Issues of war and peace have dominated the first week of the sixth assembly of the World Council of Churches, in session in Vancouver, British Columbia.
More than 200 angry U.S. church leaders attending the assembly lined up this week to sign a petition protesting President Reaganstep up U.S. military presence in Central America.
"We are alarmed and offended by the escalation of U.S. mgagement you have ordered in Central America," said the petition, sent by telegram to the president. It calledend "all overt or covert efforts to destabilize or overthrow the legitimate government of Nicaragua."
Leadielegates and visitors signing the protest was Dr. Cynthia Wedel of Washington, one of the six presidents of thMethodist Bishop James Armstrong, president of the National Council of Churches.
In a related but separateent of the United States Catholic bishops' conference, Archbishop John R. Roach, sent a similar message to thely oppose. . . any form of U.S. military intervention in Central America" and urge a "diplomatic, nonmilitary licts there.
The protest from the participants in the assembly--Roman Catholics are not members of the WCC--a regional meeting of American delegates and accredited visitors Tuesday night, after the president's television appearance defending his Latin American policie the telegram, which included heads of most U.S. mainline Protestant denominations, demanded "the immediate wiS. forces" from Central America, "the cessation of all overt or covert efforts to destabilize or overthrow thement of Nicaragua and the replacement of threats to use force with honest engagement in efforts to achieve a nnt for the conflicts now raging in Central America."
In Assembly business sessions, Dr. Helen Caldicott, ann who founded the U.S.-based Physicians for Social Responsibility, denounced the nuclear weapons race for siphng off funding needed for food and basic necessities of life.
Caldicott charged that the administration's pd military spending had heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow to the most dangerous point since than assembly panel with Caldicott was Dr. Anezka Ebertova, a Czech Christian leader, who called on the WCC to speak forcefully against the weapons of mass destruction.
"Through my voice you can hear thousands of Christians in socialist countries who, together with their fellow citizens, experienced the hell of war, the horrors of the concentration camps, hunger and extermination techniques, the burning and bombing of cities ges," said Ebertova, the delegate of the 500,000 million-member Czechoslovak Hussite Church.
Reminding the delegates that both World Warsht on the continent where he lives, Ebertova added that "there are no families" in Europe that "have not lost ir members."
Caldicott and Ebertova made their remarks in the panel on "Life Confronting and Overcoming Deae assembly's central theme, "Jesus Christ, the Life of the World."
Caldicott denounced both the Western powe Soviet Union as "peddlers of death and armaments to Third World countries." Nations spend $700 billion a yeamament, conventional and nuclear, she said. "Unless we can break the cycle of corporate greed manifested by thof death, the future of the planet is in gross jeopardy."
But Dr. Allan Boesak, a South African who is presiance of Reformed Churches, cautioned against separating the issues of peace and justice.
"It's true that tice, racism, hunger and poverty are largely unresolved issues for the ecumenical movement," said Boesak, "but it cannot be true that we will be willing to use the issue of peacedilemmas."
In South Africa, he continued, "Inequality is still sanctified by law and racial superiority is still justified by theology."
The plan of the ably calls for a number of major addresses in plenary sessions during the first week, as the 900 delegates from also begin meeting in small groups and "issue clusters" to begin work on the resolutions and statements that will come before the assembly in the closing days. The assembly concludes Aug. 10.
Not all of the political barbs are expected to be aimed at the United States. The Rev. Philip Potter, WCC general secretary, promised this week that complaints against Communist bloc nations for restricting religious freedom also will have an airing during the assembly.
Potter told a press conference that the WCC has been pressing steadily for fuller religious rights in such countries. "We have not been silent," he said, adding that the WCC "played a not-insignificant role in the recent case of the Pentecostals" who have been permitted to emigrate to Israel from the Soviet Union.
Two churches were received into membership in the WCC this week. They are the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of South Africa and the Nicaragua Baptist Convention. They bring to 301 the total number of member churches.
Pope John Paul II sent greetings to the assembly, assuring delegates of "my deep pastoral interest and closeness in prayer."
Citing his meetings with Protestant and Orthodox leaders both in Rome and on his many visits around the world, the pope said that such contacts "have advanced the cause of Christian unity, and I trust that the present gathering in Vancouver will bring about even further progress toward this goal for which we all long."
As there were at the last two assemblies--in Nairobi in 1975 and Uppsalla, Sweden, in 1968--there are 20 "delegated observers" from the Catholic Church present in Vancouver. But unlike those two previous assemblies, the possibility of the Roman Catholic Church becoming a full participant in the WCC is no longer discussed as a live possibility.
Also present in Vancouver are anti-ecumenical protestors led by the anti-Catholic, anti-ecumenical Irish clergyman, the Rev. Ian Paisley. Paisley and his followers, including the fundamentalist preacher, the Rev. Carl McIntire, denounce the WCC for its liberal leanings theologically.