The Common Good

A Lenten Call to Repentance

Sojomail - February 21, 2008


There have been some errors. It's something we regret.

- U.S. military spokesman Maj. Brad Leighton, commenting on how groups of U.S.-allied militias in Iraq have quit working with American troops after incidents in which U.S. soldiers killed their members. (Source: McClatchy )

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A Lenten Call to Repentance

March 19 will be the fifth anniversary of the war with Iraq. In this season of Lent, we are called to lament and repent for an ongoing war that is being waged by our country, financed by our taxes, and fought by our brothers and sisters. After five years, we all lament the suffering and violence in Iraq. We mourn the nearly 4,000 Americans who have lost their lives, the tens of thousands wounded in body and mind, and the unknown hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died.

Recent U.S. claims of modest security gains in certain sectors of Iraq do not justify extending the U.S occupation - especially when five years of occupation have not produced the political reconciliation necessary for real security and stability. The fragile security improvements are not sustainable without a political solution, which is simply not forthcoming. And without a clear path to political progress, we will simply see more of the same failed strategy and a scenario of a U.S. occupation in the midst of bloody sectarian warfare with absolutely no end in sight—and with a real prospect of compounding the tragedy by attacking Iran as well.

On this anniversary, we should all repent for the U.S.'s actions. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said about the war in Vietnam: "How can I pray when I have on my conscience the awareness that I am co-responsible for the death of innocent people in Vietnam? In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible." It is a good lesson for those of us who oppose the war – it is still funded by our tax dollars and supported by our elected leaders. That is a responsibility for which we all must repent.

But repentance means more than just being sorry. It means both admitting that the course we have been on is wrong and committing to begin walking in a new direction. Repentance has to do with transformation, and that's exactly what the U.S. church needs to break out of its conformity to the U.S. government's foreign policy of fear and war. We must pursue our future foreign policy in ways that are consistent with moral principles, wise political judgments, and international law - rejecting unilateral preemptive wars for multilateral cooperation. We need a new definition of our national security. There is a better way. The global church feels it, and the world is hungry for it.

Given how important the issues of Iraq, Iran, and U.S. foreign policy will be in the 2008 elections, there is no better time than now for U.S. churches to offer words and acts of repentance for their misguided and misleading support for the U.S.'s mistakes. It's finally time for the U.S. churches to find their voice for Jesus' way of peacemaking and to demonstrate—in matters of war, peace, and the critical area of conflict resolution—just who we belong to.

For the next four weeks, God's Politics will be featuring posts from a variety of voices on Iraq. We'll hear from Iraqis, U.S. veterans and parents, Christians from other countries, pastors, and peacemakers - all reflecting on the cost of the war. Together, we can dedicate ourselves to a world where war is not the answer.

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My Thoughts on "Souled Out" (by Brian McLaren)

It's true: the religious radio/TV waves are still pretty crowded with 24/7 programming that proclaims a less-than-integral understanding of the Christian gospel and its social implications. But on the bookshelves, thankfully, it's a different story. Another recent treasure is E.J. Dionne's Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right. I recently participated in an online discussion of the book at TPMCafe ... you can read part one and part two of my contributions - as well as posts by E.J., Alexia Kelley, and others. The comments are enlightening (and occasionally a little disturbing) as well.

War Crimes or Criminal War (by Logan Laituri)

As I have already stated, I am not concerned with war crimes and atrocities because it is my experience that the war itself is criminal and atrocious. An atmosphere of disregard to both the rule of law and the rule of the Lord pervades our society - corroding our collective consciousness and dislocating our moral center. Furthermore, I am only minimally concerned with legality, since it is too often relative and victim to misinterpretation.

An Emergent Politics Primer: Part Two (by Tony Jones)

In the article, Sweet charges that emergent Christians are nothing but the New Christian Left, based primarily, it seems, on Brian McLaren's increasingly political writings. But to those inside Emergent, the criticism missed the mark, as do the protestations of the lefties when emergents don't play by their rules either. For gathered around the Emergent table are Republicans and Democrats, pro-lifers and pro-choicers, laissez-faire free-market capitalists and communitarian socialists. There is no ideological requirement to join, just a shared commitment to robust, theological dialogue about issues that matter.

Beyond Politics: Election 2008 in High-Def Part III (by Gabriel Salguero)

What about the mosaic revival is comforting? As a Latino evangelical leader, one of the things I am asking is moving beyond polarization. In this mosaic revival, we know that though politics is not the whole solution, it will be a vital part. We need the nexus of clergy, good government, activists, entrepreneurs, moms and dads, educators, etc. As a Christian who is part of the mosaic revival, I cling to one thing: my commitment is to Christ and the gospel first, not to any political party. As a citizen who values justice, my commitment is to justice first and not any political party. In the mosaic revival, we reserve the right to criticize any party that violates and oppresses the least of these.

