Churches, Denied Meeting With Bush, Take War Protest to Congress

By KEVIN ECKSTROM c. 2003 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON -- Anti-war religious leaders have met with the heads of Great Britain, France, Germany, and soon, Italy and Russia. On Wednesday (Feb. 26), they met with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, asking him to address the United Nations to oppose a war with Iraq.

But for all their diplomatic globetrotting, the church leaders have been unable to land a meeting with President Bush. In a snowy Capitol Hill rally with European religious leaders, the churches said Bush can no longer ignore their moral voice.

"The only government that refuses to speak with church leaders is our own," said a frustrated Jim Winkler, head of the social policy agency for the United Methodist Church, of which President Bush is a member.

The looseknit coalition of church leaders, coordinated by the National Council of Churches, has mounted a full-force diplomatic assault against the war. NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar is a co-founder of the Win Without War coalition, which has sponsored television and print ads featuring Methodist bishops rebuking Bush's war plans.

Nearly all U.S. and European churches have voiced opposition to the war, saying that it cannot be morally justified and will sow the seeds for future terrorism. Only the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations and selected members of the Southern Baptist Convention have voiced support for the war.

On Wednesday, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Wilton Gregory, said the bishops remain skeptical about a war with Iraq. Gregory signaled a reluctant resignation that war is indeed coming, calling on Bush to exercise "moral and legal constraints" in combat.

"To permit preemptive or preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening or hostile regimes would create deeply troubling moral and legal precedents," Gregory said in a statement.

Edgar said Bush has been "isolated" by advisers who are afraid that the "third force" of church opposition will weaken the president's resolve to remove Saddam Hussein.

"I think he's startled at how strong the religious community has stepped forward and said no to this rush to war," said Edgar, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania.

The White House denies that Bush is unwilling to listen to anti-war voices. "The president meets with religious leaders on a regular basis," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan told the Washington Times. "There's nothing he would like more than to see a peaceful resolution in Iraq."

European religious leaders are not convinced. The Rev. Jean Arnold de Clermont, president of the French Protestant Federation, said his countrymen are "hurt and shocked" when their reluctance for war is seen as "hostile" to the United States.

"Your best ally is not one who leads you in error but one who helps you find the road to peace," Clermont told the rally on Capitol Hill.

Bishop Manfred Kock, Germany's top Protestant leader, also said, "I can assure you, we are not anti-American." He said the world needs to pursue a "just peace, not the quest for a just war."

The European clerics said they hoped to bolster U.S. opposition to war, even if they couldn't make their case personally to Bush.

"Although our prime minister stands shoulder to shoulder with your president, the churches in Britain and Ireland have taken a clear stand ... against war with Iraq," said the Rev. Alan McDonald of the Church of Scotland. "We're not here as politicians, we're here as parts of the Body of Christ."

After the rally, the religious leaders signed a joint declaration that said war against Iraq would be "immoral, unwise and the cause of untold suffering. As international religious leaders, it is our spiritual obligation, grounded in God's love for all of humanity, to speak out against war in Iraq."

== 30 ==

Catherine Gordon
Associate for International Issues
Washington Office, Presbyterian Church (USA)
110 Maryland Ave. Suite 104
Washington, DC 20002
tel - 202 543 1126
fax - 202 543 7755