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House of Bishops calls for 'new vision' in Gulf Coast recovery, opposes Iraq war

[Episcopal News Service] In addition to responding to requests of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops also sent a message to the church describing the context of the bishops' five-day meeting in New Orleans, and passed resolutions affirming the Episcopal Church's opposition to the war in Iraq and calling on the U.S. Congress to enact "a new vision for Gulf Coast recovery."

In the resolution to Congress, the bishops said they met in New Orleans as part of the Episcopal Church's "unanimous commitment to healing the radical affront to God that racism constitutes."

The Iraq resolution, offered by Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies George Packard, noted that nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the operation began, along with many more civilians. It renewed the church's call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, care and support of those troops, and those people who have become refugees because of the war.

Bishops' message to the church
The bishops said in their message to the church that they found themselves "deeply moved and inspired" by the "faith and courage" of the people of the dioceses of Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"The scope of the destruction was beyond comprehension," the bishops said.

"We gathered this week in New Orleans in solidarity with the people of the Gulf Coast region as they continue the challenging work of rebuilding lives and communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina," they said.
 
"We also gathered with the deep desire to rebuild trust and confidence with our partners in the Anglican Communion," they continued. "Rebuilding is difficult work, but God invites us through our baptism to the challenging work of reconciliation, in communities and relationships. We have witnessed the remarkable continuing miracle of renewal in the myriad efforts of people from all over the world who are participating in the rebuilding of New Orleans and other communities along the Gulf Coast. We give thanks to God for their witness and pray that the ongoing work of reconciliation within the Anglican Communion can also bear as forceful a witness to the glory and grace of God."

The message thanked the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates for joining in parts of the bishops' meeting.

The bishops also thanked Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori "for her thoughtful and strong leadership as she approaches the first anniversary of her ministry as our Presiding Bishop."

The bishops said that Jefferts Schori reminded them at the beginning of their New Orleans session that "to go forward in rebuilding our relationships we will need to cooperate with the Spirit and to create a space for the Spirit to work."

Acknowledging that they are "not of one mind in all things," the message said "we strive to be of one heart."

Leaving room for the Spirit "requires real sacrifice from all, yet we know that the Cross of Christ leads to life," the bishops said. "Communion in Christ requires that all of us come to the foot of the Cross."

The bishops also thanked "the faithful women, men, and children who in Christ's Name give so much to support the ministries of our Church," saying that "these blessings cannot be counted."

Resolution on Gulf Coast recovery
In their resolution on Gulf Coast recovery, the bishops said "the devastation of the Gulf Coast presents our nation with moral imperatives of historic importance."

They called on the United States' elected leaders to broaden the "historic national outpouring of voluntarism" experienced along the Gulf Coast into "a movement that would make history."

Congress should create a new vision for Gulf Coast recovery "through which the victims of Hurricane Katrina can emerge triumphantly as the rebuilders of their own communities" and one in which "the unselfish mission of faith-based and volunteer organizations triumphs over forces driven by greed and narrow self-interest," the bishops said.

"The moment is at hand, and the opportunity to right many wrongs and redress many injustices to our fellow Americans" is offered to Congress, according to the bishops, by way of Gulf Coast recovery legislation recently introduced by Louisiana U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu.

The resolution commits the bishops to supporting comprehensive legislation to:

  • confirm the role of faith-based and volunteer organizations in Gulf Coast recovery and allow direct federal funding to such organizations "to harness their unparalleled capabilities in post-Katrina recovery, case management and community rebuilding";
  • affirm that all Katrina victims will be "fully entitled" to receive case-management services funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and that national faith-based and volunteer organizations be the deliverers of those services;
  • ensure that unemployed and underemployed residents and returning residents are able to be "fully and productively engaged in the re-building of their own communities" by way of the creation of a public-service jobs program which includes training and job placement for people to re-build both buildings and networks of "vital community services"; and
  • support the restoration of the cultural heritage of New Orleans and other affected Gulf Coast communities through a program to provide federal money to help artists and master craftspeople to return to work in the communities and to help train others in their skills, as well as create apprenticeships for high-school-age youth.

In a related resolution, the bishops sent Landrieu a letter of commendation for her "performance of duty as a national leader and elected representative of the people of Louisiana" in her efforts to ensure "a just and equitable recovery for all survivors of hurricane Katrina" and for her help in ensuring that faith-based and volunteer organizations can continue their recovery work.

Resolution on the Iraq war
Until now, Packard told Episcopal News Service he had not signed on to House of Bishops' statements calling for immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq. He had previously taken the stance that those "with boots on the ground" are not the ones to talk about U.S. foreign policy, he said.

However, "I have some serious, serious worries about the downtime and the rest and recuperation [being give to soldiers] between tours of duty so, I changed my point of view," Packard said.

Through his work with the church's military chaplains, Packard said he is seeing and hearing of  more and more soldiers who are "ragged, depleted and fatigued to the point of not functioning" after less than a year and sometimes as little as nine months between tours of duty. Such little downtime time between active duty, Packard said, does not allow soldiers to cope with their combat-earned post-traumatic stress issues.

"That's just crazy," he said. "We're shredding the military and I am very worried."

Packard's resolution echoes two resolutions passed by the 75th General Convention in June 2006. Resolution D019 called on the people of the Episcopal Church to support soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the church's chaplains who minister to them and their families. Resolution D020 affirmed an October 1, 2002 letter of the House of Bishops to members of Congress which said, in part, that "the conditions of the ‘Just War' tradition have not been met in the national government's decision to attack the nation of Iraq."

The New Orleans resolution was also consistent with resolutions passed by the Episcopal Church's Executive Council, including most recently INC 016 from the March 2007 meeting.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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