Following a time of prayer led by committee vice-moderator Beverly James, the afternoon began with open hearings related to the six overtures. “I ask you to exercise the Christian virtue of restraint,” pleaded the Rev. Jim Berkeley, minister from the Seattle Presbytery.
The Rev. Beth Pyles, minister from West Virginia and member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams challenged the committee to act in support of overture 11-24: Costly Lessons of the Iraq War: Resolution with Recommendations and Study Paper as well as 11-10: On Building Peace in Iraq. “The Iraqi people have faith in you,” Pyles said. “They believe you do not act because you do not know what is happening to them. They believe that if you knew, you would act to change things. But you do know.”
“Nobody likes war. I can’t imagine anyone being for war. But how one goes about ending the war and making the most just and righteous situation happen is another” said Berkeley in his dissent of overture 11-24.
Following the open hearings Ron Kernaghan presented the report from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), asking those gathered, “Is the war in Iraq such a complex issue that the church should forgo any comment because we cannot make a reasoned response?”
Kernaghan explained that ACSWP was presenting the overture “Costly Lessons of the Iraq War: Resolution with Recommendations and Study Paper” as a response to questions that had come from the last General Assembly. “This is not the time for the church to say to the nation, ‘Ha! We told you so!’ Nor is it the time for the church to shy away from the charge God has given us to preserve the truth and promote social righteousness,” said Kernaghan. What the paper does seek to do, according to Kernaghan, is to continue to help in the church’s understanding of the Iraq war.
His Eminence Avak Asadourian, Archbishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Iraq is one of the committee’s Ecumenical Advisory Delegates. “Armies came from far away lands to bring freedom and democracy,” he began. “What we got instead was the utter lack of security with disastrous consequences,” shared the Archbishop, “and without security democracy cannot be exercised.” He also expressed concern that the number of Christians in Iraq, only 8.5% prior to the war, has now shrunk to less than 4%. Christians, the Archbishop suggested, continue to constitute a stabilizing factor in the region.
Army Chaplain Jim Bollins spoke to the committee in response to its request for his perspective. “We are in Iraq and your soldiers, your sons and daughters, (who) are sacrificing their lives feel that it is a mission that needs to be completed,” said Bollins, adding that he has been a Presbyterian for 54 years, a soldier for 32 years and a peacemaker for the same amount of time.
“In none of the overtures have we seen the loyalty of the troops being questioned,” said Bill Honor, Theological Student Advisory Delegate from Johnson C Smith seminary, addressing a number of the speakers who gave impassioned voice to the need to support the troops who are sacrificing their lives. “What is in question is whether or not the stewardship of the resources of this country are being properly stewarded and what affect does that have on our church or the welfare of the world?” questioned Honor.
Committee moderator Nancy Kahaian praised the committee’s discussion. “You have modeled the ability to listen fairly and closely to one another and for that I am truly and deeply grateful,” said Kahaian.
Vice moderator Beverly James prayed for the committee asking God to “Remind us that we have been called to be peacemakers with justice. Empower us to proclaim your praise and show Christ to the world.”