The Common Good

'Come Let Us Reason' with Iran

On May 20, The Jerusalem Post reported that "a senior member in the entourage of President Bush" said during closed meetings that Bush and Cheney "were of the opinion that military action against Iran was called for." The White House denied the story, which claims that the reservations of Secretaries Rice and Gates are the remaining levies holding back the floodwaters of war. Tensions mount as Senators McCain and Obama spar over appropriate engagement with Iran.

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The elephant in the room, of course, is what Mohamed El-Baradei, head of the IAEA, calls "the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue nuclear weapons but morally acceptable for others to rely on them." Even if most Americans agree that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, we've surrendered the moral high ground with our cache of thousands of nuclear warheads, which we maintain to the tune of $16 billion annually. As Sen. Obama points out, "Iran spends one one-hundredth of what we spend on the military." What he doesn't add is that at $515 billion per year, we spend more on militarism than the rest of the world combined. And that's not including the $200 billion we will spend this year in Iraq and Afghanistan. The truth is that with the rising costs of health care, housing, gas, and food, we can't afford not to talk with Iran. After all, it's you and I who will foot the bill, along with our children and grandchildren.

Christians, however, are called to be faithful, not merely pragmatic. We must ask the hard question: What does our faith say about violence against our enemies? The prophetic book of Isaiah opens with a troubling word from God to the nation of Israel, which condemns religious charades. God is not impressed by our poignant prayers, high holy days, generous offerings, spirited worship, or sacred sacrifices. Instead, God desires righteousness, justice, and solidarity with those who suffer -- the things that make for peace. As in much of the Hebrew Testament, God addresses a nation, not mere individuals. Perhaps it is not enough, in other words, for us to do the difficult work of reconciling with our personal enemies if our nation beats the war drums. Perhaps it's our systems that God is concerned with, not simply our personal sins.

Just when it seems that God will not tolerate one more prayer from blood-covered hands, God beckons: "Come, let us reason together." Come, let us reason together. God wields power to open dialogue, rather than end it. In the United Church of Christ, we often say that "God is still speaking." And so long as God is willing to reason with us, though our sins are blood-red, then it behooves us to reason with one another.

Our scriptures do not deliver utopian heroes, families, communities, or political and religious authorities. They acknowledge the insidious nature of sin, because God's grace is most profound when it meets our broken places. Jesus' instruction to love our enemies is not simply for prosperous and peaceful times. Isaiah proclaims that precisely in the times when our "lands are desolate," God calls us to reason together. In In the Company of Strangers, theologian Parker Palmer contends that, "to let God mediate our relationships means that … one listens not with a sense of personal power … but with a sense of God's presence which alone can heal … When we allow God to be the third person in all our meetings, fear is replaced by hope."

It is our complicated task as Christians to discern what this word from God might mean in our present context when we hear of wars and rumors of war. As Christians whose faith informs our participation in public life, we are translators of biblical truth into ethical principles that can be applied to matters of public policy. God beckons us to come and "reason together." What will we choose?

Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss is the faith communities coordinator at Women's Action for New Directions (WAND), minister of Christian education at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, North Carolina, and recent author of In Times of Great Decisions: How Congregations Can Take Part in Legal, Non-Partisan Election Activities.

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