Many ordinary people of faith find themselves struggling with the notion of war.
Turn on the radio. Turn on the television. Turn to the newspapers. Talk to your co-workers or neighbors or other members of your congregation. Chances are the talk you are hearing is that of war. I'm a baby boomer so the only time I remember this much talk of war is during the days of the Vietnam War.
But even as you read and hear so much about war, chances are you have seen or heard very little of the voice of the church in the debate. During the Vietnam War, the voice of the church seemed to be muted and late, with some very notable exceptions such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. William Sloane Coffin. Yet, though it has received little attention in the press, in the past few weeks 100 Christian ethicists, 48 denominational leaders, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, the National Council of Churches and its 36 Protestant and Orthodox denominational members, and hundreds of local church pastors and lay leaders across the nation have spoken a word of caution to President Bush concerning his plan for a unilateral pre-emptive strike against Iraq.
Many ordinary people of faith find themselves struggling with the notion of war. Some believe in the "just war" theory that, sometimes, evil must be battled head-on. Some believe that war itself is always evil and that there is always another alternative.
When I was preaching at a local church this week, a member came up to me after service, pleading that we preach hope in the midst of the despair: a reminder that people around the world are working every day for peace and that each of us can be a part of the solution as well. He reminded me of how those working for peace during the nuclear disarmament days of the 1980s had succeeded in getting the U.S. Peace Institute established as a rider to a defense budget bill, after nearly half a century of work. This institute and others like it around the world are working quietly for peace through conflict resolution, but they are no match for the huge defense lobbies in Washington. The United States outspends the next 20 nations for armaments, according to Newsweek.
There also are many across this nation working for peace in their own communities: churches that work to end domestic violence; families that are a part of the Families Against Violence Network, a St. Louis-based grassroots organization of people of faith committed to ending violence in our society; school children who have taken the Network's pledge against violence and the use of guns.
We in Justice and Witness Ministries are committed to working with you and with people of faith to understand what it means to be a Just Peace Church in the 21st century and what it means to be a part of the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence. This fall, we will begin a theological discussion and reflection at our board meeting and at a churchwide consultation in Cleveland, Nov. 8-9, to begin a journey towards discerning God's call to us to work for peace.
Bernice Powell Jackson is Executive Minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries and one of the UCC's five-member Collegium of Officers.