The Religious Left's Moment

Liberal and mainstream religious groups are becoming an increasingly visible and vital part of the antiwar movement.

This fall, after major antiwar rallies in New York and Washington, it was movie stars like Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, and Martin Sheen who made headlines and got camera time for their speeches and participation. But since then the face of antiwar activism has taken on a humbler, older, and less glamorous look: that of United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert.



Talbert, a balding, bespectacled African-American bishop who is past president of the National Council of Churches, the organization of mainline Protestant and Orthodox Christians, appears in a new antiwar television ad that began running late January on CNN and FOX stations in New York and Washington. In the 30-second spot, sponsored by the NCC, and produced by Win Without War--an antiwar coalition of 32 national groups, from the NAACP to the National Organization of Women--

Talbert says

that invasion of Iraq "violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ."

Talbert's presence in the ad campaign is symbolic of an antiwar movement that is becoming increasingly couched in religious terms.

"Religion is becoming the most important social base of opposition to the Bush race into war," said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a prominent Jewish antiwar activist and head of The Shalom Center, a Jewish group based in Philadelphia.

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In the past few months, liberal and mainstream religious groups have stepped up efforts to protest potential war with Iraq and have become an increasingly visible--and vital--part of the antiwar movement. In addition to the television ad featuring Bishop Talbert, the National Council of Churches and its current leader, the Rev. Bob Edgar, have led a major campaign to sway public and international opinion against the Bush administration's Iraq policies, through a trip to Iraq in January and a series of meetings with world leaders, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile, many other Christian groups, several Jewish groups, and other religiously affiliated peace groups have been organizing against the war. This visibility is making opposition to the war the most successful mass movement for the religious left in years.

Religious groups will play a major role in this coming weekend's antiwar activities. Special antiwar marches and rallies are being organized in close to 300 cities throughout the country, with especially large events occurring in New York on February 15 and San Francisco on February 16. The events will have large religious contingents, from Jewish and Christian groups to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

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