Faith: Happy clapping on the Hill

By UWE SIEMON-NETTO, UPI Religion Editor
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- If I had not heard and seen it all before -- back in the days of Vietnam -- I would have been touched. The wood-paneled walls of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee Room gently muffled the happy clapping of peace-minded international clerics Wednesday as they sang, "We are marching in the light of God."

Then they stood holding up beautiful photographs of Iraqi children -- Christian children -- who, they inferred, will be killed when war comes. It would be a war on children, wouldn't it? After all, "children make up half the population of Iraq," the Rev. James E. Winkler, a high official in the United Methodist Church, told his small but generally sympathetic audience.


They chuckled knowingly as he reminded them of the kind of country they lived in -- a country with an "unelected leader" and "capital punishment for minors."


But, no, this was no anti-American performance, all the participants assured us. The Rev. Jean Arnold de Clermont, president of the Protestant Federation of France, made this quite clear but added, "We should not live in fear; we are not in danger."

The Rev. Manfred Kock, head of the state-related Evangelical Church in Germany, told us the same thing. Before leaving Germany, one senior Kock subordinate compared President George W. Bush with the most genocidal fiends in human history when he coined the slogan, "Hitlerism, Stalinism, Bushism." But, then that was the subordinate, the Rev. Wilfried Neusel, not Kock, who nevertheless has been very busy attacking the Bush administration's Iraq policies for months now.

On the other hand, insisted Salpy Eskidjian of the World Council of Churches, "the whole international Christian community agrees with you."

And what seemed to be the consensus? That Bush planned a "war against God." Eskidjian earned applause when she stated, "No nation is entitled to prosecute vengeance." So now we know how the WCC folks in Geneva feel about the upcoming conflict's intent -- vengeance. That's it! And of course we also know that God says in the Old Testament, "Vengeance is mine." (Deuteronomy 32:35).


To be fair to Kock, de Clermont and some of the others, they did mention that Saddam Hussein was not a nice guy. But they wanted to know: Why not leave it to the United Nations to take his lethal toys away from him? Said de Clermont, "The U.N. is capable of disarming Iraq." Alas, de Clermont failed to address the underlying question why this has not been accomplished in the last 12 years.

Some observers in Committee Room 400 had to suppress a smile when the representative of Pax Christi tried to make them believe that her organization was of one heart with Pope John Paul II whom a Pax delegation visited in the Vatican Wednesday.

Wait a minute! Wasn't Pax Christi the one Catholic organization that truly got up the pope's nose because of its chumminess with the Soviet-run "peace movements" way back before the Berlin Wall came down?

It's amazing how by papering over subtle but important differences with the Vatican, the Christian peace groups manage to give the impression that they are in the same boat with John Paul II, arguably the most respected moral authority alive today. In truth they are not. The difference is that Rome's position isn't mushy.


Indeed, the pontiff is against the war, especially if it were to be a unilateral event. But in their latest pronouncements, he and his subordinates stressed the need for a "just international order," making it clear that it cannot automatically be attained with a "yes" to peace and a "no" to war.

That's why, according to church insiders, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was read the riot act during his recent visit at the Vatican, where Iraq is clearly considered the source of a major disturbance of this desired "just international order."

Significantly, when John Paul II addressed the diplomatic corps in mid-January, he did not exclude the possibility that the source of this disturbance may have to be forcibly removed.

Doubtless his position does not fully satisfy George W. Bush. Nevertheless, it revealed competent theological and political reflection. Wednesday's show in the Dirksen building did not do this, except perhaps partly when Jim Wallis, the eloquent editor of the progressive Christian journal Sojourners, opined that a "third way between war and inaction" ought to be found.

It's a shame he did not go on to show us this way. This might have made the trek to the Dirksen building on a snowy day worthwhile.


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