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Many ministers avoid sermons on war, but congregations supporting soldiers

At almost every service, the Laurel, Md., church prays for the U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
But the congregation never introduces politics — be it support or opposition of the war — into its teaching or preaching, minister Michael Ray said.

“Not everyonesupports the president’s actions, but they do pray for our troops and theirsafe return to us,” Ray said.

Similarly, RogerMcCown, minister of the Brentwood Oaks church, Austin, Texas,said political preference has no place in God’s house.

In a city aspolitically diverse as the Texascapital, McCown said, “I have discovered that, at least for me, I have to bendover backward to avoid taking political sides on the matter.”

Instead, thecongregation has “chosen to focus on prayer and not speak for or against thewar itself,” he said.


As the three-yearanniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom approaches, many churches still includeprayer requests for soldiers in their bulletins under headings such as “ThoseIn Harm’s Way.” And some reach out directly to serve troops and their families.

When Army Lt. Col.Robert Stevens returned to Iraqfor the second time in January, an Arizona congregationhelped bring his wife and two children home from a base in Germany.

“To show support ofus and our coming back, people here loaned us furniture for a rental house andhad a pantry party where they filled the pantry with at least two months of food,”said Stevens’ wife, Misti, whose father, Ken Leach, preaches at the Monte Vistachurch, Phoenix.


Army Col. KennethRoberts, a member of the Northlake church, Tucker, Ga.,who is serving in Iraq,said soldiers rely on that kind of support by their churches and communities.

“It has given us alla peace of mind and alleviates many fears and anxieties about the welfare ofour families back home to know they are being watched over,” Roberts said in ane-mail from Iraq.

At the same time,volunteers such as Vicki Morgan, a member of the Skyway Hills church, Pearl, Miss.,remain active in collecting care packages to send to church members in the warzone.

“We don’t know thefull effects of our efforts, but God does,” said Morgan, whose congregation hasties — through friends or relatives — to a dozen soldiers in Iraq. “Wereceived many, many ‘thank you’ notes and letters from the soldiers.”

While thecongregation rallies around the troops, Morgan said church leaders never ask whois for or against the war.

“But by theparticipation of the members, it was obvious that they wanted to support thesoldiers,” she said. “And at this time, it didn’t matter who was for it oragainst it. It was the human being that we were thinking of.”


Skyway Hills ministerYale Canfield said he hasn’t preached on the rightness or wrongness of the war.

But the congregationis in a patriotic Bible Belt town where folks generally view war “as aresponsibility of a Christian if called to defend freedom and justice for all,”he said.

“I do believe we havea right to protect our family at our front door, and nationally, the front doorjust extends a bit,” Canfield said.

On the other hand,the majority of the East Baltimore church, Baltimore,opposes the war in Iraq,minister Kevin Bethea said.

Still, members at theurban church pray often for the soldiers, he said.

“However, as timepasses, it seems to be thought of indirectly rather than directly,” Betheasaid. “We are more focused on things that affect our day-to-day lives.”


Concerns at home arean issue, too, for the Central church, Pascagoula,Miss., which struggles to meet all thevictims’ needs along the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast.

“Prayers are oftenuttered for our soldiers in the field at our church,” Central minister JohnDobbs said. “That’s about all we can do in this present situation.”

But Dobbs added: “Iwill say, though, that while we rebuild a country that will largely notappreciate the billions of dollars and hundreds of lives being spent there …two states in our union are sitting in the mud with very little help from thefederal government.”

March 1, 2006

Filed under: National

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