Feb. 18, 2003
Complaints dismissed against Bishop Joseph Sprague
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert
United Methodist Bishop Bruce B. Ough, president of the churchs North Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops, has announced that complaints filed against Bishop C. Joseph Sprague of Chicago have been dismissed.
A four-person supervisory response team met in January and February to review the complaints and respond to them.
A group of 28 United Methodist clergy and laypeople filed the complaint against Sprague on Dec. 30, calling for his removal based on comments that he made about Christs divinity at a speech at Iliff Theological Seminary and in his book Affirmations of a Dissenter. A pastor in the Mississippi Conference had filed a similar complaint in September.
The supervisory response process is required by church law to be confidential. However, the supervisory team said Feb. 17 that it decided to make the response public to the church because of three factors.
"First and foremost was the decision by the group of complainants to publicly disclose their complaint," the response states. "It is regrettable and unconscionable that Bishop Sprague first learned of the Dec. 30 complaint through the press.
"Second, the theological and doctrinal issues raised in the complaint are already a matter of considerable public debate within the United Methodist Church.
"Third, the supervisory response team desires to speak to the whole church, as well as the parties to the complaint. The parties to the complaint (Bishop Sprague, the Mississippi Conference elder and the spokesman for the group of complainants) have agreed to this public disclosure of the supervisory response."
In its recommendations, the supervisory response team asked Sprague to release a public statement clarifying and reaffirming his adherence to the doctrinal standards of the United Methodist Church. The team also recommended Sprague and the complainants participate in a third-party public dialogue; that the Council of Bishops enter into serious theological reflection on issues of Christology, biblical authority and the mission of the church; and that the complainants offer a public apology for disregarding the spirit of confidentiality intended in the supervisory process.
In response to the decision, the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, spokesman for the complainants, said, "The signers of the complaint against Bishop C. Joseph Sprague are deeply disappointed in the decision by the supervisory team to dismiss the complaint. Upon first reading, it appears the rationale of the complaint did not objectively consider our perspective, but was heavily weighted against our point of view.
"We affirm the supervisory teams recommendations for theological dialogue and declare our willingness to participate. We believe, however, that we as a church need to go beyond dialogue to develop an understanding of what binds us together theologically in the United Methodist Church what our theological identity is.
"This decision appears to give official sanction to the personal interpretation of our doctrinal standards in a way that diminishes their unifying and binding force. Sadly, this approach to theology within the United Methodist Church will only deepen our divisions and weaken the mission and ministry of our church.
"We call for the church, in a spirit of civility, mutual respect and fidelity to the Lord whom we serve, to reclaim the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (Jude 3) This is the faith for which the apostles and martyrs gave their lives the faith for which many Christians suffer and die around the world today. This faith alone can provide the impetus for the loving, grace-filled ministry that will lead our church to become spiritually vital and growing once again."
Sprague released a public statement Feb. 13. "It was my intent, in the Iliff lecture and with the book, to stimulate informed debate," he said. "It was not my intent that those who were unaware of the issues raised would be confused or hurt."
When filing the complaint, Lambrecht had said, "In his address and book, Bishop Sprague appears to deny the apostolic, orthodox and ecumenical Trinitarian understanding of Jesus as God in favor of a form of Unitarianism or adoptionism that denies the virgin birth and full deity of Christ. He denies the physical resurrection of Christs body. He maintains that Jesus Christ is not the only way to salvation and appears to deny the substitutionary atonement of Christ through his sacrificial death on the cross."
In his statement, Sprague cited the Book of Discipline, Paragraphs 404, 414 and 415, outlining the duties and responsibilities of bishops. Bishops are "to guard, transmit, teach, and proclaim corporately and individually the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition, and as they are led and endowed by the Spirit, to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically."
Sprague also points to Paragraph 104, which states in part that the theological task of United Methodists is the "testing, renewal, elaboration, and application of our doctrinal perspective in carrying out our calling to spread spiritual holiness over the lands."
