Faith leaders oppose new sanctions in Iran

A diverse group of religious leaders signed an open letter warning that a bill before the Senate could undermine progress in negotiations aimed at keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

By Bob Allen

The Baptist Peace Fellowship is among dozens of U.S. peace, security and faith groups to sign a letter from a Quaker public-interest lobby opposing Senate legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation wrote senators Jan. 14 opposing S. 1881, titled the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013,” which calls for expanded sanctions against Iran for ongoing abuses of human rights and actions in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The letter warns that passage of new Iran sanctions “would critically endanger the possibility of a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff with Iran, increasing the likelihood of a nuclear-armed Iran and an unnecessary and costly war.”

bob MenendezThe bill, sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), does not call for immediate imposition of new sanctions but prepares for the possibility that current talks with Iran may not succeed.

In January, the U.S. government reached a six-month deal between Iran and the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear program.

As part of the agreement, signers from 72 Muslim, Jewish, and Christian organizations pointed out that the U.S. agreed to “refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions” on Iran. Even with delay mechanisms included in the bill, they said, both U.S. and Iranian officials warn that new sanctions would kill the deal and be viewed as a sign of bad faith.

Kate Gould, legislative associate for Middle East policy with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Washington-based peace lobby founded in 1943 by the members of the Religious Society of Friends – also known as Quakers – described the letter’s signers as an “unprecedented national coalition against new sanctions.”

“This letter clearly demonstrates that the grassroots, the netroots, the peace and security community, and people of faith are united in pressing our lawmakers to support, not sabotage, the historic diplomacy now underway,” Gould said.

Christian signers included representatives from the Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, Methodist and Baptist traditions, plus leaders from the historic peace church traditions of the Quakers and Mennonites.

“More and more, voices for peace are being raised in the U.S. and around the world," said Evelyn Hanneman, operations coordinator for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.

"FCNL and our fellow peace organizations understand that we need to be active in our peacemaking, waging peace, while others call for waging war," said Hanneman, who has worked in various positions for nearly 15 years with the network devoted to peace and justice issues formed in 1984.