Dan Nejfelt, Faith in Public Life’s Senior Editor and Training Coordinator, worked at Sojourners magazine as part of his graduate study of journalism at the University of Missouri before coming to FPL. Prior to that, he taught remedial reading and writing to 7th and 8th graders in rural Arkansas as a Teach For America corps member. Dan blogs about health care, the Religious Right and budget issues.
President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld pushed for war with Iraq immediately after 9/11. One and a half years later, they fulfilled their wish by launching “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” and the bloodshed continued ever since.
Just as 9/11 served as a starting pistol for the race to war in Iraq, the sixth anniversary of that abominable day should mark the start of a decisive leg of the long march to peace. Regardless of whether the surge ends, President Bush will prolong this war for as long as we let him.
Religious groups continue to sound a prophetic call for peace. An Interfaith fast, organized by numerous Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups, will occur on October 8, and you can register to organize a fast in your community, or find one near you, at the Interfaith Fast web site.
Christian Peace Witness, which held an inspiring religious service and march for peace on the war’s fourth anniversary, is organizing peace vigils across the country, which will continue occur continually between now and the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war in April. You can register to lead a vigil in your community at their web site.
If peace were easy, we would have it by now. Ending the war will continue to take tremendous effort on numerous fronts, and the movement’s spiritual health will be necessary for its ultimate success. Interfaith Fast and Christian Peace Witness can provide this nourishment. Please take part.
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Someone asked this morning, “What year were the terrorist attacks?â€ The answer, “Six years ago, 2001″ struck me. Was it that long ago? It seems like yesterday.
Even as I know 9/11 has been used politically to whip up fear; I will admit it: I am afraid. I find my fear, and therefore my courage intensified by the confluence of 9/11/01 with first day of my married life with Glenn, who was moving to New York City that day to join me, arriving to find us walled off from one another. This morning I went over our catastrophe plan again, and we told each other with a kiss, “have a good day.â€
Today the spiritual struggle for me is what it was in 2001. In 2001, as NPR informed me of the first plane striking the twin towers, I calmly alerted my interns at our office across from the United Nations. As the NPR station went dead (it was in one of the towers), I turned on TV to monitor events. As more planes hit and rumors spread the prayer, “Where there is fear, let me sow…â€ I couldn’t complete the sentence in the turmoil, so I made up the words, but it helped. A few days later I found St Francis’ prayer in Union Square Park in a makeshift vigil surrounded by people of all nationalities and faiths, many wrapped in American flags.
My tradition tells me that I am to act out of love, not fear. From “Fear not!â€ to “Perfect love casts out fear,â€ my marching orders are clear. We often think of fear and love solely as uncontrollable feelings. But they are also choices. I have a choice every day and every hour: be guided by fear, which leads to more violence, or choose hope and love, which leads to creative solutions.
Are these naÃ¯ve words; empty clichÃ©s? “God gave us not a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and self-discipline.â€ The opposite of fear is power. The opposite of fear is self-discipline and love. This is what I learn from my staff, from all of you, when you choose to sit down with those who supposedly are our enemies and hammer solutions. When you forge coalitions to retake your communities from intolerance, greed, fear mongering, corruption, abuse of power. When we cross divides, speak the truth, sacrifice comfort to do what is right. And when we push our national leaders to do the same.
Rev. Jennifer Butler is Executive Director of Faith in Public Life
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Five years ago, on September 11, 2001, I and other staff members of the United Church of Christ Washington DC office were in a Congressional hearing room with 20 poor people from across the country waiting to give testimony on a bill to reauthorize funding for low income Americans, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. We knew there had been an attack of some kind, and were nervous, especially when the members of Congress didn’t show. We soon realized that we needed to get out, and then the evacuation of the Capitol started.
Why we were still sitting there in a Capitol Hill hearing room in the midst of chaos and what was then still a rumor that the nation had been attacked, I don’t know. We had already seen the images on television of the twin towers going down, the Pentagon could be seen smoldering in the distance from the front steps of the Cannon House Office building as we entered.
No one in Washington on that day knew what to do, where to go, or how to think or even talk about how the world would be made different by what we were experiencing. All we knew was that it would be time for this nation to act. The only question was how and when.
Fast forward to September 10, 2007. Yesterday’s testimony before the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee by General Petraeus, our top commander in Iraq, indicated, more than anything, that the world has changed very little since 9/11. Vulnerable people (then New Yorkers and DC Pentagon workers, now Iraqis) are paying for the sins of an overmilitarized world with their lives. As the General sat and provided cover for a President, a Congress, and a nation mired in an unpopular war that still has no purpose or direction, I truly felt that this sideshow is about as far from a tribute to the lives lost on 9/11 as one could imagine.
The General’s speech writers did succeed in using a headline-grabbing catchy phrase to characterize supporters of withdrawal from Iraq, warning that they would be “rushing to failure.â€ Where would those Americans in poverty we sat with 6 years ago on 9/11 be today had this Administration and Congress not decided to squander $195 million a week on one war? Probably better off. Where would Al Qaeda be had this nation fought the war on terror through development assistance to the poor instead of military support for the rich and the powerful in the Middle East? Probably worse off.
Some of those “rush to failureâ€ members of Congress released statistics yesterday on what $195 million a day, one day in Iraq, could buy. It is staggering. One day in Iraq could provide unemployment benefits for almost 722,000 unemployed Americans for one week. One day in Iraq could fund Social Security retirement benefits for one day for over 6.75 million Americans. One day in Iraq could vaccinate three-quarters of the children in Africa for measles and give millions a lifetime protection from the disease. One day in Iraq could provide paid sick leave to half a million workers for an entire year.
