The Common Good

Repentence Means a New Direction

Sojomail - March 13, 2008


What democracy? What prosperity? When the statue fell, we thought we would live like the Gulf, but that was just words.

- Abdullah Ahmed, a taxi driver in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. (Source: Reuters)

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Repentance Means a New Direction

On Tuesday, President Bush spoke to the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters. In a speech that The New York Times described as "Citing Faith, Bush Defends War Actions", he declared that “The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency; it is the right decision at this point in my presidency; and it will forever be the right decision.” After five years of war, his lack of reflection and, well, characteristic hubris should no longer surprise me, but the very boldness still does.

And why is he so certain he is right? It’s all because he believes in freedom:

I believe - and I know most of you, if not all of you, believe - that every man, woman and child on the face of the Earth has been given the great gift of liberty by an almighty God. And today I want to speak about this precious gift, the importance of protecting freedom here at home, and the call to offer freedom to others who have never known it. ... When confronted with the realities of the world, I have made the decision that now is the time to confront, now is the time to deal with this enemy, and now is the time to spread freedom as the great alternative to the ideology it adheres to. ... We undertake this work because we believe that every human being bears the image of our maker. That's why we're doing this.

Many U.S. Christians disagree. We also see the image of God in all those who have become the collateral damage of this awful war, and in the countless American lives snuffed out or broken forever. Also on Tuesday, along with Christian leaders on our Sojourners board like Brian McLaren, Mary Nelson, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, Barbara Williams Skinner, and Ron Sider, we launched “A Call to Lament and Repent.”

Rather than celebrating the decision to go to war, we lament the suffering and violence in Iraq. We mourn the nearly 4,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died, the unknown numbers of both who are wounded in body and mind, and the more than 4 million Iraqis who are displaced from their homes. And we repent of our failure to fully live the teaching of Jesus to be peacemakers.

We also believe that repentance must go deeper than just being sorry – it means a commitment to a new direction. This fifth anniversary of the war is the time for U.S. Christians to rededicate ourselves to the biblical vision of a world in which nations do not attempt to resolve international problems by making unilateral preemptive wars on other nations. While we are not utopians and believe that human beings and nations will have conflicts, given the toll that war has taken in our violence torn world, we must begin to learn to resolve our inevitable conflicts by learning the arts and skills of conflict resolution and a new international approach to just peace-making.

I’m grateful that since Tuesday, nearly 20,000 of you have already joined with us. Yesterday a friend of mine wrote to me. He is a strong Christian layperson, a successful businessman, and a lifelong Republican. But he said, “I have been looking for some form of penance since I argued so strenuously with you back in 2003 that, of course, our government had definitive proof of WMD, or we would not take the enormous geopolitical risk of invading Iraq. This enterprise seemed to be exactly the penance vehicle I needed.”

If you have not yet joined us, click here to read and sign the statement lamenting and repenting of the Iraq war.


The Cost of War: Click here for the full series

'I Never Saw Them as Human Beings' (by Omar Al-Rikabi)

Over the last five years, as I have shared my family's story in churches and chapel services, I get a very common response: "I never saw them as human beings. I never thought to pray for the Iraqi people." This disturbs me. Even more disturbing is that many of the people who confess this to me are pastors and missionaries. They champion the need for food, plumbing, and medicine in so many parts of the world, but seem to hit the breaks when it comes to Iraq and the Middle East. I have visited many congregations around the country – Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Non-denominational – and I see a recurring pattern: nine times out of 10 the pastor will pray for the safety and success of the troops, but does not offer one prayer for the people and needs of Iraq.

Snapshots of Real People in Iraq (by Peggy Gish)

Two brothers, Jamal* and Khalid,* were arrested randomly in a raid of their neighborhood by Iraqi Special Police Forces, the Palestinian ghetto in Baghdad. They were tortured and forced to confess on a television program to acts of terror they didn't commit. Other Palestinian refugees have been dragged out of their homes and killed.

The Cost of Killing (by Mary Nelson)

Last week a spate of four deaths in our Chicago high schools was blamed on gangs and guns. Last year, the public high school killings totaled 27, and already this year 18 have been killed. As one commentator said, "It's war on our Chicago streets and in our schools." Kids held up signs saying, "Stop Killing" and "Can't you see we want to grow up?" As we approach the 5th Anniversary of the Iraq war that moved us into devastating violence, we must take stock of our failed policies in Iraq and at home. Our current approach is not working.

