PARIS, France -- American church leaders in Paris apparently caught many in the French public by surprise this week when they spoke out in opposition to U.S.-led military action against Iraq. People had gotten the idea that the U.S. churches all supported the proposed war, the church leaders said.
The five-member delegation from the (U.S.) National Council of Churches met with French churches Feb. 10-11 as part of a search for peaceful solutions to the Iraq crisis.
We are here representing the official position of the National Council of Churches - with 50 million members in 36 denominations - and the Roman Catholic Church, with nearly 64 million U.S. members, said the Rev. Michael E. Livingston, Executive Director of the International Council of Community Churches, an NCC-member denomination. Large portions of the American population don t support this war.
That s news here, commented John Briscoe, providing NCC staff support to the delegation, speaking by phone from Paris. He described the delegation s Monday news conference, and said, The general impression in France is that the churches are all behind Bush.
President Bush is a member of the United Methodist Church, which is one of the NCC s member churches. Said Mr. Briscoe, Many of the questions kept circling back to, Bush is a member of a church that s a member of the NCC. The United Methodists and the NCC are opposed to going to war against Iraq. Yet Bush is pushing ahead. How is that possible?
The NCC is organizing visits to five European capitals as part of the U.S. ecumenical body s search for peaceful solutions to the Iraq crisis. The first delegation met Feb. 5 in Berlin with counterparts from across Europe and with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Upcoming visits include London (Feb. 17-19), where Britain s Prime Minister Tony Blair has agreed to meet the delegation on Feb. 18; Rome (Feb. 25-28), and Moscow and/or Madrid (TBA).
The NCC delegation was hosted in Paris by the French Protestant Federation and its President, the Rev. Jean-Arnold de Clermont. With the group in Paris was Rudiger Noll, Associate General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches. Mr. Noll is based in Brussels.
Representatives of the Council of Catholic Bishops of France also participated actively in the delegation s visit, of significance in this largely Roman Catholic country, Mr. Briscoe noted.
Joining the in Monday s news conference were the Ecumenical Officer of the Roman Catholic Church in France, the American Episcopal Bishop of Europe, and a representative of the Baptist Churches of France.
The Monday schedule also included a meeting with the staff of the French Protestant Federation and an ecumenical service at the Church of the Madeleine.
Tuesday afternoon, the church leaders met with Hubert Colin de Verdiere, General Secretary of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Rev. Daniel E. Weiss, Immediate Past General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.; described the broad spectrum of U.S. churches that are pressing for peaceful alternatives to going to war against Iraq.
Both the National Council of Churches, with 36 Protestant, Orthodox, African American and Peace member churches, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formally are on record in opposition to this war, maintaining that it does not meet criteria for a just war. They especially cite the horrific toll on Iraqi civilians, already battered by 20 years of war and 12 years of economic sanctions.
We don t like Saddam Hussein, he said, but we feel there are much better ways to resolve the Iraq crisis that this. Agreed the Rev. de Clermont, What are we doing, tormenting children in Iraq and subjecting millions of innocents to sickness and suffering?
In the meeting with U.S. and French church leaders, Mr. de Verdiere stressed that for Europeans, the growth of the European Union is a historical event of great significance -- soon to encompass 25 nations -- which has been formed with a vision of what a "world at peace" could be like.
That vision has produced peaceful relations among the nations of the world's once most-contentious continent, he said. And that vision is built on a commitment to the United Nations as a vehicle. However imperfect it may be, the United Nations holds out the best hope for bringing those peaceful relations to the nations of all the continents, he said.
Therefore, the U.S. government s actions with respect to Iraq are seen as an ominous threat to the United Nations, said Mr. de Verdiere, resulting in European reaction that tends to be stronger than expected.
Besides the Rev. Livingston, of Trenton, N.J., the Rev. Weiss, of Marco Island, Fla., and Mr. Briscoe, of New York City, the NCC delegation included Thomas H. Jeavons, Wallingford, Pa., General Secretary, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends (Quaker), and Father Stanley DeBoe, Silver Spring, Md., Trinitarian Fathers.
Father DeBoe s order was founded in Paris 800 years ago, with its mission to facilitate the payment of ransoms and the return of prisoners, both Muslim and Christians, during the Crusades. Now he is co-chair of Churches for Middle East Peace, continuing in the Trinitarian Fathers historic ministry of reconciliation.
By Albert H. Lee