NEW YORK - About a dozen United Methodists were arrest along with 100-odd demonstrators Dec. 10 near the United Nations while protesting a possible U.S. war with Iraq.
Following an interfaith rally that drew more than 200 people, some of the demonstrators engaged in act of nonviolent civil disobedience by blocking the front entrance of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. About 12 to 15 United Methodists, mostly clergy from the denomination's New York Conference, were among those arrested by New York police and charged with disorderly conduct. Others included Ben Cohen, a co-founder of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and Daniel Ellsberg, the peace activist involved in the Pentagon Papers scandal of the Vietnam War era.
The Rev. Bryan Hooper, pastor of Washington Square United Methodist Church and one of those arrested, said police were clement as they placed plastic handcuffs on demonstrators, who spent several hours in holding cells before being processed and released.
The Rev. James Fitzgerald, a United Methodist currently serving as minister for mission and social justice at the interdenominational Riverside Church, declared that religious people should not be silent when a war with Iraq makes no sense.
"I think the rush to war is poisoning the soul of America," he told United Methodist News Service just before the interfaith rally began. "Instead of having a war on terror, we should have a war on the root causes of terrorism."
The Rev. Richard Parker, a retired United Methodist clergyman, seconded the need "for us to have a strong United Methodist witness against a pre-emptive strike at this time."
It is precisely because the U.S. government seems focused on going to war that "we need to stand up and say no," added the Rev. Sarah Lamar-Sterling, pastor of Nicholas United Methodist Church in Trumbull, Conn.
All three were among those arrested after the rally.
The demonstration in New York was one of many being sponsored across the nation on International Human Rights Day by United for Peace, a coalition of 70 peace and religious groups. Endorsers of the civil disobedience action in New York included the Methodist Federation for Social Action, National Council of Churches and Church World Service. The Rev. James Lawson, a retired United Methodist pastor and well-known civil rights leader, led the training for that action.
"We've seen in New York what violence does to people," said the Rev. Carol Cox, New York District superintendent, who attended the rally but was not involved in the police action. "As a Christian and a Methodist, I can't see perpetuating violence as a way of solving problems."
A full-page ad in the Dec. 4 edition of The New York Times, bought by a new coalition called "Religious Leaders for Sensible Priorities," urged President Bush to "turn back from the brink of war on Iraq" and noted that such a war "would violate the tenets, prayers and entreaties of your own United Methodist Church bishops."
Although it mentioned him only by title and not by name, the ad also quoted Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, who said, "It is inconceivable that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior and the Prince of Peace, would support this proposed attack."
The Rev. Richard Deats, a United Methodist pastor who serves as communications coordinator for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, pointed out that the threat of U.S. unilateral action against Iraq bypasses a tradition of negotiation on such issues, working through the United Nations and world community.
"Saddam Hussein has been demonized to the point of obsession," he said of Iraq's leader. "We don't see the human face of the Iraqi people."
By Albert H. Lee