Methodist Leaders Arrested During Peace Rally

Mar 29, 2003 10:07 AM EST

WASHINGTON– Sixty-five protestors were arrested near the White House for their peaceful demonstration against “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” March 26. Among those arrested were two United Methodist leaders and a Catholic priest. The arrested were charged for demonstrating without a permit.

United Methodist Bishop C. Joseph Sprague and Jim Winkler, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society were arrested with the other demonstrators who gathered in Lafayette Park; demonstrators were singing songs, offering prayers and carrying signs against the war.

"The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church has sought four times to have an audience with President Bush," said Sprague in a press conference at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, before the demonstration. "There has been no response other than a terse ‘thanks, but no thanks.’"

According to Sprague, the rally was aimed in part at getting a message of peace to the president.

"The White House is not hearing from the Council of Bishops," Sprague said. "Given that reality, it demands strategies that are out of the ordinary – atypical rather than typical."

"I feel it’s time to get out there on the front lines," Winkler said. "Our board has stated that war is wrong, and now that it’s started, it’s still wrong. This war is unjust, unnecessary and uncertain."

The demonstration followed a United Methodist Church Press Conference and worship service held near the capitol.

At the press conference, Winkler noted that both the president and vice president are United Methodist. "But I am here to tell them that Jesus is not in support of this war," he said.

Mark Tooley, director of the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, DC called the arrest of Sprague and Winkler "really embarrassing" for the denomination.

"The incoherence of these church officials reflects poorly on our denomination and even on the anti-war cause they seek to promote," Tooley says in a statement. "Bishop Sprague and Jim Winkler represent the radical fringe of America's religious community. Unfortunately, they also occupy senior and very visible positions of influence that will distort how the United Methodist Church is portrayed to the nation."

Others arrested include Linda Bales, staff executive with the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project, part of the Board of Church and Society; Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit; Rabbi Arthur Waskow of Philadelphia; Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s; and Nobel Peace Prize laureates Jody Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

By Pauline J.