We are accustomed to standing outside the White House, protesting the policies of war and torture. As people committed to peace, we still see plenty of ways the current administration can improve its efforts toward peace, the Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding. Being on the inside was a new experience.
We were privileged to be part of a group of faith leaders that delivered a letter to Joshua Dubois, the Obama administration's head of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The letter was signed by 1,410 Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy and urges the Obama administration to work with multilateral coalitions to ensure the Darfuri people can safely return to their homes and begin to rebuild their lives. The letter also asks that the United States continue to pave the way for peace and work toward full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 as well as give greater attention to the lesser-known conflict in Eastern Sudan.
But this meeting seemed more than perfunctory. The stories that the faith leaders shared were so graphic and heart wrenching that it was hard to listen. Yet our sense was that Josh Dubois did listen and heard the call for the Sudanese people to be involved in peace building, for the rape and violence to stop, for a lasting peace to be found. While we are heartened at being heard, we know the work is not over for the people of Sudan or their advocates.
As the group was diverse, we readily admitted that we don't necessarily agree on strategy. But as Gloria White Hammond, AME pastor and founder of My Sister's Keeper remarked, "We may not all sing the same song but today we are one choir in asking you to pay attention to the situation in Sudan."
The group asked administration officials to incorporate important policy recommendations from the Interfaith Sudan Working Group when they convene regular meetings prior to the upcoming election and referendum. The group also touched on other issues of concern such as violence against women in Sudan, which has been reported in staggering numbers.
Noting the upcoming 2010 Sudanese elections and 2011 referendum in Sudan, faith leaders stressed that Sudan should be a priority for the Obama administration. Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, stressed that, "Full engagement and leadership now is critical as we move toward elections and the referendum." Bishop David Jones from the Episcopal Church in Virginia added, "When the U.S. pays attention, the government of Sudan responds. We need the U.S. to take an interest."
Cynthia Lapp, pastor at Hyattsville (MD) Mennonite Church, represented Mennonite Central Committee at the meeting alongside fellow members of the Interfaith Sudan Working Group, a Washington D.C. based coalition of faith-based organizations working for lasting peace in Sudan.
Mary Stata is the Legislative Assistant for International Affairs at the Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office.