one that can never be contemplated without a sense of failure 
and regret that other means have not prevailed, and deep 
disquiet about all that may come in its train."

While offering prayers for those who must make the final 
decision about war, the two primates said, "The events of recent 
days show that doubts still persist about the moral legitimacy 
as well as the unpredictable humanitarian consequences of a war 
with Iraq. We recognize that the moral alternative to military 
action cannot be inaction, passivity, appeasement or 
indifference. It is vital therefore that all sides in this 
crisis engage through the United Nations fully and urgently in a 
process, including continued weapons inspections, that could and 
should render the trauma and tragedy of war unnecessary."

They concluded with a plea to the government of Iraq "to 
demonstrate forthwith its unequivocal compliance with UN 
resolutions on weapons of mass destruction."

At its meeting in Switzerland, the Executive Committee of the 
World Council of Churches issued a statement in which it 
"strongly deplores the fact that the most powerful nations of 
this world again regard war as an acceptable instrument of 
foreign policy." It called on member churches to join in a day 
of prayer for peace at the beginning of Lent.


More resources are located on these sites:

Peace and Justice Ministries:

Office of the Suffragan Bishop for Chaplaincies/Just War 

National Council of Churches:

--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service.

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