Make us instruments of your peace,' say UCC boards
June 2002

 Make us instruments of your peace,' say UCC boards

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy..."

We, the members of the boards of the Covenanted Ministries of the United Church of Christ, meeting jointly April 18-21, 2002, in St. Louis, Missouri, greet you in the name of our risen Savior Jesus Christ. During this time when the world cries out amid violence, we extend to you our deepest appreciation that in the wake of the tragedies of September 11, 2001, our church has chosen the way of peace.

In our ministry with people most directly affected by those events, including our own members and their families, our churches have contributed over $2 million for immediate and long-term assistance through One Great Hour of Sharing's special disaster appeal, "Hope from the Rubble." Roughly three-quarters of that amount has enabled a coordinated response through Church World Service, and local ecumenical and interfaith organizations as well as local United Church of Christ efforts to provide skilled counseling to people throughout the region, offering support for pastors and lay people alike, including a special outreach to children. Five hundred thousand dollars has been designated to address the long-term effects of toxic materials and health-related issues at Ground Zero in New York City.

'We want to thank you'

We want to thank you, as well, for the many additional ways you have given and continue to give of yourselves in the months since the tragedy: our pastors' spiritual care and counsel; lay persons volunteering their time and skills, donating blood, or tending to frightened children; many extending the hand of generosity once again by sending contributions to our special appeal to assist those suffering in Afghanistan. This generosity is a testimony to our church's choice to affirm life in the face of the cruelty and barbarism of the September 11 attacks, and the subsequent bombing and loss of life in Afghanistan.

The events of September 11 shook us at our very foundations. They shattered our illusions of security. Many among us began to seek security through the abrogation of the rights that we have proudly claimed to be the hallmark of a democratic society. For example, the USA Patriot Act, signed into law on October 26, 2001, gives virtually unchecked power to the Executive Branch of our government. It imposes new limitations on our freedoms of speech and association; it permits, without judicial approval, surveillance of political activists and organizations deemed to oppose U.S. policies; it circumvents the Fourth Amendment in permitting government monitoring of the Internet, e-mail, and even private telephone conversations; it permits mandatory detention, without trial, of non-citizens in our midst, including those held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

'Choose a way of peace'

Our church has a history of critiquing the "conventional wisdom" of the day. We have opposed slavery, tyranny, discrimination against those who were considered "different" or "suspect." This heritage, based in our commitment to life in Christ, calls us to oppose such measures in our own society and to offer an alternative view of where our security lies—in belonging to and living for Christ, through the advocacy and safeguarding of justice, and in extending the hand of hospitality to those deemed "foreign."

We choose the way of peace for the people of Afghanistan, who have seen too much death and devastation from war, oppressive governments and natural disasters. We abhor the Taliban's disregard for human rights. We earnestly hope and pray that the new provisional government of Afghanistan will be able to transcend the dubious pasts of many of the participants in that new government. At the same time we question whether war can truly eradicate the root causes of terrorism, and we lament the proposed military expenditures to sustain such a war and the temptation to restore a first-strike nuclear policy. Afghanistan needs to be built up, not further destroyed. Our nation's resources should be used to bring the hope of new life, not the continuing prospect of death for the innocent and the unknown.

We are told by U.S. policy makers that military action against Iraq is necessary in the quest for security. This course of action, in addition to being immensely unpopular among our Arab and European allies, flies in the face of recent experience. U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein, and the imposition of strict economic sanctions against Iraq, have only strengthened his tyrannical regime while bringing untold misery to the Iraqi people. As Christians called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, we reiterate our call for the removal of sanctions against Iraq, which have only victimized the most vulnerable, and our call for the avoidance of military action, which in the past has only solidified Saddam Hussein's hold on power and enhanced his popularity in the Arab world.

'State of war prevails'

The resolution of the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the key to regional and international stability. The United States, because of its special relationships in the area, bears unique responsibility for helping to achieve peace. Israelis and Palestinians—Jews, Christians and Muslims—have suffered far too long, and now live in constant fear of each other. A state of war prevails, featuring on the one hand the random and senseless violence of suicide bombers, and on the other the "reoccupation" of Palestinian lands, with attacks by tanks and aircraft, checkpoints and curfews, assaults and demolitions of homes and orchards, the imprisonment and public humiliation of Palestinian leadership.

Again, we are called to choose the way of peace. We condemn the violence used by all parties to the conflict, even as we recognize the imbalance in capacity that favors Israel. As in the past, we affirm the right of Israel to secure borders and peace with its neighbors, but we also insist on the rights of the Palestinian people to sovereignty and self-determination. Placing the phenomenon of suicide bombers within the context of the "war on terrorism" cloaks the reality of injustice that provokes some to such desperate and self-destructive acts. Similarly, criticism of the policies of the government of Israel should not give excuse for the latent—and sometimes overt—anti-Semitism that has been such a scourge in the past, and which is experiencing renewal in Europe and in the United States. We honor our kindred relationship with Jews and Muslims, siblings within the Abrahamic tradition.

'Pledge to continue to pray'

We support efforts to bring peace with justice to the Holy Land, and yearn for the day when the prayers of all believers will mingle together in Jerusalem in a symphony of peace. To this end, we pledge to continue to pray and engage our nation's policy, and we join the international ecumenical community in supporting the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence and especially its initial focus on Israel and Palestine. We affirm, and pledge our cooperation in, the Council's initiative to implement an ecumenical accompaniment program in both Palestine and Israel as a promising strategy to thwart the escalation of violence. Our witness shall be our accompaniment of both Israelis and Palestinians as they seek a way out of the current deadly cycle of death and destruction.

In the wake of September 11, we choose the way of peace, having experienced the horror of terror and death. We would resist the temptation to solve the world's problems by the use of the implements of war. In a world in which the United States functions as sole superpower, we in the church are called to witness to the interdependence of all people, that in God's eyes the life of every human being is precious. We would be Christ's body in this world, loving all of our neighbors, even resisting the powers and principalities to demonstrate in our lives that we are followers of Christ's Way.

"...For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." —Saint Francis of Assisi

This pastoral letter was approved Sunday, April 21, 2002, by a vote of each of the boards of directors of the Covenanted Ministries of the United Church of Christ: Justice and Witness Ministries, Local Church Ministries, the Office of General Ministries, and Wider Church Ministries. These four bodies conduct U.S. and global ministries in behalf of the 1.3-million-member United Church of Christ, which has nearly 6,000 local churches in the United States and Puerto Rico. The four boards of directors consist of a total of 229 laypersons and ordained ministers from throughout the church. The document also was "affirmed" on Tuesday, April 23, 2002, by vote of the 76-member Executive Council of the United Church of Christ, which conducts denominational business between the biennial meetings of the church's General Synod. This pastoral letter, intended for churchwide and public distribution, speaks to (and not for) the members and local churches of the United Church of Christ.

More @

 Tragedy in the Middle East, a Witness for Justice column by Bernice Powell Jackson.

Global Ministries  action alert on Israel and Palestine.

 Civil Liberties Issue Page, information and links regarding the Patriot Act.

Second to prayer, sending an e-mail to our leaders may be one of the most important ways to make a difference. To e-mail the White House and congressional leaders, go to  www.govspot.com.

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