Episcopalians join nation in bracing for war with Iraq
by James Solheim and Jan Nunley
(ENS) Episcopalians are joining other Americans, and Christians
around the world, bracing for what appears to be an inevitable
war with Iraq.
As a sign of growing tensions, some bishops of the Episcopal
Church, meeting in their spring retreat at Kanuga Conference
Center in North Carolina, scattered for home in the wake of
President George W. Bush's March 17 address to the nation giving
Saddam Hussein of Iraq 48 hours to comply with United Nations
resolutions or leave his country. Hussein rejected the
ultimatum, the UN inspectors and other internationals left Iraq,
and American troops put their fingers on the trigger in
anticipation of a massive attack in the coming days.
Episcopalians joined in prayer and protest, clinging to
diminishing hopes for a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the
crisis--and they responded in a variety of ways. Bishop Carolyn
Tanner Irish of Utah interrupted her sabbatical in England and
returned to the diocese "on a spiritual and pastoral mission
because of the war," participating in conversations with all 22
"The British and Europeans have known war on their own soil,"
she said. "For them, war is not an option. Their collective
security, the European Union, depends on cooperation." She told
the diocese that "spiritual leadership at a time of such
fearsome uncertainty will require much from us all."
"War is about killing people--God's people, God's children, our
sisters and brothers in our common humanity," said Bishop James
E. Waggoner, Jr. of Spokane (Washington). "It's about destroying
property and scarring the spirit. Could there be a worse
strategy for trying to resolve anything? Have we learned nothing
since Cain slew Abel? What could be further from the Gospel we
teach, preach and try to live?"
Many bishops endorsed Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold's March
13 statement, "Finding Our Way: A Christian Perspective," saying
that he "supported the alternatives to war that would both
address the legitimate concerns of our nation and recognize that
war would at this point is not the solution." Recognizing that
war seemed inevitable, he said, "I do not believe it is an
exaggeration to say that decisions made now will affect our
global future for good or ill."
Griswold added, "I am deeply disturbed that some Christians are
animated by notions of a God of vengeance and retribution, and
adopt simplistic views of good and evil" when the task of people
of faith is "to point us all toward a God abounding in
compassion and love for each one of us." He also expressed
concern that "the call for war and the attendant rhetoric have
profoundly polarized our nation" and a loss of "our ability to
see ourselves as part of a global community." He warned that
"our national spirit is being slowly poisoned."
Meeting with president sought
In his statement, Griswold repeated a request that the president
meet with him and other church leaders to share perspectives and
"to join with him in prayer that we may be faithful to the ways
in which God is inviting this great nation of ours to be a
blessing to the nations of the world."
Mainline church leaders have been frustrated that the president
has refused to meet with them. "There's never been such unity
among the churches in the country, even during Vietnam," said
the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners. He led a delegation of
religious leaders--including Bishop John Chane of
Washington--that met with Prime Minister Tony Blair in London.
The only anti-war church leader to meet with the president is
Cardinal Pio Laghi, a peace emissary sent by Pope John Paul II.
The peace delegation, formed by General Secretary Bob Edgar of
the National Council of Churches, also met with other
international letters in a last-ditch attempt to energize a
In recent months American Christians have debated the morality
of war and reached different conclusions. While most mainline
churches joined in opposition, most evangelicals agree with the
president, arguing that a preemptive strike would meet the
traditional criteria of a just war. "The question, as Lincoln
said during the Civil War, is not whether God is on our side,
but are we on God's?" said Richard Cizik, vice president of the
National Association of Evangelicals. "I think President Bush is
doing his best to be on God's side."
Debate on local level
On the diocesan and congregational level, some of the
polarization Griswold mentioned was quite evident. In Orange
County California, near the huge military base at Camp
Pendleton, the Rev. Diane Jardine Bruce of St.
Clements-by-the-Sea said, "We've faced tough issues but the war
issue is the toughest of my ministry here. There is a lot of
emotion. Pastoring both sides, taking care of military families,
balancing it all out." She is the daughter of two Marines.
