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Christians have duty to debate war, church executive says

4/8/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: This report is accompanied by a sidebar, UMNS story #206.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (UMNS) - Joyce Sohl does not believe that her protest of the U.S.-led war against Iraq makes her unpatriotic.

As a concerned Christian and American, she said, "I must protest this war as I feel God is calling me to do…" Sohl is chief executive of the Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. Reporting to the division's directors at their April 4-7 meeting, she focused on why she and others have taken an anti-war position.

"As have Christians throughout history, we too are called to be responsible citizens and responsible Christians," she explained. "At times this is easy, but at other times the tensions and ambiguities between these two roles are not easily resolved.

"During this time in our world and in our country, I firmly believe that each of us has a Christian duty to debate the rightness/wrongness of this war," she said. She added that she considers debating and questioning the war "to be my patriotic duty and responsibility as a citizen of the United States and my duty and responsibility as a follower of Jesus Christ."

Last November, a member of United Methodist Women suggested to the Women's Division, UMW's administrative arm, that the organization begin a prayer campaign around Iraq. That campaign, "Christian Women Pray for Peace from Advent to Easter," was launched in December.

Since then, more than 10,000 prayers have been sent to the United Methodist Service Center in Cincinnati. Some of the prayers will be read publicly the week following Easter during daily, three-hour vigils near the White House.

In other business, Women's Division directors approved nine new resolutions and one disciplinary change for delegates to consider during the 2004 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body. The assembly will meet in Pittsburgh.

One resolution calls upon General Conference to establish and fund a task force to look into issues of teen sexual identity and suicide risk, citing a 1989 U.S. government study that showed teens dealing with issues of sexual identity are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than other youth.

The proposed change to the denomination's law book, the Book of Discipline, also refers to this issue, and would lift any restrictions on using church money for such a task force. Currently, the book forbids the use of funds "to promote the acceptance of homosexuality."

A resolution on privatization notes with concern the fact that many public responsibilities - ranging from the running of prisons to the implementation of welfare programs - have been "abandoned to private enterprise."

Suggested action items for a resolution on greed include opposing tax cut measures "that would increase the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and reduce the resources available for alleviation of poverty."

The impact of global racism and xenophobia on women, children and youth is detailed in a resolution calling upon all parts of the church to involve these groups in decision-making related to eradicating racism.

Another resolution criticizes the U.S. government for "manipulating international law, weakening international cooperation and using multilateralism only if its self-interest is preserved." United Methodists are urged to advocate for an increased U.S. commitment to multilateralism, including ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, International Criminal Court and various international human rights treaties.

A resolution calling "Protection of Water" acknowledges the increased demand on this essential gift from God and calls for the development of guiding principles to protect the world's water supply.

A 1996 resolution on "Rape in Times of Conflict and War" has been rewritten as "Rape as a Crime Against Humanity." Ratification of the International Criminal Court, which deals with individual responsibility for major violations of human rights and crimes against humanity, is urged.

The rewriting of a resolution on the status of women, first adopted in 1992, focuses on issues of equality, development and peace for women.

Another resolution supports the call for a full apology from the Japanese government for the use of Korean "comfort women" as sex slaves during World War II and for compensation to the victims and survivors.

Division directors also voted to resubmit, without change, current resolutions on "Responsible Parenthood" and "Membership in Clubs or Organizations that Practice Exclusivity." In addition, revised resolutions on the topics of environmental justice, environmental racism, reparations for African Americans, affirmative action and biblical language will be submitted.

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