Canadian Church Leaders Call for an End to NATO Bombing

Tasneem Jamal Armed Conflicts, Defence & Human Security

The Canadian Council of Churches

OTTAWA (CCC)–In their first formal meeting with a Prime Minister of Canada since 1983, senior leaders of seven member churches of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) urged Canada’s government to press hard for global nuclear disarmament and for a negotiated rather than a military solution to the crisis in Kosovo.  [The former item was a follow-up to the Canadian Church Leaders’ 1998 Statement on Nuclear Weapons.]

The meeting, from 10:30 until nearly noon on April 15, included Hon. Lloyd Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as Prime Minister Chrétien.

Speaking for the Council of Churches was its president, Archbishop Barry Curtis of Calgary, and Rev. David Pfrimmer, who chairs the CCC’s Commission on Justice and Peace. Ernie Regehr, director of Project Ploughshares, accompanied the delegation.

Speaking as leaders of their churches were Virginia Coleman, General Secretary of the United Church of Canada; Carol Dixon of the Canadian Friends’ Service Committee (Quakers); Rev. Stephen Kendall, Principal Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in Canada; Archbishop Michael Peers, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; Msgr. Peter Schonenbach, General Secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Bishop Seraphim of the Orthodox Church of America (Canada diocese).

On April 13, two days before the meeting, the leaders of nine Christian churches in Canada had signed an urgent letter to the Prime Minister appealing to the Canadian government to “press for an immediate, unilateral moratorium on the NATO bombing campaign.”

In taking this position, said the letter, Canadian church leaders are adding their voices to those of their colleagues in the Vatican and in churches throughout Europe, Russia and the Balkans who have “appealed to NATO, to the Serbs and to the Albanian Kosovars to stop all military action and begin dialogue immediately.”

The church leaders urged the government to encourage a wide range of diplomatic alternatives such as shifting the political focus from NATO to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe(OSCE), whose membership includes, besides NATO states, Russia and all the states affected by the crisis in the Balkans.

The text of the churches’ letter insists that it is the reliance on bombing and military force to which church leadership is objecting, not the principle of international intervention when human rights are being violated. “As Christians, we believe that all human persons constitute one world-wide family…  As a consequence…we have in principle supported Canada’s interventionist role in defence of human rights and in peacebuilding. In the present case, we can not support the means.”

The church leaders encouraged Canada to use its seat at the Security Council to press the United Nations to oversee the diplomatic and humanitarian response to the crisis. They praised the readiness of the Canadian government to take a lead in humanitarian assistance for refugees and the displaced, and they called for a vigorous prosecution of anyone accused of human rights violations.

Acknowledging the “heavy burden of governing,” the church leaders nevertheless asserted that “while a great good was sought, in fact a great evil has been done. In this moment,” they added, “we urge you as the Prime Minister of our country to stop, reconsider, and carefully change direction.”

Signing the letter on behalf of their churches were:

Most Rev. Michael G. Peers, Primate, Anglican Church of Canada; Msgr. Peter Schonenbach,
General Secretary, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop Hovnan Derderian,
Primate, Canadian Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church; Dr. Helmut Harder, General
Secretary, Conference of Mennonites in Canada; Bishop Telmor Sartison, Evangelical Lutheran
Church in Canada; Right Rev. Seraphim, Bishop of Ottawa and Canada of the Orthodox Church in America; Gale Wills, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers); Rev. Dr. William Klempa, Moderator, Presbyterian Church in Canada; Very Rev. Bill Phipps, Moderator, United Church of Canada.

For more information:

Janet Somerville, General Secretary
Canadian Council of Churches
416-232-6070 Ex. 2327

David Pfrimmer, Chair
Commission for Justice and Peace
Canadian Council of Churches
519-884-1970 Ex. 3907

Ernie Regehr, Director
Project Ploughshares
519-888-6541 Ex. 263

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