Christian Peace Witness for Iraq March 16th
It's been several months since I've written, and some of you have been letting me know lately that you kind of miss it. I confess that I needed a break, and the opportunity to reconnect with my family. I've also been extremely busy with my work and travel with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and I've spent the fall working hard on my "ecological footprint." I convinced my wife to trade our minivan in on a ten-year old VW Passat converted to run on used french fry oil, and I've been developing a plan to purchase renewable energy credits to compensate for my fossil fuel use as I fly for my work. More about all of that in the coming weeks. In fact, I'll catch you up on the epic cross-country grease car adventure that my family and I took over the Christmas/New Year holidays.
For now, though, I want to give you a heads-up on the work that has been consuming almost all of my time and much of my creative energy over the last few months. (If you don't have time to read the story - just go to www.christianpeacewitness.org to learn more about the huge event we're planning for Washington D.C. on March 16th.)
Many of you read that I was arrested with some seventy other people as a result of our interfaith, nonviolent action against the war in Iraq during the week of protest planned by the Declaration of Peace in September. After that event, I was contacted by each of the four Presbyterian Pastors who were arrested with me (Gwin Pratt, Tim Simpson, Andrew Foster Connors, and Roger Powers) to ask about what we might do next. All of us felt that the experience had been deeply meaningful, and we wondered what we might do to invite other Presbyterians to take similar action.
To make a long story very short, after a few conference calls with a dozen or so folks from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, it was clear that this was an idea that wouldn't let us go. It was easy for us to name the kind of event that we were looking for. We wanted to call people we know together for an action that would express a prophetic call to end the war in Iraq and a pastoral concern for both our soldiers and their families as well as Iraqi families who have suffered so much in the violence. This event would be intentionally Christian, clearly committed to nonviolence, open to the movement of the Holy Spirit, positive in its tone , and unabashed in its grounding in the scriptural command to be peacemakers and to love our enemies.
Perhaps most importantly, we were hoping to craft an event that would call out to everyday, average Presbyterians (and others) who might be nervous about showing up at the typical peace rally; folks who know deep in their hearts that the war must end, but who are also concerned about their family members and friends who are serving in the military. This would be a moment to call our elected leaders to a vision of security that is built on being in right relationship with one another, not on the elusive security promised but never delivered by responding to violence with more violence.
Anyway, the bottom line is that we broadened the conversation to include more than twenty other Christian peace fellowships and organizations. On our first conference call with close to thirty people, I was blown away by the deep resonance I felt in the group. Getting consensus on our basic commitments was easier than in any other collaboration I've ever been a part of . The idea that has jelled as the leaders and representatives of those organizations have worked together through the fall looks like this.
On Friday, March 16th, at seven p.m., thousands of Christians will worship together in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. (that's where the memorial was just held for Gerald Ford, so you probably so it on tv). Following the worship service, we will process together (in a candlelight vigil) down Massachusetts Ave. about two and a half miles to the White House (transportation provided for those who can't make the walk). Then there will be a late-night (possibly all-night) witness/vigil in Lafeyette Park where there will be speakers and music and prayer. There will also be an opportunity to participate in "Divine Obedience," some kind of intentional, nonviolent action that risks arrest for those who feel led by their conscience to do so in order to make clear their opposition to the war.
This is a peace witness to bring your children and grandchildren to. All participants will be asked to affirm a pledge of nonviolence, there will be no rocks thrown through windows, and the chants will be about what we affirm because of who God calls us to be. I'm hoping that many of you, like me, have been waiting and watching for an opportunity to act on your faith in a positive way. More than fifty thousands Iraqis have been killed in the war, along with 3,000 U.S. soldiers and more than 28,000 soldiers who have been wounded. Isn't it time for us to lift up our commitment to the Jesus who repeatedly insisted that we must reach out to those we're most afraid of?
Please mark your calendar now to be in Washington with us on March 16th. Go to www.christianpeacewitness.org to learn more about the event and to register to attend. If you want to help us organize, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved. College and seminary students, please get in touch if you're willing to help organize on your campus!
This is a chance for all of us to lift up a vision of a great nation that is known and respected around the world for our commitment to justice and basic fairness for all of God's people. I hope you'll join us - and the naive Jesus who dared to call his own followers to love their enemies - in insisting that security is possible, and that it will come as we extend a hand of friendship - never at the point of a gun.
By the way, we've talked a lot about whether this should be an interfaith witness, especially inviting our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers to join us. All folks are welcome, and we are asking those of other faith traditions for their support and their prayers as we organize. We're clear, though, that much of the violence has been carried out in the name of Christianity. We have a special responsibility to reclaim our own gospel tradition, to repent of the violence that has been done in our names, and to show our country and the world that there are Christians who are willing to follow a nonviolent Jesus into a world of fear, trusting that God is indeed, our hope and our salvation.
That was pretty scary stuff when Jesus led his disciples into the land of the gentiles, and it's pretty scary stuff today. I'm pretty sure that it's the fundamental message of a people who build their faith around an empty cross - a Jesus who responded to violence with love over and over again, even at the cost of his own life. We hope that our brothers and sisters from other faith traditions, and those who count themselves as non-believers as well, will welcome this initiative and anticipate our common work in the future for a world without war.