The National Council of Churches will begin airing a television commercial today in which a bishop of the United Methodist Church, President Bush's denomination, says going to war against Iraq "violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ."
The 30-second ad, scheduled to appear several times a day over the next week on the CNN and Fox cable networks in New York and Washington, is part of an accelerating television, radio and print media campaign by Win Without War, a coalition of organizations opposed to invading Iraq.
The choice of a Methodist bishop as a spokesman is intended to emphasize the opposition to war from America's mainstream churches and to convey that the peace movement is middle-of-the-road and patriotic, according to Win Without War's national director, former representative Tom Andrews (D-Maine).
Some national TV networks and local stations have rejected the antiwar coalition's efforts to buy advertising time, citing the controversial content of its ads.
The first spot, which aired in 14 cities beginning Jan. 16, showed a little girl plucking petals from a daisy during a missile launch countdown, followed by a nuclear mushroom cloud. It was a remake of one of the most famous political ads in history, an attempt in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign to portray his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, as a warmonger.
Win Without War's second commercial featured actress Susan Sarandon asking, "What did Iraq do to us?" Edward Peck, a U.S. ambassador to Iraq in the Reagan administration, replied: "The answer is nothing. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, nothing to do with al Qaeda."
That ad was timed to coincide with Tuesday's State of the Union address, in which Bush said the United States has intelligence linking Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to international terrorism.
In the latest ad, actress Janeane Garofalo says she keeps wondering: Does the United States have the right to invade "a country that's done nothing to us?' "
Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, the chief ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Church, answers: "No nation under God has that right. It violates international law, it violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Iraq hasn't wronged us. War will only create more terrorists and a more dangerous world for our children."
Talbert, 68, also opposed the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He said in an interview yesterday he believes there are "more people openly opposed to this war than we had two years into the Vietnam War." He added that he decided to make the commercial only after Methodist leaders failed in several attempts to obtain a private meeting with Bush.
More than 40 bishops and pastors of Protestant and Orthodox churches will issue an open letter today imploring Bush to meet with antiwar religious leaders, according to Bob Edgar, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania who heads the 38-denomination National Council of Churches.
"We're asking him to at least listen to us before he makes the final decision to go to war," Edgar said.
Many of the nation's large Christian denominations, including the leaders of the Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Methodist churches, have expressed opposition or strong reservations to war with Iraq. Some Southern Baptist and other evangelical ministers have declared their support for war; most Jewish organizations have not taken a position.
In addition to the National Council of Churches, Win Without War's members include MoveOn.org, an Internet-based group founded in 1998 by Californians who opposed President Bill Clinton's impeachment; True Majority, a group headed by Ben & Jerry's ice cream founder Ben Cohen; the Sierra Club; the National Organization for Women; Physicians for Social Responsibility; Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.
Andrews said the coalition has spent more than $675,000 on its three commercials, almost all of it coming from individual donations. The total is likely to top $1 million, he added, as the group plans to bring out at least two more ads in the next few weeks urging Bush to work through the United Nations and its weapons inspectors to disarm Iraq.
Nathan Naylor, a public relations executive involved in the ad campaign, said CNN, Fox and NBC declined to sell airtime on their national networks, so the coalition bought time locally from network affiliates and cable operators.
CNN spokeswoman Megan Mahoney said its policy is that "we do not accept international advocacy ads on regions in conflict."
Hilary Smith, an NBC spokeswoman, said she could confirm only that one of the network's wholly owned stations, KNBC in Los Angeles, decided not to air the "daisy" ad. "It pertained to a controversial issue which we prefer to handle in our news and public affairs programming," she said.
Officials at Fox did not respond to repeated calls seeking comment.