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"An Awe-Filled Time"

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March 22, 2007 | bpfna

"An Awe-Filled Time"
A reflection on the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq

Evelyn Hanneman, BPFNA Interim Coordinating Director

It was an awe-filled time.

Beginning with the first conference call last October, the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq overflowed with the presence of the Holy Spirit. As the tasks for holding a national Peace Witness emerged so did the leaders. Amazingly, each person who stepped forward had the expertise, energy and connections to fulfill the task. When the National Cathedral turned down our request to hold a service there, Jackie Lynn of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship stepped forward and the next week the answer was “yes.” When the Washington DC police bulked at the idea that over 700 people were intending to perform an act of “Divine Obedience” (civil disobedience), a Maryknoll sister took them on, standing quietly firm in the belief that if God had moved 700 Christians to take a peaceful witness for peace then the police were just going to have to deal with it – and they did.

When the registrations increased so they were overflowing the Cathedral space of 3200 people, we knew we had to find another place for people coming to worship to be in out of the potentially bad weather. A committee was formed one week before the March 16 Witness. Calling themselves the “Overflowing with Joy” committee, they determined that the video and audio links could be piped into New York Avenue Presbyterian Church which had already opened its doors, an office suite, various meeting rooms, kitchens and now their sanctuary to the Witness.

March 15th was a beautiful day in Washington DC. Walking from my hotel the 8 blocks to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (NYAPC) was a delight in the warm sunshine which quickly became too hot for my long sleeves. People were arriving, last minute details were being taken care of, the media was calling. When I left at 5 PM the temperature had dropped at least 20 degrees and the sky was dark with clouds.

March 16th was cold, windy and raining. Flights were cancelled and the storm had dropped large amounts of snow and ice in Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, states where people had chartered buses to bring them in for the Witness. The trip to the Witness was cancelled for 5 buses full of Mennonites from Virginia and Pennsylvania but we learned of a group driving from Seattle, Washington who, after their car slid under a tractor-trailer truck on an icy road in Ohio, left their totaled car and hitchhiked the rest of the way to the Cathedral! Such were the stories of the day.

The rain turned to sleet and then snow but the crowd gathered outside at 5:30 PM to enter the Cathedral for the 7:00 PM service. Over 3000 filled with Cathedral while another 700 settled into the pews at NYAPC to view the service, four miles away.

As those of us in the procession gathered in the Chapel of Joseph of Aramathea under the sanctuary, Jim Wallis of Sojourners joined us. Concerns were expressed about what to say to people we were asking to walk 4 miles through the snow to the White House. Jim admitted that he also had wondered what to say, so he had called Dan Berrigan, a leader of the religious protests against the Viet Nam war, that afternoon. Jim asked Berrigan what to say to his “spiritual children” who were gathering to bring a witness of peace to the war in Iraq. Berrigan’s reply was to the point as always: “If the soldiers can wage war in the cold and snow and heat and sand of Iraq, certainly we can wage peace in the snow of Washington, DC.” And so we did.

It was with awe that I joined the candlelight procession down the center aisle of the National Cathedral holding a BPFNA sign. Someone had remembered that a service had been held in the Cathedral after 9/11 that called for war on Al Qaida; it seemed that tonight we were rededicating the space to the Prince of Peace. The candles were placed in a group on a table in front of the sanctuary so that the light became our altar.

The service began with Lamentation as we heard read the reflections of a US soldier in Iraq telling how his fear was not of being killed but “of becoming one who kills.” His diary recounts a day on patrol with his rifle pointing out of the armored humvee when he sighted on three young shepherd boys, each about 8 years old. “How was I, an ambassador of the love Jesus Christ, supposed to recall that day?” he wrote.

Sr. Luma, an Iraqi Dominican nun, read the words of a woman in Baghdad whose husband was missing, telling of waiting in line at the morgue, hoping not to recognize anyone among the bodies there.

Celeste Zappala of Philadelphia, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004 spoke meaningfully about her loss and said that she was there to serve “as a witness to the true cost of war, the betrayal and madness that is the war in Iraq.”

The theme for the Peace Witness was “United by the cross to end the war” and Raphael Warnock, pastor of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (a BPFNA Partner Congregation), spoke to the witness of the Cross for peace.

