"Star Trek Into Darkness" does what Star Trek has always done best: holds up a mirror to the United States and asks, "Are we the moral people we want to be?"
Photo credit: http://www.startrekmovie.com
"Star Trek Into Darkness" does what Star Trek has always done best: holds up a mirror to the United States and asks, "Are we the moral people we want to be?"
Photo credit: http://www.startrekmovie.com
My latest on The Huffington Post:
Mohler is no Osama bin Laden but clearly there is a place where Mohler's Christian fundamentalism and the Islamic fundamentalism of the late bin Laden find common ground.
Creator God, ten years after terror reigned we mourn still.
We grieve for the civilians killed in a crime against all humanity.
We grieve for the first responders who rushed to offer aid and perished.
And we grieve with all those who have suffered in anguish since.
We pray for all those who have perished in wars the last decade, soldiers and civilians.
We pray for Americans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, and Afghans.
We pray for Christians, Jews, Muslims and other people of faith.
And yes, O Lord, we pray for our enemies.
Help us to bring about a new decade of peace between your people.
Let us find a path that brings us from darkness to light.
Open our hearts to new ways of creating moments of reconciliation.
Lead us to create in our souls spaces of hope that sustain us.
Ten years ago men of terror set the course for decade.
The lives they stole will never be forgotten.
In their precious memories, let us move forward as the children of God.
By your grace, we pray we succeed.
- The Rev. Chuck Currie
Related Post: Holding On To Hope Ten Years After 9/11
The evidence of our times is harsh. Still, I have hope. It is hope born out of my faith and from the experience of living through the last decade.
The Center for American Progress has just released a vital new report that explores Islamophobia in the United States and how a well funded network of political operatives are working to use religion as a tool to divide Americans. As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the 2012 elections, it is important to understand, as the report explains, how religious bigotry is being used to harm the common good of the United States:
This report shines a light on the Islamophobia network of so-called experts, academics, institutions, grassroots organizations, media outlets, and donors who manufacture, produce, distribute, and mainstream an irrational fear of Islam and Muslims. Let us learn the proper lesson from the past, and rise above fear-mongering to public awareness, acceptance, and respect for our fellow Americans. In doing so, let us prevent hatred from infecting and endangering our country again.
In the pages that follow, we profile the small number of funders, organizations, and individuals who have contributed to the discourse on Islamophobia in this country. We begin with the money trail in Chapter 1—our analysis of the funding streams that support anti-Muslim activities. Chapter 2 identifies the intellectual nexus of the Islamophobia network. Chapter 3 highlights the key grassroots players and organizations that help spread the messages of hate. Chapter 4 aggregates the key media amplifiers of Islamophobia. And Chapter 5 brings attention to the elected officials who frequently support the causes of anti- Muslim organizing.
Before we begin, a word about the term “Islamophobia.” We don’t use this term lightly. We define it as an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from America’s social, political, and civic life.
It is our view that in order to safeguard our national security and uphold America’s core values, we must return to a fact-based civil discourse regarding the challenges we face as a nation and world. This discourse must be frank and honest, but also consistent with American values of religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and respect for pluralism. A first step toward the goal of honest, civil discourse is to expose—and marginalize—the influence of the individuals and groups who make up the Islamophobia network in America by actively working to divide Americans against one another through misinformation.
Can We End The War In Afghanistan, Negotiate A Peace With The Taliban, And Protect Human Rights For Women?
Polls show that the majority of Americans want the U.S. out of Afghanistan. Ten years after 9/11 the war there goes on. What has the cost been? What will the cost be if the U.S. withdrawals?
Restrepo, which won best documentary at Sundance in 2010, is now available for download on iTunes or purchase elsewhere. The film offers an extraordinary and sometimes painful glimpse into the everyday lives of soldiers and cilivians in Afghanistan during 2007-08 (before President Obama took office and redirected resources from Iraq to the Afghanistan theatre).
RESTREPO is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 94-minute deployment. This is war, full stop.
It would be hard to recommend this too highly. Nothing like it has shown the human side of American forces trying to fight a war that seems at times highly incomprehensible. The film does not try to hide the ugle side of war. Watch and be prepared to see U.S. forces harm children. The truth is that kids die in war. We shouldn't run from that truth.
