By LENORE RUTHERFORD
While the war with Iraq has stirred protests and debate in many forms, many area religious leaders are asking that their congregations focus on the power of prayer.
"Mainly, we are addressing the war by praying for our troops, our president and the Iraqi people," said Pastor Craig Andrus of Christian Heights Assembly of God in East Sonora.
"The Bible says in 1 Timothy 2 that we should pray for all those in authority, and that's what we are doing," Andrus said.
Some religious leaders support the war effort, but others oppose it. Some recognize contrasting opinions within their own congregations.
"We affirm the fact that people have differing points of view on the war and politics that they hold strongly," said Pastor Rob Satterberg of Community Covenant Church in San Andreas, "but their differences are set aside when we come together as Christian brothers and sisters."
Satterberg said he hasn't changed his pattern of sermons because of the war.
"It's like the elephant in the room," he said. "You can't avoid thinking about it, but you don't have to address it all the time."
Pastor Mark Levering of Sierra Bible Church in Standard said the war is having an effect on his congregation.
"It's what we are talking about and thinking through together," he said, "but we don't have a sermon about it every Sunday.
"So far, we are focusing on helping people be more diligent and purposeful in terms of their prayers and being mindful of our people who are closely connected to the war."
Levering said the major emphasis of prayer at his church is for a quick, peaceful resolution of the war that will also grant a much greater degree of freedom to the Iraqi people.
Edward Diliberto of Twain Harte, a member of the governing board of the Baha'i Faith in Tuolumne County, said the Baha'is don't generally take positions on political questions, but support the governments where they live.
"We are for world peace," he said, "so we hope the conflict is short and a peaceful solution is reached, but we don't take direct action in connection with government policies."