Written by W. Evan Golder, photos by Allie Perry
August 6, 2008
Two UCC pastors have returned from a three-week trip to Iran, convinced that the UCC should take the lead in helping to prevent the United States from attacking or invading Iran.
The two, the Rev. Patricia de Jong, Senior Minister of First Congregational UCC, Berkeley, Calif., and the Rev. Allie Perry, Worship Coordinator of Shalom UCC, New Haven, Conn., were among 21 persons who traveled to Iran in early May with a Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) delegation.
"We are convinced that there should be a group working to oppose a war or attack or invasion of Iran," says de Jong. "We would love for the UCC to take leadership in building this movement.
"As Christians, we just cannot allow ourselves to be part of any attack or invasion by our government."
The two pastors are preparing a resolution to take to General Synod next summer in Grand Rapids, Mich., and are seeking UCC congregations to sign on to it.
'Axis of Evil'
In his 2002 State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush referred to Iran, Iraq, Syria and North Korea as the "Axis of Evil," saying that these countries "constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."
Bush added that these countries posed "a grave and growing danger" to peaceful nations of the world.
This is not what the delegates heard.
Although they met officially with government and religious leaders, their most moving conversations came with ordinary people.
"Many people spoke English," says Perry, "and many of them expressed concern about the U.S. attacking Iran.
"One morning in Essahan we met three women, two sisters and a friend. One of them had a brother in Norfolk, Va., and another a brother in Arizona with his family. They were in tears as they spoke about their concern that the United States would attack.
"They said, very movingly, would we please take back to the U.S. the message that Iranians are a loving and welcoming and kind people."
"The thing that was most striking for me," says de Jong, "is that the governments of our two countries are not necessarily where the people of our two countries are. The Iranian people we met were eager to know us, eager to open their lives to us, eager to find out who we are and eager to be friends."
Mixed messages in the U.S.
Since their return, some things have changed in U.S.-Iranian relations. For one thing, in July the U.S. sent a senior governmental official to Paris to participate in talks with Iran.
For another, some members of Congress are backing away from support of House Resolution 362, which demands that the president spearhead an international effort to create a land, air and sea blockade of Iran.
On the other hand, in a major article, "Preparing the Battlefield," in the July 7 issue of The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh asserts that late last year, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources, "Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran … designed to destabilize the country's religious leadership."
'No interest for war'
It was FOR's seventh such visit to Iran since 2006 to promote citizen diplomacy. The visits offered an opportunity for U.S. citizens to meet and have conversations with citizens of Iran.
The delegation was "very mixed," say de Jong and Perry, and included men and women, many religious backgrounds, and was somewhat diverse in age and geography.
Also in the delegation was the author the Rev. Sam Keen, de Jong's husband.
"Before the beginning of the Iraq War, U.S. churches fell down on the job," says Keen. "This time, if we don't get ahead of this issue of waging war, if we allow war to happen without severe, severe protests, we in the church will lose all kinds of moral authority."
“The last thing the Iranian people want is war,” says Perry. “There is just no interest among them for any kind of war whatsoever with the United States.”
The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor emeritus of United Church News.