It is particularly tragic that Tim Hetherington, one of the film's co-creators, was killed recently covering the conflict in Libya.
A more recent look at the conflict in Afghanistan comes from PBS's Frontline. This is the opening chapter of their program Kill / Capture:
What seems clear is that as U.S. forces step up their efforts to root out Taliban forces the population becomes more and more anti-American.
As the BBC and others have reported, all of this has led the negotiations with the Taliban:
Now that President Obama has made it clear he wants to draw down the US troop surge in Afghanistan, there is growing emphasis on political and diplomatic efforts to try to bring an end to the war.
In his speech setting out plans to bring home 33,000 US troops over the next year, the president emphasised: "We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war, without a political settlement."
That means a "political settlement" with the Taliban.
One senior official said that phrase would have been "unthinkable" a year ago.
Just hours after President Obama spoke, Hillary Clinton spoke in a US Senate hearing of a "diplomatic surge to support Afghan-led efforts to reach a political solution to chart a more secure future."
Can the Taliban be trusted? Hardly. They are war criminals with a dismal human rights record. Yet such types have been brought back into coalition governments before after long periods of war and without a negotiated conclusion to this conflict it will go on and on.
But what would peace look like?
Dr. Ida Lichter, a writer who advocates for women, recently blogged on The Huffington Post that:
Women's rights would suffer a severe setback if the Taliban were given a share of power, possibly in the south of the country. Abandoning women to the Taliban would also spur imitation by extremists outside Afghanistan, including Britain, where the "London Taliban" has reportedly threatened to kill unveiled Muslim women. A Western failure in Afghanistan could stimulate more attacks from radicals, emboldened by their conviction that religious fervour was instrumental in defeating a second superpower.
Some women activists have sounded more conciliatory in recent times, attempting to thwart the punishment they anticipate when foreign troops leave. Most fear that a hasty drawdown of foreign troops could bring more chaos and violence, civil war, and even the return of jihadist training camps. The death of Osama bin Laden has also caused alarm, as the US could claim their mission to destroy al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was complete.
In order to achieve a respectable exit, Afghan and Western negotiators might find it expedient to accept promises by the Taliban and go along with the view that gender culture in the country is too tribal to be changed and should be respected even if it is harsh on women.
Afghanistan will remain a backward, failed state if half the population is prevented from contributing to the social, economic and political fabric of society. In their opposition to misogyny, a pillar of radical Islam, women also provide a challenge to extremism.
What can be done to safeguard women's rights? Taliban guarantees to promote rights for women and girls should be considered worthless, due to lack of coalition leverage.
Women should be included in all talks with the Taliban and gender issues incorporated in documents for discussion.
US aid could be contingent on protecting the human rights of Afghan women, and the pace of withdrawal made dependent on the extent to which the Taliban keep to their word.
Women and children are the main casualties in the war zone, and security will not improve unless the Pakistani government is prepared to stop the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network and Hezb-e Islami from manufacturing improvised explosive devices on their soil.
Another requirement is a comprehensive settlement of reconciliation and de-radicalisation that goes beyond the Taliban to include other paramilitaries and power brokers. Rather than defend the Taliban, it would be more productive, and consistent with the democratic values of the Arab Spring, to support the victims of violence, the women's movement and other reformers in Afghanistan, so that human rights and civil society can seed and grow.
Is the U.S. willing to fight for the rights of women? If so, how can that best be achieved through a diplomatic process that finally brings this war to an end?
President Obama tonight announced his intention to begin a significant troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. He said that:
...starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
Those on the left were quick to say the president isn't moving quick enough and those on the right complained the president wasn't finishing the mission ( those left and right lines have become increasingly blurred over time).
A significant number of religious leaders wrote the president a letter this week which read:
As your target date to begin U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan approaches, we are compelled by the prophetic vision of just peace to speak. We represent a diversity of faith communities -- ranging from just war to pacifist traditions. As leaders of these communities, some of us initially supported the war in Afghanistan as a justified response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Others opposed the war, believing there were better ways than military force to address the al Qaeda threat. Today, however, we are united in the belief that it is time to bring the U.S. war in Afghanistan to an end.
