We Say No Again
Baiting Iran toward a dangerous collision
by Ken Sehested
On the first Sunday on Lent in 2007, when tensions between the US and Iran were escalating, Circle of Mercy Congregation unanimously adopted a statement (“We Say No: A Christian statement in opposition to war with Iran”) opposing an attack on Iran. With the recent assassination of another Iranian scientist—the fourth to be targeted in the past two years—tensions between our two countries are again at a boiling point.
This is an appropriate time, on this observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, to reaffirm our earlier convictions.
Virtually no one in the US media, Congress or Administration is willing to speak of this assassination as an act of terrorism. One can imagine the outcry here if US scientists were being targeted, if Iran’s submarines were patrolling our coasts, if our nuclear program were the target of a cyber attack, if our energy exports and financial transactions were blockaded, or if Iranian political leaders were openly calling for “regime change” in the US.
No one denies that our two nations have real and substantial policy disagreements. What seems increasingly clear, however, is that the US is baiting Iran toward a dangerous retaliatory response.
The legacy which Dr. King’s bequeathed to us—highlighted by the new memorial in our nation’s capitol—is more than a fanciful pipedream or fairytale. Revering the dreamer while reneging on the dream only hollows his memory. If Dr. King is to be more than a public souvenir, his commitment to nonviolent struggle—stemming from his vision of the Beloved Community—must become our commitment as well. Thus the following convictions need reaffirming.
“They are a law unto themselves and promote their own honor. Their own strength is their god.” —Habakkuk 1:7b, 11c
Despite assurances to the contrary, we believe our leaders may be calculating the benefits and risks of attacking Iran. Our reading of this moment in history, in light of our commitments as citizens and our convictions as followers of Jesus, impels us to oppose such a move.
As with the ancient Chaldean empire described in the Prophet Habakkuk’s oracle, our government is setting its “national interests” above international norms of justice. With an escalating military budget—already larger than those of all other nations combined—we seem to have established our own destructive threat as the source of national glory and honor.
“Pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out with fatness, their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues range over the earth.” —Psalm 73:6-9
It is not our habit to engage in partisanship on any political party’s agenda. We believe in the separation of church and state. But not in the separation of values from public policy.
Not only are religious convictions suffering scandal; so, too, are the core values of this Republic’s founding. It was Thomas Jefferson, in 1807, who asserted, “The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force.” Now, with the Administration’s 2002 “National Security Strategy” document, the U.S. claims justification for waging preemptive war. This policy undermines our democratic traditions, any and every theory of when war is “just,” and the very foundation of international law itself. The contradiction is staggering.
Accordingly, should the U.S. preemptively attack Iran, we shall vigorously protest. For some of us, this commitment includes the willingness to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience.
In the same way, we also pledge vigorous support for any leaders willing to consider Iran’s security concerns and national interests alongside those of our own. Competition in belligerent behavior carries catastrophic risks. The only enduring security is mutual security.
Another way is possible. Waging peace will require at least as much commitment—as much courage, pride, honor and ingenuity—as the pursuit of war.
We say no to war against Iran. It is both a contradiction to the Way of the Cross and a defamation of national honor. We say yes to the strategies of multilateral diplomacy and other nonviolent initiatives. We invite other Christians, other people of faith, and other people of conscience to deliberate these convictions and consider similar commitments.
You have sown much and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you put the wages you earn in a bag full of holes.
Sisters and brothers, especially in the household of faith: the Apostle Paul’s instruction—overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21b)—is both a spiritual truth and the foundation for politically realistic strategies to transform conflict. The Way of the Cross leads home.
The “We Say No” statement was unanimously approved by the Circle of Mercy Congregation in a called business meeting on Sunday, 25 February 2007. A reaffirmation of the statement will be considered on Sunday, 15 January 2012, as part of a service commemorating the anniversary of Dr. King’s birth, when the church’s youth group will perform a choral reading of excerpts from Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. Ken Sehested is co-pastor of Circle of Mercy Congregation, Asheville, NC.