Tuesday, August 08, 2006

FROM THE ARCHIVES - "Mr. President, Are You Listening?" March 4, 2003

The following was written in early March, 2003 - days before the beginning of the war in Iraq. The whole thing makes me sick between where we were and where we are now.

I wonder, Mr. President, who you listen to.

With the world’s greatest military might about to be unleashed on Iraq, is there any voice you'll listen to and change your mind?

Is there any other course to reach the end we seek of peace and security without the “shock” and “awe” of laser guided bombs and tomahawk missiles?

I mean, really, if God’s mind can be changed at Nineveh, can’t yours against Baghdad?

In my lifetime, I’ve seen dissenting views on military action in numerous ways. As a boy, I remember the way dissent arose to disdain around the Vietnam conflict, and how those who fought were treated upon their return.

Nothing about that felt right, even as a boy I knew that a measure of respect by those whose fight was marching the streets of the homeland was due those boys who fought a world away trying to come home and start anew. Spits and curses were no way to welcome them home.

Back in Desert Storm, your dad’s war, I remember feeling as if we are at least responding to aggression — and the world’s general opinion was favorable. Even though the thing about oil kept popping up in my mind.

In Kosovo, we were about the halt of “ethnic cleansing,” which is genocide by any other name. That seemed difficult, but necessary.

But this time — the voices I’m hearing say something else. So much of it feels as though we’re reacting out of hurt for our own 9/11 losses by the enemy we can see, the one we can reach, the one we can overthrow at our pleasure. I’m not a defender of Hussein. He’s a nut, a menace, and an oppressor of his people.

I don’t doubt that.

You’ve said that you’re not going to let dissent sway your perspective on this matter. But you might need to listen a little more clearly. The voices of many of our friends in the world say to wait, to listen, and to think this through.

Over 100 cities in the U.S. have city councils that have said “wait.”

Religious leaders of all faiths have said to stop and listen to something else, to find another way.

Leaders of your own denomination, The United Methodist Church, have spoken against our aggressive approach. Yeah, I know, some of our sisters and brothers in the Christian faith, who feel the government has a God-given right to do anything without question, are telling you to go for it.

And certainly, those who have created a Brunswick stew out of their love of country and love of God are ready to fight. And even if you feel that God has put you in the White House (with a little help from Florida), there’s something else to consider. In Scripture, God never put a king in power without sending prophets to speak the truth, God’s truth. Sometimes the king would listen, other times he wouldn’t, and when he didn’t, the prophetic truth was sobering.

There are many voices saying not to do this.

And to that number, I add mine.

Don’t do this.

There are way too many reasons to think this is going to start something we’re not going to want to finish—to think that the America my children will grow up in will be vastly different and considerably more dangerous than the one I’ve known.

Don’t do this Mr. President, I know too many people called up, activated and deployed in this situation. There are too many Moms and Dads, sisters and brothers, spouses and children in fear of what could be.

Don’t get me wrong - I’m no pacifist.

Sure, I might lean that way, but I recognize realities of life against life that might necessitate force. Do I think we were right to engage Hitler in WWII? No question. But contrary to what others have said to equate the two, Hussein is no Hitler and his military machine doesn’t even approach the Third Reich.

Some of you who served during WWII know the difference and how ridiculous it is to equate the two.

St. Augustine articulated “just war” criteria, and this conflict is not meeting it (in spite of what my colleague and covenant brother who serves the very large chapel on Poplar Avenue says). In fact, it doesn’t even come close. Religious folks try to make “just war” or “jihad” fit their agendas to do what they really wanted to do all along.

I’m proud to be an American, but in a way that gives room for dissent and is not complete without it. In a way that seeks compromise rather than autocracy. I love this place I call home. I love what it can be when the American experiment is put to the test, Outside my house flies the flag of my country.

But inside my heart is branded the banner of the citizenship I claim as a child of God — and when the two citizenships are in conflict, there is for me but only one resolution.

So I wonder, Mr. President, fellow believer, whom are you listening to?

I guess in the next few days we’re going to find out.

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