- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Emmanuel Baptist Church in Manassas, which includes a large number of Pentagon employees among its congregation, has no official position on the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
But on Sunday, the 400-person congregation held a red-white-and-blue service where members of the armed forces branches offered prayers for the U.S. troops. The church's pastor, the Rev. Rodney Autry, spoke about the history of Iraq.
"I wanted to give our people some perspective on what is happening and see a larger picture," Mr. Autry said. The church, he estimates, is at least half active and retired military.
"God has a plan for that part of the world that extends beyond the current conflict," he said.
Church leaders around the region are facing a difficult challenge in responding to the war in Iraq. They're trying to find a middle ground between the public debate on whether the war is just, and many of their congregants who have family or friends fighting overseas.
"Sometimes we feel torn between choosing the church and our government. At this point, I don't see a conflict I think both have their roles," said the Rev. Michael W. Fisher, the pastor at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg. "The church must be the voice of calm."
Many churches, synagogues and mosques are extending their hours to hold vigils, prayer times and special services in the name of peace and in support of the troops.
Six parishioners of St. John's church in Gaithersburg have been deployed to the Middle East, Father Fisher said. An intention book for petitions has been placed on a podium where parishioners can write their prayers for world peace, for the troops or for a quick resolution to the war. The book is flanked by an American flag and the church's yellow-and-white papal flag.
Father Fisher said he has encouraged his congregation of 1,800 families to pray for peace at the church's adoration chapel, which is open 24 hours. To honor the troops, the congregation said a rosary for peace during a Mass on Tuesday.
Religious leaders who always encourage parishioners to pray for peace have different opinions on how to achieve it.
"We pray for peace, but we realize that peace isn't something that's easy," said the Rev. Mark Dunn of Chancellor ChristianChurch in Fredericksburg. "There are evil people, and you have to deal with them. When you have someone like [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein who has been so obviously evil, you can't stand by and not do anything about it."
Chancellor is taking part in a community effort to pray twice daily for soldiers whose names and pictures are posted at a public meeting place. They also pray for the Iraqi people and for the safe return of U.S. troops.
Still, many believe there is such a thing as a "just war."
Mr. Dunn cited Romans 13:4, which talks about the responsibility of governing authorities to "bear the sword."
The Rev. Ernest Custalow, who helped organize the daily prayer vigils in Fredericksburg, said he believes it is "God's will" that the United States gets rid of "Saddam's evil regime."
"We would say war is bad, and we want it to end quickly, but it is necessary at times," said Mr. Custalow, pastor at Grace Church in Fredericksburg.
Many people of faith, however, don't believe that the war is justified, said Terrance Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations in Northwest.
"In the war in Afghanistan, I think people felt they had been attacked," Mr. Lynch said, referring to the September 11 attacks. "I'm not sure they see this war the same. I think that's one of the struggles going on."
Catholics seem to be conflicted in terms of the war's morality and justice, Father Fisher said. Pope John Paul II yesterday denounced the war, telling 10,000 people in St. Peter's Square in Rome that he was following the news of the war with a "heavy heart."
The Rev. Kevin T. Hart of St. Ann's Catholic Church in Northwest said his parishioners also are conflicted about the war.
"We cannot judge because we do not have all the facts," Father Hart said. "We don't know if a danger was posed to the United States. In terms of a just war it doesn't seem that it's a just war but we can't say. We must trust that President Bush has all of the information."
St. Ann's prays for the troops and their families, and will hold a daily "Holy Hour" of prayer until the war ends. The prayer service begins at 10:45 a.m. each day. The church also will hold an all-night prayer service on the first Friday of each month. That service will begin at 7 p.m.
At Congregation Agudas Achim in Alexandria, Rabbi Jack Moline said his congregants are not looking for him to provide the answers.
"Our congregation is one of many different views," Mr. Moline said. "We have people that will block bridges in protest to this war, and others who would sign up tomorrow if they could to go serve in the war."
Mary Shaffrey contributed to this report.

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