United Methodist bishop talks peace with Tony Blair
2/19/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York
This report is accompanied by two sidebars, UMNS stories #088 and #089.
A head-and-shoulders photograph of Bishop Melvin Talbert is available.
By Kathleen LaCamera*LONDON
(UMNS) - The results of war with Iraq would be catastrophic, a group of
church leaders, including United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, told
British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a face-to-face meeting Feb. 18.
days after U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix presented his latest
report to the U.N. Security Council and more than 6 million peace
protestors took to the streets worldwide, a U.S. National Council of
Churches delegation visited Blair to express deep concern about a
military response against Iraq.
During the 50-minute conversation
at Blair's 10 Downing Street offices, delegates told the prime minister
that the major U.S. churches have never been so united against a war.
Only the Southern Baptists have issued a statement supporting military
The delegation also met separately with Britain's
international development secretary, Clare Short, who has been one of
the most prominent voices within the Blair Cabinet calling for military
restraint. Short's department administers several billion dollars' worth
of international aid distributed by Britain each year.
press conference that followed, Talbert and the six other members of the
NCC delegation called the discussions "engaging, productive and
"I found Blair cordial, very frank and someone who was
genuinely listening to us. We came not to badger but to encourage the
prime minister to use his leadership for peace and justice," Talbert
Jim Wallis, delegation leader and editor of Sojourners
magazine, said that a "real relationship was established" with Blair
during what he called a "crucial" conversation.
government and the British people are in a position to shape this
decision (about war with Iraq) more than any other people or government
in the world," said Wallis. "I believe that the prime minister may be
the best person in the world to open up the possibilities of a better
way beyond the deadlocks we're now experiencing."
The Rev. Dan
Weiss, of the American Baptist Church USA, explained that what was
supposed to be a 15-minute conversation turned into a discussion that
lasted for almost an hour. "We were delighted to meet the prime
minister, even as our own president won't see us," Weiss said.
White House has yet to respond to a request by church leaders for a
similar face-to-face meeting with President George W. Bush.
will go home and ask for another meeting with Bush, based on the
success of this meeting with Tony Blair," Wallis said. "(Bush) needs to
take the interfaith, ecumenical community seriously. He hasn't up to
this point; quite clearly, the British government has."
and others in the delegation expressed concern that Bush, a United
Methodist, has "walled himself off" from critical voices. They are
disappointed that the president has been unwilling to meet on this
"faith-based initiative for peace" with leaders whom he has previously
met with on other issues.
Of equal concern to Bishop John Chane
of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington is the fact that there has been
virtually no debate within Congress on a war with Iraq. "The churches
are bringing that debate to the center of the public forum," he added.
"We are hopeful about that."
Officially, the meeting with
Blair was "private and off the record." Wallis reported that during
their conversation, Blair and the delegates spoke candidly as fellow
Christians sharing mutual and moral concerns about global terrorism and
weapons of mass destruction. Key to their discussions was the central
role that the United Nations must play in resolving these crises. The
delegation also made clear its conviction that a peaceful resolution of
the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is crucial.
"Find a peaceful
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and you will isolate Saddam
Hussein," Chane said. "That's an issue that's not even being addressed
back in the U.S."
"We, as an American, British and international
delegation, feel these issues should not be resolved by the last
remaining superpower but by collective international efforts," Wallis
While delegation members urged the prime minister to take
the lead in "helping the world to solve problems differently," they
admitted no one could afford to walk away from the problems that have
led to calls for military action. Their discussions identified practical
solutions, including the possibility of the need for U.N. protectorates
and international courts with strong enforcement mechanisms against the
Saddam Husseins and Slobodan Milosevics of the world.
"This is a
peace pilgrimage. We're not supporting Saddam Hussein. We're not
identifying with the outlaw," Talbert said. "We are very concerned about
what will happen to innocent people in Iraq in the rush to war. Over
half the population of Iraq is under the age of 15."
twice visited Iraq and as recently as January met with Christian and
Muslim leaders there as well as with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq
During two full days of events in the United Kingdom
organized by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, delegation
members also met with a range of British religious leaders including the
new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
participants included Talbert; Wallis; Chane; Weiss; the Rev. Clifton
Kirkpatrick, stated clerk, Presbyterian Church USA; the Rt. Rev. Clive
Handford, bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf; the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal
of Jerusalem; and the Most Rev. Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, South
Accompanying the delegation were Bishop Peter Price,
Anglican bishop of Bath and Wells; Bishop John Gladwin, Anglican bishop
of Guildford and chairman of the Board of Christian Aid; the Rev. David
Coffey, general secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain; the Rev. John
Waller, moderator, United Reformed Church; the Rev. Keith Clements,
general secretary, Conference of European Churches; David Goodbourn,
general secretary, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland; and Paul
Renshaw, coordinating secretary for international affairs, CTBI.
# # #
*LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.
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