There is a momentum toward war in the land. The war fever originates from the White House, remains fundamentally unchallenged by Congress and is fueled each day by the media.

Some of us in the religious community feel compelled to raise basic moral and human considerations that have yet to be adequately addressed in this crisis but are -- we believe -- on the hearts of many of the people of this nation. The same week that Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) asked on this page {"Killing in the Name of God," Oct. 16} why more religious leaders were not speaking out about violence in the world, seven church leaders (including the presiding bishop of Sen. Danforth's Episcopal Church) appeared before the press to protest our government's warlike reaction to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

The genuine fear of many Americans over the prospect of losing loved ones in the sands of the Arabian Peninsula is caused by something far deeper than a madman in Iraq; it is the direct consequence of ''reaping what we sow.''

Western colonialism and the thirst for oil drew up the map of the Middle East, carving out the borders of all the Arab states embroiled in the present conflict. U.S. policy in the region has served to protect feudalism and gas-guzzling more than democracy.

Oil has become the symbol of a global system with massive consumption at the top and massive misery at the bottom. Our own addiction to it, we now know, is doing incalculable damage to the Earth's ecosystem itself.

In theological terms, the oil that is at the center of this crisis and has emerged as the symbol for what President Bush calls "our way of life" has become a modern idol for the nation. And now the idol of oil demands human sacrifice -- the lives of young soldiers and countless civilians.

There is no question that Saddam Hussein's brutal aggression must be opposed, the only question is how -- knowing that the ways we choose are setting critical precedents for the emerging shape of the new post-Cold War era.

The strength and unity of international economic sanctions and worldwide diplomatic pressure directed against Iraq promise new possibilities for dealing with military aggression in the post-Cold War world. But the massive American military buildup and the threat of a U.S.-led war on Arab soil are now escalating the conflict, opening the door to the growing prospect of ever more dangerous and tragic consequences.

President Bush says: "There is no substitute for American leadership." He is wrong. The move away from superpower politics, whether dominated by two or one, is both urgent and extremely difficult. But what are the consequences of a world made safe only by U.S. military power? For the United States to solely assume the role of policing the world raises grave concerns for the world's poor majority. Whose agenda will be enforced in George Bush's "new world order" guaranteed by Pax Americana?

Multilateral action must replace U.S. control of events. The resolution of this crisis must be placed in the hands of the international community -- enforcing continued economic sanctions, creating fresh diplomatic initiatives and finding genuine political solutions. Indeed, this crisis in the Gulf points to the many unresolved conflicts in the Middle East that underlie present events. The withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait must be secured and so must a real political process to create a genuine peace in the region, which requires justice for all its people, including the Palestinians.

The momentum of war must be halted, the burden of responsibility shifted from the United States to the world community and a peaceful solution found.

Instead of the bugle call to war, the present conflict over oil could be a warning bell and a wake-up call to national redirection. Regardless of how the present crisis is resolved, it must become an event that changes us.

We are confronted with soul-searching questions that simply will not go away. What are we most willing to sacrifice -- our access to a limitless supply of cheap oil or the lives of the young Americans and Arab people it may take to keep it flowing? How many cents on a gallon of gas is worth the human cost of so many potential deaths? What are we ready to risk -- changes in our life style, or the prospect of endless war, perhaps involving chemical and nuclear weapons?

Are we finally ready to make the critical choices to opt for energy conservation and the shift to safer, more reliable and renewable sources of fuel for the sake of the Earth and our children? Or are we prepared to bomb the children of Baghdad if necessary to protect "our oil"?

The alleged national consensus of support for U.S. policy in the Gulf is being used to lead us to war. That consensus must be disrupted.

If our government goes to war in the Middle East, it should not look to the churches to legitimate its violence. Many of us will refuse to support or accept the option of war and, indeed, will pledge to actively oppose it.

At the conclusion of every speech about the Gulf crisis, President Bush has said: "God bless the United States of America." Mr. President, don't ask for God's blessing on behalf of war.

The writer is editor of Sojourners magazine.