Choosing Life

During the run-up to the Iraq war, I learned two valuable lessons that have stayed with me. One was political and the other personal and, yes, spiritual.

On the eve of the war, my wife, Joy, and I unexpectedly found ourselves in the labor-and-delivery room of the Washington Hospital Center—our son Jack was coming a month early! I had rushed home from a Call to Renewal board meeting in Florida, which is where I was when Joy went into labor.

Sojourners had just launched the 6-point plan, offered by U.S. church leaders as an alternative to war with Iraq. The plan we offered took the threat of Saddam Hussein seriously. It called for his removal from power through an international criminal indictment, the elimination through coercive inspections of any weapons of mass destruction he might have, and the democratic reconstruction of Iraq under international leadership (not U.S. occupation). We said there was a better way than war to solve the problem and detailed how it might be accomplished.

In less than two weeks, the plan spread around the country and the world. Those of us offering the plan had met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and discussions with his Cabinet leadership continued. People at the United Nations, including Secretary General Kofi Annan, were studying it. Officials at the U.S. State Department requested a presentation and discussion, and some non-administration hawks on Iraq said it should be tried. Democrats in the House and Senate were calling to ask for meetings—they hoped that an alternative to war from the religious community might help them regain their voice. When The Washington Post prominently published the plan on their opinion page under the title "A Third Way is Possible," a contact at the White House told me that "everybody" there had seen it.

Perhaps most obvious was how the plan energized the peace movement itself. Finally, people said, we have something to be for and not just something to be against. We were hearing from people all over the world—some reported getting the plan from 20 different e-mail sources. Our own SojoMail (which was used to launch the plan) more than doubled its readership.

When the midnight phone call came from Joy, I was in my hotel room writing the copy for full-page ads in five leading British newspapers, set to appear in two days to coincide with the critical debate in Parliament. The ads described the alternative and asked Tony Blair and the British people to be "real friends" of America by preventing us from making a terrible mistake.

Some friends at Sojourners took Joy to the hospital while others came to the house to look after our 5-year-old son, Luke. I e-mailed the ads, and grabbed the first flight home. Joy and I were in regular phone contact until I arrived at the hospital, exhausted but excited. I realized the phone was still on when it began ringing in labor and delivery. On the other end were British cabinet ministers and members of Parliament who had seen the plan. "Jim, is this a good time to talk?" they asked. My incredible wife, a woman really committed to peacemaking, replied, "Take the calls! Stop the war! I’m not pushing yet!"

Within a few hours, two happy, grateful, and tired parents were holding their new, healthy son. And within two days, the war with Iraq began just as we were taking Jack home. Our house was filled with the reports of war and the sounds of new life. Our sadness at failing to stop a war was mingled with feelings of delight, awe, and overwhelming blessing.

AT FIRST I FELT almost guilty about feeling joyful at such a time. Then I realized we were being taught two lessons, almost through divine intervention.

First, saying no is good, but having an alternative is better. Protest is not enough; it is necessary to show a better way. Former British Cabinet Minister Clare Short believes the plan came too late, but if given a few more weeks would have gained more momentum—even though those making decisions in the Bush administration were determined to go to war. Many people will engage in protest, but even more are likely to follow an alternative that offers a better way.

Second, the most difficult and darkest moments are precisely the time to embrace the nurturing relationships (often with children), the renewing practices, and the spiritual disciplines that remind us how precious and sacred the gift of life really is. The special and divine activity of affirming life (especially new life) reminds us at the deepest level why we care about issues of war and peace, justice and injustice.

Those lessons are not lost on me as we embark with this issue on a monthly Sojourners magazine. This magazine will never be satisfied with mere protest or complaint about the things we believe should be different; we will do the harder, more creative, and more prophetic work of finding and offering alternatives. And we will always remember and remind each other of the deeper reasons for our public visions and commitments. In both instances, we will seek the biblical wisdom to "Choose life; so that you and your children may live."

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.

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