Leaders of the National Council of Churches, in a strongly worded pastoral message marking the Holy Week period leading to Easter, called on the nation's churches to continue and renew their efforts to create a peaceful world.
"The war between the coalition forces and Iraq has ended," said the statement signed by the Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, president of the council, and the Rev. Joan Campbell, general secretary. "As Americans we are grateful to God that the casualties among U.S. forces were relatively few."
But it said that as Christians "our joy can only be partial, for our 'family' is worldwide and we grieve at the massive loss of life and at the destruction in Kuwait and Iraq."
The council, with 32 member denominations with a combined membership of 42 million people, consistently condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait but also opposed President Bush's resort to force as a means of resolving the conflict.
"This was a war that many of us felt could have been avoided," the pastoral letter said. "We took that position not for political reasons, but because we felt that war represents a failure of the human spirit. In the aftermath of this conflict, ancient enemies are again set against one another--now with renewed vengeance."
It said that critics say expressing such thoughts "dishonors those brothers and sisters who have given their lives in service to the nation. But we do not believe this to be so."
"Neither the glorification of weapons of mass destruction, nor the acceptance of war as the inevitable fate of humankind will honor their sacrifice," the pastoral said.
"Instead, we honor them by pursuing a new world order which corresponds to the principles for which they risked they lives: an order based on peace with justice, on equity; a democratic order reliant on the rule of law; a world order that holds out the promise of freedom and a secure future for every nation and people."
It called on the nation to remain alert to "the illusions and temptations of the desert," including the illusion that "for every conflict there is a military solution."