We were joined by international church leaders
Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town;
Bishop Clive Handford, Episcopal Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf;
Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria;
Rev. Dr. Keith Clements, general secretary, Conference of European Churches;
and our United Kingdom church counterparts.
The trip was made in partnership with similar
Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Moscow, coordinated by the
National Council of Churches. In London, the organization
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland graciously hosted
We affirmed that Tony Blair, a practicing Christian, was
bringing "moral concerns" into the debate over Iraq. And
we agreed with the prime minister that the issues of
terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction
were deeply moral and theological issues. We also agreed,
unequivocally, that Saddam Hussein was a real threat to
his own people and to the entire world.
But we shared with Tony Blair how American church bodies
have never before in our history been more united in their
opposition to a war. While American and British leaders
point out how terrible the regime of Saddam Hussein is (and
rightly so), the churches want also to remind the world
(and our political leaders) how terrible war is. In moving
personal statements, the church leaders testified to our
conviction that war is not the answer to the real threats
posed by Saddam Hussein. The unintended and unpredictable
consequences of war make it far too dangerous and
destructive an option. We told the prime minister that the
answer to a brutal, threatening dictator must not be the
bombing of Baghdad's children.
It was neither hyperbole nor high drama to recognize, we
told Tony Blair, that the British people and their prime
minister are in a position to influence the decision about
a war with Iraq more than any other people or leader in
the world. We said that must be a terrible burden to bear
and offered our genuine prayers and support to Mr. Blair
as he charts the course his leadership will take in the
coming critical weeks.
As Americans, we told the British leader that it would be
a dangerous thing for the world, and for America, if an
issue of such importance were to be decided solely or
mostly by American power. We strongly affirmed that the
issue of Iraq, with all its possible consequences, must
be decided by the world community, in the Security Council
of the United Nations, and not by the unilateral decision-
making of the world's last remaining superpower. We said
that the United States was becoming a "new Rome" in
claiming a singular and pre-emptive moral authority to act
in the world today, and that this was both bad theology
and bad policy.
We respected the "convictional core" of the British prime
minister around the legitimate concerns regarding the
juxtaposition of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,
but we urged him to persevere in finding another way to
resolve the problem with Iraq apart from an American-led
war. In fact, we suggested he, more than any other world
leader, might help forge or even broker a better way,
even a "third way," beyond doing nothing about Iraq or
submitting to the inevitability of an American war, which
could lead to a post-war regime in Iraq ruled by an
American general. We talked of other directions, especially
with a strong role for the U.N.; even a U.N. mandate or
protectorate in Iraq; with rigorous inspections and
continual monitoring of Saddam Hussein, backed by international force.
The critical need for a resolution to the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict also figured prominently in our
discussions. The Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Riah, spoke
with great authority and clarity and told Prime Minister
Blair, "The road to Baghdad leads through Jerusalem." The
British government is making the critical connection
between Middle East peace and the problem of terrorism
and even Iraq, much more than the U.S. government has.
We committed ourselves to helping change that.
British Secretary of State Clare Short also met with our
delegation for an hour and a half, and joined us in the
meeting with Mr. Blair. Short is becoming an important
advisor to church efforts to find a solution to Iraq that
is both effective and humanitarian.
I was impressed by how Prime Minister Blair entered into
a real dialogue with us, shared our concerns for the people
of Iraq for a genuinely international and U.N. solution,
and recognized how crucial a Middle East peace was to this
moment. I also saw a Christian political leader seriously
wrestling with crucial matters of theology and moral
discernment as we all approach the hour that is, in Martin
Luther King Jr.'s words, "five minutes before midnight."
May God be with Tony Blair and with all of us.