Seven mainline Christian leaders, including the presiding bishop of President Bush's denomination, urged Bush yesterday to rule out use of military force in the standoff with Iraq and to consider withdrawing U.S. troops from the Persian Gulf as soon as possible.
While the quick U.S. military response to the invasion of Kuwait may have bolstered initial moves to impose international economic sanctions against Iraq, the continued presence of the U.S. military impedes a diplomatic solution, several of the leaders said. The United Nations, not the United States, should play a key role in deciding the future of the gulf and whether a military presence is necessary, they added.
"I beg that we not fall into the trap of war as a means of solving the problem," said Bishop Edmund Browning, spiritual leader of the nation's 2.4 million Episcopalians, who include Bush. "I call upon the United States government to honor the U.N. process, believing that the U.N. and the Arab states themselves . . . offer the best hope for a bloodless solution to the conflict."
Browning later said he had sent the president a paper outlining his position and hopes to talk to him.
Others who spoke at the news conference at the Capitol included a Roman Catholic bishop, a United Methodist bishop, representatives of the World Council of Churches and Church Women United, the editor of the Christian magazine Sojourners and the senior pastor of the large, interdenominational Riverside Church in New York City.
Some religious leaders and organizations, including the National Council of Churches, previously have urged caution regarding a military solution in the gulf, but yesterday's speakers indicated they now feel some urgency to put pressure on Bush and Congress. Their timing partly reflected reports that Bush is frustrated by the apparent gulf stalemate and is giving greater consideration to unilateral U.S. military action.
It is difficult for a large military force to act only as a restraint for very long, said the Rev. James Forbes of Riverside Church. "They're like snow plowers who rejoice at a forecast for snow," he said.
Yesterday's statements do not reflect the views of many moderate to conservative churches, according to Dianne Knippers, deputy director of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, an agency that monitors Protestant and Catholic church activities in international affairs.
"We live in a world where there are people who do evil things," she said, referring to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "Sometimes the only way to counter that is with force. . . . The United Nations is a useful, perhaps essential, agency but it's not our moral compass."