"The Iliff lecture, the book, my preaching, teaching and other writings reflect an unequivocal commitment to both honoring and interpreting Scripture and tradition," Sprague said. "As a bishop, I shall continue to guard, interpret, live and transmit the wondrous treasure we have been given, in earthenware vessels, until that time when I no longer see through a glass darkly but face to face."
The supervisory response team stated Sprague has taken responsibility for his actions as a bishop, including acknowledging how bishops can create division and confusion in the Body of Christ with their words and teachings.
"It became apparent to the supervisory response team, in our review of this case, that Bishop Sprague knows Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, has faith in Christs saving and transforming power, and is obedient to Christs teachings."
The statement further states this matter is an opportunity for the church to "seek the Spirits wisdom." The churchs mission is being diminished in part because of factions in the denomination that do not listen or talk to one another across theological lines.
"Let us enter into a season of listening deeply to the Holy Spirit and to one another. Let us cast out our penchant to power and control. Let us lay aside our arrogance.
Let us reclaim our mission of spreading scriptural holiness across the land."
A press conference in support of Sprague was held Feb. 18 at First Chicago Temple United Methodist Church. A group of more than 30 clergy and laity celebrated the dismissal of the charges.
In a statement of support, the group said, "We declare ourselves among those who stand in faith, friendship and loyalty with Bishop Sprague theologically, missionally and doctrinally. We affirm our support for him, and we will continue to seek to live and act within the spirit of John Wesley who declared, If your heart is open to God and my heart is open to God, then let us join hands."
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.
The complete supervisory response follows:
TO COMPLAINTS AGAINST
BISHOP C. JOSEPH SPRAGUE
On December 30, 2002, a formal complaint was filed against Bishop C. Joseph Sprague by a group of United Methodist clergy and laity. The complaint alleged two chargeable offenses as defined in The Book of Discipline (2000):
* dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church (¶ 2702.1f), and
* disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church (¶ 2702.1e).
The complaint was based on an address delivered by Bishop Sprague at Iliff Theological Seminary on January 28, 2002 and Bishop Spragues recently published book, Affirmations of a Dissenter.
A similar complaint was filed by an elder in the Mississippi Conference in September 2002. This complaint also alleged the offense of dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church based on the Iliff lecture.
The president of the North Central College of Bishops convened a four-person supervisory response team according to ¶ 413.3 of The Book of Discipline (2000). The team met in January and February 2003 to review the complaints and make a supervisory response.
The Book of Discipline (2000) calls for the supervisory response process to be carried out in a confidential manner. However, in this case the supervisory response is being made public to The United Methodist Church. This decision is driven by three factors. First, and foremost, was the decision by the group of complainants to publicly disclose their complaint. It is regrettable and unconscionable that Bishop Sprague first learned of the December 30th complaint through the press. Second, the theological and doctrinal issues raised in the complaint are already a matter of considerable public debate within The United Methodist Church. Third, the supervisory response team desires to speak to the whole Church, as well as the parties to the complaint. The parties to the complaint (Bishop Sprague, the Mississippi Conference elder and the spokesperson for the group of complainants) have agreed to this public disclosure of the supervisory response.
Response and Recommendations
The supervisory response team is dismissing the complaints against Bishop C. Joseph Sprague. In doing so, the supervisory response team requested that Bishop Sprague issue a public statement clarifying and reaffirming his adherence to the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church. Bishop Spragues statement is attached.
Further, the supervisory response team strongly recommends the following:
* Bishop Sprague and the complainants participate in a third party facilitated dialogue on the theological and doctrinal issues presented in this case. Further, we recommend this dialogue be open to the public. The purpose of the dialogue would be to discover and explore the points of continuity or disconnect between the traditional and new interpretations of our doctrinal statements.
