On July 4, the National Council of Churches will release a statement opposing the war in Iraq, calling it dishonorable and urging a change in U.S. policy.
The council's governing board members, who wrote the statement, say Iraq's future "remains as uncertain as ever." They characterize the rationale for the invasion as "at best a tragic mistake, at worst a clever deception," noting that no weapons of mass destruction or evidence linking Iraq to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were ever found.
"This is not a statement that a handful of persons have acknowledged, but over 15,000 people have endorsed-all people of faith throughout the country from 44 different states and the District of Columbia," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, top staff executive of the council and a United Methodist.
In addition, more than 600 religious leaders have signed the statement, Edgar said. The statement will be sent to President Bush.
Edgar, along with the Rev. Larry Pickens, top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, and the Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ, discussed the statement during a June 30 telephone press conference.
"At our governing board meeting in May, many of our leaders felt it was important to develop a statement representing the broad cross-section of theological positions of the National Council of Churches," Edgar said. "We have many families of Christian communions who have struggled with the war in Iraq."
The council sought a reasonable way to end the bloodshed and protest the war, he said.
The church leaders decided the war is pointlessly dragging on and taking lives unnecessarily, according to Thomas.
"It is clear at this point that the justifications for this war have all proven false," he said. "There is horrific loss of all human life, both American soldiers, as well as other contractors, other foreign nationals that have been in the war and an untold number of Iraqis who have lost their lives in this war-numbers that our government is reluctant to acknowledge or attempt to count."
In its statement, "A Call to Speak Out," the council says the time has come to "say no to leaders who have sent many honorable sons and daughters to fight a dishonorable war."
The council calls for "an early, fixed timetable" for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the establishment of a multinational peacekeeping force. The religious leaders also advocate for more just and compassionate foreign policies, and for honoring human rights-even those of enemies.
Pickens said the statement is consistent with the United Methodist Social Principles.
"(United Methodists) see war as something that we resort to as a last option, and we always look to diplomacy and other ways of addressing national conflict," he said. "I think that in relation to who we are as a people called United Methodists, it's also essential to understand the impact that this war is having, not only in terms of the violence that's escalating in the Middle East and particularly in Iraq, but also the impact that it has on our society."
The signers include numerous United Methodist pastors as well as United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert; Jan Love, chief executive of the Women's Division of the denomination's Board of Global Ministries; and Jim Winkler, top staff executive of the Board of Church and Society.
Pickens said it is important for United Methodists to speak about issues of war and to hold the White House accountable on issues of honor and integrity.
Said Edgar: "This is not about being a Methodist or Lutheran or United Church of Christ or Roman Catholic or Jewish. This is about using our faith in God and trying to wrestle with how we become the most productive, yet not violent people on this fragile planet we call Earth. My hope is that Jesus has changed the president's heart; I pray that he will change his mind."
*Scahill, a mass communications major at United Methodist-related Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan., is an intern with the Convergence Team at United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].