Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.
Christ, the royal Master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward into battle
See His banners go!
Our president, George W. Bush, undoubtedly views the lyrics to this famous hymn as a call to arms. He claims to be a reborn Christian. He frequently quotes Scripture and is said to start each day by reading devotionals. He aches to erase the barrier between church and state.
Three men of faith I spoke with last week undoubtedly interpret the hymn differently. Two of them — Tom Gumbleton and Ed Rowe — are Christian clergymen; the third, Imam Abdullah El-Amin, is Muslim. We met in the office of Rowe, pastor at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit, shortly after the trio had participated in a planning meeting for an interfaith prayer rally set for this Sunday. A fourth key organizer, Rabbi Ernst Conrad, could not attend.
All these religious leaders could be viewed as soldiers themselves, but their cause is peace. Their weapons are logic and compassion. They loathe bloodshed in any form, but especially in the name of God.
Gumbleton, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Detroit, is an internationally known activist. His is the unwavering voice of pacifism and tolerance. He has traveled to Iraq several times in the past decade and has for years called for the lifting of sanctions, which the United Nations says have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi innocents.
He has been arrested at demonstrations all over the country. He’s bound to get arrested again.
“We have to resist by various kinds of acts of civil disobedience,” Gumbleton said. “Part of the activity would be to plead with our troops to resist orders to make war.”
Before America’s Catholic bishops issued a statement in November opposing a pre-emptive war against Iraq, Gumbleton proposed an amendment calling for the “prayerful support” of the bishops to military personnel who “conscientiously dissent from a choice for war.” The final statement included a compromise. The bishops said: “We support those who risk their lives in the service of their nation. We also support those who seek to exercise their right to conscientious objection.”
It’s breathtaking that the purported holy roller in the Oval Office is oblivious to religious leaders in this country and abroad. It’s as though he believes God speaks to him, and him alone. Or maybe it’s Karl Rove mimicking God.
With the exception of the Southern Baptists, every major Christian denomination in this country has formally denounced Bush’s war agenda. Among the first was the United Methodist Church, whose membership includes both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Bush has ignored requests from his own church’s leaders to meet with them and hear their concerns. He has spurned interfaith initiatives to do so as well.
In waging a pre-emptive war, Rowe said, “We are going to become the very thing we hate. What is the moral difference between saying Saddam has killed his own people, and us killing them? How does this make us any different from Saddam?”
Rowe believes the approach used in the Balkans to curb genocide would work in Iraq. He noted Serbian tyrant Slobodan Milosevic is on trial for war crimes; an international peacekeeping force has halted bloodshed in the region.
“Bring Saddam to justice, but don’t kill hundreds of thousands of people to do it,” Rowe said.
Gumbleton believes containment of Saddam, who is already boxed in and under intense scrutiny, is the just approach.
“We should maintain vigilance and do whatever it takes to make sure Iraq doesn’t develop weapons of mass destruction — and wait him out,” Gumbleton said.
He recalled the crisis that erupted in 1956 when Egypt seized the Suez Canal, prompting Britain, France and Israel to gird for war. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who a decade before had led the defeat of the Nazis, put that notion to rest, vowing to prevent a conflagration in the Middle East. The matter was resolved peacefully through the United Nations.
“The wisdom of Eisenhower in 1956 is what we need now,” he said.
Gumbleton believes war is a foregone conclusion. But he insisted that people of conscience must try to make a difference anyway.
“It’s still necessary for people to speak the truth and reject the war so we’re not complicit in it,” he said. “We’re encouraging people to be against the war and try and stop it as soon as possible.”
He is heartened by the solidarity displayed by people of many faiths.
“There has never been such unanimity among religious leaders on such a question,” Gumbleton said.
El-Amin, who accused Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell of spewing “false propaganda” to foment war, retains hope that a U.S. invasion can be averted. He believes that without the chorus of objections emanating from around the world, the United States might already have attacked.
“We need to constantly apply pressure to the administration and let them know that there’s a consequence to going to war in the face of overwhelming opposition,” El-Amin said. “If he happens to go through with it, we’re hoping that we can cut it short through the power of prayer and the power of people of peace. I’m still optimistic of that.”
Often overlooked in the debate over carnage abroad is the effect the war will have on our own community.
“The president that promised not to do nation-building is about to do empire-building,” Rowe said. “And we wonder why we have to dismantle Medicaid and fight for food-stamp reauthorization.”
He believes the government has also declared war on America’s poor.
“War in Iraq is going to make us less able to hang any safety net at all,” Rowe said. “Every day, the numbers [of people in crisis] increase. The frostbite units of hospitals are full. Forty thousand people in this city are in danger of having their water turned off. People live without heat and electricity.”
Hmmm. Perhaps after he’s conquered and democratized the Middle East and shipped in tons of food and medicine, we can convince President Bush to declare war on Detroit.
An interfaith prayer for peace rally is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 16, at Greater Grace Temple, 23500 W. Seven Mile Road, just east of Telegraph, Detroit. Call 313-965-5422 or 248-588-3230 for information.
Read the full statement by the Interfaith Witness for Peace.Jeremy Voas is editor of Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]