* The Council of Bishops take immediate steps to enter into serious theological reflection on issues of Christology, Biblical authority and the mission of the Church. Further, we recommend this process be open to the public and bring to the table persons to represent the wide range of theological thought present in our denomination. Further, we recommend the Council develop means to invite the entire Church into similar study and reflection. In effect, this process was begun when several bishops made public responses to Bishop Spragues lecture at Iliff.
* The group of complainants offer a public apology for disregarding the spirit of confidentiality intended in the supervisory response process.
The complaints (essentially charges of heresy) against Bishop Sprague are a very serious matter, both for Bishop Sprague and the Church. Indeed, the supervisory response team recognizes this as a potential watershed moment in our denomination. The response to the complaints could establish the cultural ethos and the missional direction of the denomination (particularly in the United States) for the foreseeable future. The entire Church is watching. Critical questions hang in the balance and frame the context of the complaints. Questions such as:
* Are we drifting, or being driven, toward becoming a doctrinal or creedal Church, rather than a Church rooted primarily in Wesleys "heart religion?"
* Are there certain foundational doctrines that cannot or should not be subject to scholarly examination and interpretation?
* Is there room in the Church for leaders (ordained clergy and consecrated bishops) to engage in serious theological and biblical discourse, either of a scholarly or confessional nature, without threat of charges?
* How do we deal with the growing perceptions that the complaint processes are ignored by the bishops and abused by complainants?
* Are there corresponding points and processes of accountability for groups and individuals that relentlessly and increasingly pressure Church leaders and agencies to reflect their positions?
* Are we spiritually mature enough to have truly open "conferencing" on the critical theological, doctrinal, social and missional issues confronting the Church?
* Who will lead the Church toward such spiritual maturity a spirituality rooted in "self-knowledge" (a term Wesley used as an equivalent for true repentance), faith in Jesus Christ, the disciplines of vital piety and the praxis of social holiness?
Acknowledging the denominations current ethos in no way diminishes the seriousness of the complaints. Bishop Sprague has taken responsibility for his actions as a bishop of the Church, including acknowledging how the words and teachings of a bishop can create division and confusion in the Body of Christ.
It became apparent to the supervisory response team, in our review of this case, that Bishop Sprague knows Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, has faith in Christs saving and transforming power and is obedient to Christs teachings. This is evident in the fruits of his pastoral and episcopal ministries and many of his public statements. It is also clear that his intentions were to write a confessional statement (Affirmations of a Dissenter) that reflects his personal journey of faith, his biblical hermeneutic and his assessment of ecclesiastical and missional issues confronting the Church and society. In the book, Bishop Sprague attempts to balance "professing" the doctrine of the Church and "confessing" his own journey of faith. This task appears difficult to accomplish in the current cultural environment of our Church.
Even as we ask Bishop Sprague to reaffirm his upholding of the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church, we are bold to invite others in the Church to affirm a spirit of civility, embrace the historic conciliar process and form of our Churchs discourse, and desist from exploiting this and other serious matters facing our Church to gain financial support or incite division in the Body of Christ.
We affirm that there is a place for healthy and constructive dissent within the Church. We affirm that there is room for reform. A good portion of our Churchs DNA is constructed of strands of dissent and reform. Many United Methodists have suggested it would be healthy, in the long run, for an open and public airing of the issues attending to these complaints. The supervisory response team agrees. However, we maintain that the openness sought cannot be achieved under threat of charges or in a Church trial. It is to this end that we are recommending Bishop Sprague and the complainants participate in a public dialogue, facilitated by a third party, and that the Council of Bishops assume a leadership role in framing a dialogue within the Council and the entire Church. We plead with both the dissenters and the reformers to conduct the discourse without personal attack, with mutual respect and for the purpose of strengthening our Churchs ministry, witness and mission.
