One e-mail came from a UCC member from a southern state. "I am wondering," he wrote, "if the UCC and/or other churches are actively involved in the current dialogue on this question [of whether to attack Iraq]. I believe it may be time for the churches to bear corporate witness in some way."
One phone call came from a 90-year-old, lifelong UCC member from a midwestern state. She called to encourage the national church to do more to let voices of opposition be heard. "Our denomination is a leader on these issues," she said. "We must urge for peaceful solutions."
These two communications represent many others received lately by national staff in Cleveland. They raise a provocative question: What should UCC members expect of church leaders during a national debate about whether to go to war?
German theologian Karl Barth once remarked that theology should be done with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. What better time than now, during such a debate?
When the news is about revenge, we can read in the Bible about reconciliation; when it is about hurting others, we can read about healing; when it is about war, we can read about peace; when it is about going it alone, we can read about community; when the news is about innocent children about to be maimed and killed, we can read about Jesus likening children to those who will inherit the kingdom of heaven.
None of this is to put Saddam Hussein on the side of the angels. As an international church document signed last month points out, Iraq must stop its internal repression, end its threats to peace, abandon its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and respect the legitimate role of the United Nations.
Achieving this is a tough order, one which calls for thoughtful, imaginative deliberation. History has shown us which easy answers do not work. President Wilson told us that taking out one man—Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany—would end war and make the world safe for democracy. Instead, the last century turned out to be the world's bloodiest. Israel has told us that pre-emptive strikes will insure peace and security in the Middle East. Instead, the escalating cycles of vengeance have made life there worse, not better.
In 1985, the UCC's General Synod affirmed that the UCC would be a "Just Peace Church." The affirmation was based not only on scripture but also on the sacraments of the church. In the book, "A Just Peace Church," edited by Susan Thistlethwaite and published by United Church Press (800-537-3394), we read: "Baptism...sets us in cooperative solidarity with the people of God, the Body of Christ, and our suffering solidarity with all oppressed people is signified by the cross."
"In receiving Holy Communion," the passage continues, "we are nourished by the love of Christ and are called into communion with all people. The model Christ gives us includes an element that many have difficulty accepting: as forgiveness and provision are offered, they are offered in community even to the one who would betray Jesus."
The Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC General Minister and President, often asks, "What would the world look like in 20 years if there were no UCC?" One response is that the world could well be a far less peaceful place, without our church insisting to government officials that they find options to war.
The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor of the national edition of United Church News.