Repentance Means a New Direction

By Jim Wallis 3-13-2008

The Cost of War

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, Wes 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.

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