The possibility of war with Iraq was very much on the minds of bishops as they gathered in Cleveland for their interim meeting on the theme of reconciliation. In the closing minutes of the meeting on October 1, they unanimously endorsed a strong statement that will be sent to all members of Congress as the Senate begins debate on a resolution authorizing the president to use military force if Iraq doesn't submit to inspections.
'We deeply respect the seriousness of your responsibility to protect the lives of our citizens and, with you, we condemn the brutality of Saddam Hussein and his regime,' the letter said. It quickly added, 'Our faith requires us to strive always for justice and peace. We believe that restraint and the on-going commitment to international cooperation are the means toward peace that we all desire.'
In arguing that 'we do not believe that war with Iraq can be justified at this time,' the letter pointed out that Iraq has not attacked the United States, 'our nation has not exhausted all possibilities for a peaceful solution' nor has it 'sufficiently garnered world support.' The statement also stressed the 'unintended consequences' of war, including 'unacceptable civilian casualties.'
The letter concluded that the bishops 'do not support a decision to go to war without clear and convincing evidence of the need for us to defend ourselves against an imminent attack.'
Costly work of reconciliation
In his sermon at Trinity Cathedral on Sunday, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said that the possibility of war raises deep questions of 'what it means to be peacemakers, living as a reconciled community. How does shalom become the truth of what we are--and shall be?'
He said that 'as a nation we are accustomed to waging war,' and facing that possibility with Iraq it is important to ask, 'How are we as a nation called to be an agent of reconciliation? As persons of faith we are called to wage reconciliation….to bring people to the deep place of shalom, that true peace that flows like a river from the heart of God.'
Noting that how people speak to one another also shapes the response, Griswold decried the 'harsh language' being used by the US government over the Iraq issue. 'We must embody reconciliation, becoming the thing we preach… because we are called to the costly and on-going work of reconciliation.'
While that doesn't mean 'being passive in the face of evil, it does recognize that even the enemies of truth have a place in the heart of God.' He also said that Americans 'must ask what it is in us, as a nation, that provokes such strong reaction.'
Spouses address Iraq issue
The possibility of war with Iraq was also a deep concern of the bishops' spouses who have been holding their own meeting in recent years.
In response to a presentation by the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, former executive secretary of the National Council of Churches, on reconciliation in the world, several small group discussions looked at what a deeper understanding of reconciliation would mean in relationships with others around the world. The seed was planted when she told the group that 'our government has walked us past reconciliation towards war.' It was soon apparent that many of the spouses were ready to take some kind of action.
'Some of us concluded that acting is a vital part of reconciliation--that we had to do something,' said Jamel Shimpfky of California. 'It became obvious that we had to find a practical way of expressing our concerns,' added Karen Chane of Washington, DC. 'So Fred Quinn from Utah wrote a draft of a letter that could be sent to government leaders and it stirred considerable enthusiasm.'
'It provided us with an opportunity to speak out--as individuals living in community, not as an organization or even as representatives of our dioceses,' added Phoebe Griswold, wife of the presiding bishop. 'This action was possible because we as spouses have been strengthened by our sense of community.'
The letter, signed by 74 spouses, will be sent to the president and vice president, the secretaries of state and defense, and the national security adviser. It says:
'We are a group of spouses of Episcopal bishops from various parts of the country, deeply concerned for our nation. Our Christian gospel teaches us to actively seek reconciliation with our enemies. Peace is not a passive process or a byproduct of war, but the result of active engagement. We recognize the face and experience of evil and are committed to confronting it and working to eradicate it.
'As war clouds gather, we urge your administration to give the same commitment of energy and policy attention to peacemaking, through active consultation with our allies and through constructive use of the United Nations. We are committed to working for and finding yet another way so that Christians in America may unite with those of other faiths to actively build a world where, in the language of the Bible, the wolf may lie down with the lamb, and a little child shall lead them, and neither shall they make war anymore.'