Let us be absolutely clear. It is the rightful expectation of the Church, and certainly this supervisory response team, that every bishop continue to "guard, transmit, teach, and proclaim, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition, and, as they are led and endowed by the Spirit, to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically" (¶ 413.3). Further, it is a rightful expectation that bishops of the Church assume a leadership role in our theological task, including the "testing, renewal, elaboration, and application of our doctrinal perspective in carrying out our calling to spread scriptural holiness over the lands." (The Book of Discipline 2000, page 75).
This matter affords an opportunity for the Church to seek the Spirits wisdom. We urge that it be seized. The United Methodist Churchs powerful message of grace, and equally powerful mission of making and equipping disciples of Jesus Christ for the purpose of transforming the world, is being diminished, squandered, and sacrificed, in part because factions in our beloved Church do not talk to each other across theological lines. This situation often leads to us focusing on the wrong issues and undermining one another.
In response to a question about the unity of the Christian witness at a recent ecumenical gathering in Columbus, Ohio, Dr. James Forbes, pastor of New Yorks Riverside Church, said, "When we recognize the common threat, we will come together." Many in our Church believe the threat is doctrinal impurity and heresy. Others in our Church believe the threat is the narrowing of Wesleyan doctrine to a static, rigid formulation. It is the humble, but considered, opinion of the supervisory response team that the real threat may well be our arrogance and parochial attitudes. The Evil One is surely enjoying our folly!
Only surrender to Christ Jesus will move us beyond our addiction to schismatic attitudes and litigious behaviors and toward the unity of mission we profess, but do not practice. Only a deep, abiding, persistent listening to the Holy Spirit will remind us of what Christ would have us be and do.
We conclude with Jesus words from his farewell conversation with the twelve disciples:
"But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, I am going away, and I am coming to you. If you love me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way."
(John 14:26-31, NRSV)
Indeed, Church, rise, let us be on our way. Let us not miss this opportunity. Let us enter into a season of listening deeply to the Holy Spirit and to one another. Let us cast out our penchant to power and control. Let us lay aside our arrogance. Let us reclaim our mission of "spreading scriptural holiness over the lands."
In the name of Jesus Christ, let us rise up and be on our way!
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
North Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops
for the Supervisory Response Team
February 17, 2003
Bishop C. Joseph Spragues statement follows:
February 18, 2003
Grace to you and peace in the Name and Spirit of Jesus the Christ, our Savior and Liberator.
This offering is in response to the charges filed against me. I write with regret and embarrassment for the anguish these charges have caused my family, colleagues, the people and congregations of the Northern Illinois Conference. The misunderstandings attendant to this situation are most unfortunate and could have been avoided had disciplinary process been observed. Nevertheless, I am particularly grateful for the innumerable expressions of gratitude and support received.
It was my intent, in the Iliff lecture and with the book, to stimulate informed debate. It was not my intent that those, who were unaware of the issues raised, would be confused or hurt. Because some have been adversely affected, what follows is written to erase misunderstanding, assuage hurt, and affirm clearly the doctrines of our Church.
The 2000 Book of Discipline, Paragraphs 404, 414, and 415, enumerates the duties and responsibilities of bishops. Among these, bishops are "to guard, transmit, teach, and proclaim, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition, and, as they are led and endowed by the Spirit, to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically." (Paragraph 414.3., page 280)
This is set in the context of what The Book of Discipline, Paragraph 104, identifies as "Our Theological Task." This paragraph, in part, states, "Our doctrinal affirmations assist us in the discernment of Christian truth in ever-changing contexts. Our theological task includes the testing, renewal, elaboration, and application of our doctrinal perspective in carrying out our calling to spread scriptural holiness over the lands." (Pages 74-75)
The Iliff lecture and the book, Affirmations of a Dissenter, stand as vivid indications of this bishops response to these inherent expectations of the episcopal office.
