Clergy debate America's partying mood Pastors offer a mixed response to the nation's post-gulf war euphoria.

March 13, 1991|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff

A newspaper columnist describes it as "Miller Time U.S.A."

A local clergyman calls it "sad and tragic."

Both are referring to the apparent euphoria sweeping the United States after the military victory over Iraq. America seems to be in a partying mood as the Desert Storm troops are welcomed home with airport ceremonies and Main Street parades.

"We won the Super Bowl, and so what do you do after you win the Super Bowl? You celebrate," the Rev. John Lombardi says with a trace of sarcasm. He is an associate pastor at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Govans.

"Sure, Saddam Hussein was an evil character, but, as a Christian, I think the time after a war is when some soberness is needed," Lombardi says. "Some people may see it as just that our hands are bloodied, but we have to ask what that means and what we've become. I fear we've become righteous people who use violence to get things done, who see our side always as right and the other side as always wrong."

Lombardi and other local clergy were asked to comment on the current patriotic high, which was labeled "Miller Time U.S.A." by Philadelphia Daily News columnist Sandy Grady. The clergy's remarks came days after the National Council of Churches, a body of mainstream Christian denominations, released a statement urging Americans not to feel celebratory in the wake of the fighting.

"We cannot forget the pain and suffering which has accompanied this war," the statement read. "Iraqi victims are now counted in the hundreds of thousands. We grieve for this terrible tragedy. . . . We grieve also with American families and those in other nations who have suffered the loss of persons dear to them."

In addition, the Rev. Richard D. Land of Nashville, the head of the social concerns agency for the Southern Baptist Convention, the country's largest Protestant body, told the Associated Press that the smashing of Iraq is "no cause for exultation, jubilation or triumphalism."

Rather, there should be "somber sadness" over the suffering that the war caused on both sides, Land said. He added that he believed that the conflict met the Christian principles of a "just war," but, he said, "That does not mean feeling carnal pleasures in victory."

The Rev. Frank Ellis Drumwright Jr., the director of the Morgan Christian Center at Morgan State University, calls the euphoria "sad and tragic. We should be grieving. I don't see any reason to celebrate the loss of life that occurred on all sides of this conflict. Just the very fact that the world was at war indicates the extent to which we've deviated from learning to live together as brothers and sisters."

Drumwright says he fears an outcome of the war may be "further violence in our streets," as more Americans, especially impoverished youth, follow their national leaders' example of settling problems through violent confrontation.

The Rev. Peg True, the pastor of Waverly Presbyterian Church, says the euphoria is "not an appropriate response, but it is very human."

"We may now be a country with a chip on its shoulder," True says. "I'm concerned about that. Plus, it seems that the fast end to the war and our small number of casualties have been used as a justification for going to war in the first place. We're doing that in retrospect, like we've already forgotten there was widespread uncertainty about this war before we got into it."

The Rev. David Rimbach, the pastor of Hampden United Methodist Church, says he is happy that the end of the war, for which he and others fervently prayed, finally came.

"But, we have to put these matters into a Scriptural perspective," says. "Whether you supported or condemned the war, you have to agree it devastated a lot of lives. The misery of people in the midst of that devastation is a fact. I'm speaking of all the human suffering that must be happening in Baghdad today. I believe God suffers with them, and I, as a Christian, must suffer with them, too."

However, some clergy say they view the post-war euphoria as a valid expression of joy, no more or less.

"I'm somewhat saddened by the loss of life on both sides, but I'm elated that the war is over," says the Rev. William McCoy Jr., the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in northeast Baltimore. His son, an Air Force staff sergeant, has been stationed in eastern Saudi Arabia since January.

The euphoria, McCoy says, is "a proper response. At least it shows we're together."

Rabbi Seymour Essrog of Beth Israel Congregation in Pikesville says Americans should celebrate "not just because of the victory over Saddam, but also because the war was so brief."

Essrog adds, "This was a triumph of good over evil. That's certainly laudatory. We were dealing with a person [Hussein] who had no scruples. We all need a pat on the back once in a while. Most of us labor in the vineyard of the Lord and don't get much credit. I don't think our celebrating right now is a question of gloating."

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