After nine years, what began as a response to an attack has become an open-ended war against a Taliban centric insurgency -- which itself is largely motivated to drive out foreign troops and has no designs beyond its own borders. The military operation has so far resulted in the deaths of over 2,500 Coalition troops, including 1,600 from the U.S. Estimates are that over 20,000 Afghan civilians have died. And yet, the security situation is deteriorating and Taliban influence is spreading. The military situation is at best a stalemate. Al Qaeda barely exists in Afghanistan, but it has metastasized into Pakistan and has established itself in Yemen, Somalia, and other places around the globe.
Relief and development aid, desperately needed after three decades of war, have been integrated into and are subservient to military operations. Civilian aid organizations that attempt to provide much-needed relief are often seen as part of the foreign military occupation and have faced increasing attacks. Additionally, this form of militarized aid has worked to undermine long term sustainability while proving ineffective in addressing immediate poverty concerns. As the faith community, we have experience doing this kind of work, and maintain relationships with partners on the ground. We see and hear the need for relief and development aid to be provided through these civilian aid organizations while untying it from a counterinsurgency strategy and involving and empowering local Afghan partners to the greatest extent possible.
Moreover, this type of aid is most effective -- both in terms of the development in Afghanistan, and the cost of the conflict. The past ten years have shown that we cannot broker peace in Afghanistan by military force; it is time to transition toward a plan that builds up civil society and provides economic alternatives for Afghans. At a time of economic turmoil, as we are presented with difficult financial and budgetary decisions at home, we have an opportunity to invest in aid that both supports the people of Afghanistan, and saves our country much needed funds.
We recognize that legitimate ethical and moral issues are at stake in Afghanistan -- U.S. national security, protecting the lives of Coalition servicemen and women, protecting Afghan civilians, defending the rights of Afghan women, supporting democracy and, of course, saving innocent lives from the inevitable death and destruction that accompany war. We humbly believe there is a better way than war to address these important issues.
What is needed now is a comprehensive package of interlocking arrangements to enhance security and stability. This alternative path is not without some risk, but it is preferable to the known dangers of war. As you said in December 2009, the U.S. should begin a responsible but accelerated withdrawal of troops, beginning with a significant number in July 2011 and continuing along a set timetable. This must be linked to a comprehensive security agreement, a regional multi-lateral diplomatic initiative, and increased public & private assistance for locally based economic and social development programs. We must commit to proactively share the costs of war, which have been borne disproportionately by the veterans of these wars, their families and thousands of Afghan civilians.
We reaffirm our religious hope for a world in which "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid."
Like these colleagues of mine (listed below), I want this war to end. It cannot be stressed enough, however, the the international community has an obligation to rebuild Afghanistan and to protect human rights there. A return of the Taliban will be a humanitarian nightmare - particularly for women. In late 2001, a joined a very small number of religious voices in opposing the invasion of Afghanistan because I believed U.S. intervention would fail and that we would leave the civilian population worse off. President Bush did lead us into failure and President Obama has been forced to make very difficult decisions since taking office. I believe that the proposals made by religious leaders to the president this week will help further advance the goals set forth by the White House.
Here is the list of those who signed the letter:
Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ
Pastor Geoff Browning
Presbytery of San Jose
Simone Campbell, SSS
NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Co-President, Pax Christi International
Rev. Dr. Cheryl F. Dudley
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
Swedenborgian Churches of North America
Dr. Linda Gaither
Episcopal Peace Fellowship
Lutheran Peace Fellowship
Christian Peace Witness
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Dr. Robert Hanson
Chair of Peace Committee
Mt. Diablo Unitarian-Universalist Church
Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Mark C. Johnson, Ph.D.