The Diocese of Los Angeles considered a resolution expressing
"strongest objection" to pre-emptive military action but Bishop
Jon Bruno asked that the resolution be tabled because of the
turbulent and divisive debate. Although the diocese is one of
the most liberal in the church, and Bruno personally opposes
military action, he said it was imperative for people to find
their own voices on "what God is calling us to do." He added
that "we must go slowly. No war is a war of God."
In the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, Bishop Michael Creighton
wrote a pastoral letter arguing that preemptive strikes are "out
of character with the history of our society...and with our
Christian life and faith." But he urged members to wrestle with
the issues for themselves, in the light of the Gospel. He and
the clergy established a Fund to Aid Military Households to
support the families because "the coming months will be
financially challenging and extremely lonely."
In the meantime the church's chaplains are being mobilized. Six
active-duty and 17 reserve and National Guard chaplains are
providing ministry to the troops, according to the Rev. Gerald
Blackburn, director of military ministries. He and Bishop George
Packard are spending many hours on the telephone offering words
of support and encouragement to the families of chaplains called
Packard said that many bishops at the Kanuga meeting, after
hearing President George Bush's address, made plans to leave the
meeting immediately and return to their dioceses. "The bishops
want to make sure all their churches are open to provide what I
describe as 'a St. Paul's Chapel effect,'" said Packard,
describing the ministry and presence the little New York chapel
offered amid the ruins at the World Trade Tower site September
No prayers for victory
On the international level, bishops in the Church of England
said that they will refuse to pray for victory but instead ask
congregations to pray for the safe return of the troops, support
for their families, and relations with other faith groups.
Bishop Richard Chartres of London said that the church showed
great wisdom in not authorizing public prayers for victory
during the two world wars.
Experience with war also led to a statement from the Anglican
Church in Japan (Nippon Sei Ko Kai) warning that "once USA
starts a war with Iraq there will be retaliation which will in
turn create another war and the whole world will be covered with
wars." The statement alleges that, despite a constitution that
"states that we will never go into war and will maintain
disarmament," in harmony with Christ's teaching, the government
of Japan supports an attack on Iraq.
Candlelight vigils gather for peace
In a widely quoted Associated Press story, a Washington, D.C.,
layman who has a son in the Marine Corps strongly objected to
Griswold "claiming to represent the body of the Episcopal
Church" in statements calling for the Bush administration to
find a peaceful solution in Iraq. "It's similar to a rock star
making pronouncements on world peace," said Jim Oakes. "It's
very interesting but what do they know?"
But other Episcopalians apparently agreed with Griswold, as
Episcopal churches in cities and small towns across the nation
joined in more than 6,500 vigils organized for Sunday, March 16
at the prompting of South Africa's Anglican Archbishop Desmond
Tutu and the National Council of Churches, beginning in New
Zealand and rolling west around the globe.
A handful of people assembled for two hours at the front
courtyard at Trinity Episcopal Church in Kearny, New Jersey.
About 60 people came to an ecumenical service to pray for peace
at Christ Episcopal Church in Springfield, Illinois, organized
by the Springfield City Clergy. About 90 Salinas, California,
residents attended a candlelight vigil outside the post office
in Oldtown. "There are people who feel differently about war,
and we carry candles of light," said Tom Woodward of St. Paul's
A circle of about 40 people gathered silently Sunday at the
entrance to the parking lot at St. John's Episcopal Church in
Roanoke, Virginia, holding lights and candles, praying and
singing. Another vigil was held at Christ Episcopal Church in
downtown Dayton, Ohio.
Morality, not politics
A row of empty coffins headed a procession in St. Paul,
Minnesota, and an estimated 1,300 peace advocates carrying
candles silently mourned the "not yet dead," then walked to the
state capitol in a protest sponsored by the Episcopal Peace
Fellowship and other organizations.