The Limits of Obedience (by Logan Laituri)

Our government, in affirming the rights of its citizens, forfeits the claim to unconditional subordination. While I am eternally grateful for the freedom I enjoy, such gratitude must never demand that one surrender the sacrificial cross of enemy love, because the cross of our King is uncompromisingly nonviolent. In fact, if some perverse form of gratitude (fueled by what Mark Twain called 'martial dreams' and 'the holy fire of patriotism') insists that I yield blindly to the status quo, it is not appreciation at all, but coercion in disguise. We need to move away from reflex loyalty and adopt a mature, informed awareness in response to the threat of terror. First and foremost, we must know our enemies - if we even insist on having enemies at all - for they are only brothers and sisters we have failed to see as our neighbor.

The Passion of the Iraqi Christ (by Shane Claiborne)

Five years ago, I was in Iraq. It was as a member of the Iraq Peace Team, living in the middle of the "shock-and-awe" bombing of Baghdad - some of the scariest days of my life. As Easter approached, we walked through the Lenten season with brothers and sisters in Iraq. One night I had a terrible dream, and I wrote about it in my journal. As I re-read it this season I found it as timely an image as five years back, and I decided not to doctor it up or try to polish it – but just to include the recollection of that dream as it is in my journal.


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MLK and Identity Politics (by Melvin Bray)

King never got caught up into pitting one group's interest against another. He took his cue from Jesus. Jesus consistently chose to identify with those who were oppressed, the captive, the outsider, the poor, the sick, and the voiceless. His represented an others-interested politics, an others-interested identity. And his way turns our typical identity politics on its head.

Video: Sojourners Veteran on the Front Lines of L.A. Gang Wars (by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

Jeff Carr was Sojourners' chief operations officer before taking a post as L.A.'s gang czar (anti-gang czar, that is) last summer. He was featured in this report by CBS News, and I'm sure he would appreciate it if you'd join with the Sojourners team in supporting his difficult work with your prayers.

Struggling With a 'Purple State of Mind' (by Becky Garrison)

When I got an invite to attend a screening of the documentary, Purple State of Mind, I went in expecting to see a blue state v. red state dialogue/debate with some quest to find political common ground. Wrong. Instead, I was treated to an honest and humorous dialogue between Craig Detweiler and John Marks, two former college roommates. The year 1984 wasn't only the name of a famous Orwellian book, but this year also signified Craig's first year in the faith, John's last. After this fateful year, the two men went on their separate faith paths. The film picks upon their conversation some 25 years later.

A Proposal for "Illegal Aliens" (by Tony Campolo)

Christians need to be reminded that in the only description that Jesus gave of judgment day, he specifically declares that God will inquire how we treated the alien. God will want to know, according to Matthew 25:35, whether or not we made room for "the stranger" to live among us. Given such Biblical teachings, it is difficult to understand how so many Jews and Christians can call for harsh treatment of those 12 million illegal immigrants who presently reside within our national borders, and how they so often act as though U.S. citizens should not make them welcome.

Healing Injustice at the Workplace (by Liz Weiss)

Last Tuesday was a great day for low-wage workers in my hometown of Washington, D.C., when the City Council voted to mandate paid sick and safe days for many private-sector workers. The legislation could affect 200,000 District workers who do not currently have the right to a single paid sick day. In fact, this is an indignity that exists nationwide. Neither the federal government nor any state has granted workers the right to paid sick days. (San Francisco passed a municipal measure in 2006.) As a result, more than 50 million workers in the U.S. must work when they are sick - through colds, fevers, and stomach flus - on pain of lost wages or even lost jobs.

Good News for Southern Baptists (by Brian McLaren)

Through the new declaration, "A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change," these leaders are calling Baptists to keep moving forward in care and healing for God's precious planet. Jonathan Merritt, a young leader who helped inspire the new declaration, expressed his motivation in language that resonates deeply with Southern Baptists: to trash this beautiful planet - which is God's handiwork and declares God's glory - is like tearing out pages from the Bible.

Latin Tattoos and 24 Hours of Televangelism (by Nadia Bolz-Weber)

While working on my upcoming book for Seabury Press, Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television, a theological and cultural commentary based on my experience watching 24 consecutive hours of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, I faced the issue of sanctification, sin, and leadership in the church. TBN preacher Paula White said the following on her show: "Sanctification is a progressive process you go from glory to glory to glory." (And by "progressive," I don't think she means Jim Wallis.)


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The Plymouth Center for Progressive Christian Faith is hosting a national conference on faith and politics in Minneapolis, April 11 to 13. Speakers include, Ray Suarez, Jim Wallis, and Rabbi Michael Lerner. Information at

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