Affirming the primacy of Scripture and the benchmark nature of historic doctrinal statements, including the Articles of Religion, the Standard Sermons of Wesley, the Explanatory Notes Upon The New Testament, and the Confession of Faith, I have been informed and influenced for a lifetime by the continuing flow of biblical and theological scholarship so as to be "led and endowed by the Spirit, to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically." (Page 280)
My writing, teaching, and preaching reflect our Churchs historic understanding of Scriptures primacy. These offerings fulfill the on-going responsibility of a bishop to interpret divinely-inspired, but humanly-transmitted, Scripture and tradition.
I affirm the historic doctrines of our Church (Pages 58ff). However, like Scripture and other aspects of Christian tradition, these benchmark indicators of the faith once delivered require constant, informed, and Spirit-led exegesis, exposition, integration, and interpretation, if they are to inform and embolden the Churchs witness and mission for such a time as this. Bishops share a particular responsibility for this essential task. I approach this responsibility with ultimate seriousness.
My abiding fear is that a repeated failure to interpret Scripture and doctrine, metaphorically and symbolically in todays Church, will continue to drive countless spiritually-searching and critically-thinking people away, not only from this Church but from the very Gospel for which their hearts yearn. Therefore, I engage Scripture and tradition, as I do, believing that these are profoundly wondrous means for proclaiming the Gospel, here and now, to the end that individual believers and the whole church will repent, believe the Gospel, and lead transformed personal and institutional lives worthy of Jesus the Christ.
Historic doctrine is foundational. It is our Churchs benchmark from age to age. I do "guard, transmit, teach, and proclaim
the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition." And, in accordance with the vows taken as a bishop, I do "as
led and endowed by the Spirit
interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically."
The Iliff lecture, the book, my preaching, teaching, and other writings reflect an unequivocal commitment to both honoring and interpreting Scripture and tradition. As a bishop, I shall continue to guard, interpret, live, and transmit the wondrous treasure we have been given, in earthenware vessels, until that time when I no longer see through a glass darkly, but face to face.
Your brother in Christ,
Bishop C. Joseph Sprague
Feb. 20, 2003
Study: United Methodist ads encourage church visits
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) The Barna Research Group Inc. says the United Methodist Churchs U.S. advertising campaign is successfully encouraging people to visit a local church.
Barna has concluded that people who saw the United Methodist Churchs Igniting Ministry advertisements in 2002 are twice as likely to visit a local congregation as those who did not. And 46 percent of the people in the target audience who had seen the ads said they are willing to visit a United Methodist church, a gain of 10 percentage points over 2001.
"Being exposed to the advertising translates to greater likelihood to visit a church," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications. The agency manages Igniting Ministry, the denominations advertising and welcoming program.
TV ads were most viewed, with 63 percent of those surveyed having seen the advertising on television. The ads run during three periods each year on national cable networks. Additional placements on television and other media newspaper, outdoor and radio reflect local church participation in the campaign.
The report from the Ventura, Calif.,-based Barna reveals that people who see the advertising get a clearer picture of what United Methodists have to offer. "Our messages are helping people see our churches as welcoming communities, open to helping others," Hollon said.
Barna research confirms that Igniting Ministry successfully communicates key United Methodist characteristics. The study assessed statements about the church, touching on diverse opinions and beliefs, acceptance, supportive nature, respect for other religions, and deeper meaning and purpose in life.
"The advertising is working because it communicates the United Methodist Churchs key distinctions," Hollon said.
Seventy percent indicate that the United Methodist Churchs messages are important and believable. The highest ratings of importance were found among people who feel something is missing from their lives (50 percent), are experiencing emotional pain or frustration (52 percent), and feel the church will likely help them find personal fulfillment (49 percent).
The research involved telephone interviews with people identified as "seekers" and data from 156 test United Methodist churches in the denominations five U.S. regions. For test purposes, "seekers" are defined as people in search of spiritual fulfillment, whether "unchurched," marginally churched or church attenders.
In addition, 70 percent of pastors of the test churches said their congregations have "experienced a renewed sense of commitment to welcoming new people," and 61 percent reported that their members regularly invite unchurched people to their services.
