Council of Bishops calls for immediate Iraq withdrawal

November 14, 2007

By Linda Green*

Nov. 9, 2007 – LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS)

Declaring war “incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ,” the bishops of The United Methodist Church called on leaders of all nations to begin an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.


The bishops also urged against deploying additional troops to Iraq and against establishing permanent military bases in the Middle Eastern country.


“This resolution is long overdue,” said retired Bishop Clifton Ives before the Council of Bishops voted its approval on Nov. 9.


The action came during the council’s semi-annual meeting at a United Methodist retreat center in western North Carolina. The council represents 11.5 million United Methodists in the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines. About 125 active and retired bishops from across the globe attended the Nov. 4-9 gathering.


In addition to calling for the immediate safe and full withdrawal of troops, the bishops called on the United States and other Coalition Force nations to initiate and support a plan for the reconstruction of Iraq, giving strong priority to the humanitarian and social needs of the Iraqi people. They urged increased support for veterans of the Iraq war and all wars.


The bishops said their position is based on Jesus Christ’s call for “His followers to be peacemakers.”


“Every day that the war continues, more soldiers and innocent civilians are killed with no end in sight to the violence, bloodshed and carnage,” the Council of Bishops resolution states.


The resolution is the council’s latest action questioning the Iraq war. In November 2005, the bishops urged U.S. President George W. Bush, who is United Methodist, to create a timeline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. (Link to the General Board of Church and Society website to register support for the resolution.) 


Casualties of war

Before the latest vote, the council wrestled with turning the resolution from having a U.S.-centric focus into one with global emphasis to care for all people impacted by the war.


The bishops cited the deaths of more than 3,843 U.S. soldiers, 171 members of the United Kingdom military, 132 members of other Coalition military, the wounding of 28,385 U.S. soldiers and the deaths of at least 76,241 Iraqi civilians. They noted the war has displaced 2 million people and made refugees of 1 million others.


“Every day that the war continues, more soldiers and innocent civilians are killed with no end in sight to the violence, bloodshed and carnage,” the resolution says.


The bishops called on United Methodists throughout the world to pray for peace; hold regular prayer vigils for congregations and communities; and care for all impacted by the war, including honoring the dead, healing the wounded and calling for an end to the war.


‘Moral issue’

The council discussed the resolution over the course of two days before approving a final version on Nov. 9.


Retired Bishop Jack Meadors, of Edisto Beach, S.C., noted that 2007 has been the deadliest year for the U.S. military since the Iraq war began in 2003. He predicted the 4,000th American combat death will occur between Thanksgiving and Christmas.


“The Iraq war is not just a political issue or a military issue. It is a moral issue,” Meadors said. “War is sin. It is evil. War is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus.”


Calling the resolution “a faith-based statement,” Meadors said Christians must be “peacemakers that we might be known as children of God.”


Bishop James Swanson of the Holston (Tennessee-Virginia-Georgia) Conference said President Bush’s intentions for entering the war may have been noble but that the results have been deadly.


“We as bishops are concerned about the loss of lives and any resulting effect once the war ends and the troops are removed,” Swanson said. He added that, once the troops leave, “the church needs to be about helping the Iraqi people rebuild their lives.”


*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Stephen Drachler, media consultant for the Council of Bishops, contributed to this report.