A delegation of senior U.S. church leaders, including Washington's Episcopal bishop, will voice strong opposition to the anticipated war against Iraq during a meeting in London on Tuesday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"We go over there with great hope that. . . . we can make the prime minister aware that all the major denominations in the United States oppose going to war under the current circumstances," said the Right Rev. John Bryson Chane, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
Church leaders are worried about a war's impact on Iraq's civilian population and fear that war will increase terrorist attacks against Americans and worsen the Arab-Israeli crisis, Chane said.
A similar meeting with President Bush has been requested but so far has not materialized, Chane added. "That has been frustrating," he said.
The Blair meeting is part of an effort by the New York-based U.S. National Council of Churches to press the case against war in personal meetings with foreign leaders. Church delegations have already visited France and Germany, and other visits are planned for Russia and Italy. Despite the late hour -- a war seems likely to begin within weeks -- delegation members said they felt obliged to speak out.
"It is five minutes to midnight right now, and at that crucial hour we're going to pray and plead that we can avert this war and all the catastrophe it can bring," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, a District-based social justice activist and editor of Sojourners magazine.
Wallis said he could not remember a similar situation in recent U.S. history "where the churches were so opposed to a war before it started."
In addition to Chane and Wallis, the U.S. delegation includes Bishop Melvin Talbert, ecumenical officer for the Council of United Methodist Bishops; the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA; and the Rev. Dan Weiss, immediate past general secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA. Joining them for the Blair meeting will be three Anglican bishops, from Cyprus, Jerusalem and South Africa.