Igniting Ministry, which premiered in September 2001, uses national cable network commercials and other means to raise public awareness of the denomination. The churchs 2000 General Conference approved $20 million to support the campaign.
More information including details on training sessions, matching grants and other resources is available at www.ignitingministry.org.
Feb. 20, 2003
Igniting Ministry trains Korean-American churches
A UMNS Report
By the Rev. Sang Yean Cho
Representatives from Korean-American United Methodist churches in the California-Pacific Annual Conference participated in the first Korean Igniting Ministry training in early February.
Television and newspaper advertisements were developed in Korean and released last year in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, said the Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnson, executive with Igniting Ministry, based in Nashville, Tenn.
"Whenever I watch TV advertising for the United Methodist Church in Korean by Korean Television Network, I am proud of and feel connected with my denomination," said the Rev. Woong-Min Kim, pastor of Wilshire United Methodist Church and chairperson of the Korean caucus in the California-Pacific Annual Conference. "I appreciate United Methodist Communications for this meaningful and great project."
More than 50 lay leaders and clergy from the Los Angeles area participated in the training, held Feb. 2 at Wilshire United Methodist Church in Los Angeles.
"It was a rewarding experience to have attended the Igniting Ministry presentation," said Richard Kim, a member of the Glendale Korean United Methodist Church and the Pasadena District Team in the California-Pacific Annual Conference.
"The training was wonderful and a graceful shock to me and church members," said the Rev. Young Han Kang of the First Korean United Methodist Church of Mid-City, Calif. "It reminded us of our responsibility for evangelism and welcoming with fresh ideas." He said he wished more Korean churches had been at the training.
"This was too short. Why dont you plan a two- or three-day retreat for this training?" asked the Rev. Jin Mo Koo of Garden Grove (Calif.) First Korean United Methodist Church. "I believe that it will help a lot of Korean churches."
The United Methodist Council on Korean American Ministries sponsored the training. Other Korean training events will be held March 1-2 in New York and New Jersey, and in mid-May in Chicago.
Cho is the editor of United Methodists in Service, the Korean-language news service for United Methodist Communications.
Feb. 19, 2003
United Methodist bishop talks peace with Tony Blair
By Kathleen LaCamera
LONDON (UMNS) The results of war with Iraq would be catastrophic, a group of church leaders, including United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, told British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a face-to-face meeting Feb. 18.
Only days after U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix presented his latest report to the U.N. Security Council and more than 6 million peace protestors took to the streets worldwide, a U.S. National Council of Churches delegation visited Blair to express deep concern about a military response against Iraq.
During the 50-minute conversation at Blairs 10 Downing Street offices, delegates told the prime minister that the major U.S. churches have never been so united against a war. Only the Southern Baptists have issued a statement supporting military intervention.
The delegation also met separately with Britains international development secretary, Clare Short, who has been one of the most prominent voices within the Blair Cabinet calling for military restraint. Shorts department administers several billion dollars worth of international aid distributed by Britain each year.
At the press conference that followed, Talbert and the six other members of the NCC delegation called the discussions "engaging, productive and honest."
"I found Blair cordial, very frank and someone who was genuinely listening to us. We came not to badger but to encourage the prime minister to use his leadership for peace and justice," Talbert said.
Jim Wallis, delegation leader and editor of Sojourners magazine, said that a "real relationship was established" with Blair during what he called a "crucial" conversation.
"The British government and the British people are in a position to shape this decision (about war with Iraq) more than any other people or government in the world," said Wallis. "I believe that the prime minister may be the best person in the world to open up the possibilities of a better way beyond the deadlocks were now experiencing."
The Rev. Dan Weiss, of the American Baptist Church USA, explained that what was supposed to be a 15-minute conversation turned into a discussion that lasted for almost an hour. "We were delighted to meet the prime minister, even as our own president wont see us," Weiss said.
