The Episcopal bishop of Washington and national leaders of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches yesterday proposed a six-point plan "to defeat Saddam Hussein without war."
In a significant shift for the religious antiwar movement, the church leaders said they feared that a U.S. invasion of Iraq was imminent and that the only way to stop it was to put forward concrete alternatives.
"We're not just saying 'No' to war. We're not just saying, 'Do nothing.' We're saying, 'Here's a third way,' " said Jim Wallis, editor of the evangelical journal Sojourners and a member of the group.
In recent weeks, many antiwar protesters have called for intensified U.N. weapons inspections rather than military force to disarm Iraq. But the religious leaders' plan goes further. It advocates Hussein's removal, putting leading figures in the antiwar movement on record in favor of many of the Bush administration's policy goals, if not its methods.
The first point in the group's plan is establishing a U.N. tribunal to indict Hussein for crimes against humanity, with the aim of removing the Iraqi president and his Baath Party from power.
Bishop John B. Chane, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said the church leaders wanted to make clear that they agree with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair that "regime change is imperative" in Iraq. "But," he said, "we don't believe that all of the avenues available to achieve that goal have truly been explored."
The other five points in the plan: "coercive disarmament" through more aggressive U.N. weapons inspections; planning for a post-Hussein government run temporarily by the United Nations rather than by the U.S military; immediate humanitarian aid for the Iraqi people, with U.N. forces protecting deliveries; recommitment to a "roadmap" for establishing a Palestinian state by 2005; and reinvigorating the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Chane said the commitment to a Palestinian state was included because it would defuse "the view of many people in the Middle East that this is a 21st-century Christian crusade against Islam."
Wallis acknowledged that the plan does not explain how Hussein is to be removed from power. "When [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic was indicted for war crimes, we didn't know how he would be removed, either," he said.
Other authors of the plan in addition to Wallis and Chane are Clifton Kirkpatrick, the Stated Clerk, or chief ecclesiastical officer, of the Presbyterian Church (USA); Melvin Talbert, the ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Council of Bishops; and Dan Weiss, the immediate past general secretary of the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.
Talbert previously appeared in television ads criticizing the administration's march toward war. All five members of the group have been active in Win Without War, a coalition of secular and religious groups that includes the National Council of Churches.
The five went as a delegation to meet with Blair on Feb. 18 in London. Chane said the prime minister asked what they would propose as an alternative to war. Their answer was the six-point plan, which they posted yesterday on the Sojourners Web site, sojo.net, and sent by letter to Bush and Blair, he said.
Wallis said the group also requested a meeting with Bush. The president met this week with an envoy from Pope John Paul II, but has rebuffed requests for a meeting by the bishops of his Methodist denomination.