NEWS STORY: Two Predominately Black Denominations Oppose Bush on Iraq, Affirmative Action

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c. 2003 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) Two of the nation’s most prominent black denominations have issued statements criticizing the Bush administration’s approaches to a possible war with Iraq and on affirmative action.

In separate resolutions and letters to the president issued on the same day, the Church of God in Christ and the National Baptist Convention, USA, drew on their long-standing principles and the words of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as they distanced themselves from the White House.

“Mr. President, we must confess that we fail to see the rush to war as a rational expression of the compassionate conservatism that you promised the country at the beginning of your administration,” wrote Presiding Bishop Gilbert E. Patterson and members of the General Board of the Church of God in Christ in a Jan. 23 letter to Bush.

The letter writers expressed particular concern for the safety of the U.S. military _ “of whom significant numbers are ethnic minorities” _ and Iraqi civilians “who have not lifted a hand against the United States.”

The Church of God in Christ officials called for moral principles to be involved in determining the necessity for war.

“Failure to satisfy these criteria renders the war aims, strategies and tactics, at a minimum, morally suspect and perhaps morally unacceptable in the eyes of the church universal and under the gaze of a just and holy God,” they wrote.

Leaders of the Memphis, Tenn.-based denomination, which claims 6 million members and is the nation’s largest African-American Pentecostal denomination, suggested that finances spent on war would be better used to help famine victims in Africa and those afflicted with AIDS on that continent and elsewhere.

During a meeting in New Orleans, they also called for Feb. 4 to be a “National Day of Prayer for Peace.”

About 500 delegates to the mid-winter board meeting of the National Baptist Convention, USA, which claims more than 7 million members, adopted a resolution on Jan. 23 concerning Iraq.

Officials of the Nashville, Tenn.-based denomination said they “firmly believe that nonviolent social change and international peacemaking are the most desired methods to address any and all infractions of Iraq against the United Nations Resolutions passed relative to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq’s possession.”

Quoting King’s reflections on violence, they said: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.”

Leaders of the two denominations also agree on their disagreement with Bush about affirmative action. Both groups said they were disappointed that the administration recently filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court opposing affirmative action in a case concerning the University of Michigan.

“The reason affirmative action is needed is due to the historic experience of blacks in America,” wrote Patterson and the General Board of his denomination, in a separate letter, also dated Jan. 23.

“The political, social, cultural and economic effects of racial exclusion because of slavery, which continued in the form of Jim Crow laws and currently operate through more subtle forms of racial prejudice, result in black Americans having a special and unique set of claims for redress by the body politic.”

In their resolution on affirmative action, delegates to the National Baptist Convention, USA, meeting noted that Bush announced his opposition to affirmative action on what would have been King’s 74th birthday. They also referred to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.”

They said laws and policies related to affirmative action have contributed to “significant advances in addressing institutional, governmental and systemic racism, prejudice and discrimination against people of color and women for most of the nearly 226 years our nation has been established.”

The White House responded to the statements on Iraq by saying the president remains hopeful about peace but is concerned about the threats from that country.

“The president has made it clear that he seeks a peaceful disarmament of the Iraqi regime and that the use of force is a last resort,” said White House spokeswoman Mercy Viana. “As long as Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction that he has shown a willingness to use, his regime will remain a threat to the Iraqi people, the region and the world.”

On affirmative action, she added: “The president has a proven record of promoting diversity and working to provide opportunity to people from all walks of life.”


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