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Church leaders urge pulling troops from Iraq

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Bishop Susan Morrison
Sept. 22, 2006

By Mark Schoeff Jr.*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — United Methodist Church leaders helped launch a week of protest and civil disobedience against the war in Iraq by signing a declaration of peace urging President Bush to pull U.S. troops out of the country.

The Declaration of Peace, signed Sept. 21, is described as a call for nonviolent action to end the war in Iraq. The Washington event was one of 350 that will be staged nationwide to promote the peace initiative. The declaration calls for people to “engage in peaceful protests” if there is not a plan for troop withdrawal established and begun by Sept. 21, days before Congress adjourns for the fall elections.

More than 500 groups, almost half of them faith organizations, are involved in the declaration of peace effort, which recently retired Bishop Susan Morrison said includes “acts of moral witness to seek a new course for our country.”

By signing the peace document in front of the White House, the United Methodists and other protesters hoped not only to make a statement but also to influence congressional races in November by forcing candidates to outline where they stand on the war.

Speakers at the Washington rally, which drew about 100 people to Lafayette Square, castigated Bush, accusing him of lying about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction and launching what they called an illegal offensive.

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Jim Winkler

“Our demand as a movement is to end the war now,” said Morrison, recently retired episcopal leader of the Troy Annual (regional) Conference.

The declaration calls the situation in Iraq “the U.S. war in Iraq” and describes it as “an endless fire consuming lives, resources and the fragile possibilities of peace.”

Thirty-four protesters, attempting to deliver the peace statement to Bush in an act of civil disobedience, were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. None of the United Methodist protesters participated in that portion of the day’s activity.

The Declaration of Peace initiative provides a way for the faithful to vent their anger about Iraq, Morrison said. “There are a lot of frustrated United Methodists out there who don’t know where to channel it,” she said.

United Methodist clergywomen attending the recent 2006 International Clergywomen’s Consultation in Chicago signed the declaration to “call to end this war” and made a commitment to take action to translate the call into a concrete plan for peace.

Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said that protesting the war is similar to the church’s work to promote other social movements. The church took prophetic positions on civil rights, women’s rights and nuclear disarmament before Congress acted, he noted.

“It has taken time for Congress to catch up,” Winkler said. “We may be seeing another example of that.”

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Dean Snyder

Staff members of the denomination’s social advocacy agency have been meeting with congressional staff members on a weekly basis regarding policy toward Iraq. Political leaders on Capitol Hill have been divided on the Bush administration’s policy, with some calling for a timetable for withdrawal and others urging a staying of the course.

“You see more and more Republicans who are uncomfortable with the position of ‘stay the course,’” said Mark Harrison, director of the board’s Peace with Justice program.

But the White House asserts that Iraq would collapse if U.S. troops leave prematurely, potentially leading to a full-blown civil war.

United Methodist leaders argue that the long insurgency in Iraq, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands Americans and Iraqis, is proof that U.S. involvement is misguided.

“Iraq is in a civil war right now because we’re there,” Winkler said.

Morrison agreed. “We just exacerbate what’s going on.” She disputed critics who say that war protesters undermine U.S. troops and sap their morale.

“We care deeply about the troops,” she said. “We’re proud of their commitment. We want them safe. We want them home.”

Within individual United Methodist congregations, however, members may not agree with the way the anti-war movement is articulating its opposition.

Differences of opinion must be respected, said the Rev. Dean Snyder, senior minister of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington. Such divisions have come up throughout Christian history.

“It’s part of our discernment process of truth,” he said. “But that does not change the fact that church leaders are put in positions of prophetic responsibility.”

*Schoeff is a freelance writer in the Washington area and a staff writer at Workforce Management magazine.

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