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
National Council of Churches
Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston
Disciples Justice Action Network
Oregon-Idaho Chapter of the Methodist
Federation for Social Action
Bishop Chuck Leigh
Apostolic Catholic Church
Rev. John R. Long, DD
Retired Presbyterian Minister
Presbytery of Western New York
Rev. Dr. Dale E. Luffman
Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer
Community of Christ
The Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller
President, Provincial Elders' Conference
Moravian Church, Northern Province
Adventist Peace Fellowship
Mr. Stanley Noffsinger
Church of the Brethren
Rev. Gradye Parsons
General Assembly Stated Clerk
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The Rev. Nathaniel W. Pierce
Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Pax Christi USA
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
Mennonite Central Committee US, Washington Office
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed,
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America
Director, Washington Office
Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
Hosanna! People's Seminary
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Stephen M. Veazey
Community of Christ
President and Chief Executive Officer
Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Watts
Co-Moderator Disciples Peace Fellowship
Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, LCSW
James E. Winkler
General Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Church
U.S. Rep. Peter King is planning another round of congressional hearing into "Muslim radicalization," reports NPR and other media outlets. The hearings are scheduled for June 15th. King held hearings earlier this year that were widely condemned by interfaith religious leaders. King's principle charge - one disputed by the FBI, Homeland Security and other anti-terrorism agencies - is that American Muslims have not condemned terrorism or that they even support it. At that time, The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Christ USA, firmly declared: "No matter what Rep. King may say, his hearings convey the implicit message that Muslims aren’t part of 'us'—and to this sort of bigotry, all citizens of conscience must say NO!"
Let me repeat that Rep. King's hearings to investigate Muslim Americans are the definition of un-American. As I have said before, these hearings bring to mind the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings, dark periods in this land. We should never forgot the lessons of those experiences. The U.S. House of Representatives should not be used as a venue for religious or political persecution.
When President Obama said last week it was time to move past the "silliness" over the contrived debate over where he was born he wasn't kidding. The world faces serious issues and the president was in the midst of a serious national security operation that would lead to the demise of Osama bin Laden, ten years after the 9/11 attacks. Serious times demand serious debates but still on the far fringes of the left and the right people are engaging today in less than serious behavior.
On blogs and talk radio shows some conservative voices are decrying bin Laden's burial at sea. The decision was made because what nation state would take his remains and why set-up a shrine for a man who has committed crimes against humanity? The Creeping Sharia website calls the decision "political correctness run amok" and others have said the burial was too humane. That's short sighted and little more than an attempt to use the matter as a political wedge issue against the president.
A better informed perspective comes from Imam Khalid Latif, chaplain for New York University, who wrote today on CNN's website that:
In general, Islamic law would state that a Muslim should be buried in the ground. However, everything is not black and white, and a main objective of Sharia law is to increase benefits and reduce detriments to society.
The question here is not about how a body should be buried in general, but rather how specifically the body of Osama bin Laden should be buried. The decision to bury bin Laden at sea exemplifies for us how Sharia is meant to function as it takes into consideration what would be best for society on a whole through a lens of compassion and mercy.
Consider these three points:
1) Humanity on a whole has a right that needs to be considered in regard to bin Laden’s burial. Who would want this man buried next to their loved one? Is it appropriate, especially after he has caused such pain to so many, to put anyone in a situation where they might have to be buried near or next to him? I would say no.
2) The number of individuals who hate this man, including many Muslims, is extremely large. If he were buried in the ground somewhere, even at an undisclosed location, eventually we would know where his body was. Years of anger and frustration that have built up because of him would now have an outlet for expression. Whichever country had the misfortune of hosting his body would need to increase security measures around his grave. It's a good thing that no country, including Saudi Arabia, wanted to bury him in their lands.
3) There should be no opportunity for glorification of bin Laden. A grave that people could visit also would serve as an opportunity for his small group of followers to memorialize him. These individuals are skewed not only in their misreading and misinterpretation of Islam, but also - and more important - in their understanding of morals and ethics. No opportunity should exist by which they could glorify bin Laden in his death, either in the immediate future or in years to come.
In showing respect for Islam, we demonstrated once again that our war is with terrorists and not the Muslim people. It was a smart decision on a number of levels. Let's face it: the debate over the burial is mostly naked Islamophobia along with a deep desire to hurt the president politically no matter the issue. The Chreeping Sharia website itself is a paranoid waste of internet bandwidth.
