Written by Bennett Guess
Just as they were beginning to celebrate the UCC's golden jubilee, delegates and visitors to the 26th General Synod heard a call for an end to the war in Iraq and for the end to what was termed "the arrogant unilateralism of preemptive war."
At the opening session of the historic meeting in Hartford, Conn., the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers presented a pastoral letter that had been signed also by the chief executives of the denomination's regional conferences and the presidents of the seminaries. The letter included a confession that "too often the church has been little more than a silent witness" to the deaths of thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.
The delegates and visitors interrupted the reading of the letter with a standing ovation and afterwards voted to add the name of the General Synod. Delegates were invited to add their names as individuals. And as the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, told a packed news conference, all across the nation members of the UCC who were watching the Synod on live streaming video would have a chance to sign the letter as well.
Jaramillo, executive minister for the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, explained that the "follow-up will also include the traditional forms of advocacy" especially several approaches to the U.S. Congress.
As read to the Synod by the General Minister and President John H. Thomas, and members of the Collegium, the letter called "for the humility and courage to acknowledge failure and error" and to "accept the futility of our current path." It also expressed gratitude for military personnel "who have served with honor and integrity" and for chaplains who have "cared for soldiers and their families with compassion and courage."
During the news conference, Thomas said the Iraq war was "conceived in deception, carried on in arrogance, and has led to legal and moral decay in both domestic and foreign policy."
Thomas was joined by the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, executive minister of Wider Church Ministries, who told how Christians and church leaders in many countries have said, "We simply do not understand what your government is doing in Iraq. We grieved with you after 9/11, but you've lost our confidence by what you've done in Iraq."
Rogers explained to the reporters that, in some ways, the letter contains little that's new. We were opposed to this war from the beginning. Members of our churches participated in candle light vigils all across America, asking President Bush not to begin a pre-emptive war.
She also acknowledged that the Middle East Council of Churches, the UCC's partner in the region, has cared for the victims of violence and the growing tide of refugees.
Jaramillo spoke of how many veterans and soldiers in UCC congregations have been led to "say no more" and urged that the church take a strong stand in opposition to the war.
Jaramillo said a massive on-line campaign would begin immediately to circulate the letter and advocate for peace. The streaming video showing the presentation of the letter to the Synod and the full text of the pastoral letter would soon appear online at www.ucc.org.
Thomas told the news conference that "we are not circulating this letter just to make another statement, or to gain headlines. We believe that it reflects God's concern for what is happening in the world. That's why we cast it in biblical terms, citing the words of the prophet Isaiah: 'God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.' That's why we acknowledged our own complicity. And that's why we are asking our churches 'to acknowledge that security is found in submitting to Christ, not in dominating others.'"