On Sept. 14, 2001, President Bush stood in the pulpit of the National Cathedral in Washington and issued a call for vengeance.
"Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history," he told the nation and the world. "But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil."
It was an unmistakable prediction of war to come and a statement of theological justification shared with a people still in shock and raw with grief.
On Friday, we will return to the National Cathedral with more than 200 Baltimoreans, but we will be guided by a theological vision different from the president's. We will join thousands of Christians and others of like mind from around the country to call for an end to the war in Iraq.
The Christian Witness for Peace in Iraq was born out of frustration and anger with a war justified far too often in vaguely Christian terms, a battle of good vs. evil. At least once, the president referred to a crusade. Disturbingly, public opinion polls reveal that the group that has consistently been most supportive of the president's war policy has been regular churchgoers. Somehow this image of Christian soldiers has permeated the mass culture and, occasionally, the media.
This is not a theology that we recognize, or one that we accept. Jesus, the president's favorite philosopher, preached a vision of peace and social justice. The Jesus we know told his followers to put down their swords. Steeped in the prophets of his Jewish faith, he called on all people to embrace Isaiah's moral commitment to judge a nation's well-being by how well it responds to the oppressed of the world.
We believe Jesus' moral vision is utterly inconsistent with the war in Iraq. Jesus understood that violence exercised by human beings seldom achieves the "just ends" that legitimize its use. In particular, he rejected the Roman Empire's claim that peace and security were primarily a function of military might.
More than four years ago, the president laid out a cause for preventive war that swayed the nation. Today, whatever moral authority he had to wage war in Iraq has vanished. Indeed, we believe we have a moral imperative to stand up and demand an end to an unjustifiable war.
In April 1967, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. caused considerable controversy when he took to the pulpit at Riverside Church in New York and spoke out against the war in Vietnam, saying, "My conscience leaves me no other choice." At the time he spoke, 9,000 Americans had lost their lives in the war. Almost 50,000 more would be lost before we finally ended our fight.
Most national churches in America have publicly declared this war immoral. And yet it will take more than words to end this war. It will take the leadership of the people.
Dr. King laid down the challenge: "We in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible."
We will worship again at the National Cathedral - but espousing a message different from President Bush's: We have had enough of war. It is time to find a new way forward. Following the worship service, we'll take that message out of the church and into the streets.
It takes leadership to end a war. We're determined to exercise that leadership now before more troops and civilians die in this costly, misguided conflict.
The Rev. Marion C. Bascom was pastor of Douglas Memorial Church in Upton for 46 years. The Rev. Andrew Foster Connors is pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill.
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