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February 14, 2003


Church News

United Methodists rally for peace

Photo by Warren Clark  

The Rev. Vicki Walker, a deacon at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, (second from right) joined the Revs. Jim Harnish and Barbara Richardson and Bishop Lloyd Knox (left to right) at a peace vigil last fall at MacDill Air Force Base. Churches and local organizations came together to pray for peace and rally against war in Iraq.
By John M. De Marco

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 Forgiveness.”

“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 world.

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 problem.”

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.

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