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Church members show support for soldier refusing deployment

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Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Dept. of Personnel
Lt. Ehren Watada
Aug. 14, 2007

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Some United Methodists are rallying in support of Army Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, who has refused deployment to Iraq because he feels the war is “morally wrong” and “a breach of American law.”

He faces charges of missing troop movement, conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt towards officials. A native of Hawaii, Watada is currently at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Wash.

A vigil and rally will be held at the gates of Fort Lewis on Aug. 16, the date of the pre-trial hearing for Watada. Members of Peace House, a United Methodist church, and Epworth United Methodist Church will participate, according to the Rev. Barbara Bellus, Epworth’s pastor. Both congregations are in Portland, Ore.

Supporters of Watada are asking for letters of support and prayers, Bellus said. Three United Methodist bishops have written letters in support of Watada.

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Bishop Robert Hoshibata

“ This letter is being written in support of you from one born and raised in Hawaii, where there is a diversity of cultures and people, and a deep appreciation for all of creation and all persons,” said Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata of the denomination’s Portland (Ore.) Area.

“Along with much of the rest of the nation, I have been observing with great interest and concern the media accounts of your decision to challenge the legality of the current war being raged in Iraq,” he continued.

“I perceive in your actions a courageous questioning of the role of the military in our world and a willingness to act on the basis of what you believe to be ethically right. As a bishop of the United Methodist Church, I affirm our church’s stance on peace and war and applaud your willingness to balance your call to duty with your innermost thoughts and core beliefs.”

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Bishop Roy I. Sano

In becoming the first military officer to refuse an order for deployment to the Iraq war, Watada has stated, “It is my conclusion as an officer of the Armed Forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must, as an officer of honor and integrity, refuse that order.”

Bishop Roy Sano, executive secretary of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, addressed his letter to Watada’s mother, Carolyn Ho.

“I was inspired by the brave step your son took in refusing to be deployed to Iraq,” he wrote. ”In the United Methodist Church, we do not take civil disobedience lightly, but when necessary for conscience sake, we approve it in our Article of Faith and Social Principles. In addition, I want you, and above all your son, to know that 109 United Methodist bishops signed a statement of conscience concerning the war in Iraq.”

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Bishop Mary Ann Swenson

The statement, signed in November 2005, said in part: “As elected and consecrated bishops of the church, we repent of our complicity in what we believe to be the unjust and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq. In the face of the United States administration’s rush toward military action based on misleading information, too many of us were silent.”

United Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, who leads the church’s Los Angeles Area, also wrote a letter of support for the lieutenant. “I commend you as one who has taken a courageous and difficult stand to publicly make known a position you have come to believe in opposition to a particular war.”

Swenson cited Paragraphs 164, “About military service,” and 165, “About war and peace,” from the denomination’s lawbook, the 2004 Book of Discipline, which she said were the “underpinning of our support for you.”

Paragraph 164 states in part: “We support and extend the church’s ministry to those persons who conscientiously choose to serve in the armed forces or to accept alternative service.”

“We believe war is incompatible with the teaching and example of Christ,” states Paragraph 165.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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