Assholes come in all shapes, sizes, and religious preferences. And so do good people. Despite my profound suspicion of the machinations and intentions of the Christian church as a whole, I applaud the statement recently released by the World Council of Churches.
The Council represents a large number of churches of different denominations worldwide. It does NOT, however, include the Catholic church. The statement was released by the US members (34), not the whole Council, at the meeting of the entire Council in Brazil.
The US National Council of Churches issued a separate statement last week calling for the closure of Gitmo.
A coalition of American churches sharply denounced the US-led war in Iraq on Saturday, accusing Washington of “raining down terror” and apologising to other nations for “the violence, degradation and poverty our nation has sown”.
The statement, issued from Porto Alegre, Brazil, at the largest gathering of Christian churches in nearly a decade, also warned the US was pushing the world toward environmental catastrophe with a “culture of consumption” and its refusal to back international accords seeking to battle global warming.
“We lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched in deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights,” said the statement from representatives of the 34 US members of World Council of Churches. “We mourn all who have died or been injured in this war. We acknowledge, with shame, abuses carried out in our name.”
The World Council of Churches includes more than 350 mainline Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox churches; the Roman Catholic Church is not a member. The US groups in the WCC include the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, several Orthodox churches and Baptist denominations, among others.
The statement is part of widening religious pressure on the Bush administration, which still counts on the support of evangelical churches and other conservative denominations but is widely unpopular with liberal-minded Protestant congregations.
On Friday, the US National Council of Churches – which includes many WCC members – released a letter appealing to Washington to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and saying reports of alleged torture violated “the fundamental Christian belief in the dignity of the human person”.
The two-page statement from the WCC group came at the midpoint of a 10-day meeting of more than 4000 religious leaders, scholars and activists discussing trends and goals for major Christian denominations for the coming decades. The WCC’s last global assembly was in 1998 in Zimbabwe – just four months after one of the first major al-Qaeda terrorist acts: twin bombings at US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
“Our country responded (to the September 11, 2001 attacks) by seeking to reclaim a privileged and secure place in the world, raining down terror on the truly vulnerable among our global neighbours … entering into imperial projects that seek to dominate and control for the sake of national interests,” said the statement. “Nations have been demonised and God has been enlisted in national agendas that are nothing short of idolatrous.”
The Very Reverend Leonid Kishkovsky, the moderator for the US group of WCC members, said the letter was backed by the leaders of the churches, but was not cleared by lower-level bodies. He predicted friction within congregations about the tone of the message.
“There is much internal anguish and there is division,” said Kishkovsky, ecumenical officer of the Orthodox Church of America. “I believe church leaders and communities are wrestling with the moral questions that this letter is addressing.”
The Reverend Sharon Watkins, president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), worried that some may interpret the statement as undermining US troops in Iraq.
“We honour their courage and sense of duty, but … we, as people of faith, have to say to our brothers and sisters, ‘We are so profoundly sorry.'”
The message also accused US officials of ignoring warnings about climate change and treating the world’s “finite resources as if they are private possessions.” It went on to criticise US domestic policies for refusing to confront racism and poverty.
“Hurricane Katrina revealed to the world those left behind in our own nation by the rupture of our social contract,” said the statement.
The churches said they had “grown heavy with guilt” for not doing enough to speak out against the Iraq war and other issues. The statement asked forgiveness for a world that’s “grown weary from the violence, degradation and poverty our nation has sown.”