A few days ago, I was walking down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan when I noticed colorful ribbons, hanging from the iron fence in front and around the side of the magnificent Marble Collegiate Church. The green, blue, and gold streamers enticed me to cross the street and read the marker explaining the significance of the project called Prayers for Peace. The gold ribbons display the names and ages of our servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and represent prayers for their families. The blue are prayers for Iraqi dead and wounded with their names and ages, and the green ribbons represent prayers for peace. I sifted through them, determined to find my nephew’s name. I knew that seeing it would bring tears. I cried, though, long before I found him. Some of our dead were 18-years-old. Many of the Iraqi dead were just months old.
The marker includes a message from Senior Minister, Dr. Arthur Caliandro:
On the Sunday following the end of the Gulf War, I attended a Quaker meeting. You may be aware that at Quaker meetings there is typically no formal spoken liturgy. People enter in silence and speak when moved by the Spirit. Of all the comments made that day, the one I remember was from a man who was about my age: ‘I know how to protest war,’ he said, ‘but I don’t know how to make peace.’ It seems that man speaks for most of the world.
Long before their grandson, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase Comley, was killed in Iraq, my parents wondered why so many among the clergy have remained silent about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. I had given my mother a copy of The Reverend William Sloane Coffin’s book Credo. Coffin, who died in April, was a Christian clergyman and antiwar activist who worked tirelessly for social justice, believing that it is crucial to Christianity.
Coffin had this to say about the war that has now claimed almost 3,000 coalition soldiers and, possibly, a half million Iraqis:
The war against Iraq is as disastrous as it is unnecessary; perhaps in terms of its wisdom, justice, purpose, and motives, the worst war in American history. Of course, we feel for the Iraqis so long and cruelly oppressed, and we support our military men and women; but we don’t support their military mission. They were not called to defend America but rather to attack Iraq. They were not called to die for, but rather to kill for, their country, and in an illegal and unjust war opposed by the UN Security Council and virtually the entire world. What more unpatriotic thing could we have asked of our sons and daughters serving in the military?
We have just left September and, already, October is a deadly month for our troops. We have lost 26 coalition soldiers in a week. Who knows the accurate number of Iraqis killed?
George Bush is still saying, “Stay the course.”
He should read Credo and learn from Coffin’s timeless wisdom: “If you’re at the edge of an abyss the only progressive step is backward!”
In 2004, Coffin said in an interview conducted by Bob Abernethy, editor and host of RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY: “almost every square inch of the Earth’s surface is soaked with the tears and blood of the innocent and it’s not God’s doing. It’s our doing. That’s human malpractice.”
Coffin lived and breathed the activism that was central to his faith.
Recently, I read that the minister of George Bush’s church has voiced opposition to the war. In fact, United Methodist Church leaders signed a Declaration of Peace in September to end the war and bring the troops home. Other denomination leaders are organizing as well, engaging in nonviolent acts of protest-even risking arrest. Sadly, though, many members of the clergy remain silent, fearful of alienating their congregation. I’m sure this is the case in my parents’ Kentucky community, although I’ve been assured by people in the peace movement there that this formerly red state has taken on a purple hue.
Surely, it is time for all members of the clergy to call for peace. Surely, it is time for each of us to demand it.
Missy Beattie lives in New York City. She’s written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. An outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, she’s a member of Gold Star Families for Peace. She completed a novel last year, but since the death of her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase J. Comley, in Iraq on August 6,’05, she has been writing political articles. She can be reached at: Missybeat@aol.com