On the left, I'm sad to say, we have our own voices of silliness. Politico reports today that:
Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan wrote her supporters, “I am sorry, but if you believe the newest death of OBL, you’re stupid. Just think to yourself—they paraded Saddam’s dead sons around to prove they were dead—why do you suppose they hastily buried this version of OBL at sea? This lying, murderous Empire can only exist with your brainwashed consent—just put your flags away and THINK!”
I once thought of Sheehan as a hero for the way she bravely stood up to George W. Bush and helped to bring attention to the foolish Iraq War. Now? Her passion is turning her into the equivalent of a leftist "birther." Her comments are foolish and irresponsible.
There is still too much silliness in the air. Let's focus on reality and start asking the hard questions about what happens next in Afghanistan, for example, and how we address our economic woes at home and the global climate change crisis that impacts us all. We don't have time for Donald Trump-style freak shows right now.
As crowds gather outside the White House to mark the stunning news announced tonight by President Barack Obama that the war criminal Osama bin Laden has been killed by U.S. forces there are fireworks going off in our NE Portland neighborhood. Let us pray together tonight - no matter our place in the world - for peace and reconciliation in the aftermath of years of terror and war.
Tonight the president rightly said that "the US is not – and never will be – at war with Islam…Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims."
That point, also made by President Bush in the days after 9/11, must never be forgotten.
Tonight my prayers are with the victims of that terrible September day and their families. So to I pray for the young men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces. They have been at war for far too long and made great sacrifices. My prayers are also with President Obama and his staff. As I said last year on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, I still hope that ultimately good can come from that horrible act of war. As a follower of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, I also pray for my enemies tonight. Let those who embrace violence and terror set down their weapons and seek peace. There is nothing that justifies the acts of terror committed by Al Qaeda.
Let those of us who are people of faith - regardless of our religion - be the ones who lead the way by bringing healing to a hurting world. This is yet another moment where we have the opportunity to seize history and work in interfaith partnership toward that peace all humanity desires but that continues to elude us.
Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who last year threatened to burn the Qur'an on the anniversary of 9/11, followed through on his threat this week when his church put the Islam holy book on trial and then burned it. In response, a riot broke out in Afghanistan in which at least 12 people have been killed, most of them workers with the United Nations. Jones had been repeatedly warned his actions could provoke a violent response. Religion News Service reports:
"Showing blatant disrespect for Muslims by burning their scriptures directly contradicts the example and spirit of Jesus, who taught us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves," said Galen Carey, director of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.
"Those who burned the Quran do not represent the vast majority of Christians, who wish to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors."
The Rev. Welton C. Gaddy, president of the Washington-based Interfaith Alliance, called the riots an "unacceptable" response to the Quran burning, but said they show that actions in the U.S. can have consequences overseas.
The New York Times reports on the trial held by Jone's church:
Sitting in judgment was a jury of 12 members of Mr. Jones’s church, the Dove World Outreach Center. After listening to evidence and arguments from both sides, the jury pronounced the Koran guilty of five “crimes against humanity,” including the promotion of terrorist acts and “the death, rape and torture of people worldwide whose only crime is not being of the Islamic faith.”
Punishment was determined by the results of an online poll. Besides burning, the options included shredding, drowning and facing a firing squad. Mr. Jones, a nondenominational evangelical pastor, announced that voters had chosen to set fire to the book, according to a video of the proceedings.
Jones' "trial" took place shortly after U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, held hearings of the loyalty of American Muslims. The hearings were criticized by religious leaders across the United States who feared King's true agenda is to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria as a tool to divide Americans on religious lines.
In response, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, held hearings to examine civil rights violations perpetrated against Muslim Americans. Again, RNS reports:
Durbin's star witness was Thomas Perez, the Justice Department's assistant attorney general for civil rights. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, a "steady stream of violence and discrimination" has targeted Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs and South Asians in the United States, he said.
Perez noted that the Justice Department passed a grim milestone last month when it secured a guilty plea from a man who torched a playground at a Texas mosque: He was the 50th defendant charged in a federal criminal case of post-Sept. 11 backlash.
