US clerics at Soviet peace talks may paint a few faces red

If a handful of US clergymen get their way, a Moscow antinuclear conference may become something of an embarrassment for its Kremlin supporters.

Another Western delegate, a leader in the church peace movement in the Netherlands, walked out of the conference after he was denied permission to deliver a speech including kind words for Poland's Solidarity union and the Charter 77 human-rights group in Czechoslovakia. The Dutch delegate, Wim Bartls, also asked that foreign journalists be allowed to attend the parley's closed working sessions, an appeal turned down by his hosts.

With the two-day-old religious conference becoming a forum for condemnation of United States arms policy, three American participants May 11 signaled their intention to press for a more even-handed approach. Two of them are listed on the conference's drafting committee, presumably given a role in drawing up the meeting's communique.

The strongest dissent came from David Preus, Luther-an presiding bishop in Minneapolis, who was chairman of a morning plenary session. In opening it, he read from a text scribbled shortly beforehand:

''My problem is that I believe this conference is in danger of becoming a political forum heavily tilted against the country I represent, and the Western world in general.''

A few dozen Western delegates erupted into applause, but most of the 1,000 participants remained silent.

The US clergyman complained that, so far, ''We have been treated mainly to a series of political speeches better suited to the United Nations.''

Minutes later Dr. Arie Brouwer of the Reformed Protestant Church of America departed from prepared remarks to deliver a similar message. He said, in effect, that it took more than one country to make an arms race.

When a third US delegate, Presbyterian minister Bruce Rigdon of Chicago, was asked by reporters whether he would be upset at a final communique backing Soviet foreign policy and condemning the US, he said he did not expect the final statement to read that way.

Both Dr. Rigdon, a professor of church history, and Dr. Brouwer are listed on the conference drafting committee.

The remarks from the Americans, particularly the statement with which the Minneapolis cleric began his chairmanship, surprised most foreign diplomats in the Soviet capital. They had expected the Americans participating in the conference to follow the lead of the Rev. Billy Graham, who is attending as an observer and has taken a generally restrained line during his visit here.

The conference, nominally organized by the Russian Orthodox Church, has the explicit backing of the Kremlin.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to US clerics at Soviet peace talks may paint a few faces red
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today