By Todd Flory
“The Church of the Brethren has a really good bumper sticker like that. Have you seen those?” His right hand gripped mine in a firm hand shake, his left index finger tapped the front of my shirt that read, “When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies,’ I think he probably meant don’t kill them.”
After telling the Rev. Tony Campolo that yes, I indeed had seen those bumper stickers, we chatted for a few minutes before he had to take the stage for the “Pray-In for Peace” held outside of the White House in Lafayette Park on May 18, as part of the 2006 Spiritual Activism Conference. Staff of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office attended the pray-in to show support and to be a part of the continued peace movement to end the war in Iraq, to prevent war in Iran, and to pray and work for peace in all areas of the world.
Rabbi Michael Lerner told the several hundred activists in attendance that they were not only praying for an end to war, but for a new spiritual vision for our society. He likened the pray-in to an announcement for the birth of a religious and spiritual left. Too often, he explained, the religious left has not portrayed its message to the public as effectively as the religious right has. “There hasn’t been a frame in the mindset (of the media) for the religious left, and we’re here to change that,” he said. “We need not only to say what we’re against, but what we’re for.”
Amid chants of “Don’t Iraq Iran,” the peace movement’s recent unofficial spokes-mom, Cindy Sheehan, spoke on the need for separation of church and state. She noted the frustration of using religion as justification for the government’s war actions. “You put your hand on the Bible and take an oath to the Constitution,” Sheehan said. “You don’t put your hand on the Constitution and take an oath to the Bible.”
Sheehan also discussed the concept of borders and the US administration’s incessant use of “us” and “them” language. “This spiritual awakening tells us to tear down these walls. We need to erase these borders,” she said. “When they use the rhetoric, ‘We have to fight them over there, so we don’t have to fight them over here,’ I ask them, ‘What makes their babies less precious than our babies?’ Peace isn’t an absence of conflict; it’s solving the conflict nonviolently.”
Campolo was among the last to address the crowd, which heard around a dozen speakers from a variety of faith traditions. He urged a need for systemic change and a deeper look into the causes of war and terrorism. “You don’t get rid of terrorists by killing terrorists, any more than you get rid of malaria by killing mosquitoes, ” he said. “You get rid of malaria by getting rid of the swamps that breed them.”
The culture of war and how societies view each other and deal with conflict was at the heart of the pray-in, and in the hearts of the hundreds who turned out to help ensure that peace becomes a societal and faithful reaction to conflict.
–Todd Flory is a Brethren Volunteer Service worker and a legislative associate at the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, a ministry of the Church of the Brethren General Board.