With tensions rising in the southern West Virginia coalfields, the WV Council of Churches is calling for a peaceful dialogue.

Coal miners, fearful of losing their jobs, have become more hostile and aggressive toward environmentalists who have been pushing against mountaintop removal.

Those tensions have flared at recent events held by environmental groups.

Dennis Sparks with the WV Council of Churches, says "We have all viewed with growing consternation the level of tension, confrontation, threats, and harbingers of violence in our West Virginia coalfields around the issue of mountaintop removal mining."

"We call upon the civic leaders of our state, the coal industry, and environmental groups to desist in using inflammatory rhetoric, and to avoid activities that could create confrontation."

"We ask leaders to encourage an attitude of understanding toward those with whom one disagrees."

"Let us take the opportunity during these challenging times to return to the basic tenets of our society."

"As Christians, we are obligated to treat others in the manner in which we want to be treated."

"This requires us to respect the God-given dignity of all people, and their right to express their views in a reasonable manner."

"When we disagree, we must respect the other parties' right of lawful assembly, and freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the US Constitution."

"The recent cancellation in South Charleston, because of unnamed security concerns, of a film premiere featuring a West Virginia filmmaker indicates the level of fear and uncertainty being experienced."

"Violence of any kind in this situation would be a terrible result, but violence against our neighbors is particularly tragic."

"It is understandable that people on both sides of the issue feel threatened and fearful."

"Miners worry that their jobs will disappear, and with them their income and means of supporting their families. They are concerned that other good jobs will not be available to them."

"Other coalfield residents feel endangered by blasting, slurry impoundments, and toxic substances that affect their health."

"They fear the loss of heritage and culture when they are forced to leave communities that have been their homes for many years or generations."

"Leaders of our state government have a special responsibility to represent all West Virginians equally. We call upon them in this tense situation to be measured in their words and actions."

"They should avoid any appearance of partisanship. Whatever their personal opinions may be, their public duty must take precedence."

West Virginia Council of Churches

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