Religious opposition to the use of military force in the Persian Gulf accelerated in Washington yesterday as a broad coalition of Jewish, Protestant and Roman Catholic executives called for immediate congressional hearings on the Middle East crisis.
A carefully worded statement worked out and signed by 19 denominational and ecumenical leaders contended that "offensive military action" by the United States would be counterproductive. The base of support for total rejection of a military solution went well beyond the traditional pacifist churches such as the Quakers and Mennonites.
The use of force is not likely to achieve any of President Bush's objectives for the region, the signers said.
"In fact," the eight-page interfaith document warned, such military action would probably:
* Kill more Americans than are now hostages.
* Destroy Kuwait in order to save it.
* Turn the oil fields into oil burners for months to come.
* Spread the conflict horizontally across the entire region, including Israel.
"The post-Cold War promise of a new world order would go up in smoke," the statement said. "Almost certainly, more civilians would be killed than combatants."
The statement, "Ten Points on the Iraq-Kuwait Crisis and U.S. Policy," took several weeks to write and revise. Plans to issue it Nov. 19 were postponed because of disagreements over specific language.
Represented among yesterday's 19 signers were American Baptists, Friends, Disciples of Christ, Church of the Brethren, Roman Catholics, Reform Jews, Lutherans, Mennonites, Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalists. Several broad-based interfaith organizations were included.
Washington legislative analysts employed by the Episcopal and United Methodist churches, while agreeing with much of the statement, did not sign it. The latest revisions were still being reviewed by them.
But both denominations were represented in a vote by the National Council of Churches board Nov. 15 in Portland, Ore., calling for the immediate withdrawal of most U.S. troops from the Persian Gulf and criticizing the Bush administration for what board members then called "reckless rhetoric" and an "imprudent" military buildup.
A spokesman for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, which helped draft yesterday's more restrained 10-point document, said the list of signers was expected to grow.
A United Methodist spokesman in Washington, noting that his denomination "is not a peace church that forever rules out any use of force," nevertheless added: "We would certainly hope that military force is the very, very last option, and we will be working with the other folks that signed the statement to keep the U.S. from invading Iraq.
"We are concerned that the U.S. government is not giving enough time for an economic boycott to work."
Like the language adopted by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on Nov. 12, which placed strict limitations on what the bishops would consider an acceptable war in the Middle East, the new statement emphasized the need for a non-violent solution.
Although one of its 10 points was a call for the release of hostages, another stated that "food should not be used as a weapon" and that "civilians should not be targeted." The Catholic bishops made the same arguments.
While yesterday's statement warned that "the U.S. should not attempt to use a U.N. umbrella or flag to justify military action," it also said: "We commend those U.S. initiatives which helped to mobilize the international community through the United Nations."