God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’
—Psalm 46: 5-6, 9-10
Anger and animosity. Threats. Murder and assassinations. Military bluster and belligerency. Calls for revenge and retaliation. In the past several days, we have witnessed the rapid escalation in hostilities verging on all-out war between the United States and Iran.
Since late December, events have spiraled rapidly after a US military contractor and Iraqi troops were killed, the US responded by killing Iraqi militia members, violent demonstrations took place at the US embassy in Baghdad, and a US drone killed Qasem al-Soleimani, a top Iranian general and military leader, and others in his convoy. And just last night, Iran fired missiles into Iraq, hitting two military bases hosting US troops. Today, we stand on the brink of a war we pray world leaders will expend diligent efforts to avoid, urging them to deescalate tensions as rapidly as they arose, and to find a way to resolve diplomatically the several intertwined issues at stake. We yearn for a cessation of hostilities, violence, and war; a peace that can endure; and justice that sustains hope and abundant life.
Even if not a total resolution of all outstanding issues, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or “Iran nuclear deal”) that was negotiated by the US, the EU, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom with Iran and completed in 2015, was a landmark in that it prevented Iranian development of a nuclear weapons program and lifted some of the economic sanctions that had been imposed on the country. [The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly supported the JCPOA in 2015 and advocated for its support.] When the current US administration abrogated the JCPOA in 2017, Iran continued to comply with its terms. The US withdrawal from the agreement signaled a reversal in the US approach toward Iran to one that was not interested in diplomacy and one that has demonstrated greater belligerence and animosity—an approach Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has advocated for some time. It is not clear what the current US administration has sought to accomplish, both by tearing up a diplomatic accomplishment, and by engaging militarily and directly. We urge a return to the negotiating table to find a way out of the current cycle of revenge and violence, the restoration of the JCPOA, and discussion on all pertinent issues, including diplomacy that would lead to a nuclear weapons-free region and world.
Continued US presence in, and occupation of Iraq since the 2003 invasion that led to regime elimination there is another major element in understanding where we are today. With the removal of Saddam Hussain’s Baathist regime, a power vacuum was created that has resulted in insecurity and instability ever since, including the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS). Subsequent governments of Iraq have had to navigate the dueling realities of an American presence and alliance on the one hand, and the reality of Iran’s interest and engagement as Iraq’s neighbor, two countries with majority Shi`ite Muslim populations but that have a history of war with each other. President Trump ran for election on a promise to bring US military troops home from Iraq. Now that the Iraqi parliament has called for that, the US has been resistant to do so, presumably now because of the escalation with Iran, and has threatened sanctions against Iraq if it does force US troops to withdraw. We pray for an end to the insecurity in Iraq—a country that was among the most advanced in the region culturally and scientifically just a few decades ago before the devastation of earlier international sanctions—so that the Iraqi people can once again live with safety, plenty, and peace, and with their full sovereignty respected and intact.
Additionally, we are deeply concerned about the implications of the current heightened tensions for the region. The quest for regional prominence that has contributed to the exacerbation of violence, injury, displacement, and death for Syrians and Yemenis, among others, is also among the factors at stake today. Nine years of war in Syria and almost five years of war in Yemen, both of which that have been dubbed “civil wars,” have been waged, supported by regional rivalries and fueled by global forces, including the US, which has provided arms and support in these and other conflicts—involvement that we have condemned. These devastating conflicts must also end; that will require a reversal of policy and an end of military participation and provisions by Saudi Arabia, Iran, the US, and Russia, among others. The devastation that has already been wrought in those countries is indescribable and will require the concerted efforts of the community of nations to recover a respectable modicum of life for the people who have been affected by famine, disease, displacement, and dispossession, as well as the violence of war itself. We mourn the hundreds of thousands who have already been killed, and will continue to offer our support—even if modest—to our partners in the region who have faithfully and consistently provided human and humanitarian support to many of the millions who have been forced from their homes, communities, and countries.
At this precipice of war that has come about seemingly so rapidly, we find comfort in scripture. The Psalmist recognized that “the nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter” but also the promise that “God is in the midst of the city…. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.”
We put our trust in God as we seek an alternative through persistent prayer and diligent efforts. We reject a logic of war, violence, and revenge. We urge our leaders and those of the Middle East and around the world to exhibit restraint and to be attentive to consequences. We counsel peace, patience, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—fruits of the Spirit. And we persevere in our efforts to work for peace with justice.
Rev. Teresa Hord Owens Rev. Dr. Julia Brown Karimu
General Minister and President President, Division of Overseas Ministries
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada