|The Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC General Minister and President, released the following pastoral letter in response to President Bush's Jan. 10 address calling for an escalation in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. |
The growing violence in Iraq, the enormous suffering being experienced by the citizens of Iraq, and the anguish of countless American families who have lost beloved sons and daughters to death and horrific injury calls for profound lament and repentance, not for stubborn commitment to the unilateralism and militarism that has been the hallmark of our failed policy in Iraq. That is why the President’s speech is not only politically disappointing, but morally deficient as well. The deceptions and arrogance which launched a war that brought Iraq to this place of pain and anguish and that have alienated the United States from so many of its friends must be acknowledged as more than strategic mistakes; they must be confessed as the core of the immoral justification for a war that failed to meet the criteria for a just war and that, as a result, cannot achieve the goals of a just peace.
People of faith are not and must not be naïve. The reality of evil is very much a part of our world. It is evil that must be restrained. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group recognized this and called for a diminishing but more strategic military force to be joined by a new and aggressive regional diplomacy that would press all in the region – our friends and enemies alike - to take responsibility for the evil they condone or in which they are complicit, and to join together across ideological and national interests to restrain the violence that threatens all. Such an approach lacks the seductive appeal of a grand “war on terror,” the morally convenient but suspect naming of an “axis of evil,” or the notion of an epic ideological battle between the forces of democracy and oppression. Instead it requires a much more honest view of the world that calls for coalitions that are real rather than illusory. It requires the humility to acknowledge that we cannot impose our solutions by military force alone, and the courage to take initiatives even with partners we find threatening.
The President’s course ignores this, calling for unilateral troop escalation in a place where additional troops have, in the recent past, simply escalated the violence, and for a growing reliance on the Iraqi government that has been far too complicit in the volatile sectarian politics that continues to fuel the violence and undermines the capacity of U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces to restrain it. It is a course that fails to provide a credible challenge to other regional players, including Syria and Iran, to take responsibility for ending the violence, and it reinforces the unhealthy image of the United States as an occupying army and the Iraqi government as a subservient client state. It is a course that places more American daughters and sons, including members of our own churches, in harm's way. While the call for additional resources for rebuilding Iraq is something we should affirm, assuming more stringent Congressional oversight to avoid the abuse and profiteering of the past, in response to the main elements of the President’s new course, it is time for people of faith to say “no!"
As we approach the annual observance of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are challenged by words he spoke forty years ago at the Riverside Church in New York City when he broke the silence about the war in Vietnam.
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. . . . Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on. . . .” We still have a choice today: non-violent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
The war in Iraq which has so preoccupied us at the expense of meaningful attentiveness to the tragedy of Darfur, the unresolved conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the crushing poverty faced by so many in the world, confronts people of faith with the urgency of today. It is the urgency of a prophetic imagination that offers a vision of the world far richer than the one we have been offered, a future secured by aggression and greed. And we are called to the urgency of prayer – prayer for the people of Iraq, prayer for our own soldiers and their families, especially those who grieve, prayer for the church and in particular for the small and vulnerable Christian community in Iraq, prayer for our leaders that they may listen with humility and act with wisdom. Thus may history not judge us, “too late,” and may the oft sung words of the first preacher who graced the pulpit where King spoke inspire: “Cure your children’s warring madness, bend our pride to your control. Shame our reckless, selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour.”