No, General Petraeus, the nation has already “rushed to failure.â€ It’s time we rush to victory and get out of Iraq and redirect our priorities once and for all.
Rev. Ron Stief is the Director of Organizing Strategy for Faith in Public Life and on September 11, 2001, was working across from the U.S. Capitol directing the offices of the United Church of Christ.
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The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a new poll about the presidential candidates’ favorability ratings and popular perceptions of their faith. Pew’s summary leads off by saying that
So far religion is not proving to be a clear-cut positive in the 2008 presidential campaign. The candidates viewed by voters as the least religious among the leading contenders are the current frontrunners for the Democratic and Republican nominations – Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, respectively. On the other hand, the candidate seen as far and away the most religious – Mitt Romney – is handicapped by this perception because of voter concerns about Mormonism.
However, the data show clearly that religious faith is seen as a huge positive for every candidate about whom adequate data was gathered. Consider the attached table.
The report’s introduction doesn’t seem to match its results. Being perceived as religious clearly is a net positive for each candidate, including Romney. While there’s no disputing that Clinton and Giuliani are frontrunners in election polls and in “Godless numbers,” correlation doesn’t even suggest causation here. In fact, there’s a much clearer correlation between their popularity and perceptions that they are religious. Buried far beneath the study’s introduction is this:
Overall views of the presidential candidates are linked with views of their religiosity; those who perceive a candidate as being very religious tend to express the most favorable overall views of each candidate, followed by those who perceive the candidate as being somewhat religious. Those who view candidates as being not too or not at all religious, on the other hand, are much less likely to express favorable views.
Eighty-seven percent of people who view Hillary Clinton as very religious have a favorable impression of her, and only 22 percent of people who view her as not very religious have a favorable impression. Giuliani is viewed favorably by 77 percent of people who see him as very religious, but only by 43 percent of people who see him as lacking faith. In Clinton’s case, faith seems to be among her strongest assets, and perceived lack of faith looks like her greatest weakness. Giuliani too seems to benefit a great deal from perceptions of piety and to be damaged by perceptions of faithlessness. This pattern holds for all other candidates, as well.
A multitude of impressions, values and beliefs contribute to people’s candidate preference. That perceptions of religiosity vs irreligiosity do not perfectly mirror the results of the latest election polls is not an argument against the clear importance of religion to voters. If anything, Clinton and Giuliani succeed in spite of their “godless numbers.” For them and for all candidates studied, a religious image is an unmistakable asset.
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Five years ago last week, Vice President Cheney started pounding the drum for war in a now-infamous speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention about the imminent threat Iraq posed to the Middle East and the United States:
Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.
Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us. And there is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into future confrontations with his neighbors, confrontations that will involve both the weapons he has today and the ones he will continue to develop with his oil wealth…
We are, after all, dealing with the same dictator who shoots at American and British pilots in the no-fly zone on a regular basis, the same dictator who dispatched a team of assassins to murder former President Bush as he traveled abroad, the same dictator who invaded Iran and Kuwait and has fired ballistic missiles at Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel, the same dictator who has been on a State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism for better than two decades.
In the face of such a threat, we must indeed proceed with care, deliberation and consultation with our allies. I know our president very well. I’ve worked beside him as he directed our response to the events of 9/11. I know that he will proceed cautiously and deliberately to consider all possible options to deal with the threat that an Iraq ruled by Saddam Hussein represents.
Many religious activists and leaders courageously and prophetically opposed the war, but on the whole the American religious community’s reaction was tepid and mixed. In March 2003, a Pew Forums on Religion and Public Life survey reported that
Nearly six-in-ten (57%) of those who regularly attend religious services say their clergy has spoken about the prospect of war with Iraq. But just a fifth (21%) say their priest or minister has taken a position on the issue. When churchgoers do hear a point of view, it mostly comports with the national stance of their religious faith: white Catholics and African-Americans are hearing anti-war
messages, while white evangelical Protestants are getting a pro-war point of view.
Five years later — almost to the day — President Bush made a disturbingly reminiscent case for war with Iran:
Iran has long been a source of trouble in the region. It is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran backs Hezbollah who are trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon. Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent, and target Israel, and destabilize the Palestinian territories. Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which could be used to attack American and NATO troops. Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and pose no threat to their regime. And Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.
Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late.
I want our fellow citizens to consider what would happen if these forces of radicalism and extremism are allowed to drive us out of the Middle East…
Extremists would control a key part of the world’s energy supply, could blackmail and sabotage the global economy. They could use billions of dollars of oil revenues to buy weapons and pursue their deadly ambitions. Our allies in the region would be under greater siege by the enemies of freedom. Early movements toward democracy in the region would be violently reversed. This scenario would be a disaster for the people of the Middle East, a danger to our friends and allies, and a direct threat to American peace and security. This is what the extremists plan. For the sake of our own security, we’ll pursue our enemies, we’ll persevere and we will prevail.
As the Bush administration echoes its Iraq rhetoric in an effort to start war with Iran, will America’s clergy sit on the sideline or the fence, as most did in the run-up to the Iraq war? Or did they learn from the bloody lesson of Iraq that failing to oppose a war of aggression is to tacitly endorse it? As the Bush administration launches another attempt to scare us into another war, the time is at hand for clergy to answer this question in word and deed.
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