Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, religion was invited into the center
of the public square to provide comfort to our fearful and grieving nation.
But religious traditions have more to offer than comfort. They also call us
to ask critical questions, discern God's leading, make ethical judgments and witness
publicly. Faith opens us up to new possibilities and refuses to believe that the
way things are is the way they shall be or should be. Faith helps us to say, "It
could be otherwise."
All across Long Island, people of faith who are opposed to military action
in Iraq have been actively approaching their members of Congress in unprecedented
numbers. We are people who come from differing traditions but who have come to
the same conclusion: An attack on Iraq now is morally wrong, theologically wrong,
and we will not bless it.
Do not mistake this position as idealistic ignorance of Saddam Hussein's deplorable
history or potential threat. We are not naïve. Rather, we are concerned with
how U.S. military aggression will destabilize the region; imperil the lives of
countless children, women and men; and strengthen his hand by giving him a good
reason to defend himself and his nation.
We are further concerned that the arrogant behavior of our elected leaders
in claiming we are rightly the United Nations' agent (with or without the UN)
presumes that the United States is morally unassailable and that our interests
are indeed always and everywhere in the best interests of the whole world. An
important message that religious traditions brings is the reminder that America
and its government are not God, and we dare not presume to act as if we were.
Prior to the Senate's vote clearing the way for President George W. Bush to
move against Iraq, I led a delegation of Jewish, Catholic and Protestant clergy
and congregational leaders to the Melville office of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
This visit was to follow up on telephone calls religious people had made to congressional
offices in opposition to a U.S. military attack on Iraq. Religious leaders from
the New York community of churches visited with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)
in Washington to express their opposition to such a military attack.
So have the voices of religious people opposed to the war been heard? It is
unclear. After a speech that sounded as if she were about to vote against the
resolution, Clinton voted for it, assuring us that this was not a vote for unilateralism
or so-called pre-emptive strikes (despite the fact that the resolution precludes
neither option). Schumer then rose and expressed his support for the resolution
while hoping that the president wouldn't use the power Congress was handing him
One congressional aide said that we should expect our senators to vote their
consciences, not necessarily mirror their constituents. But in a democracy, I
expect their consciences to be informed by their constituents. I don't think our
senators suffer from a lack of conscience, just a lack of nerve. Their consciences
were amply revealed in the cautionary language of their speeches. They just didn't
vote their consciences; they abdicated to the president. They gambled that a vote
authorizing military power would strengthen Bush at the UN or that the power they
gave would not be used. They gambled that "action is better than inaction" and
that people would not blame them if something went wrong.
In fact, it was such a gamble that Schumer said we must prepare for war while
praying it doesn't happen. I have bad news. When we prepare for war, we get war.
To assume that somehow our prayer lives can and should be disconnected from our
daily decision-making is a trivialization of prayer and God. Do I think the senator
meant to trivialize prayer or God? Absolutely not. These words reveal his anguish.
They were his conscience talking.
The congressional vote has been taken, and President Bush has signed the resolution.
But people of faith are called to speak truth to power, so we continue to approach
Congress and the president in record numbers. Many of us will join a march for
peace in Washington tomorrow. We continue to vigil and teach and pray. Our voices
are many. And they are growing.
The Rev. Noelle Damico is ministries coordinator for the Justice and Witness
Ministries, New York Conference of the United Church of Christ.
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