The Rev. Lois M. Powell is minister and co-team leader in Cleveland, Ohio of the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told the members of Clergy and Laity Concerned, “A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us.” He was referring to the tragedy of the war in Vietnam. His words are as true now as they were then.
For the faith community, these are difficult times. Our hearts are filled with sadness for the victims, both American and Iraqi, of a war fought on false pretenses and an occupation that has had devastating results. But our religious convictions teach us that our personal grief must be translated into moral action. And so, as people of faith and citizens of conscience, we will put our beliefs into practice by calling for a firm deadline for withdrawal of troops from Iraq and committing ourselves to action in the hopes that this will help provide the moral courage to our leaders to do the same.
In joining the Declaration for Peace, I stand in solidarity with religious and community leaders from states as diverse as Ohio, New Mexico, Illinois and North Dakota who have established September 21—the United Nations International Day of Peace and the World Council of Churches International Day of Prayer for Peace—as our deadline for action if Congress refuses to set a new course in Iraq.
The Declaration is a coalition of more than 250 groups, almost half of them drawn from religious institutions such as the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, Erie Benedictines for Peace, the Park Presidio Episcopal Church, the Network for Spiritual Progressives, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Shalom Center, the Sisters of St. Francis, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, Pax Christi USA and my own spiritual home, the United Church of Christ (Justice and Witness Ministries) . Created through discussions between religious leaders and secular peace groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War and United for Peace and Justice, the coalition believes that it is time for a comprehensive, concrete and rapid plan to end the war in Iraq.
A new direction in Iraq must include a plan for U.S. troop withdrawal, support for an Iraqi-led peace process, reparations and reconstruction to address the destruction caused by the war and increased support for U.S. veterans of Iraq. In a broader sense, it must shift our national priorities to confront the dire need at home for job creation, health care, education and housing. And it must ensure that the failed doctrine of “pre-emptive war” never again be used to rationalize the killing of tens of thousands of human beings.
As ministers, rabbis and priests tending to congregations throughout the United States, we know we are not alone. We know that many of our fellow citizens share our view that this war must end. If our deadline is not met, we are prepared to speak out with our bodies and our hearts through nonviolent acts of moral witness nationwide the week of September 21-28 at congressional district offices and in Washington at the Capitol and White House.
We are heartened by the humility of those who supported, but now oppose the war such as Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., has introduced the End the War in Iraq Act of 2005 and there are Senate and House resolutions introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Senator Tom Harkin, D-IA.
While these are hopeful developments, it is not enough. Everyday, more lives are lost to the war and occupation and more money is spent on violence and destruction. The needs of people in our own country for jobs, health care, hurricane recovery and education are being under-funded. There is growing mistrust of our country and its government.
My colleagues in ministry who serve as military chaplains tell me that never before have they experienced such a high percentage of veterans returning with post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems. One soldier told a chaplain who asked him what kind of support he needs, “Go and join a demonstration against this war and get us out of there.”
Another modern day prophet, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, once wrote, “There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with all the world.”
It is time for those of us who love our country to act and speak out.
We will not betray the dignity and sanctity of all human life—uniformed or civilian, Iraqi or American, Republican or Democrat, Muslim or Christian—with our silence. We have reached a critical juncture, a defining moral moment in our history where the citizens of this country must choose whether or not they will also be its conscience.
We call on our fellow Americans to join us in signing the Declaration of Peace pledge.