Church leaders warn of escalation

Published November 1, 2001

Archbishop Michael Peers, the Canadian Anglican Primate, has joined a growing chorus of religious leaders from around the world who question the wisdom of military strikes against Afghanistan by the United States and the United Kingdom.

Some of the leaders have cautioned against the pursuit of revenge. Others have called for an immediate end to the action.

In an interview, Archbishop Peers noted that although the United States has said the purpose of the military action, begun Thanksgiving weekend, is not to exact revenge for the September attacks, “it will certainly seem like revenge to the victims of the U.S. response.”

That, he added, “opens up the prospect of an ever-widening downward spiral of violence and insecurity.”

Archbishop Peers also questioned the likelihood that the U.S.-U.K. strikes will be effective. The “war” on terrorism, he said, like “wars” against poverty or drugs, is unconventional “and the United States does not have a

terribly good track record with such wars. In the end, the problem still exists.”

In other reactions, the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of more than 340 Protestant and Orthodox churches world-wide, urged the United States and United Kingdom to “bring a prompt end to the present action” and implored other nations not to join it.

“We do not believe that war, particularly in today’s highly technologized world, can ever be regarded as an effective response to the equally abhorrent sin of terrorism,” said Georges Lemopoulos, WCC acting general secretary.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, spiritual leader of the world-wide Anglican Communion, said that the crisis “is not, and must not be seen as a confrontation between religions – or with a particular religion.”

The mainstream Muslim Council of Britain, which had unreservedly condemned the September assaults on the United States, distanced itself from the attacks in Afghanistan.

In the United States, H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, reminded Christians that they have a duty to seek alternatives to war.

However, he also referred to “certain circumstances” in which military force may be the only way “to offer protection to innocent people.”

He called on military leaders to “do all they can to protect civilians from harm” and urged diplomatic initiatives.

In the United Kingdom, the Church of Scotland said that it was “yet to be convinced that the use of military force in Afghanistan can be justified.”

The Presbyterian body described the September terror as “barbarism and evil on a level which almost defied belief and which can never be justified,” but argued that “justice ought to be administered in an international court of law and in the framework of the United Nations.”

In Geneva, the Council of European Churches, representing more than 120 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox churches, warned of a “vicious spiral of violence” that could be unleashed from “disproportionate retaliatory and vengeful responses.”

In New York, thousands of anti-war protesters gathered on Oct. 7 for an outdoor interfaith service at Union Square, a park that has become an unofficial site of mourning for New Yorkers since the attacks of Sept. 11, and then marched nearly 30 blocks to Times Square for a rally.

The service and protest had been planned before the start of military action in Afghanistan.

Among the speakers at Times Square were Nobel Peace Prize laureates and peace activists Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina and Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland.

Both said the need for peace and international co-operation outweigh any need for what they suggested were reprisal attacks against suspected terrorists.


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