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Church leaders plan dialogues on security concerns

11/5/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By Tim Tanton*

WASHINGTON (UMNS)-United Methodist bishops are taking the first steps toward starting a churchwide conversation on the issue of international security.

"Throughout the globe, there is a deep concern about security in an era of terrorism," said Bishop Timothy Whitaker, leader of the denomination's Florida Area. "Certainly the people of the United States of America are preoccupied with the issue of security, and whenever the most powerful nation on earth is preoccupied with an issue, the rest of the nations have to be preoccupied with that issue."

The Council of Bishops voted Nov. 4 to discuss a paper on security at their meeting next spring. Afterward, the bishops will hold discussions about that document among United Methodists in their areas and report back to the council. Bishop Walter Klaiber of Germany will write the paper, which will be titled, "In Search of Security: An Invitation to a Conversation."

The final outcome of the conversation is open ended, said Whitaker, convener of the bishops' Task Force on "In Search of Security." The council might decide to authorize publication of a major study on security that would be released to the church, or it might approve joining with other denominations in releasing such a study to the public and policy makers, he said.

The bishops, meeting Nov. 2-7 in Washington, are the top clergy leaders of the 10 million-member United Methodist Church. Nearly 112 active and retired bishops from around the world are attending the semiannual meeting.

Whitaker and Klaiber emphasized the importance of providing a theological underpinning for the conversation on security, to give people a biblically based perspective for examining public policy and their own behavior.

"We think it would be extremely significant if United Methodists across the United States and around the globe were involved in a conversation about the search for security in light of the biblical witness of faith in God," Whitaker said.

In the conversations, people would reflect on the validity of phrases such as "war on terrorism," Whitaker said in a written report. They also would discuss global public policies regarding terrorism, "such as the storage and development of weapons of mass destruction by nation-states of the West and the national security strategy of the United States."

"We think it would be morally irresponsible for the Christian community to be silent while security is being defined in terms that do not take into account the perspective of faith or that may be contradictory to the perspective of faith," Whitaker told the bishops as he presented the report.

He noted that the United Methodist Board of Church and Society is also working on a paper on terrorism, which will be helpful to the bishops. The bishops' paper will have a broader scope and will relate to the dialogue that is occurring around the world on terrorism, he said.

Measures taken to improve security in the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have given rise to concerns by church and secular groups about the erosion of liberties and other implications for public policy.

The council seems to be in a mode of study, and action may be six months to a year away, said Bishop Felton Edwin May, leader of the church's Washington Area. In the meantime, he said, "freedoms are being wiped away." Did the committee discuss what could be done now? he asked.

Whitaker replied that the task force's proposal allows the council to act at any time with a statement or other action, and he said bishops could also act individually if they felt the need.

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*Tanton is United Methodist News Service's managing editor.

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