Church Split on Afghan Strategy, United in Prayer

December 04, 2009

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Dec. 3, 2009

As the world moves into Advent and Christmas, there is vigorous debate over whether President Obama's decision to deploy more U.S. troops to Afghanistan will lead to greater peace on Earth.
Even as they disagree on military strategy, however, the one area faithful United Methodists have no trouble reaching consensus on is that Obama, and the soldiers and their families, need prayers and support.
More than 70 United Methodist bishops signed a letter on Nov. 10 asking the president to withdraw troops by the end of 2010. On Dec. 1, Obama announced he was sending 30,000 additional troops to "accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011."
Bishop Marshall L. Meadors (left), one of three retired United Methodist bishops who drafted the letter, said the president's decision was "disappointing."
Meadors said the goal of getting troops out by 2011 seems unrealistic.
"I realize that the president and his war cabinet know a great deal more about the situation than I do, but based on the fact that we have been involved in military action in Afghanistan for seven years now it is difficult to conceive how the new strategy is going to bring a victory," the bishop said.
Other church members back the president.
The Rev. Walter Fenton (right), chief operations officer for Good News magazine, said he supports sending more troops to build up the Afghan Army and police and to "degrade and weaken the brutal and violent Taliban and al-Qaeda forces."
"We recognize that faithful United Methodists and reasonable people can disagree on various military strategies, but in light of the drastic reduction in the number of military and civilian deaths after the surge in Iraq, we support President Obama's decision to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to defend the defenseless," he said.
Meadors emphasized he was speaking for himself and not for the Council of Bishops.
"I'm just one human being, but I am committed to being a follower of Jesus, who was a peacemaker," he said. "The question is not, what would Jesus do? But what would Jesus have us do?"
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*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.