Chorus of religious voices opposed to war with Iraq growing
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
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
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
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."
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.