|U.S. religious leaders promote peace dialogue in Iran|
Jim Winkler, who heads the United
Methodist social advocacy agency, is part of the 13-member U. S.
religious delegation traveling to Iran. A UMNS photo by Jay Mallin
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Feb. 14, 2007
A United Methodist leader will be part of a 13-member U.S. religious
delegation visiting Iran to act as a bridge of peace between the two
"I think we can be a bridge that doesn't exist otherwise," said Jim
Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and
Society. "As faith leaders we are dedicated to peace and
Winkler noted the Iraq Study Group appointed by Congress and
co-chaired by James A. Baker and Lee H. Hamilton recently recommended
the United States develop diplomatic relations with Iran and Syria.
"That was rejected by the administration," he said.
"So where do you have avenues for conversations? I think faith
leaders and particularly Christian leaders have an opportunity for that
kind of dialogue that doesn't otherwise exist."
The trip, scheduled for Feb. 17-25, was organized by the Mennonite
Central Committee and American Friends Service Committee. It comes after
45 religious leaders met for 75 minutes with Iranian president Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad during his visit to New York last September. United
Methodist Board of Church and Society staff member the Rev. Liberato C.
Bautista was part of the New York meeting.
The religious leaders have a two-hour meeting scheduled with
Ahmadinejad, as well as visits with Iranian Evangelical Protestant
leaders, the Archbishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Iran and
Muslim religious leaders in the city of Qom.
has been the target of international criticism for denying the
Holocaust and for a recent conference in Tehran supporting that view,
along with his condemnation of the state of Israel. Iran also has an
ongoing dispute with the United Nations and the International Atomic
Winkler said he would like to tell the Iranian president to "temper his remarks and change his views on a number of things."
He wants the president to know many people in the United States are
working to bring about an end to the war in Iraq and trying to bring a
resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We are trying to change U.S. foreign policy from one based on
confrontation, domination and intimidation to one of peace and
cooperation and diplomacy," he said.
When the team meets with Christian and Muslim leaders, the goal is "to listen and hear their realities and views."
"I want to explore with them ways in which we can ensure peace and
develop some lasting relationships between us as faith leaders and
between our two countries," Winkler said.
Upon returning, the religious leaders plan to meet with members of
Congress to report on their conversations. A similar meeting occurred
last October after talking with Ahmadinejad in New York. Congressional
staff members encouraged them to continue their efforts and visit Iran.
"We are hopeful," said Ron Flaming, the Mennonites' international
program director. "As Christians we are called to talk with those we are
in conflict with and move toward forgiveness and reconciliation. We
pray this will open doors to diplomacy."
Winkler made a similar trip to Baghdad before the start of the Iraq war.
"Obviously we were not successful in heading off a war in Iraq, but I
didn't want to say therefore there was no possibility of doing the same
for Iran," he said. "I feel ever more strongly that we ought to do what
we can to stop war from taking place."
In addition to Flaming and Winkler, delegation members include Mary
Ellen McNish, chief executive of the American Friends Service Committee;
Maureen Shea, Episcopal Church USA; Rev. Patricia Shelly, Mennonite
Church USA; the Rev. Shanta Premawardhana, National Council of Churches;
Joe Volk, Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers); Rev.
Jeffrey Carr, Sojourners/Call to Renewal; David Robinson, Pax Christi;
Geraldine Sicola and Mary Lord, American Friends Service Committee; and
Ed Martin and J. Daryl Byler, Mennonite Central Committee.
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in
Nashville, Tenn. The Mennonite Central Committee also provided
information for this report.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
"I would like to see what I can do to head off any war."
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Mennonite Central Committee
Board of Church and Society
American Friends Service Committee
Iraq Study Group Report