Head of Churches' Council Seeks to Avert War: He Meets with European Leaders, but `Can't Get in to Talk to President Bush'. (Nation)

By Lefevere, Patricia | National Catholic Reporter, March 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Head of Churches' Council Seeks to Avert War: He Meets with European Leaders, but `Can't Get in to Talk to President Bush'. (Nation)


Lefevere, Patricia, National Catholic Reporter


Why is it, wonders the Rev. Robert Edgar, that he can meet a full hour with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, hand deliver a message from Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to former President Jimmy Carter, and prepare for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and yet "I can't get in to talk to President Bush."

Back from recent trips to Baghdad and Berlin and about to travel to Moscow in early March, Edgar pondered the question Feb. 14 at the Interchurch Center here, headquarters of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. A former six-term Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania and a United Methodist minister, Edgar has been general secretary of the council for three years.

The council represents some 140,000 U.S. congregations of Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican believers, numbering 50 million Christians. As a Christian body, its membership is second only to the Catholic church, which counts some 64 million adherents.

In a question-and-answer session with NCR and a dozen representatives of Protestant churches, he detailed the council's opposition to a U.S.-launched preemptive strike against Iraq, designed to topple Saddam Hussein and rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. After a six-month effort to change hearts and minds in Congress and in congregations, council leaders have taken their campaign to European religious and political leaders.

On Feb. 17 a five-member delegation met with the new archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and on Feb. 18 took its concerns to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's chief ally in the struggle with Iraq. On Feb. 26 another NCC delegation, which was to have included a Catholic representative, hopes to meet with Pope John Paul II and to brief Vatican officials on the churches' objections to war.

Each of the delegations has emphasized that America's religious leaders--including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops--oppose war with Iraq, favor the continuation of the work of United Nations weapons inspectors and are committed to a peaceful solution to the crisis. The U.S. bishops' Nov. 13 statement opposing the war is posted on the NCC Web site.

"Preemptive war is immoral and illegal," Edgar said. "It is theologically illegitimate and profoundly violates our Christian beliefs and religious principles. As disciples of the Prince of Peace, we know that war is completely antithetical to Jesus' teachings."

In mid-February Fr. Stanley DeBoe of Silver Spring, Md., was part of the NCC's five-person delegation to Paris. DeBoe's Trinitarian order began in Paris in 1198, with its mission to facilitate the payment of ransoms and the return of prisoners, both Muslim and Christian, during the Crusades, DeBoe co-chairs the ecumenical group Churches for Middle East Peace.

The NCC delegation met with French Foreign Ministry officials, church leaders and the press and held an ecumenical prayer service for peace at the Madeleine Church in central Paris, which drew 500 worshipers.

Although Edgar was not part of the Feb. 10-11 delegation to Paris, he noted the group's surprise that "the general impression in France is that the churches are all behind Bush." What perplexes European church leaders is that Bush, a United Methodist, is a member of a church that's a member of the NCC, Edgar noted, The United Methodists and the NCC are opposed to waging war against Iraq. Yet Bush is pushing ahead. How is that possible? asked European Christians and the French and German media.

Edgar, along with two other U.S. church leaders and 13 from Europe spent an hour with Schroeder at his Berlin office Feb. 5. The chancellor explained Germany's outspokenness against the pending war as the actions of "a good ally. …

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