The White House has yet to respond to a request by church leaders for a similar face-to-face meeting with President George W. Bush.
"We will go home and ask for another meeting with Bush, based on the success of this meeting with Tony Blair," Wallis said. "(Bush) needs to take the interfaith, ecumenical community seriously. He hasnt up to this point; quite clearly, the British government has."
Wallis and others in the delegation expressed concern that Bush, a United Methodist, has "walled himself off" from critical voices. They are disappointed that the president has been unwilling to meet on this "faith-based initiative for peace" with leaders whom he has previously met with on other issues.
Of equal concern to Bishop John Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington is the fact that there has been virtually no debate within Congress on a war with Iraq. "The churches are bringing that debate to the center of the public forum," he added. "We are hopeful about that."
Officially, the meeting with Blair was "private and off the record." Wallis reported that during their conversation, Blair and the delegates spoke candidly as fellow Christians sharing mutual and moral concerns about global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Key to their discussions was the central role that the United Nations must play in resolving these crises. The delegation also made clear its conviction that a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is crucial.
"Find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and you will isolate Saddam Hussein," Chane said. "Thats an issue thats not even being addressed back in the U.S."
"We, as an American, British and international delegation, feel these issues should not be resolved by the last remaining superpower but by collective international efforts," Wallis said.
While delegation members urged the prime minister to take the lead in "helping the world to solve problems differently," they admitted no one could afford to walk away from the problems that have led to calls for military action. Their discussions identified practical solutions, including the possibility of the need for U.N. protectorates and international courts with strong enforcement mechanisms against the Saddam Husseins and Slobodan Milosevics of the world.
"This is a peace pilgrimage. Were not supporting Saddam Hussein. Were not identifying with the outlaw," Talbert said. "We are very concerned about what will happen to innocent people in Iraq in the rush to war. Over half the population of Iraq is under the age of 15."
Talbert has twice visited Iraq and as recently as January met with Christian and Muslim leaders there as well as with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.
During two full days of events in the United Kingdom organized by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, delegation members also met with a range of British religious leaders including the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
Delegation participants included Talbert; Wallis; Chane; Weiss; the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk, Presbyterian Church USA; the Rt. Rev. Clive Handford, bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf; the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal of Jerusalem; and the Most Rev. Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, South Africa.
Accompanying the delegation were Bishop Peter Price, Anglican bishop of Bath and Wells; Bishop John Gladwin, Anglican bishop of Guildford and chairman of the Board of Christian Aid; the Rev. David Coffey, general secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain; the Rev. John Waller, moderator, United Reformed Church; the Rev. Keith Clements, general secretary, Conference of European Churches; David Goodbourn, general secretary, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland; and Paul Renshaw, coordinating secretary for international affairs, CTBI.
LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.
Feb. 21, 2003
British Methodist churches to hear statement on Iraq
NOTE: The text of a letter to British Methodist churches follows the story.
By United Methodist News Service
Leaders of the British Methodist Church have created a letter about pending military action against Iraq that is to be read in Feb. 23 worship services throughout the United Kingdom. A copy of the letter has been forwarded to Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"If military force against Iraq should be judged to be politically necessary, it should be used only as a last resort," the letter states. "It is essential that such action is authorized by a new resolution of the U.N. Security Council."
The Rev. Ian T. White, president of the Methodist Conference, and Professor Peter Howdle, vice president, say they are often asked about the churchs position on the Iraq situation. The threat of war is looming as a result of Iraqs suspected buildup of weapons of mass destruction.
"Since the summer of 2002, we have urged our government to act through the United Nations to give every reasonable opportunity for the government of Iraq to comply with the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council," they write. "The work of the weapons inspectors is crucial. So is continuing diplomatic activity to find a peaceful resolution."
They note that even if the U.N. Security Council authorizes military action against Iraq, the debate will continue. "Methodists have divergent opinions about the motives of various governments and about what should be done," they observe. "We must listen patiently to one another, however deep our feelings run."
