Mainline church leaders are urging the U.S. to stop the “cycle of violence” in Iraq by turning over authority of the postwar transition and reconstruction to the United Nations.

The National Council of Churches, an umbrella group to which 36 denominations and communions belong, issued its call in an “ecumenical pastoral” letter which stated its goal is peace and a renunciation of violence as contrary to the will of God.

“In a sinful world, some of us may hold that there may be times when war is a necessary evil,” the leaders write. “But Christians should never identify violence against others with the will of God and should always work to prevent and end it.”

Bob Edgar, a signatory and the NCC’s general secretary, explained to skeptical callers in a radio interview yesterday he does believe terrorists must be brought to justice.

“We should go after those guys in a police effort to arrest them,” he told talk-show host Michael Medved. “But we shouldn’t think the way to solve the problem of violence is … we hit them, they hit us.

“We need to find a way to move from a war situaiton to a civilian situation,” he continued, and “that’s why we think the U.N. should be involved.”

In turning over the reigns to the U.N., the church leaders want the U.S. “to contribute to this effort generously through security, economic, and humanitarian support — not only to bring international legitimacy to the effort, but also to foster any chance for lasting peace.”

The letter asks “members of our churches” to contact their respective congressional delegations “to urge the U.S. to change course in Iraq.”

They also encourage local churches to read the letter aloud in services during the coming month.

Alan Wisdom, vice president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a critic of the NCC, says the call to hand over authority to the U.N. is no solution at all.

“The U.N. in itself does not have the capability to bring peace and democarcy to Iraq and it may not even have the desire,” he told WND.

In any case,” he said, the U.N. always has to rely on member states to provide the solution,” noting only a couple have “shown the willingness” and ability to carry the load, the U.S. and Britain.

The church leaders say their letter is written “at a time when the threat of violence hangs over the earth and warfare involving United States forces is increasing in Iraq. We write out of a deep love for this country, but also out of a profound concern at the direction this cycle of violence is taking us.”

“This concern,” the letter continues, “has been brought home to all Americans and indeed the world in the horrific pictures of prisoner abuse.”

The church leaders base their call on “two central claims” of the Christian faith, “that every person, as a child of God, is of infinite worth; and that all persons, as participants in God’s one creation, are related in their humanity and vulnerability.”

“This is why, the letter says, “the World Council of Churches [the NCC’s parent body] has asserted that ‘war is contrary to the will of God’ — because it destroys that which God has made sacred.”

The letter continues:

We believe, with these things in mind, that the guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy must be to build up the whole, interdependent human family and to promote reconciliation whenever possible. Yes, this means standing firmly against all acts of terror, but it also means envisioning a world in which war is truly a last resort.

Current U.S. foreign policy, however, is not aligned with this principle. Many people see our policy as one based on protection of our country’s economic interests narrowly defined, rather than on principles of human rights and justice that would serve our nation’s interests in deep and tangible ways. We are convinced that current policy is dangerous for America and the world and will only lead to further violence.

Signatories include Rev. A. Roy Medley, executive director of the Alliance of Baptist; Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA; Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops; and Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Edgar was part of a 13-member American church “humanitarian mission” to Baghdad a few months prior to the war, which urged the Bush administration to negotiate with Iraq to avert a war that would harm innocent people and increase the risk of terrorism.

Prior to the visit, the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s president, Diane Knippers, called the trip “ill considered and dangerous” in a Dec. 24 letter to Edgar, urging him to cancel the mission.

“Such a visit by senior U.S. church officials already on record as strongly opposed to any U.S. military action can only give encouragement to Saddam Hussein and his supporters,” said.

She asserted the delegation, like a similar one at the time of the previous Gulf war, will be an “embarrassment” to U.S. church members whose officials are claiming to speak for them.

“This peace visit will do nothing to forestall war or alleviate the plight of Iraqis who suffer under a brutal dictatorship,” Knippers maintained.

Knippers wrote in the conclusion to her letter to Edgar, who served six terms in the House of Representatives as a Pennsylvania Democrat, she hoped in these “perilous and difficult days” that “the church leaders could face such times realistically.”

“Instead,” she wrote, “you are about to embark on an effort that is ill considered, foolish, and dangerous. Neither the church of Jesus Christ nor the people of Iraq will be well served by this ecumenical peace mission. Please stay home.”

Dr. Harry F. Ward, the founder of the forerunner to the NCC, the Federal Council of Churches, held support for communist causes, saying in 1946: “The Soviet Union is progressing and growing up economically and politically … while capitalist society is starving and going down.” In the ’60s, scores of NCC leaders were found to have records of support for communist-front organizations or communist causes, wrote columnist Charles Morse.

Related stories:

U.S. clerics in Iraq press
for negotiation

Anti-war U.S. church leaders
in Baghdad

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