Methodist Watchdog Criticizes Church Stance on Iraq

A statement by bishops of the United Methodist Church calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq is "nothing new" and "nothing constructive," according to a conservative Methodist.

The United Methodist Council of Bishops had issued a statement Friday calling on the United States and its coalition partners to begin an immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and to not deploy additional troops to Iraq.

They noted the deaths of more than 3,800 U.S. soldiers, 300 from other coalition countries, and more than 76,000 Iraqi civilians, as well as the more than 28,000 wounded since the U.S.-led offensive as support for their stance.

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"This is at least the fourth statement from the United Methodist Council of Bishops (COB) about the Iraq War. It says nothing new and adds nothing constructive to the discussions about Iraq," responded Mark Tooley, the director of the United Methodist committee (UMAction) at Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, on Saturday.

IRD is an ecumenical watchdog of mainline church denominations.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Tooley criticized the COB statements for solely blaming U.S. troops for the conflicts in Iraq while "never" expressing much concern about Saddam Hussein's mass murders or the "atrocities" caused by al Qaeda and sectarian groups in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has emphasized the importance of democracy, rule of law, suppressing sectarian violence and terrorism, and upholding religious liberty in Iraq despite its opposition to the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, as Tooley pointed out.

"Why do the Catholic bishops speak constructively to the reality in Iraq, while the United Methodist COB relies on simplistic anti-war sloganeering?" Tooley asked.

Reports indicate that rocket and mortar attacks in Iraq have decreased to their lowest levels in more than 21 months, the U.S. military said Monday according to The Associated Press.

Moreover, U.S. and Iraqi deaths showed a sharp drop in recent months, according to AP figures. The number of American military deaths fell from 65 to at least 39 over the period of September to October.

The UM bishops made their call during their semi-annual meeting at a church retreat last week.

In calling for the immediate withdrawal, the bishops said their position is based on the denomination's position that "war is incompatible with the teachings and examples of Christ," and Jesus Christ's call for "his followers to be peacemakers."

The bishops represent more than 11 million United Methodists in the United States, Africa, Europe, and the Philippines. U.S. president George W. Bush is a member of the United Methodist Church.

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