Christians will still have the responsibility of making judgments informed by faith and expressing their opinions to elected representatives. "Christian tradition prompts us to listen carefully to a range of ethical positions as we debate together what action should be taken in a situation like the present one," White and Howdle write.
The two religious leaders also express concern about recent increases in religious and racial tension in British society. "Methodists are committed to developing relations of friendship with people of all world faiths," they remind their members. "Methodists do this in the spirit of our founder, John Wesley, who urged his followers to show themselves the friends of all, the enemies of none." The letter encourages church members to reach out to those of other faiths in their own neighborhoods.
"With all this in mind, we call upon the whole church to pray for all who are involved in the current international crisis," White and Howdle write. "In our prayers we need to remember the many different ways in which people are affected."
PASTORAL LETTER ON IRAQ FROM THE PRESIDENT
AND VICE PRESIDENT OF THE METHODIST CONFERENCE
Please find below the text of a letter written by the President and Vice President of the Methodist Church in Britain about the current crisis over Iraq. This letter was sent yesterday to Methodist ministers to be read out in all Methodist churches across Britain this Sunday, 23 February.
We greet you in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
At the request of the Methodist Council, we write to all members and friends of the Methodist Church in Britain at this critical juncture in international affairs. We shall also copy this letter to the Prime Minister.
We are aware of deep feelings of anxiety in all sections of British society at the prospect of the possible use of military force against Iraq. Many Methodists have asked us where our Church stands on such momentous issues and this is our current position:
Since the summer of 2002 we have urged our Government to act through the United Nations to give every reasonable opportunity for the government of Iraq to comply with the resolutions of the UN Security Council. The work of the Weapons Inspectors is crucial. So is continuing diplomatic activity to find a peaceful resolution.
If military force against Iraq should be judged to be politically necessary, it should be used only as a last resort. It is essential that such action is authorised by a new resolution of the UN Security Council.
We invite Methodists to consider the following matters as we all continue to think about the developing situation.
1. Complex international crises always provoke heated arguments and conflicts of political and economic judgment. Methodists have divergent opinions about the motives of various governments and about what should be done. We are often frustrated because we do not have enough information. We must listen patiently to one another, however deep our feelings run.
2. Even if the UN were to authorise military action in relation to Iraq, that will not bring the debate to an end. Christians will still have the responsibility of making judgments which are informed by our faith, and of pressing their case with their elected representatives and with the government.
3. The Christian tradition prompts us to listen carefully to a range of ethical positions as we debate together what action should be taken in a situation like the present one.
Some in the Church are pacifists, who believe that there can never be a moral justification for war or military action.
Others in the Church, probably the majority, believe that military action may be supported, as the lesser of evils and as a last resort, under certain strict conditions. For those who adopt this position, there will still be questions to explore, for example:
* Is there a just cause for military action?
* Has every other means of resolving the crisis been tried?
* Are the aims of military action likely to result in greater justice and security?
* Is there a reasonable expectation that overall the good will outweigh the evil that will inevitably result from military action?
One of our deepest concerns in recent months has been the increase in religious and racial tension in British society. Methodists are committed to developing relations of friendship with people of all world faiths. Methodists do this in the spirit of our founder, John Wesley, who urged his followers to show themselves the friends of all, the enemies of none. We invite you today to take a fresh initiative to offer the hand of friendship to members of other faith communities in your neighbourhood.
With all this in mind we call upon the whole Church to pray for all who are involved in the current international crisis. In our prayers we need to remember the many different ways in which people are affected.
Lord of all -
May your wisdom
enable the search for justice,
reveal the path of hope,
And your love
embrace the world you created.
In these days of tension and uncertainty,
May your gift of peace
be shared with all people.
The peace of the Lord be with you and with all people. We shall continue to pray for you.
The Reverend Ian T White, President of the Methodist Conference
Professor Peter Howdle, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference
Back to the Top