The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) reported in a front-page story on Friday that First United Methodist Church "has declared itself a sanctuary -- a place of support and protection -- for U.S. soldiers who don’t want to fight in Iraq or elsewhere."[1]  --  The decision by the church "was prompted by Army Lt. Ehren Watada’s refusal to fight in Iraq. The Fort Lewis soldier announced last week he feels the war is illegal and immoral.  --  'We’re supporting troops by giving them the space to think about what their options are in a supportive environment,” said church member Susan Dobkins."  --  A press conference at the church is scheduled for noon on Fri., Jun. 16....

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Local

DOWNTOWN TACOMA CHURCH OFFERS SANCTUARY TO SOLDIERS
By Steve Maynard

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
June 16, 2006
Page A1

http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/story/5821927p-5192502c.html

TACOMA (Washington) -- First United Methodist Church in Tacoma has declared itself a sanctuary -- a place of support and protection -- for U.S. soldiers who don’t want to fight in Iraq or elsewhere.

Church leaders say their decision to offer soldiers shelter and counseling was prompted by Army Lt. Ehren Watada’s refusal to fight in Iraq. The Fort Lewis soldier announced last week he feels the war is illegal and immoral.

“We’re supporting troops by giving them the space to think about what their options are in a supportive environment,” said church member Susan Dobkins.

She said First United Methodist is following its Christian mandate to be peacemakers.

Besides counseling on legal rights, the 250-member congregation is offering shelter for a maximum of two soldiers for up to three nights each. Since the administrative council made the decision Sunday, no soldiers have asked for help.

First Methodist’s decision didn’t sit well Thursday with some attending the annual session of United Methodists’ Pacific Northwest Conference at the University of Puget Sound.

Lanora Callahan, lay leader at Eatonville Methodist Church, said she doesn’t support First Methodist’s stance.

“The church can’t resolve their conflicts,” said Callahan, whose husband, Robert, is retired from the Navy. “Those that don’t want to fight should have registered as conscientious objectors. It’s too late now.”

The Rev. Rick Weber said his two Methodist congregations near Omak won’t back the Tacoma church.

“In my area, it is a duty, a right, and an obligation to fight on behalf of your country,” said Weber, pastor of Okanogan and Malott Methodist churches.

But Katharine McCormack, of Highland Park Methodist in Seattle, agreed with First Methodist’s effort to support soldiers’ changing spiritual convictions about war.

The Rev. Monty Smith said his congregation is the first he knows of in the state to do this.

“We felt we didn’t have a choice,” Smith said. “As a downtown church, we have a responsibility to the larger community.”

He said some soldiers’ support for the war may have eroded as circumstances changed since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. For starters, no weapons of mass destruction were found, he said.

“What may have been true for people of conscience three or four years ago may certainly not be true for them now,” Smith said.

Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Piek said military police would issue warrants for absent soldiers, even if they’re at a church offering sanctuary.

“In most cases, the military police issue a warrant for an absent soldier and that soldier is subject to arrest and return to military control,” he said.

“It is not relevant whether the soldier goes home, goes to a church or anywhere else,” Piek said. Civilian police would determine “when and how the execution of the warrant takes place.”

Dobkins, who leads First Methodist’s social justice project, said the Seattle Draft and Military Counseling Center will provide counseling at the church.

She said the congregation won’t do anything illegal to block police with warrants for soldiers. Smith said it’s uncertain if soldiers would spend the night at the church or in homes.

First Methodist’s offer of sanctuary is good at least through Nov. 30, when the congregation will move from its 90-year-old building at 423 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. New owner MultiCare Health System then plans to tear it down to expand emergency departments for adjacent Tacoma General and Mary Bridge Children’s hospitals.

First Methodist lay leader Mary Lynn said her congregation simply wants to provide a place for soldiers to sort out the issues of war.

“If there are soldiers who are in a moral quandary and we do not support them,” Lynn said, “that is the height of not supporting our troops.”

--Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647