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Mix of Faiths Opposes War With Iraq

Coalition including Muslims, Christians and Jews calls attack immoral and unwise.

October 26, 2002|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

As the debate continues over the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq, religious leaders -- at least those from the liberal end of the political spectrum -- are stepping up their opposition.

Led by the Rev. George Regas of the Progressive Religious Partnership, religious spokesmen in Los Angeles this week denounced the prospect of a preemptive war against Iraq as "immoral, illegal and unwise."

"Rabbis, imams, priests, ministers and bishops -- a broad-based religious coalition -- call on President Bush to meet the moral obligations as leader of this nation under God," said Regas, rector emeritus of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.

The religious opponents of Bush's policy list a host of secular reasons for their position: Iraq has not declared war on the U.S.; there is no proven connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda terrorists; a war would cost many innocent lives. Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills said an attack on Iraq would inflict "irreparable damage to Israel."

But their religious beliefs are more central to their motivation, the clergy members said.

"This president and his advisors have been meditating on blood, and the blast of war has been ringing in their ears," said Rabbi Leonard Beerman, founding rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles. "As religious leaders of three faiths, we're here to attest that there is another way."

"I may be a liberal human being, but in faith, I'm very devoted. In some ways I'm a conservative," said the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles. "This is not a political issue for us, but a faith issue. This war would not be of God."

Not all religious figures would agree with that statement. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention is among several prominent Protestant figures -- mostly political conservatives -- who have declared their support for Bush's policies. So has the Rabbinical Council of America, a leading Orthodox group. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, an organization of Reform synagogues, has conditionally supported Bush.

Maher Hathout, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, said Thursday that he had hoped even more religious leaders would oppose a war on Iraq. But in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the patriotic fervor that followed, Hathout said it is difficult. "It's not only a matter of conviction but a matter of courage," Hathout said.

It is a dilemma that especially confronts Muslims, said Nazir Khaja of the Islamic Information Service in Los Angeles.

Mainline Christians are finding it hard to raise their voices as well, said the Rev. Thomas C. Hill III, a ranking Southern California official of the United Methodist Church.

"The religious community is opposed to a war with Iraq, but many of the persons in our congregations want to be supportive of our nation," he said. "So for many of us, the dilemma is how to be faithful to our God and at the same time supportive of our nation. No one wants to appear anti-American, or anti-Bush administration."

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