Bahai News -- Gathering to pray for peace Local

Gathering to pray for peace

Ecumenical group hopes U.S., Iraq can escape war

By Michael D. Wamble
Daily Press

Published December 20, 2002

WILLIAMSBURG -- So far, the United States has not declared war against Iraq. Stephen Houseworth of Williamsburg would like to keep it that way.

"I don't understand all of the saber-rattling," Houseworth says. "President Bush should be commended for seeking support from the U.N. in dealing with Iraq. But what we're hearing is that war is our only real option."

In late November, Houseworth joined with 200 people - many from local religious congregations - in a public procession for peace.

Originally designed as a one-time project, the procession planted seeds for the Williamsburg Community of Faith for Peace, a group that includes United Methodists, Episcopalians, Unitarian Universalists, Catholics and Quakers as well as members of a local Jewish congregation, a Baha'i community and a Buddhist meditation group.

At 1 p.m. on Saturday, the group will hold a prayer gathering at Duke of Gloucester Street at College Corner.

"We want to make peace as visible as the talk of war," says the Rev. Randolph Becker of the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists. "This comes from our religious beliefs."

The group is not against the military, says Becker, an organizer for the prayer gathering.

"We're not anti-military," he says. "We're pro-peace."

The Rev. Margaret Kutz, pastor of Wellspring United Methodist Church, says that while the group is faith-based, it can be difficult to separate one's religious beliefs from politics.

"Faith informs people's politics," Kutz says. "But we're looking at Scripture and church tradition, not just the Methodist church, back to Peter and Paul, more than what the Democrats or Republicans are saying."

Some advocacy groups view one prominent United Methodist, President George W. Bush, as being eager for war.

Earlier this month, a campaign sponsored by a national group called Religious Leaders for Sensible Priorities, strongly encouraged President Bush to seek peace regarding Iraq. The group stated that if Bush pursued war it "would violate the tenets, prayers and entreaties of your own United Methodist Church bishops."

But Kutz says it's possible to read religious texts and have a different opinion.

"I'd say the president has been true to his Methodist faith, to use of Scripture, to using one's own reason to make a decision," Kutz says. "He just arrived at a different place than I did or the Methodist bishops did."

Kutz says she bases her thoughts on war and peace on what's known as the Just War Theory, a Christian concept that sometimes war could be accepted on moral principles, such as just cause for war, legitimate authority for war and war as a last resort. An example is the United States' entry into the World War II.

"Looking at Iraq," Kutz says, "we haven't met any of these."

Kutz realizes that all in her congregation may not agree with her. "We pray for peace, in ways that are not political. It's just a matter of where you draw the line."

Locally, with the exception of the Williamsburg group and the Dandelion Project, a group that meets at the Church of the Brethren in Newport News, local voices of protest have been quiet.

Elizabeth Krome, who participated in the November procession out of religious conviction, says that while more people may oppose war they "feel that protest is useless because the administration is going to produce a justification for the war regardless of any contrary evidence."

Like Krome, Houseworth's religious roots provide strength for his actions. He attends Williamsburg Friends Meetings each Sunday.

The Society of Friends, sometimes referred to as Quakers, has peace as a principle of its religious foundation. "But there is diversity among Quakers on how you arrive at peace," Houseworth says.

"George Fox, founder of the faith, said that there is that of God in each of us," he says. "Now, if you believe that, then you have to look at our 'enemy' as being like us, and find ways that they are like us to reach common ground."

Michael D. Wamble can be reached at 247-4737 or by e-mail at

©Copyright 2002, The Daily Press (VA, USA)

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