The ecumenical and international 11-member delegation of church leaders met with the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan at Washington D.C., to discuss the future of Iraq, May 24, 2004.
The delegation, which included church leaders from the United States, Canada, Europe and the United Kingdom, and represented members of the National Council of Churches USA, World Council of Churches, Middle East Council of Churches and the All Africa Conference of Churches, expressed that an alternative route must be taken in Iraq as it transitions into its own sovereign nation.
"The increasing chaos in Iraq makes clear that the U.S. government needs to change course," said the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, who led the delegation. "We hope President Bush goes public with the U.S. government’s apparent realization that the peace the United States seeks can only come with international participation."
According to Dr. Edgar, the religious leaders in the group had always opposed going to war. However, with the series of unexpected scandals and events that arose in Iraq, Edgar suggested that others should also turn to support alternative routes to building the war-torn nation.
"People who were for the war and people who were against the war need to come together to find an alternative way out of the current situation,” said Edgar.
Edgar added, "We’ll be watching for indications that the transition to Iraqi sovereignty is genuine and complete.”
“We expect that the resolution will foster the integrity and unity of Iraq, specify who does what in terms of security, and make clear the role of the United Nations,” said Edgar.
The meeting between Annan and the delegation came the day the U.N. Security Council began talks on defining the role of the U.N. in Iraq; the same day, Bush announced that global support was needed in rebuilding Iraq.
In terms of the role of churches, the delegates and Annan both expressed that religious leaders need to emphasize the importance of building a culture of tolerance, and to teach peace, dignity and respect for human rights. They also agreed that while religion can foster conflict and intolerance, the problem is not with the faith itself, but with some of the faithful.
By the meeting’s end, Dr. Edgar encouraged Annan with a pastoral word: “You are in our prayers. These are difficult times. We wish you strength and courage at this critical moment when your leadership is most needed.”
In addition to Dr. Edgar, the 11 member delegation consisted of:
Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC Associate General Secretary for International Relations and Peace
Bishop Vicken Aykazian, Washington, D.C., Ecumenical Officer, Armenian Orthodox Church Diocese of America
The Rev. Dr. Keith Clements, General Secretary, Conference of European Churches, Geneva, Switzerland
The Rev. Dr. Karen A. Hamilton, General Secretary, Canadian Council of Churches, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Rev. Mark Hanson (Chicago, Ill.), Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and President, Lutheran World Federation
The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky (Syosset, N.Y.), Ecumenical Officer, Orthodox Church in America
The Rev. Michael E. Livingston, Executive Director, International Council of Community Churches, Frankfort, Ill.
The Rev. Paul Renshaw, Coordinator for International Affairs, Council of Churches in Britain and Ireland
Mr. James Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church, Washington, D.C.