Addressing war from the pulpit Religious leaders offer comfort, often have questions of their own

January 21, 1991|By Pat Ercolano | Pat Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff Stephanie Shapiro, Monica Norton, Liz Atwood, Sylvia Badger and Ed Hewitt contributed to this article.

THE REV. MICHAEL ROGERS SAT in his office last Friday afternoon and polished his Sunday sermon.

"I'm usually not an overtly political kind of preacher," said Rogers, the pastor of Valley Presbyterian Church in Lutherville.

But this sermon -- on the first weekend of the Persian Gulf war -- would be different. It had to be, with the world's attention focused on the conflict and so many people turning to their religious leaders for guidance and comfort.

For his part, Rogers yesterday delivered a sermon entitled "The True Ruler of Iraq," based on the second Psalm in the Bible. The psalm states: Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled.

"I just want to tie in the idea that we need to recognize the all-encompassing form of government, which is God, ruling over all affairs of the world," Rogers said. "As we're seeing in the gulf situation, men do things out of foolishness and rebelliousness, when instead they should act out of an awareness of who the true ruler is."

Throughout the Baltimore area this past weekend, ministers, rabbis and imams addressed the war in their sermons and messages to their congregations. Many of the preachers had more questions than answers.

During a Saturday night service at Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church in Parkton, the Rev. Neil O'Donnell said he had put more thought into that evening's homily than in any he had given. And yet, he admitted, the results left him feeling "totally inadequate."

He asked a series of rhetorical questions about the relationship of politics to issues of war and peace, and about the necessity of a war in the gulf. "We may not all totally agree" on the answers to such questions, although all Americans might agree that our leaders in this crisis face the toughest decisions of their lives and need our prayerful support, he said.

A baby girl was baptized during the service, and even this ceremony was tinged with thoughts of war and its eventual aftermath.

"The world in which this child will grow up will be a lot more complicated place than it was at the time of her birth," O'Donnell said.

The scheduled Torah reading at synagogues this weekend came from the portion of Exodus that describes the Israelites' escape from Egypt after the final plagues against the Pharaoh and his people.

"Yeah, it's pretty amazing that this is the Torah reading for this particular week," said Rabbi Martin Siegel of the Columbia Jewish Congregation. "It's the story of how the arrogance of a leader can lead to his own destruction and the destruction of others."

Obviously, Siegel pointed out, Saddam Hussein is a modern-day Pharaoh, while the children of Israel, today as in ancient times, are fighting for survival against those who would crush them.

At his Saturday morning service, Siegel discussed these matters.

"Pharaoh believed in his own divinity, and he had to suffer the 10 plagues before he realized he wasn't God," Siegel said before delivering his message. "That's Saddam's problem. He thinks he's on a divine mission. We all have to do the things that make him understand he is not God's special messenger."

Including going to war?

"Yes," said Siegel, "unfortunately."

In a prayer service last Friday afternoon at the Masjid Walter Omar in northwest Baltimore, Imam Ronald Shakir told the gathering of mostly African-American Muslims that Saddam Hussein has violated the tenets of Islam by turning aggressor against another nation. Saddam should get out of Kuwait, Shakir said.

"There is a word in the holy Koran, the Arabic word fitnah," he explained. "It means hardship, oppression. When anyone begins fitnah against someone else, all the good people should get together and stop that person. That's what the coalition of governments is trying to do in the Persian Gulf, and we must support that."

The general idea of Christian unity, not the gulf war, was the theme of a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. William Yingling at St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hampden.

Still, an indirect reference to the war seemed to come during the offering, when the congregation sang "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." The most direct reference came at the service's end when Yingling, the church pastor, said a prayer "to bring a quick end to the fighting [in the Gulf] and a reunion of all those now separated from their families."

The Rev. William McCoy Jr., the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in north Baltimore, has a son serving in the gulf. During his sermon yesterday, McCoy spoke of his son and all the men and women doing the dirty work of war.

"These children are not ours to keep," he said. "God has only loaned them to us for a short while. We must dedicate them to the Lord and trust him to do with them what he will."

As for those on the home front, the best they can do, McCoy said, is "pray and leave it in the hands of the Lord."

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