Muslim complaints about workplace discrimination have increased 150 percent since Sept. 11, Perez said, but he and other witnesses seemed most upset by reports that many Muslim children are harassed at school — called "terrorists" and told to "go home."
"We have a growing docket of cases involving Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian students," he said. Muslim students form the largest category of religious discrimination cases handled by the Department of Justice's education division, Perez added.
Threats to Muslim Americans are certainly real. Last week, the head of the right-wing American Family Association, Bryan Fischer, said that Muslims should not be granted First Amendment protections. Fischer said:
Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.
Our government has no obligation to allow a treasonous ideology to receive special protections in America, but this is exactly what the Democrats are trying to do right now with Islam.
From a constitutional point of view, Muslims have no First Amendment right to build mosques in America. They have that privilege at the moment, but it is a privilege that can be revoked if, as is in fact the case, Islam is a totalitarian ideology dedicated to the destruction of the United States. The Constitution, it bears repeating, is not a suicide pact. For Muslims, patriotism is not the last refuge of a scoundrel, but the First Amendment is.
Clearly, the killing of the United Nations personnel must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. There is no excuse for this kind of violence. At the same time, Jones must be held morally accountable for fanning the flames of hatred. Terry Jones, Peter King and Bryan Fischer seek to use religion to divide the people of the world during a time where we need reconciliation and peace. Their actions will only increase the likelihood of terrorism and violence, and put American soldiers and civilians at further risk. As people of faith, we must stand up against them and proclaim that the Beloved Community is the ideal we seek and reject efforts to divide humanity in the name of the Almighty.
Like many, I'm wary of U.S. military intervention in other nations. I opposed the war in Afghanistan early because, along with the church I served at the time, I felt that U.S. intervention there would be harmful to the civilian population and that the United States would leave Afghanistan in a position similar to that of the Soviet withdrawal, weakened and humbled, without achieving our legitimate goal of defeating the terrorists who attacked the U.S. on 9/11. I also opposed the war with Iraq. Here I had more company as nearly every Christian denomination across the globe that issued a statement concerning the matter opposed invading Iraq. A preemptive war is never legitimate. What is happening in Libya today is not the same as Afghanistan or Iraq. The United Nations, not a U.S.-led coalition under cover of a UN mandate, is working to stop the slaughter of a civilian population. This is what should have occurred in Rwanda.
I'm not sure how other Christian leaders will react. Already, many people I respect have been critical of President Obama and the allied forces attacking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his forces. There are legitimate concerns to be raised about civilian causalities. But I agree with Peter Daou, a former campaign aide to John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, who tweeted tonight: "I don't see a parallel between a war Bush launched based on lies and Obama's action to prevent atrocities in #Libya." So far I have seen no statements from the National Council of Churches or op-ed pieces from religious leaders offering support or criticism. But while I believe that war is always a failure of the human imagination and tainted by sin, I also believe there are times where it can be necessary. Much of my own thinking on the use of violence to protect civilian populations is informed by Samantha Power's book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Power now works in the Obama Administration. For now, I will offer support and prayers for President Obama, prayers for the allied forces, and prayers for all the people of Libya that the violence there ends quickly and that the civilian population can be free from terror. I extend that prayer for all the people of the world and hope for the day when democratic nations no longer support governments that commitment human rights violations with weapons contracts and other forms of aid that prop up too many corrupt governments.
I will also continue to closely monitor the events as they unfold and continue to reassess my views as needed.
Today the shameful, anti-American Congressional hearing launched by U.S. Rep. Peter King to investigate American Muslims got underway. Faithful America believes there are three basic facts we should remember as these hearings move forward:
1. Muslim Americans reject terrorism and extremism.
All major branches of Islam agree that terrorism and violence against innocent people can never be justified. Muslims have wholly and consistently condemned terrorist attacks in all forms. Those who say otherwise just aren’t listening. 1
2. Muslim Americans are key partners with law enforcement
Muslim Americans are just as concerned about the safety of our country as the rest of us, and they are strong allies in the fight against terror. In fact, Muslim Americans have helped foil a significant number of terrorist plots since 9/11. Remember that it was a Muslim street vendor who alerted police to a bombing attempt in Times Square. 2
3. Muslim Americans value religious freedom
Muslims are members of the American family and hold the same American values of religious freedom, respect and cooperation as other faith groups. Muslims in America are teachers, doctors, lawyers, members of our armed forces, and countless other important contributors to our society. It’s time to stop focusing on divisive stereotypes that weaken us as a society and work together to move the country we share forward. Learning the truth about our neighbors is the first step to building a stronger community.
