Eight religious leaders have written to both houses of the U.S. Congress, urging opposition to companion resolutions ― SR 380 and HR 568 ― they say are “dangerous” and “increase the risk of war.”

The March 5 letter, co-authored by the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, comes on the heels of a letter from General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons to President Barack Obama and an overture to the upcoming PC(USA) General Assembly from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta urging diplomacy rather than military action to resolve tensions with Iran over its nuclear program.

By “specifically ruling out containment as an option for ‘an Iran with nuclear weapons capability,’” the letters state, the resolutions “could be interpreted as an endorsement of military force against Iran now.”

Citing civilian and military experts and quoting Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the eight religious leaders said: “We urge you to support diplomacy, not war, with Iran, and to oppose [the resolutions].”

The full text of the letter to Senators (the letter to Representatives is almost identical):

As Christian churches and faith based organizations concerned about the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, we write to express our strong opposition to S. Res. 380, which rules out containment of a “nuclear weapons capable” Iran. We urge you to oppose this dangerous resolution, which would undermine diplomatic efforts to resolve the outstanding conflicts between the U.S. and Iran, increasing the risk of war.

S. Res. 380 sets a dangerously low threshold for war. By specifically ruling out containment as an option for "an Iran with nuclear weapons capability", the resolution establishes a new "red line" that some would argue has already been crossed. The resolution could be interpreted as an endorsement of military force against Iran now.

As Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, has noted: "This resolution reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war, and could be the precursor for a war with Iran....it's effectively a thinly disguised effort to bless war."

All diplomatic options need to be on the table. S. Res. 380 undermines diplomacy when it is needed most. As tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalate, Congress should be supporting the vigorous pursuit of all diplomatic options available to resolve the crisis and avert a war. Instead, S. Res. 380 puts U.S. negotiators under intense political pressure, undercutting their ability to reach a diplomatic solution, which heightens the potential war.

As Colin Kahl, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, noted: “I think that all of us in this town need to be very careful of taking positions, whether its up on the Hill or out there, that box in our negotiators from being able to find a diplomatic solution....That’s what concerns me about the resolution."

Direct, sustained diplomacy remains the single most effective way to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and avert war. According to U.S. and Israeli intelligence, Iran has not yet decided to develop nuclear weapons. A diplomatic resolution of the crisis that would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and avert another costly war is still possible ― if it is pursued vigorously. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, called for the United States to utilize “any channel that’s open” for engagement with Iran, noting, “Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union.”

As Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA), Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stated with regard to S. Res. 380: “I really believe that these negotiations should proceed without any resolutions from us right now....This is a very sensitive time. Candidly, I think diplomacy should have an opportunity to work without getting involved in political discussions about a resolution.”

Robust, sustained diplomacy is the best option to resolve the conflict over Iran's nuclear program, and to prevent another costly war. Secretary of Defense Panetta, former Israeli Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Ephraim Halevy, and numerous other U.S. and Israeli military officials have warned that an attack on Iran would have devastating costs and consequences to the region and to U.S. national security.

We urge you to support diplomacy, not war, with Iran, and to oppose S. Res. 380. Please speak out publicly against this bill and vote NO when it comes to the floor.

In addition to the PC(USA)’s Nelson, the letter is signed by Diane Randall of the Friends Committee on National Legislation; Robin Aura Kanegis of the American Friends Service Committee; the Rev. Ken Brooker Langston of the Disciples Center for Public Witness, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Russell Testa of the Holy Name Province Franciscan (OFM) Justice Peace and the Integrity of Creation Office; Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office; Sandra Sorensen of the Washington Office of the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries; and James E. Winkler of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society.