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Religious leaders 'deplore' war as solution to Iraq crisis

2/6/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: The full text of the religious leaders' statement, along with a list of signers, follows the end of this story.

United Methodist News Service

A group of U.S., European and Middle East church leaders, meeting in Berlin, issued a statement opposing military action against Iraq the same day U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations.

"We deplore the fact that the most powerful nations of this world again regard war as an acceptable instrument of foreign policy," the Feb. 5 statement said. "This creates an international culture of fear, threat and insecurity."

Three United Methodists - Bishop Walter Klaiber of Germany, James Winkler, chief executive, United Methodist Board of Church and Society, and the Rev. Robert Edgar, chief executive, U.S. National Council of Churches - were among the 25 church leaders who gathered in Germany.

The brief emergency meeting was convened by the World Council of Churches, in consultation with the Conference of European Churches, the National Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, and hosted by the Evangelical Church in Germany.

While characterizing military action as a means of regime change "immoral and in violation of the U.N. charter," the church leaders also called upon the Iraqi government to destroy any weapons of mass destruction, cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors and guarantee full respect of human rights for all its citizens. "The people in Iraq must be given hope that there are alternatives to both dictatorship and war," they said.

The church leaders met for a morning discussion and prayer service and released their statement during an afternoon press conference. Later in the day, they had an hour-long, closed-door meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Schroeder agreed with the church leaders' position on war in Iraq but reminded the delegation that by joining actions in the Balkans and maintaining troops in Afghanistan, he had changed the post-World War II German tradition of non-involvement in military actions. He emphasized that the German government does not want to hide from military commitments.

The church leaders and Schroeder agreed that the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq should be given more time to do their work and that pressure should be applied to destroy any weapons of mass destruction.

Edgar dismissed the idea that war is inevitable. "In the absence of compelling evidence that Iraq poses an imminent military threat, we will continue to press for a peaceful solution in which the innocent families of Iraq are spared the terrible scourge of war," he said.

# # #

*The World Council of Churches provided information for this story.

The full text of the statement follows:

As European church leaders, in consultation with councils of churches in the USA and the Middle East, we remain extremely concerned with the continued calls for military action against Iraq by the U.S. and some European governments. As people of faith, our love of neighbor compels us to oppose war and to seek peaceful resolution of conflicts. As churches, we pray for peace and freedom, justice and safety for the people of Iraq and in the Middle East as a whole. Such prayer obliges us to be instruments of peace.

We deplore the fact that the most powerful nations of this world again regard war as an acceptable instrument of foreign policy. This creates an international culture of fear, threat and insecurity.

We cannot accept the stated objectives of a war against Iraq, as laid out by these governments, in particular the U.S. Pre-emptive military strike and war as a means to change the regime of a sovereign state are immoral and in violation of the U.N. Charter. We appeal to the Security Council to uphold the principles of the U.N. Charter, which strictly limit the legitimate use of military force, and to refrain from creating negative precedence and lowering the threshold for using violent means to solve international conflicts.

We believe that military force is an inappropriate means to achieve disarmament of any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. We insist that the carefully designed mechanisms of the U.N. weapons inspections be given the time needed to complete their work.

All U.N. member states have to comply with binding U.N. resolutions and resolve conflicts by peaceful means. Iraq can be no exception. We call on the Government of Iraq to destroy any weapons of mass destruction and related research and production facilities. Iraq must cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors, and guarantee full respect of the civil and political, economic, social and cultural human rights for all its citizens. The people in Iraq must be given hope that there are alternatives to both dictatorship and war.

A war would have unacceptable humanitarian consequences, including large-scale displacement of people, the breakdown of state functions, the possibility of civil war and major unrest in the whole region. The plight of Iraqi children and the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis over the past 12 years of sanctions regime weigh heavily on our hearts. In the present situation, we strongly affirm long-standing humanitarian principles of unconditional access to people in need.

We further caution against the potential social, cultural, and religious as well as diplomatic long-term consequences of such a war. Further fueling the fires of violence that are already consuming the region will only exacerbate intense hatred strengthening extremist ideologies and breeding further global instability and insecurity. As church leaders in Europe, we have a moral and pastoral responsibility to challenge xenophobia in our own countries as well as allay the fears of many in the Muslim world, that the so-called Western Christianity is against their culture, religion and values. We should seek co-operation for peace, justice and human dignity.

All governments, in particular the members of the Security Council, have the responsibility to consider the whole complexity of this issue. All peaceful and diplomatic means to compel Iraq to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions have not been exhausted.

For us it is a spiritual obligation, grounded in God's love for all humanity, to speak out against war in Iraq. Through this message we send a strong sign of solidarity and support, to churches in Iraq, the Middle East and in the USA. We pray that God will guide those responsible to take decisions based on careful reflections, moral principles and high legal standards. We invite all churches to join us in this act of witness and to pray for and encourage participation of all people in the struggle for a peaceful resolution of this conflict."

List of participants :

Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA
James Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society
Rev. Dr. Rebecca Larson, executive director, Division for Church and Society, Evangelical Lutheran Churchin America
Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches
Rev. Dr Keith Clements, general secretary of the Council of European Churches
Präses Manfred Kock, president of the Council of the Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland (EKD)
Bishop Dr. Walter Klaiber, head of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen in Deutschland (ACK) and Evangelical-Methodist Church (Germany)
Rev. Dr. Jean-Arnold de Clermont, president of the Protestant Federation of France
Bishop Mag. Herwig Sturm, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions in Austria
Rev. Thomas Wipf, president of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches
Bishop Jonas Jonson, bishop of the Church of Sweden
Rev. Kjell Jonasson, Church of Sweden
Rev. Canon Dr. Trond Bakkevig, Church of Norway
Archbishop Jukka Parma, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
Bishop Karsten Nissen, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark
Dr. Alison Elliot, Church of Scotland and Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS)
Rev. Arie W. van der Plas, Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and Uniting Protestant Churches in the Netherlands
Archbishop Feofan, Russian Orthodox Church, archbishop of Berlin and Germany
Bishop Athanasius of Achaja, Church of Greece
Rev. Dr. Nuhad Daoud Tomeh, representing the General Secretariat of the Middle East Council of Churches
Mr. Thor-Arne Pröis, director of Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, Geneva
Peter Weiderud, director, WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
Bishop Dr. Rolf Koppe, Evangelical Church in Germany Secretariat
Rev. Dr. Christa Grengel, Evangelical Church in Germany Secretariat
Rev. Dr. Dagmar Heller, Evangelical Church in Germany Secretariat

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