From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[ENS] Spirited conversation addresses war and peace

From "Mika Larson" <>
Date Fri, 1 Aug 2003 07:57:37 -0400

July 31, 2003

Spirited conversation addresses war and peace

by James Thrall
[ENS] Against the backdrop of ongoing hostilities in Iraq, a panel of
military chaplains and peace activists considered war in a forum
Wednesday night, but mostly as a way to talk about peace. 

The forum was one of five "conversations" drawing hundreds of people to
presentations onteh opening evening of convention.

The forum raised the questions, "How can we balance ethical demands with
the need to feel secure?" and "How can we think about war, especially
the Christian idea of a 'just war,' when faced with crises like those in
Afghanistan, Iraq and throughout the Middle East?"

Noting the significant number of teenagers in the audience of about 80
people, Bishop George Packard, bishop suffragan for chaplaincies,
pointed out that the soldiers he and other chaplains serve are usually
about the same age, "very late teens and early 20s." 

While he said it was clear that planning for the aftermath of the Iraq
invasion has been woefully inadequate, Packard stressed his admiration
for the people in the military and the need to support them. The young
soldiers there, he said, are "highly trained, very well disciplined,"
but also understandably scared. Trained for one task, they have been
thrown into entirely different responsibilities as a police force.

The Episcopal Church is committed to being a "peace" church, he said,
but "on the way to the kingdom, I believe that coercive force may have
to be used." Given the destructive impact of modern warfare, he said,
the difficult question for responsible Christians to ponder is "when
that coercive force is necessary" or even useful.

The military has the difficult and important task of defending the
nation "against all enemies, foreign and domestic," said the Rev.
Kristina Coppinger, a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves at
Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. 

But, she said, "prior to the commitment of troops, all of us have the
responsibility to get involved domestically and internationally to try
to avoid war." Even the majority of the military, she said, would prefer
to be "ambassadors, if you will, for the cause of peace, and not the
instrument of force when that peace fails. They would rather help with
disaster relief, assist with immigration emergencies, quell civil
disturbances, enforce sanctions."

September 11 "forever changed the way we view our national security,"
Coppinger said. While not wanting to be "easy targets," however, "we
must also ensure that our own actions as Americans and as a country do
not make people or countries want to attack us."

Traveling twice to Afghanistan to help rebuild a mosque destroyed by
coalition bombing helped show the Rev. Stephen Holton, founder of the
Episcopal-Muslim Relations Committee of the Diocese of New York, "how we
can build our security on ethics, and our ethics on love, and our love -
finally - on the love from God."

A young Afghan imam, who was particularly angry about the bombing and
suspicious of American offers to help, was won over when the mosque was,
in fact, rebuilt.

At the rededication service, "the same young man who had been so mad at
me the first time, spoke up and said that I had promised that we would
build the mosque together, and here it is completed," Holton said. "He
had learned something about Christian love - the love that makes
promises in the midst of hate, the love that keeps its promises."

Blessed with "enormous wealth and power," the United States needs to use
them responsibly and to recognize the need to address national issues of
social injustice before interfering with other countries, said Deborah
Stokes of Southern Ohio, chair of the Standing Commission for National
Concerns. "I had always been taught that you should clean your own house
before going to clean others; and my brothers and sisters, our house is
not clean," she said.  "Oh yes, my brothers and sisters, there should be
a war - a war against poverty, inequality and injustice."

With a series of slides showing the extensive cultural, racial and
religious diversity in the greater Detroit area, the Rev. Daniel
Appleyard, who chaired the panel, illustrated what he said is the
changing face of American culture. Long active in Christian-Muslim
relations, Appleyard said he hoped the interfaith experience in Detroit
would "give voice and vision for every community that has intimately
encountered people of other faiths and have come to see the face of God
in the other." Only "in larger, more universal communities," he said,
will we "be given the gifts we don't possess, and so become a people of
justice and peace."

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