U-C: What I See

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sisters and Brothers,

I have written and spoken often about my conviction that our witness as people of faith should, wherever possible, be a positive one. What we as followers of Jesus are for is far more compelling than what we are against, and we must accept the challenge to live out Jesus’ absurd conviction that we are most secure, and most right with God, when we love our enemies.

It is that desire to be a witness for Christ that has led me to become a reservist with Christian Peacemaker Teams. It is what has compelled me to be involved in the work of trying to save the lives of folks who are dying in the desert. It was what compelled me to become the Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship with the hope of creating a corps of Presbyterians who will offer nonviolent accompaniment wherever sisters and brothers in our partner churches are at risk around the world.

Though I remain firm in that core commitment to offer positive, Christ-centered, alternatives to violence, I also believe that there are times when evil is so strong, and so interwoven into the fabric of our culture, that God demands that we rise up in protest.

For me, the moment to stand up and say “no” can no longer be avoided.

I have decided that I will join in an interfaith procession and witness against the War in Iraq in Washington on September 26th. If God opens the way for me to do so, I will risk arrest to make it clear that I believe the War in Iraq is a violation of my most fundamental beliefs as a Christian. Whether or not such a witness is effective, it is clear to me that I must do everything in my power and in keeping with my values as a follower of Jesus Christ to stop this war.

I believe that – when called to protest - our protest must be completely nonviolent.

I believe that we must insist that our stand against this war is not unpatriotic, nor can we allow it to be misconstrued as a lack of support for our soldiers. The most supportive thing we could do for them is to bring them home and reunite them with their families.

I believe that we must be clear and unequivocal in our support for Iraqi families that have been torn apart by this war as well. Pulling back militarily must go hand in hand with an unwavering commitment to support the Iraqis with all aspects of the reconstruction of their society. Our churches should be willing to take the lead in helping to rebuild communities that have been destroyed in Iraq, and we must demand the same of our Congress.

We can and we must stand firmly on the international rule of law to hold accountable those who commit evil in the world today. Anything more is naked aggression and vigilantism that leaves the world community more afraid and more vulnerable than ever. Anything less is an invitation to extremists to continue to hold the world hostage to terror.

There is nothing weak or cowardly about a principled, nonviolent, constructive approach to seeking security in this world. Was Jesus weak when he allowed himself to be hung on a cross as a common criminal? Was Gandhi weak when he insisted that only nonviolence could stand against the injustice of the colonization of his people? Was Martin Luther King Jr. weak when he put to words and lived in deed the power of a people who refused to be provoked to violence in the face of overwhelming injustice?

If they were not weak, nor should we be. Now is the time for all people of faith – especially Christians, Muslims and Jews whose faith traditions are being used to fuel hatred rather than to sow the seeds of peace – to make a stand for peace.

I would invite Presbyterians, and any others who are moved to join us as well, to meet us in Upper Senate Park at 10:00 on Tuesday, September 26th for a service of worship, a procession, and a nonviolent witness to the power of our belief that Jesus meant exactly what he said. I welcome any who would like to join me in risking arrest, and any who would come to provide support for that witness. I would also be grateful for Presbyterians who carry out a witness for peace and against the war in your own communities during the Week of Peace from September 21rst to the 27th.

I will post more details as I learn them. At this point, I understand that those who feel called to risk arrest will be asked to participate in a training for nonviolent action on Monday the 25th. The witness will begin at 10 a.m. and last several hours, plus any further time for those who choose to risk arrest. More to follow on all of of this.

If you intend to join us in Washington on the 26th, please send me an email at ppfwitness@gmail.com so that I can be in touch to coordinate our Presbyterian witness, and go to http://www.declarationofpeace.org/regform-nvcd to register how you intend to participate in events during the week of peace.

I am aware that many others crossed this threshold a long time ago, and I’m grateful for their courageous witness. I repent that it has taken me this long to decide that I must take greater risks in speaking out against the war.

Finally, I ask for your prayers. We are a people who trust that God does listen to prayer. Please pray for this witness, for wisdom and courage for decision makers in Congress, for the safety of our sisters and brothers in the military as well as their families, and also for Iraqis whose families have lost so much in this conflict.

This summer I had the opportunity to spend an hour with a group of Military Chaplains who are members of the Presbyterian Council for Military Personnel and their Families. As I was leaving, after a thoughtful conversation about the challenges confronting chaplains at this time, a Navy Chaplain approached me and said, “Rick, I want you to know that, if my church is going to come down on the side of either war or of peace, I want it to be peace.” We agreed that day, even as we recognized the different ways God has shaped us, that the church must find clear, pastoral ways to make a firm stand for peace.

I hope you’ll join me in personal discernment about how to live out that challenge.

With prayers for the peace of Christ,