Meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair
March 4, 2003
 
     by Jim Wallis
 
     On Tuesday, the prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair,
     met with five American church leaders about the decision to
     go to war with Iraq. President George W. Bush has yet to
     agree to meet with American religious leaders to hear their
     concerns about the U.S. rush to war.
 
     The meeting at number 10 Downing Street lasted longer than
     the usual 15 to 20 minutes for such encounters. Tony Blair
     met with us for a full 50 minutes and was very engaged in
     the discussion about the moral and even theological issues
     at stake in this momentous choice.
 
     Sojourners organized and led the delegation, which included:
Bishop John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Diocese of Washington;
Bishop Melvin Talbert, ecumenical officer, Council of United Methodist Bishops;
Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk, Presbyterian Church USA;
and Rev. Dan Weiss, immediate past general secretary, American Baptist Churches in the USA.

We were joined by international church leaders
Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town;
Bishop Clive Handford, Episcopal Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf;
Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria;
Rev. Dr. Keith Clements, general secretary, Conference of European Churches;
and our United Kingdom church counterparts.

The trip was made in partnership with similar delegations to
     Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Moscow, coordinated by the
     National Council of Churches. In London, the organization
     Churches Together in Britain and Ireland graciously hosted
     us.
 
     We affirmed that Tony Blair, a practicing Christian, was
     bringing "moral concerns" into the debate over Iraq. And
     we agreed with the prime minister that the issues of
     terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction
     were deeply moral and theological issues. We also agreed,
     unequivocally, that Saddam Hussein was a real threat to
     his own people and to the entire world.
 
     But we shared with Tony Blair how American church bodies
     have never before in our history been more united in their
     opposition to a war. While American and British leaders
     point out how terrible the regime of Saddam Hussein is (and
     rightly so), the churches want also to remind the world
     (and our political leaders) how terrible war is. In moving
     personal statements, the church leaders testified to our
     conviction that war is not the answer to the real threats
     posed by Saddam Hussein. The unintended and unpredictable
     consequences of war make it far too dangerous and
     destructive an option. We told the prime minister that the
     answer to a brutal, threatening dictator must not be the
     bombing of Baghdad's children.
 
     It was neither hyperbole nor high drama to recognize, we
     told Tony Blair, that the British people and their prime
     minister are in a position to influence the decision about
     a war with Iraq more than any other people or leader in
     the world. We said that must be a terrible burden to bear
     and offered our genuine prayers and support to Mr. Blair
     as he charts the course his leadership will take in the
     coming critical weeks.
 
     As Americans, we told the British leader that it would be
     a dangerous thing for the world, and for America, if an
     issue of such importance were to be decided solely or
     mostly by American power. We strongly affirmed that the
     issue of Iraq, with all its possible consequences, must
     be decided by the world community, in the Security Council
     of the United Nations, and not by the unilateral decision-
     making of the world's last remaining superpower. We said
     that the United States was becoming a "new Rome" in
     claiming a singular and pre-emptive moral authority to act
     in the world today, and that this was both bad theology
     and bad policy.
 
     We respected the "convictional core" of the British prime
     minister around the legitimate concerns regarding the
     juxtaposition of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,
     but we urged him to persevere in finding another way to
     resolve the problem with Iraq apart from an American-led
     war. In fact, we suggested he, more than any other world
     leader, might help forge or even broker a better way,
     even a "third way," beyond doing nothing about Iraq or
     submitting to the inevitability of an American war, which
     could lead to a post-war regime in Iraq ruled by an
     American general. We talked of other directions, especially
     with a strong role for the U.N.; even a U.N. mandate or
     protectorate in Iraq; with rigorous inspections and
 continual monitoring of Saddam Hussein, backed by international force.
 
     The critical need for a resolution to the Israeli-
     Palestinian conflict also figured prominently in our
     discussions. The Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Riah, spoke
     with great authority and clarity and told Prime Minister
     Blair, "The road to Baghdad leads through Jerusalem." The
     British government is making the critical connection
     between Middle East peace and the problem of terrorism
     and even Iraq, much more than the U.S. government has.
     We committed ourselves to helping change that.
 
     British Secretary of State Clare Short also met with our
     delegation for an hour and a half, and joined us in the
     meeting with Mr. Blair. Short is becoming an important
     advisor to church efforts to find a solution to Iraq that
     is both effective and humanitarian.
 
     I was impressed by how Prime Minister Blair entered into
     a real dialogue with us, shared our concerns for the people
     of Iraq for a genuinely international and U.N. solution,
     and recognized how crucial a Middle East peace was to this
     moment. I also saw a Christian political leader seriously
     wrestling with crucial matters of theology and moral
     discernment as we all approach the hour that is, in Martin
     Luther King Jr.'s words, "five minutes before midnight."
 
     May God be with Tony Blair and with all of us.