As the defense ministers of 27 nations gathered in Colorado Springs, Colo., for an Oct. 8-9 summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), 15 members of the Justice and Peace Ministry of First Congregational UCC in Colorado Springs joined with students and faculty of Colorado College, supporters of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission (PPJPC) and more than 100 townspeople for a "Witness to NATO."
At the invitation of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, European ambassadors and generals were gathered to discuss global security and a reshaping the NATO alliance, first formed in 1949.
As ministerial delegates sped by in their limousines, flanked by Colorado Springs police motorcycles, local peace activists stood outside Colorado Spring's Broadmoor Community UCC to greet the motorcades with signs, banners and messages of peace.
"Our people were here embodying sentiments of the UCC General Synod, wondering whether NATO hasn't outlived its Cold War usefulness," says the Rev. James W. White, senior minister of First Congregational UCC. "We also wanted delegates and Americans to know that there were folk here who take strong exception to Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz's project for a new American empire."
White made a sign in the shape of stone tablets which read, "The IXth Commandment, Mr. Secretary!" "Unfortunately, [Rumsfeld] did not stop to talk with me about false witness issues," White says.
Ian Goldstein, a freshman at Colorado College, believes that if the United States wants to protect itself from terrorism and foster international relationships, we must deed some power to the U.N. instead of taking matters into our own hands.
"There are plenty of other policies that I disagree with," Goldstein says. "One of the most disturbing for me is Rumsfeld's use of 'collateral damage' to refer to civilian casualties. I am extremely offended that this man would dumb down the humanity of innocent civilians."
Janet Carpenter, also a member of First Congregational UCC, agrees. "I am dismayed by our deteriorating relations with the U.N. and what appears to me to be a 'conquer the world' mentality among Pentagon leaders reminiscent of the very thing we stood against in World War II." Her husband, Paul, a retired UCC minister, adds, "From a faith perspective, I protest the absence of a just cause in our war against Iraq. Surely we now experience the limits to what military power may accomplish."
Jim Matson, a professor at Colorado College, says, "The reckless neoconservatives that propelled us into Iraq have replicated Claude Reins' observation that those who tell lies merely hide the truth, while those who tell half-truths forget where they put it. Let us hope that our witness will help to move our country beyond the tissue of lies and self-deception so readily offered up by our government."
Because of tight security, some churches in the area closed their preschools and services as officials cordoned off many blocks around the Broadmoor Hotel, where the meetings were held.
Among the items being considered by the defense ministers is the formation of a "rapid response" force that could be deployed quickly to conflict areas around the globe. Local activists are concerned that the NATO alliance, once purely defensive, will turn into a tool of U.S. aggression abroad.
First Congregational UCC's Justice and Peace Ministry has reaffirmed the 1993 UCC General Synod Resolution, "Just Peace Churches Oppose NATO Strategy Shift," which voices opposition to military intervention by the United States for the purpose of protecting economic interests of the industrialized nations and affirms its support for nonviolent means of resolving conflicts.
Dennis Apuan, a member of First Congregational UCC in Colorado Springs, Colo., is a staff member of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, a mission partner of his church and the Rocky Mountain Conference.