TAMPA — As the seemingly inevitable march toward war with Iraq
continues, United Methodists in Florida are adding their voices to the
chant of those calling for a peaceful resolution.
The “United Voices for Peace” rally Jan. 18 near Tampa’s
MacDill Air Force base featured music, speakers, drumming and display
posters and signs. Groups from all across Florida came together to
form the coalition, and crowd estimates ranged from the hundreds to
thousands. Among the peace protesters was the Rev. Vicki Walker,
deacon at Hyde Park United Methodist Church here, and a group of
people from a study group she leads each week.
Walker noted that the participants in the peace rally agreed to
abide by six principles of unity in order to express a singular,
powerful commitment to peace in the world. These included calling for
a peaceful resolution to all global conflicts, the Iraqi situation in
particular; advocating nonviolence and peace as the only acceptable
basis for effective conflict resolution; and respecting differences in
philosophy, religion, culture or national origin.
“We also want the inspections to be allowed to continue,”
Walker told the “Review.” “We feel like we should act as a
global community with the other nations of the world that are
resistant to this attack.”
Walker leads a Christian peacemaking group each Wednesday evening
that focuses on prayer and study. It began with an examination of
South African Bishop Desmond Tutu’s book “No Future Without
“We were really amazed at how South Africa was able to survive
decades of apartheid in a peaceful fashion by seeking forgiveness
first. We thought that was a model the rest of the world should
follow,” Walker said.
Her group recently began a new curriculum from Sojourners titled
“A Moral Response to Terrorism: Conscience In a Time of War.” The
five-unit study packet leads readers through soul-searching moral and
theological questions the country is living with in the post-Sept. 11
Walker said the study group is very diverse, with members from such
countries as Germany, Australia, South Africa, Columbia and England.
“Some of them chose not to go [to the peace rally] for fear they’d
be singled out,” she noted. “A couple of them are professors at
USF [University of South Florida], and because of the trouble that
Sami Al-Arian [had] they were concerned that their presence would be a
Al-Arian is a University of South Florida professor accused of
connections to al-Qaeda who was subsequently placed on paid leave.
Walker has marched for peace before, including participating in a
Washington, D.C., rally during the 1991 Gulf War. “This is
consistent with my Christian principles, which are that we need to
seek peaceful means. It was very touching and sobering to be with so
many like-minded people. It gave me hope to see that I wasn’t alone
with my prayers and hopes for peace.”
The Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council
of Churches, will speak at Hyde Park Feb. 16, 5-6 p.m. Edgar recently
returned from a trip to Iraq and has been interviewed on the “Today”
show and National Public Radio. An outspoken proponent of peace, Edgar
will speak on the subject “In a Dark Time the Eye Begins to See.”
Walker acknowledged the issue of war with Iraq is a tough one for
Christians, who come at it from different perspectives. “Some say we
have to protect our national interest, and what if he [Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein] gets out of hand? I just don’t believe that’s how
I read the gospel and how I read what Jesus tells us to do. Jesus
tells me blessed are the peacemakers and to bless those who persecute
you,” she said.