Click here to add your name to a pledge opposing these hearings.
Peter King's anti-Muslim Congressional hearings get underway tomorrow just as news breaks that the bomb planted at an MLK march this January was allegedly left by someone with ties to white supremacists. This begs the question: Why is King - a man with terrorist ties of his own - only investigating Muslims and not violent extremism in general?
First, The Seattle Times reports:
A Stevens County man charged with the attempted bombing along the route of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane has links to a neo-Nazi group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Kevin William Harpham, 36, was a member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance in late 2004, Mark Potok, director of the center's Intelligence Project, said following Harpham's arrest Wednesday.
The bomb was said to have been large enough to have caused mass casualties.
As the Southern Poverty law Center notes, right-wing extremism and the threat of domestic terrorism (not from Muslims but from people who often self-identify as Christian) continues to grow in the United States.
But we are ignoring that reality and focusing in only on Muslims even though the U.S. Department of Justice clearly has stated - despite Rep. King's claims - that U.S. Muslims are active partners in the fight against terrorism. Religious bigotry is the fuel for these hearings.
The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said at a New York rally this weekend that:
In 2011, Americans are in danger of succumbing to a bigotry that will scar our generation in the same way that bigotry scarred those who came before us.
Three hundred years ago, Europeans came to these shores with a determination to conquer and settle at the expense of millions of indigenous peoples who were dismissed as sub-human—certainly not part of “us.”
One hundred fifty years ago, white Americans still subjugated black human beings to a cruel slavery that was justified with Bible prooftexts and a self-serving belief that Blacks are inferior—not part of “us.”
Seventy years ago, in a time of war and fearfulness, tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were deprived of their property and forced into detention camps because surely persons of such ancestry aren’t part of “us.”
Today, we look back on these horrifying events with anguished remorse; and yet I wonder if we’ve learned anything from history. Today, millions of Muslim Americans are subjected to thoughtless generalizations, open discrimination, and outright hostility because of a tiny minority whose acts of violence deny the teachings of the Quran and are denounced by other Muslims! No matter what Rep. King may say, his hearings convey the implicit message that Muslims aren’t part of “us”—and to this sort of bigotry, all citizens of conscience must say NO! When the family portrait of this country is painted, Muslims should have, must have, an honored place in it.
One of our closest partners at the National Council of Churches is the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). This past week, to take only one example, ISNA issued a statement condemning in the strongest possible language the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian who was Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities. According to ISNA’s statement, Mr. Bhatti’s work for religious and civic tolerance is more in line with Quranic teachings than those Muslims who justify or engage in violence. To quote from the statement, “we believe strongly in the responsibility of Muslims to ensure the safety and dignity of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries,” and “convey our deepest condolences for the burning of churches and the murder of Christians over the past few months.”
As this indicates, Rep. King’s assertion that Muslims have not spoken out forcefully enough against extremism is simply wrong—indeed, it is slanderous. If he wants to investigate extremism, then do so—but do not target one entire religion!
As General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, I care deeply about US security and about the wellbeing of Christians in places where extremism is prevalent. But so do millions of Muslims across this country! In the same way, the churches of the NCC affirm that we must care about the wellbeing, the dignity, of Muslims in our midst. On behalf of the fifty million members of our churches, I declare as loudly as possible that whenever Muslims are threatened or demeaned, so are we—because “today we are Muslims, too”!
We all need to stand up against religious extremism, violence and bigotry wherever we might find it. But we shouldn't allow a witch hunt against an entire religion. It is un-American.
From the Nationl Council of Churches:
New York, March 4, 2010 -- the general secretary of the National Council of Churches will be among the religious leaders addressing a 2 p.m. rally in Times Square Sunday to protest Congressional hearings aimed at investigating Muslims in the United States.
