NEW YORK - Christian leaders from the United States lamented the war in Iraq and apologized for their government's current foreign policy during the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which ended Thursday.
"We lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched in deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights," the Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, the moderator of the U.S. Conference for the WCC, told fellow delegates from around the world.
Hundreds of people from around the world participate in a march during the 9th Assembly by the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006. (AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)
Kishkovsky is the rector of Our Lady of Kazan Church in Sea Cliff, New York, and is an officer in the Orthodox Church of America.
Taking an unusual stand among U.S. Christian leaders, the United States Conference for the World Council of Churches (WCC) criticized Pres. George W. Bush's actions in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"We are citizens of a nation that has done much in these years to endanger the human family and to abuse the creation," says the statement endorsed by the most prominent Protestant Christian churches on the Council.
"Our leaders turned a deaf ear to the voices of church leaders throughout our nation and the world, entering into imperial projects that seek to dominate and control for the sake of our own national interests. Nations have been demonized and God has been enlisted in national agendas that are nothing short of idolatrous."
The message, written like a prayer of repentance and backed by the 34 Christian churches that belong to the WCC, mourns those who have died or been injured in the Iraq war and says, "We confess that we have failed to raise a prophetic voice loud enough and persistent enough to deter our leaders from this path of preemptive war."
Among the attendees was the Rev. Bernice Powell-Jackson, North American President of the World Council of Churches. A civil rights activist for more than 25 years, Jackson previously served as executive director of one of the Justice and Witness Ministries predecessor bodies, the Commission for Racial Justice.
The U.S. Conference of the WCC also criticized the government's position on global warming. "The rivers, oceans, lakes, rainforests, and wetlands that sustain us, even the air we breathe continue to be violated... Yet our own country refuses to acknowledge its complicity and rejects multilateral agreements aimed at reversing disastrous trends," reads the message.
Earlier this month, a group of more than 85 U.S. evangelical Christian leaders called on Congress to enact legislation that would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which most scientists believe contribute to global warming.
The U.S. Conference of the WCC message also said, "Starvation, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the treatable diseases that go untreated indict us, revealing the grim features of global economic injustice we have too often failed to acknowledge or confront."
"Hurricane Katrina," it continues, "revealed to the world those left behind in our own nation by the rupture of our social contract. As a nation we have refused to confront the racism that infects our policies around the world."
The statement comes days after the National Council of Churches (NCC), the United States chapter of the WCC, endorsed a U.N. report on the situation of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Separately, in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NCC General Secretary Robert W. Edgar called on the U.S. to bring the detainees to trial, release them, or to "close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility without further delay". It also asked Rice for access to the Guantanamo facility "to monitor the physical, spiritual and mental conditions of the detainees".
At the Brazilian conference, the Rev. John Thomas, president of United Church of Christ, was quoted as saying: "An emerging theme in conversation with our partners around the world is that the U.S. is being perceived as a dangerous nation."
He called the Assembly "a unique opportunity to make this statement to all our colleagues" in the ecumenical movement. The statement says, "We come to you seeking to be partners in the search for unity and justice."
Thomas acknowledged that not all church members would agree with the thrust of the statement, but said it was their responsibility as leaders to "speak a prophetic and pastoral word as we believe God is offering it to us".
The final WCC event featured a candlelit march for peace through downtown Porto Alegre with up to 2,000 people -- including two Nobel Prize-winners -- taking part.
Organized by local churches as part of the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence, it was accompanied by Latin American music from Xico Esvael and Victor Heredia. Young people carried banners highlighting peace and justice issues. One, depicting the world held in God's hand, read "Let God change you first, then you will transform the world."
WCC president Powell-Jackson urged the crowd to commit themselves to overcoming violence. Prawate Khid-arn of the Christian Conference of Asia told them, "If we do not take the risk of peace, we will have to take the risk of war."
Israel Batista of the Latin American Council of Churches spoke of poverty, injustice and abuse of women and children and asked, "How are we to speak of peace?" Still, he said, "In spite of violence, we will persist in the struggle for peace."
After an address by Julia Qusibert, a Bolivian indigenous Christian, the marchers sang the Samba of the Struggle for Peace and the Taizé chant Ubi Caritas, among other songs. The march paused while Nobel prize-winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel improvised a poem and addressed the crowd at the Esquina Democrática or Democratic Corner.
The evening was brought to a climax with an address by the second Nobel Prize-winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He began his impassioned speech by saying, "We have an extraordinary God. God is a mighty God, but this God needs you. When someone is hungry, bread doesn't come down from heaven. When God wants to feed the hungry, you and I must feed the hungry. And now God wants peace in the world."
The WCC is the largest Christian ecumenical organization, comprised of 340 Christian denominations and churches in 120 countries, and said to represent 550 million Christians throughout the world. The U.S. Conference of the World Council of Churches alone represents 34 Christian churches, including Orthodox, Evangelical, Lutheran and Anglican churches, and four million members throughout the country.
The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC but has worked closely with the Council in the past. Since its origins in 1948, the WCC gathers in an Assembly every seven years with each member church sending a delegate.
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