"In the name of Jesus, Stop the War!"
Three hundred Christians worship and witness together, twenty arrested in an act of nonviolent direct action in front of the White House, as President Obama held his "100 Days" press conference inside.
As more than three hundred Christians worshipped together at National City Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Washington D.C. on Wednesday night, April 29, they heard a rousing call from Tony Campolo to put an end to the war in Iraq. Campolo shared the story of the fourth century Monk Telemachus who was martyred when he entered the Coliseum in Rome during the fights of the gladiators and demanded "In the name of Jesus, Stop." After he was killed, a hush fell over the crowd and the Coliseum slowly emptied. The tradition of Gladiators fighting for sport had come to an end. Campolo suggested that, similarly, Christians who take the Bible seriously must be prepared to take the greatest personal risks as they demand, "In the name of Jesus, stop the war."
Others were also there to inspire the crowd, who had come from all over the country to worship and witness together on the evening that marked President Obama’s first 100 days in office. Elizabeth MacAlister, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Kathy Kelly, Sr. Diana Ortiz, Noah Baker Merrill and by video presentation, Najlaa Al-Nashi from Direct Aid Iraq all spoke strong words of criticism for the Iraq War, and implored President Obama and the U.S. Congress to redirect resources from war making to peacemaking. A group of five students from Columbia Theological Seminary arrived after driving all night, participated in the worship and direct action in front of the White House, slept a few hours on the floor, and headed home early the next morning.
There was a light rain falling as the worshippers left the Sanctuary at National City Christian Church and processed to Lafayette Park in front of the White House carrying candles and baskets of bread. There in the park, Rick Ufford-Chase called on all of those assembled, and on our President and Congress, to lead with apology, repentance for our actions, and a commitment to make amends to the people of Iraq for the spiral of violence unleashed by the U.S.’s "pre-emptive strike" in March of 2003. Fr. John Dear read a letter from Archbishop Desmond Tutu expressing his gratitude to Christian Peace Witness for Iraq for their continuing insistence that the war in Iraq must end. Presbyterian Pastor Diana Gibson and Quaker Noah Baker Merrill, of Direct Aid Iraq, led the assembly in a service of breaking and sharing bread with one another. Hundreds of loaves of donated bread that remained were given to area programs to feed the hungry.
After attempting to present a loaf of bread for President Obama, the group formed a large circle in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, and sang together for over an hour. Eventually, twenty of those standing in the "arrestable space" on the sidewalk in front of the White House were arrested and put into police vans. Eleven of those arrested were fined and released around 2 a.m. Nine others, including Kathy Kelly, were held over night until they saw a judge the following day.
Christian Peace Witness for Iraq’s public policy team assisted hundreds of participants in having conversations with their legislators the following morning. These conversations were a significant step forward in advancing CPWI’s effort to end the war while ramping up support for an Iraqi-led reconstruction. In a meeting with representatives from the Obama Administration’s National Security Council and the Public Liaison for the Religious Affairs Office, the ecumenical advocacy team welcomed President Obama’s December 2011 date for total pull-out, but challenged the administration to shift from purveyor of violence to become repairer of the breach. In this meeting with Obama’s administrators, CPWI representatives pointed out that the President’s war funding supplemental shows no substantial increase in humanitarian aid and development over the last administration’s supplemental. "The continued reliance on force," Rev, Clay Thomas, CPWI policy representative, pointed out, "undermines Obama’s pledge that the U.S. will embrace a more comprehensive strategy."
CPWI also sent ecumenical delegations to meet with the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader’s offices. "In all of those meetings with government representatives," said Rev. Kathy Coggins, program director of Disciples Peace Fellowship (one of the original founding organizations of CPWI), "CPWI’s message was that we must see a plan that indicates how we will remove all U.S. military personal and bases from Iraq, support reconstruction of Iraqi communities devastated by the war, resettle five million Iraqis displaced by the violence, and establish a commission of inquiry regarding our nation’s use of torture. Those moves, taken in concert with one another, will send a clear message to the rest of the world that we are truly interested in the things that will make for a just peace and a lasting security for all people."