An Emergent Politics Primer: Part One (by Tony Jones)

There's a growing sense among emergents that the polarization in U.S. politics isn't real—it's a script written by the two political parties and the U.S. media. They wrote this script and they perpetuate it because they have the most to gain from its perpetuation. The unnuanced maps showing states as "red" or "blue" disregards the fact that in a red state, as many as 49 percent of the voters are blue, and vice versa. But even more important, it ignores what we all know to be true: each one of us is a complex mélange of viewpoints and opinions, and very few of us line up with every plank in a party's platform. Being that postmodern Christians are acutely aware of micro-narratives and justifiably incredulous toward meta-narratives, they are particularly suspicious of the spokespersons of left and right who often begin their pufferies with "Americans believe . . ." But having two sides makes for good television; have six nuanced positions does not.

Murder, Inc. (by Elizabeth Palmberg)

The Bush administration wants Congress to sign off on an administration-negotiated trade agreement with Colombia, alleging that to do otherwise is, as one analyst put it, to "turn our back on our friends." But with friends like this, Colombia really doesn't need enemies. Consider: Friends don't let friends murder labor unionists. More than two hundred people were killed in Colombia from 2004-2006 alone just for joining or working for trade unions, and the government hasn't put a stop to the problem. The Bush-negotiated trade agreement offers some labor protections in theory – but enforcement is left entirely up to the very Colombian government that has failed to deal with the labor unionist murders.

A Slippery Church-State Slope (by Becky Garrison)

In the 2008 election, "change" has emerged as the new catch-all buzzword. I reported on the God's Politics blog a few of the positive signs of social change I've been observing recently as a religious satirist. When I was interviewed in a recent Living Church article profiling emerging churches, I quoted Diana Butler Bass' astute observations that she "finds vitality and growth in those mainline churches who are mining the resources of their tradition while tapping into a global spirit that infuses religion, politics and the culture at large, transcending organizations and individuals." Lately, I am noticing a number of emergent church leaders who have interpreted this spiritual sea change by endorsing a particular candidate. While one can say that emergent is a conversation, once you are seen as a published author/pastor/spokesman of any religious enterprise, your words carry weight when uttered in any public forum, be it book or blog. Something in my bones tells me we're on the precipice of a slippery slope where before we know it, certain groups will be perceived as political pawns.

A Mosaic Revival: High-Definition Election 2008 Part II (by Gabriel Salguero)

The question is what does this Mosaic revival reveal? Simply, that we recognize that to promote real movement it will take a broad coalition across racial/ethnic, gender, generational, and denominational lines. Much has been rumored of the tension between black and brown or Asian and black voters. Other tensions have been pointed about differences between female and male voters or young and elderly voters. We're working for a new day. This revival is pleading for people of good will to change the national conversation screen to high-definition.

Australia Says Sorry: "This is history, unna?" (by Jarrod McKenna)

Crammed at the sides of the thousands of people stacked into the "Music Box" before seven in the morning, the crowd was amazingly civil considering the wait: 200 plus years. The first hour of sun light shone through the gum leaves hitting us as we waited to watch Australia's new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd live from Australia's capital. Matty turned to me and said: "This is history, unna?" ["This has made history, yeah?"]


Christian Peace Witness for Iraq

Last March thousands of Christians filled the Washington National Cathedral to pray and act for peace, and then processed to the White House. One year later, the U.S. continues to occupy Iraq, and Christian Peace Witness for Iraq must continue to "speak their peace" through worship and witness.

We invite you, your family, your congregation, and your neighbors to come again to the nation's capital from Thursday, March 6, 2008, through Monday, March 10, to speak the truth in love. Together we will fill houses of worship, remembering and learning anew the ways of the Prince of Peace. Then we will carry our public witness to the halls of government power, calling our leaders to embody values fundamental to the Christian tradition—and shared in other traditions—that truly make for communities of prosperity, security, and justice. On Friday, March 7, at noon, people from across the U.S. will gather at more than a dozen different houses of worship and centers of faith on or near Capitol Hill to worship in each of our different traditions. Then we will come together for a mass public witness and demonstration against the war. Please join us for this act of faith.

Communities and individuals of all religious traditions and spiritualities are invited to participate, so long as they share a common commitment to nonviolence, a positive vision of peace through justice, and a desire to witness through both worship and public action.

+ Learn more about the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq

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