NEW YORK -- While Western religious leaders have issued virtual universal condemnations of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the lengthening crisis is beginning to prompt questions from some religious groups and leaders about the Western role in the Middle East standoff.

Two of the strongest recent criticisms have been issued by the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of the Christian magazine Sojourners, and Roman Catholic Archbishop J. Francis Stafford of Denver.

Both religious leaders pointed to gas-guzzling, consumer-oriented Western society as the crucible within which the crisis took shape.

In an editorial printed in the October issue of Sojourners, Wallis asserted that Western colonialism and the thirst for oil "drew up the map of the Middle East" and "helped to create the situation in which we now find ourselves."

Wallis, a well known figure in both evangelical and ecumenical circles, acknowledged what he termed the "moral corruption and cruel opportunism" of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. But he said U.S. military intervention on the side of Kuwait seems directed toward "making the world safe more for feudalism and gas guzzling than for democracy."

In Denver, Archbishop Stafford said in a Sept. 19 letter to President Bush, "It is extremely difficult to defend military actions which flow from a policy of maintaining a standard of living for North Americans and Europeans who already use a disproportionate amount of the world's resources."

He added that "the immediate and overpowering presence of the United States military in the region requires us to reflect again upon the criteria of just war principles, one of which is that military action is a measure of last resort."

The Denver prelate called for the United States to work with the United Nations toward a negotiated settlement but warned that "the prejudicial attitude toward Arabs which exists in this country will serve to create an atmosphere in which the pursuit of peaceful negotiations will be extremely difficult."

Six high-ranking leaders of several United Methodist Church agencies issued a statement Sept. 17 that raised fears about mistreatment of Arabs and Moslems in the United States.

The statement called on United Methodists to avoid making the Gulf crisis an occasion for "demagoguery, manipulation and image-making which seeks to label Arabs and Muslims in a negative way."

The United Methodist leaders repeated a plea made a week earlier by the church's Council of Bishops asking that diplomatic solutions be explored as a preferred way of resolving the crisis.

The Church of the Brethren, one of the nation's historic peace churches, issued a call to make Oct. 21 an "oil-free Sunday" to focus attention on the relationship between oil consumption and the Middle East situation.

The denomination is encouraging people to use alternative means of transportation -- walking, bicycling, car-pooling or using mass transit -- as they travel to attend worship services.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning raised questions about the U.S. role in the crisis at a Sept. 14 to 20 meeting in Washington of the denomination's House of Bishops. In a keynote address, Browning said he was "deeply concerned" about the U.S. military presence in the Middle East and asked, "What vision do we serve there? Do we serve the vision of a united world -- or do we serve an appetite for oil?"