From the Worldwide Faith News archives

International Church Leaders Plead for Peaceful Solution to Iraq

From "Nat'l Council of Churches" <>
Date Thu, 27 Feb 2003 15:15:29 -0500


National Council of Churches
Media Contact: Carol Fouke, 212-870-2252

International Church Leaders Plead for Peaceful Solution to Iraq Crisis

 By Joretta Purdue*

 February 27, 2003, WASHINGTON, D.C. (UMNS) - Congressional legislative
staff and media representatives crowded a room in a Senate office building
Wednesday (February 26) to hear top-level ecumenical representatives from
Europe express solidarity with the people of America and call for a peaceful
solution to the conflict with Iraq.

 Four U.S.-based religious leaders also spoke at the one-hour briefing Feb.
26. They advocated for a peaceful solution to the standoff with Iraq.

 "As people of faith, we are one in our concern about the rush to war. We
are one in our opposition to thinking war is an option," said the Rev. Dr.
Bob Edgar, who moderated the event. Edgar, a United Methodist, is General
Secretary of the National Council of Churches.

 A former congressman from Pennsylvania, Edgar stressed that none of the
speakers favored the policies of Iraq ' s government.  "But we believe the
president of the United States and the U.N. have won, " he declared.  " The
inspectors are there; let them inspect. If we need more inspectors, bring
more inspectors in. If we find weapons of mass destruction, destroy them.

 "We don ' t need to go to war to (settle) the issues that are presented to
us in relation to Iraq," he said. Edgar described his experience in Baghdad,
which he visited during the New Year ' s holiday with a group of 13 people.
He displayed a picture of a four-year-old Presbyterian Iraqi that he had
met, and warned of the damage to children there and everywhere in the event
of war.

 "The prevailing assumption in the United States government is that war with
Iraq is inevitable," said Jim Winkler, staff head of the United Methodist
Board of Church and Society, the denomination ' s international agency for
advocacy and social justice.  "As a Christian, I find such sentiment to be
unacceptable."	He urged Christians to face up to the choice between their
willingness to participate in war and their faith in God and Jesus as the
prince of peace.

 Winkler has traveled to Baghdad and Germany in the last two months with
NCC-led groups of U.S. church leaders. Such groups have met with government
leaders in Great Britain, France and Italy, and plans are under way for a
March trip to Russia.

 "The only government that refuses to speak with church leaders is our own,"
Winkler said, after noting that both President George W. Bush and Vice
President Dick Cheney are United Methodists.

 "The notion that the United States can remake Iraq and, indeed, the entire
region into a democratic, pro-Western zone through a military invasion is a
fantasy,"  Winkler declared.  "No matter how contemptible Saddam Hussein is,
the people of Iraq do not want a U.S. Army general as their new dictator,
viceroy or proconsul. Further, the nearly complete lack of willingness on
the part of our government to address the root causes of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not bode well for an absolutely necessary
regionwide settlement."

 The Rev. Jean Arnold de Clermont, president of the French Protestant
Federation, defended his country ' s call for allowing the U.N. weapons
inspectors more time to do their work.	"We are hurt and shocked when the
position taken by France is considered hostile to the United States," he
said.  "Your best ally is not one who guides you into error but helps you
find the road to peace."

 He also warned that such a conflict would play into the hands of al-Qaida
leader Osama bin Laden.  "A war in Iraq would be a catastrophe for the
moderate American and Muslim world,"  de Clermont said.  "This is exactly
what bin Laden is hoping for."

 "We are not anti-American," asserted Bishop Manfred Kock, president of the
Evangelical Church in Germany. His church has stated that it rejects an
attack on Iraq	"for reasons of ethics and international law."

 "War is contrary to the will of God,"	and it must be a last resort of
policymakers, Kock said. All war brings distress to innocent people and
often does not achieve its goal, he added.

 "It ' s not for the United States of America or the United Kingdom to
decide when we should go to war, but for the United Nations to decide about
peace,"  said the Rev. Alan D. McDonald, with the Church of Scotland.

 McDonald, representing the churches of Britain and Ireland, said the people
in those countries held unprecedented protests.  "The overwhelming majority
of the denominations of the United Kingdom have spoken out clearly and
decisively against the rush to war with Iraq,"	he said. That ' s despite
Prime Minister Tony Blair standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush
on the matter, he noted.

 "Peace is a long-term process without politically manipulated timetables,"
said Salpy Eskidjian, a program executive with the World Council of
Churches. The council includes 342 churches and denominations in 120
countries with a membership of 400 million Christians.

 Saying the international ecumenical fellowship is united in its message to
stop the war against Iraq, she asserted that  "war is not the work of God
but a sin against God and a degradation of humankind."

 "U.N. diplomacy is not flawless,"  said Eskidjian, a native of Cyprus.
"But if diplomacy is flawed and frequently stumbles or fails, war is most
certainly a flawed instrument. Indeed, war is not an alternative 'solution,
it is the absence of a solution."

 Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace movement, has repeatedly
condemned a pre-emptive war with Iraq, said Marie Dennis, a vice president.
One reason is that the lives of 1.26 million children in Iraq will be
endangered as  "more than 60 percent of Iraq ' s population depend heavily
on the U.N. 's Oil for Food program, which will not be sustained - or will
be very difficult to sustain - in the event of war."

 "The burden of war will once again be carried by the poor and vulnerable as
military expenditures steal funds from social programs in the U.S. and
around the world," she said.

 Even the suggestion that the United States would use nuclear weapons
"would, we believe, unleash a destructive force,"  she said. Pre-emptive war
in Iraq will further destabilize the region, causing more deaths;  "increase
the threat of terrorist attacks around the world, including on U.S. soil" ;
cause ecological devastation; and open the door to similar acts of
aggression by other countries.

 "We urge the U.S. Congress to withdraw its support for war in Iraq and
demand answers from the Bush administration about the potential cost and
consequences of a U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq,"  she said.

 "The world is desperate,"  asserted Jim Wallis, executive director and
editor of Sojourners magazine. He led the NCC delegation that met with
British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  "We ' re desperate" to find an
alternative course of action that is neither war nor inaction, Wallis said.

 He suggested that if the inspections imposed are not strong enough, they
need to be strengthened.  "If there are concerns about how effective they
are, how might we make them more effective? If resolutions are not being
enforced, how might they indeed be enforced?"  He said the focus should not
be on attacking the people of Iraq but on addressing the problem: Saddam
Hussein.  Said Wallis:	"We must find a way to respond to Iraq without
bombing the children of Baghdad."


 *Purdue is United Methodist News Service ' s Washington news director.  She
may be reached at 202-546-8722.  Photos are available.

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