- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

President Bush met yesterday with 27 interfaith clergy who urged both patience and justice in America's response to terrorism.

As he prepared to address Congress later in the evening about going to war, the president joined seven of the religious representatives in prayer in the Oval Office before the general meeting. The entire clergy group then finalized a consensus statement before meeting with the president in the Roosevelt Room.

"We shared with him how we should explore justice as opposed to revenge," said Bishop T.D. Jakes, a nationally known television minister and founder of the fast-growing Potter's House church in Dallas.

"That is something that resonated with all of us," the clergyman said afterward. "And we stressed that in the minds of Americans this not be viewed as a religious war."

Archbishop Demetrios C. Trakatellis, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, said the president welcomed a candid discussion.

"We knew that he was at a most critical time," the archbishop said. "We said that as Americans we should not seek vengeance but only justice, carried out after careful consideration."

The gathering of mostly Christian clergy, including two Roman Catholic cardinals and the presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Mormon Church, also included Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist representatives.

The meeting came amid a growing discussion in America's religious community on how to respond to last week's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Some clergy are focusing their efforts on supporting the U.S. military.

The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Value Coalition, who was not at the meeting, said its 43,000 churches will encourage outreach to American servicemen abroad.

"In the past, restrictions have been placed on worship in some countries where Americans have served," Mr. Sheldon said, suggesting cases such as Saudi Arabia, where Muslim law bans Christian public worship or the carrying of a Bible.

"We believe the church has a responsibility to join Americans serving our country," he said.

Other clergymen are concerned to avoid loss of innocent life abroad.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Call to Renewal, said the clergy should speak out to stir a moral debate in Mr. Bush's mind.

"The president should seek the counsel of clergy, but they should not just listen, or just give support and prayer," Mr. Wallis said. "Bombing the children of Kabul is not an option, and they should be saying that."

To that end, Mr. Wallis has organized a petition counseling military restraint, which was signed by 1,500 religious leaders and backed by the National Council of Churches.

The petition, called "Deny Them Their Victory," will be published soon as a full-page advertisement in the New York Times.

While calling for justice, the petition says the "religious response to terrorism" holds that "we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life."

Bishop Jakes agreed that loss of innocent life abroad or a rise in ethnic or religious prejudice must be avoided, but added that support for Mr. Bush was also important.

"Prayer for the president was an important item today, and will be in the months ahead," he said.

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