Basalt, midvalley clergy to sponsor Iraq forum

Aspen Times Staff Report

With the nation becoming increasingly polarized over a likely war with Iraq, the town of Basalt, local religious leaders and concerned citizens are organizing a community forum so locals can express their feelings and concerns.

The free “Community Forum on Iraq” will be held at Basalt Middle School on Monday, Feb. 17, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Organizers stress the forum will not be a rally or a debate, but rather an open discussion in which people can express their views without fear of judgment. Everyone is welcome to attend, whether they support war or oppose it or fall anywhere in between.

A panel of individuals representing a range of faiths and perspectives will help facilitate the discussion and will be available to answer questions.

“We think what we really need right now, what so many of us are craving, is just a safe place where we’re allowed to express our very real concerns,” said Dave Reed, a former Basalt trustee and one of the organizers. “We think it will be a relief for people just to talk openly about their feelings, and to hear others doing the same, in a nonconfrontational setting.”

The organizers themselves run the gamut from peace advocates to supporters of a war against Iraq.

“Personally, I’m for peace, and my concerns are mainly about the dangers of going to war,” said Reed. “But others are more concerned about the moral consequences of not standing up to evil. We sort of represent a cross section of the community.”

What unites the group is a conviction that a matter of such national importance demands some sort of public process at the local level, and that a free and respectful exchange of views can only be a healthy thing.

And, adds Reed, “I think we all agree that an important purpose of this forum is to support our military personnel and their families in the area.”

The Rev. Mary Kate Schroeder, priest of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Basalt, said she thinks a program put on by such a diverse group will send a powerful and hopeful message.

“I’m excited about our small town taking advantage of its size to gather together to see how we can give voice to different feelings and opinions, and remain a healthy civic community,” she said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to listen to each other, and to acknowledge that war and violence remain painful forces in our lives and the lives of many people in the world.”

“We’re trying to foster some understanding in the community and let people share what’s in their hearts,” said the Rev. Marie Gasau, minister at the Basalt Community United Methodist Church. “It’s time for truth telling. Being as honest as we can be with each other is the only way we’re going to get beyond the fear.”

“I’d personally like to see a regime change in Iraq, but I’m very comfortable joining in this forum with others who feel differently,” said Rabbi Mendel Mintz of the Jewish Resource Center-Chabad of Aspen.

The idea for the forum came about when Reed approached the Basalt board of trustees in December to urge them to pass a resolution taking a stand on war in Iraq. The board declined, but indicated it would lend its support to a community forum and suggested involving area churches.

“I think the trustees felt that it was inappropriate for them to speak for the community [by passing a formal resolution]. They wanted to let members of the community speak for themselves, and they wanted to create the opportunity for that to happen,” said Town Manager Tom Baker.

So far, four churches and one Jewish organization – St. Peter’s of the Valley Episcopal Church, St. Vincent’s Catholic Church, Basalt Community United Methodist Church, Thomasville Community United Methodist Church and the Jewish Resource Center-Chabad – are helping organize the event. Other individuals and organizations are encouraged to get involved.