Expressing "deep concern" for the situation in Iraq, more than 100 bishops of the Episcopal Church have written to all United States Senators and Representatives outlining the need for "a careful and reasoned debate" to end the violence "and bring stability and a just peace to the region."
The May 16 letter was also signed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and two former presiding bishops, the Rt. Revs. Frank Griswold and Edmond Browning.
The bishops recalled an October 2002 letter to Congress in which they expressed their belief that going to war with Iraq was not justified. "Now we write again to express our deepest concern for the situation in Iraq and for our servicemen and women," the May 16 letter said. "We are filled with sorrow as we witness how our worst fears of what might ensue from war in Iraq become reality."
In particular, the bishops noted the families and communities that "have been broken both in body and in spirit as service members are separated from their families for extraordinary periods of time, suffer mounting casualties, and all with no end of violence in sight." To date, more than 50 Episcopal chaplains have served in harms way in Iraq, Afghanistan and in support bases in Kuwait and other Middle East neighboring states. Presently, there is one Episcopal chaplain in Iraq, one in Afghanistan and three in Kuwait.
The bishops also acknowledged that "the respect our nation once enjoyed and our relations with allies have been seriously undermined."
Into its fifth year, the war in Iraq has claimed the lives of more than 3,300 U.S. Soldiers and left at least 25,000 seriously injured. As many as 65,000 Iraqi civilian deaths were reported by March 25, according to an independent UK/US group, the Iraq Body Count project (IBC).
On considering Iraq's future, the bishops urged Congress and the Administration to engage in "a careful and reasoned debate that avoids the partisan and harsh rhetoric that would diminish the important issues before our nation." They noted that such a debate did not occur in 2002 "and, with the notable exception of the Iraq Study Group, it is only marginally occurring now."
"For the sake of all those involved, and to honor those brave women and men who have been maimed and lost, we encourage full and open discussion that acknowledges our mistakes as well as our responsibilities," the letter continued. "It is our hope that this discussion will lead to policies that will end the violence in Iraq and bring stability and a just peace to the region."
The bishops identified six imperative goals for the United States, including mapping out a strategy for a responsible transition to Iraqi governance; joining those in the region, including Syria and Iran, in seeking security and economic recovery for Iraq; and providing the women and men of the military and their families with the sustained and responsive care they need.
They also acknowledged the need for the U.S. to work for religious freedom and protection of religious minorities in Iraq; serve the needs of Iraqi refugees wherever they may be; and seek peace in the region, including a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.
"In the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer, we ask that the spirit of wisdom be given to those whom we entrust with the authority of government; with that authority comes great responsibility," the letter concluded. "We pray that the spirit of wisdom will be with each of you and help guide us to a just and lasting peace."
The full text of the bishops' letter with signatures is available here.