Different churches are speaking out for peace. Among those churches is the Episcopalian church. Their affiliated peace fellowship, along with a Masjid in New York, together helped rebuild a mosque in Afghanistan which was bombed by the US Air Force. Below is an interview with the leader of the Episcopalian Church in the United States, Bishop Frank Griswold.
America's status as the sole superpower of the world isn't about flexing political muscle in Iraq, North Korea or elsewhere. It's really about being a superservant, says Bishop Frank Griswold.
Bishop Griswold is the presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal church of the United States.
"A superservant always has the welfare of the global community as their first concern rather
than simply their own national interest," he explained in an interview with Sound Vision from New York.
The Episcopal church in the United States is an offshoot of the Church of England. Currently, there are about 2.5 million members in the US with dioceses in Latin American and Carribean countries. The church is also part of the worldwide Anglican communion which spans the globe. It is made up of 70 million members, including people from Iran, Egypt, and Syria. Episcopalians look to England's Archbishop of Canterbury as their spiritual leader.
"I will say that after Sept. 11 and the terrible experiences we had here in New York and Washington of destruction and loss of innocent lives, I thought to myself: 'Now we as a nation have experienced our own vulnerability and that should give us a sense of greater solidarity with other parts of the world where terrorism and death are a daily reality. Therefore, that should open a way for us to enter into the suffering of other people based on our own suffering," Bishop Griswold said.
However, the government's position on war with Iraq does not seem to be reflecting that empathy. Perhaps that is why Bishop Griswold has joined the growing ranks of religious leaders across the country who oppose the war on Iraq.
"We are deeply concerned about the war on Iraq and feel that war is absolutely the last resort," he said. He stressed the need for the American government to pursue every diplomatic effort before looking at the military option.
Griswold said his opposition to war stems not only from his concern about death and injury of civilians, as well as the destruction of property and infrastructure that will result. It is also because of the possible repercussions on the entire Middle East.
"Our church, being part of a worldwide community, is deeply aware of the ramifications, the intensification of anger, and misunderstanding and violence that war can occasion. Certainly our bishops in Muslim countries have said war could profoundly destablilize the Middle East and set in motion a situation disastrous for all of us," he said.
"Peace is the church's business" is becoming an oft-heard slogan in some quarters. Many churches and Christian groups are actively speaking out against the impending war on Iraq. This is in sharp contrast to, for example, the Vietnam war. Most churches in the US only started opposing that war ten years after it had started.
In a country that prides itself on the separation of church and state, Bishop Griswold does not see his church's strong statements against the war as a violation of that principle. In fact, he thinks the separation strengthens the case for active participation by religious groups.
"Because of the separation of the church and the state, any faith community in the United States has the freedom to look critically at the government's policies," he explained. Bishop Griswold also noted that most churches and religious bodies maintain offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC which present to Congress and the US government their particular church or organization's point of view.
The need to speak out becomes even more urgent for Bishop Griswold when he thinks about the general situation of conflict in the Middle East. He related how he came to this realization during a 1992 pilgrimage to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where he found himself in the midst of worshippers of all three Abrahamic faiths.
"When I entered the building and saw myself standing in front of sign indicating the place of Abraham's burial, I noticed on my left there were a group of men engaged in a study of the Quran and on my right, in a small vestibule, a group of Jewish women were praying," he said. "I looked to my left and my right and straight ahead and I thought, all three of us are children of Abraham and I thought how sad father Abraham must be to see all his children fighting and attacking one another."
"We are all children of God," he added." God's compassion embraces all of us and how wonderful it would be if we, the children of Abraham, could find a new way to honor one another and work together to make the world a place of peace and justice. And that continues to be my prayer from that very day when I stood at the Tomb of Abraham."