War, domestic concerns dominate legislative briefing
NOTE: Photographs are available with this story.
By Joretta Purdue*WASHINGTON
(UMNS) - Politicians and social justice advocates held out hope during a
legislative briefing that people across the United States could still
make a difference where it counts: in the budget and on issues of war
More than 250 United Methodists attended a March 2-5
legislative briefing on "Gospel Demands Public Witness," sponsored by
the denomination's Board of Church and Society. Speakers, including two
senior senators, called for alternatives to a military strike against
Iraq and urged President George Bush to give more attention to domestic
Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy (D-Mass.), a Catholic, and Sen.
Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a United Methodist, both elected to Congress
in 1962, spoke about the costs of war. Marian Wright Edelman, founder of
the Children's Defense Fund, lamented the Bush administration's
proposed budget and the high price she said it will exact from children
and the poor.
Kennedy praised Bush "for the way he rallied
America and the entire international community after the appalling
terrorist attack of Sept. 11," and for "impressive leadership" during
the war in the Afghanistan.
"But few can also deny that after
that, President Bush squandered too much of the good will of the world
community because of his single-minded rush to war with Iraq even if he
has a few - or even no - allies to go to war with him, and even when
there are other ways to contain the threat posed by Saddam's Iraq,"
Kennedy said. His address was broadcast live on C-Span.
everyone agrees that Saddam is a despicable dictator, but he asserted
that war with Iraq would make the world more dangerous rather than less.
He warned against shattering "the very coalition that we need in order
to combat the greater and more imminent threat we face from al-Qaida and
its terrorists." This is the same coalition that led to the arrest the
preceding weekend of the man believed to have planned the Sept. 11
attack on the United States, Kennedy added.
"On top of these
actions, the Bush administration quietly and stealthily changed a half a
century of American defense policy from one that used our nuclear
arsenal for defense to one in which nuclear weapons may be used
pre-emptively," Kennedy said. That is a major change that affects
prospects for peace on the planet, and Americans are owed a debate on
that, he said.
"We cannot be a bully in the world schoolyard and
expect cooperation, friendship and support from the rest of the world,"
he cautioned. War cannot be successfully waged if it lacks the strong
support of the people. "The reason for that lack of support today is
clear. The administration has not made a convincing argument for war
against Iraq or its costs or its consequences."
strengthening domestic defenses and an honest discussion of the
financial costs of war. "Across the country, the Bush administration is
leaving local governments high and dry in the face of continuing threats
"I'm here because I've seen too many wars," Inouye
said. One of his sleeves hangs empty because he lost an arm in military
service during World War II.
He was a naive 18-year-old when he
left Hawaii, he recalled, a young man who sang in the choir, attended
worship and participated in Sunday school. After a little training, he
went to the front. He will never forget shooting his first German
soldier. He was praised by his buddies, and "I felt proud," he confessed
"Killing becomes commonplace," he said. The training and
military experience changes people, he reported. "It does terrible
things to the human soul."
"It would take a minor miracle to
change the path we're on (to war with Iraq)," he commented. Though he's
the senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he said he has
been given no idea how long such a war will take, how long an
occupation the administration expects and what will happen after Saddam
Hussein is gone. And even after Saddam, potential will exist for much
bloodshed among the various ethnic and religious groups within Iraq, he
U.S. Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), a former Marine whose speech
is slurred by Parkinson's Disease, complained that the men and women of
the armed forces have been sent to countries that most Americans could
not locate. Meanwhile, he said, this nation will not be able to devote
resources to finding a cure for diseases like Alzheimer's.
need another debate before we rush to war," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee
(D-Texas). Since the passage last year of a bill authorizing the
president to use military force against Iraq, "the world is a different
place. We have an extremely dire situation in North Korea, and Iraq is
complying with the U.N. weapons inspections."
produces uncontemplated, difficult-to-handle effects," said U.S. Rep.
Jim Leach (R-Iowa), one of the few Republicans who voted against the war
authorization bill. He particularly warned against letting a war with
Iraq become a war between cultures. To avoid promoting this perception,
he advised careful use of language, particularly words such as "evil" - a
moral precept that can be applied to actions and individuals but not
countries - and "axis" - a term for an alliance.
"As long as
democracy means anything, war is not inevitable," said Tom Andrews,
national spokesperson for the Win Without War coalition, which includes
the National Council of Churches. There is "a chance to expose this
great mistake we are about to make." But he also warned against
appearing to favor appeasement. "The first priority problem from my
point of view is the terrorists and the conditions that cause terrorism
Several speakers, such as U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), expressed concern for domestic issues.
country ought to stand for a national health care plan - a quality
health care plan," Kucinich said. "Preserve Social Security and resist
any efforts to privatize," he urged, saying Social Security is rock
solid through 2041 as it is. He supports "full employment with a living
wage" and an America at peace with the world "without aggressive
Eleanor Holmes Norton, delegate to the House of
Representatives from the District of Columbia, said of the current
administration and Congress: "They need to get back to the business of
the United States of America." She praised churches for providing
leadership and speaking out on the issues of the day.
for all people of conscience to wake up and stop the Bush
administration's war on poor children," said Edelman. "This budget
(recently proposed for the coming year) says the poor should subsidize
The Bush administration's budget dismantles Head
Start, housing, foster care and Medicaid under the guise of state
flexibility, she warned. She accused the administration of "playing a
shell game," putting a few more dollars in some children's programs and
taking away millions from others.
As an example, she said the
budget would force children, persons with disabilities and the elderly
to compete for diminishing amounts of money, while allowing states
facing some of the biggest deficits in 50 years to eliminate or severely
curtail programs for all these people.
"We have a profound
values problem in America," she said. She urged her listeners to
challenge "the unjust priorities" of the nation.
focused on the problem of hunger. The Rev. Kenneth Horne Jr., a United
Methodist who leads the Society of St. Andrew, urged people who do mercy
ministries and those who do advocacy ministries to work together. The
Rev. David Beckman, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America who heads Bread for the World, called for support for President
Bush's Millennium Challenge Account proposal to aid poor countries.
Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) raised questions about the high U.S. prison
population and the difficulties that ex-convicts face in ever achieving a
self-sustaining, productive life after release. In Illinois, he said,
ex-convicts are barred from 56 jobs and from much housing.
Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine and an evangelical Christian,
observed that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, would
ask how the Bush administration's budget proposal and a possible war
would affect poor people. That is the kind of question Wesley asked
about alcohol and slavery, Wallis said.
Before the briefing, Jim
Winkler, staff head of the Board of Church and Society, spoke to several
advocacy networks about prophetic ministries.
"The logic of
empire may well require good people to do bad things," he said. "It does
not require the church of Jesus Christ to support such actions."
Winkler cited Bishop C. Dale White's address to the 1992 General
Conference, in which the bishop named three interlocking, demonic
systems: hunger-making, war-making and desert-making.
"That," Winkler said, "is the true axis of evil."
# # #
*Purdue is United Methodist News Service's Washington news director.
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