THE world's largest gathering of Christian church leaders will call for an unconditional cease-fire in the Gulf war. Like war objectors elsewhere, many of the clergy at the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), felt that nonviolent efforts such as sanctions have not been exhausted. In a plea issued Feb. 19, the WCC asked world leaders and the United Nations to end the fighting. ``It is never too late to seek peace and a comprehensive settlement,'' says a draft of the plea.
The WCC asks churches to be ``unflagging'' in their prayers for all those caught up in or victimized by the war. It urges the UN to ``reassert your role as peacemaker, peacekeeper, conciliator, and negotiator.'' And, it asks Iraq to withdraw ``completely and unconditionally'' from Kuwait.
Active antiwar role
The WCC appeal is not a surprise. Most of the 1,000 delegates (plus 3,000 guests and visitors) at the two-week conference are opposed to the war.
The WCC declaration follows a similar call last week by the United States-based National Council of Churches for a cease-fire. The US group also offered its churches as sanctuaries for military conscientious objectors.
For some of the clergy, taking a position on the war has required the courage of an Old Testament prophet. Congregational pastor Curt Ackley of Corning, New York, says of his new guiding role, ``It makes my stomach churn.'' However, Mr. Ackley says the meeting has been a catalyst for him. ``I am learning the strength I need to go back and be prophetic.''
Support troops, not war
Like many other US pastors, Larry Pickens of the Gorham United Methodist Church on Chicago's south side has parishioners in Saudi Arabia. ``We need to support the troops and the families,'' says Dr. Pickens. Pickens, however, is opposed to the war. ``Do we need to kill more people?'' he asks.
Many of the antiwar pastors said their views were representative of their parishioners. Ackley, however, says he knows some of his congregation will disagree. ``That's going to be tough.''
Antiwar activities headed the meeting's agenda since its opening on Feb. 7 at the Australian National University campus.
Some attendees were quick to cite economic sanctions as the model solution to the Gulf war. During a press conference on South Africa, the Rev. Frank Chikane of the South African Council of Churches noted that sanctions were largely responsible for ending apartheid.
Other attendees disagreed this position. The Church of England, for example, maintains the Gulf war is justifiable. ``War is not the way, but sometimes you are forced into it. You can't separate peace from the issues of freedom and justice,'' says the Rt. Rev. George Carey, the archbishop-elect of Canterbury.
And US-based churches like the Assemblies of God and the Southern Baptist Church, who have been ambivalent to the war, did not attend the WCC meeting.
But some attendees want to go beyond mere statement. At a regional meeting, some of the US clergy discussed sending a ``symbolic'' shipment of food and medicine to Iraq. One church representative says work is beginning on project ``Olive Branch,'' to provide other necessities once the hostilities end.
Discussion at the US regional meeting inevitably turned into an anti-US tirade. At the end of the session, an Assyrian Orthodox bishop from east Iraq, a Palestinian Christian, and a Jordanian lashed out at the US-led war effort.
Throughout the conference there was no condemnation of Saddam Hussein, nor any questions that indicated skepticism about the Iraqi leader.
The WCC statement against the war is a contrast to 1950, when the organization complimented the UN on its military action against the North Korean invasion of South Korea.
However, Janice Love, one of the authors of this year's antiwar appeal, says the Korean statement had an adverse impact on Chinese Christians. China had entered the war with North Korea.
Although there had been some concern the Gulf war would crowd other issues off the agenda, the Council considered other matters, including the turmoil in the Baltic republics, violence against women, changes in southern Africa, aboriginal land rights, and violence in El Salvador.