A rally called "People of Faith for Peace and Against a
Pre-emptive War on Iraq" in Detroit drew about 5,000 members of
nearly 2,400 Detroit congregations. "The faith communities are
fearful and distrustful of this rush to war, most especially
because the Bush administration has so disrespected our historic
allies," said the Rev. Harry Cook of St. Andrew's Episcopal
Church in Clawson, Michigan, to Detroit's Daily Tribune. "This
is not politics, this is morality."
In the last time zone in the United States, 125 residents on
windward Oahu gathered on Kailua Beach, one of 20 vigils held
across Hawaii. At St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Kailua,
the rector, the Rev. B. Cass Bailey, called the entire parish to
a round-the-clock day of fasting and prayer at the church from 5
p.m. March 19 until 5 p.m. March 20. Last fall the Episcopal
Diocese of Hawaii adopted a resolution urging Bush to exercise
restraint in the use of first-strike capabilities against Iraq.
But Episcopalians have spoken out against war in Iraq for some
The Rev. Dan Webster has been waving a sign in front of the
Federal Building in downtown Salt Lake City every Thursday
evening since last October. From the podium on the Capitol porch
March 16, Webster waved a Bible and declared to a crowd, "You
can find words in here to justify anything. But to justify death
and destruction in the name of God is to act just as the pilots
of those planes did on September 11. And you can't do that, Mr.
At a "Books not Bombs" rally at the University of Central
Arkansas on March 5, one of the speakers was the Rev. Gar Demo
of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Conway, who has been hosting
peace gatherings at his church on Wednesday nights. "We share
peace readings, and we try to encourage each other," Demo told
the Arkansas Times.
At the Isaiah Wall across from the United Nations, Episcopalians
from the Diocese of New York have chanted the Great Litany in
procession each Friday at noon since the beginning of Lent. And
for several weeks, passersby have been able to stop in at the
Chapel of Christ the Lord at the Episcopal Church Center in New
York, just a block from the UN, to light a candle for peace.
Forums, prayer services address fears
A forum on March 3 at St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Reston,
Virginia, attracted national attention when Rep. James Moran, a
seven-term Democratic congressman from Northern Virginia, told
an audience of about 120, "If it were not for the strong support
of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be
doing this." The remarks were reported to a local Jewish
newspaper and were picked up by the national media.
St. Anne's rector, the Rev. James A. Papile, said he had
received phone calls from members of the Jewish community
expressing "deep concern" that Moran's remarks were
anti-Semitic. "My fear," Papile wrote in a letter published on
the church's web site, "is that the current rush to war by the
[Bush] administration is causing or is exacerbating tensions
within our community, tensions between Jewish people and
non-Jewish people, between Muslim people and non-Muslim people.
This has the makings of a real American tragedy."
At a regular monthly meeting of the Daughters of the King at St.
Andrew's Episcopal Church in downtown Tampa, Florida, a group of
20 women circulate a prayer list containing soldiers' names and
pass out buttons bearing the drawing of a dove and the name and
age of an Iraqi child. Members of the parish have been leading
noon prayers every day since the first anniversary of the
September 11 attacks.
On South Carolina's Grand Strand, another Daughters of the
King-led vigil gathered to pray March 3 at St. Paul's Episcopal
Church in Conway. "I feel God is in charge, and I think he can
stop this through us and through prayer," parishioner Edie
Burgess told the Myrtle Beach Sun News.
In upstate New York, the Rev. Julie Cicora led teens at St.
Luke's Church in Perinton in an overnight "lock-in" to discuss
feelings about war recently. "There is just a general feeling
among kids of insecurity and fear," she told the Rochester
In Connecticut, each church in the Middlesex Area Cluster
Ministry, a group of Episcopal churches, will open its doors as
a sanctuary for peace when war begins. "We have prayers from the
Book of Common Prayer that we have put into a bulletin along
with some Scripture readings," the Rev. Marsha Hoekler,
missioner for the cluster, told the New Haven Register.
--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service. The Rev.
Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service.