|Witness and Work for Peace at General Conference|
by Barbara Wheeler*
Fort Worth, TX, May 2, 2008--The United Methodist Church has strengthened its opposition to war.
"We oppose unilateral first/preemptive strike actions and strategies on the part of any government," declares a new phrase inserted into the Social Principles of the denomination at its General Conference, which meets every four years and is the only official voice of the church.
This follows closely after the affirmation: "We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ."
While not official church law, the Social Principles are moral guidelines and express a consensus among the delegated majority to successive General Conferences.
A separate resolution, "The United Methodist Church and Peace," was amended to incorporate sentiments from a recent study by the Task Force on Safety and Security of the Council of Bishops. An addition says, "Fear causes us to accumulate weapons and to devote all too much of our resources to the goal of deterring our supposed enemy. Paradoxically enough, it is the special temptation of the strong and the rich to overreact in this way. This blocks resources that could be used much more creatively for development and social justice around the world."
A young peoples' unit of the church brought another peace resolution accepted by some 900 delegates from the US, Africa, and the Philippines. It highlights the specific price young people pay in military actions. The measure strongly supports "sisters and brothers" who serve in the military, while rejecting "policies that unnecessarily risk their lives and rob them of their youth."
Actions for Peace
Bishop John R. Schol, resident bishop of Baltimore-Washington Conference, spoke at the peace witness about the high cost of war in our society. "Now that we've not acted to stop the war, it is costing us our souls," he said.
The Council of Bishops has consistently spoken out against the war, calling for peace, withdrawal of troops, and reconstruction in war-torn regions. Most recently, in November 2007, the Council of Bishops called on the President, Congress, and leaders of all the nations in the coalition forces for an immediate withdrawal of military personnel from Iraq.
The General Conference voted to adopt a new resolution on "Peace in Iraq," replacing a resolution adopted in 2004. The new resolution says, "The war in Iraq must end. It is a tragedy that wounds the heart of God" (Resolution No. 337). It calls for prayer and work toward peace, stability, and freedom for Iraq's people, emphasizing the church's responsibility to work for peace. "We urge United Methodists throughout the world to pray for an immediate end to the war in Iraq and to speak out for public policies that promote peace, justice, and reconciliation," the resolution states.
Bishop Charlene Kammerer, resident bishop of Virginia Conference, said the exhibit reminded her of going shopping with her son, who serves in the military, to purchase combat boots. Bishop Kammerer was emotional when telling the crowd gathered that every time her son returns safely from a tour of duty, she can't help but think of the parents whose children aren't coming home.
"We cannot even begin to name the unspeakable loss of Iraqi and Afghani mothers and fathers," she said.
Bishop Kammerer also spoke about being both the parent of a soldier and an opponent of the war. Her experience has shown her that "it is totally possible to support your child and oppose the war."
Visitors' Public Witness
Ms. Ernst and Marilyn J. Outslay walked quietly through the exhibit of military boots and civilian shoes together. Ms. Outslay, co-president of MFSA from Portland, Oregon, urged United Methodists, like those attending the peace witness, to move outside church walls, as they work for peace in the world. "We need to make a public witness."
*Barbara Wheeler is editor of Response, the official magazine of United Methodist Women.
Date posted: May 02, 2008