Rev. Warnock was non-partisan as he criticized both the Democrat-controlled Congress as “too morally inept” to bring a speedy end to the war and also President Bush, with his plan to “surge” America's troop levels in Iraq with more than 20,000 new personnel.

Warnock said: “Mr. Bush, my Christian brother, we do need a surge in troops. We need a surge in the nonviolent army of the Lord. We need a surge in conscience and a surge in activism and a surge in truth-telling.”

Harkening back to Martin Luther King’s speech against the Viet Nam war forty years ago at The Riverside Church, Warnock said that racism, poverty and war are interconnected evils. He said the real danger in Iraq is not that America could lose the war, but that America could lose its soul. “America needs our moral witness,” said Warnock about churches speaking out against the war.

Calling for justice to be done, Warnock received a standing ovation when he noted that billions of dollars are available to bomb Baghdad, but money is not available to rebuild the homes of the poor in New Orleans.

The third section moved us toward Hope with a reading from the diary of a Christian Peacemaker Team member in Iraq that spoke of feeling hopeless about the situation until meeting a young Iraqi girl who responded to her kiss by giving the CPT member a piece of candy. Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, president of the North American Region of the World Council of Churches, spoke of the experience of her slave forbearers and their continued hope amid the horrors of slavery, calling us to have that hope.

The call to Action was given by Jim Wallis of Sojourners/Call to Renewal. He said:

For all of us here tonight, the war in Iraq has become a matter of faith.

 

By our deepest convictions about Christian standards and teaching, the war in Iraq was not just a well-intended mistake or only mismanaged. This war, from a Christian point of view, is morally wrong – and was from the very start. It cannot be justified with either the teachings of Jesus Christ or the criteria of St. Augustine’s just war. It simply doesn’t pass either test and did not from its beginning. This war is not just an offense against the young Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice or to the Iraqis who have paid such a horrible price. This war is not only an offense to the poor at home and around the world who have paid the price of misdirected resources and priorities. This war is also an offense against God.

 

And so we are here tonight, very simply and resolutely, to begin to end the war in Iraq. But not by anger, though we are angry, and not just by politics, though it will take political courage. But by faith, because we are people of faith.

 

I believe it will take faith to end this war. It will take prayer to end it. It will take a mobilization of the faith community to end it - to change the political climate, to change the wind. It will take a revolution of love to end it. Because this endless war in Iraq is based ultimately on fear, and Jesus says that only perfect love will cast out fear…

 

And to cast out that fear, we must act in faith, in prayer, in love, and in hope - so we might help to heal the fears that keep this war going. Tonight we march not in belligerence, or to attack individuals - even those leaders directly responsible for the war - or to use human suffering for partisan political purposes. Rather, we process to the White House tonight as an act of faith, believing that only faith can save us now.

 An awe-filled time of worship.

We recessed out of the Cathedral, picking up the candles from the altar to light our way. The 3000 people in attendance followed us into the snow. The temperature was 32º but the snow stopped as we processed the 4 miles down Massachusetts Avenue to the White House.

Following a stop at Lafayette Park across from the White House at about 11 PM, those who felt called to perform an act of Divine Obedience went to the right side of the White House where stopping is not allowed. There they stopped, knelt, and prayed. The police gave them three warnings to move on over the next few hours, but no one left. Slowly the police began to arrest them, taking them to booking and then releasing them to the Peace Witness buses that carried them back to NYAPC, warmth, and sustenance – from both food and friendly faces. Two hundred twenty-two people were arrested that night for praying at the White House.

The rest of us went to the left, walking for another 45 minutes so that the White House was encircled in our candlelight. It was an awe-filled sight.

Some people ask what was accomplished by the Peace Witness. For me it was several things. Small seeds were planted for peace in a lot of good soil. Connections were made with the wonderful people who work for peace through other denominations. A vision of a night for peace was caught and brought to fulfillment. A clear statement was made that Christians are ones who follow the Prince of Peace even in the face of a long struggle to bring an end to a horrendous war.

Perhaps Fr. Louis Vitale, a Franciscan priest who has been arrested over 300 times, said it best when I had dinner with him and others Saturday night: “We don’t need more saints, we need prophets!” The Christian Peace Witness for Iraq brought an awesome and prophetic voice to the public square for all to hear.



read Pastor Warnock's complete address
see a comprehensive list of news coverage
see more photos from the event



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