The hearings are organized by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chair of the House Homeland Security committee. Critics say the hearings on Islam are reminiscent of McCarthyism and will tend to "demonize" Muslims.
The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary, has been at the forefront of activities supporting the freedom of religion for all U.S. residents, including Muslims who have been targets of anti-Islam discrimination and open attacks for years, especially in the decade following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
Last year Kinnamon defended the building of the Cordoba Community Center and Mosque in downtown Manhattan, and helped organize an interfaith summit to protest a threat by a Florida church to burn the Quran.
In earlier statements, Kinnamon has strongly affirmed religious liberty and tolerance for all groups. "We are made richer and deeper in our Christian community by our relationship with Muslim and Jewish groups."
The March 6 rally, meeting under the banner, "I Am a Muslim, Too," is expected to be attended by more than 75 interfaith, nonprofit, governmental and civil liberties groups.
Dr. Kinnamon was one of my professors at Eden Theological Seminary and I had the pleasure of working as his teaching assisant my final semester in 2005.
Rep. King's hearings to investigate Muslim Americans are the definition of un-American. As I have said before, these hearings bring to mind the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings, dark periods in this land. We should never forgot the lessons of those experiences. The U.S. House of Representatives should not be used as a venue for religious or political persecution.
The GOP wants tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans but are more than happy to leave the heroes of 9/11 out to suffer on their own.
WASHINGTON — Republican senators blocked Democratic legislation on Thursday that sought to provide medical care to rescue workers and residents of New York City who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke from ground zero.
The 9/11 health bill, a version of which was approved by the House of Representatives in September, is among a handful of initiatives that Senate Democrats had been hoping to approve this year before the close of the 111th Congress.
The next time someone calls the GOP the party of "values" or a "strong America" remind them of this.
The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, has strong words for former President Bush:
"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me." That is the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Likewise, the Golden Rule states, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
These are the underpinnings not only for Christianity, but for many of the world's great religions. And these are the tenets of the faith claimed by former President George W. Bush.
That's why Bush's prideful defense of torture in his new memoir, Decision Points, is utterly incomprehensible to me. It's also unrecognizable to the fundamental values of this country, and of Bush's own professed Christian faith...
As the United States reported to the United Nations in 1998 as part of our obligation under the U.N. Convention Against Torture:
"Torture is prohibited by law throughout the United States. It is categorically denounced as a matter of policy and as a tool of state authority. Every act constituting torture under the Convention constitutes a criminal offence under the law of the United States. No official of the government, federal, state or local, civilian or military, is authorized to commit or to instruct anyone else to commit torture. Nor may any official condone or tolerate torture in any form. No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture."
We are now confronted with the fact that a president of the United States has openly acknowledged ordering torture. It is a sad and shameful moment. And, it is one we cannot let pass without consequence. Under our own laws, we must hold ourselves accountable; former President Bush has left us no choice.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), a coalition of more than 290 religious organizations representing most of the major faith groups, has called for an independent counsel to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing. In addition, the coalition has asked for a Commission of Inquiry to take testimony about U.S.-sponsored torture, review all the records, and report to the public what it learns. It would also recommend safeguards to ensure that torture by the United States never happens again.
We must demand of ourselves what we demand of others in the international community, and what all major faiths require of us: respect for the dignity and value of every human being, a manifestation of that which is most holy.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke before the General Assembly of the United Nations today and what he said prompted many delegates from across the world to walk out. CNN reports:
Incendiary statements from Ahmadinejad are nothing new for the assembled delegates. But tension grew as he recounted various conspiracy theories about the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., driving multiple representatives from the hall.
"Some segments within the US government orchestrated the attack," Ahmadinejad told the assembly. He followed with the claim that the attacks were aimed at reversing "the declining American economy and its scripts on the Middle East in order to save the Zionist regime. The majority of the American people, as well as most nations and politicians around the world, agree with this view."
After that statement, delegates rose and exited the hall. Representatives from the U.S., the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, Belgium, Uruguay and Spain walked out while Ahmadinejad discussed claims that the U.S. was involved in the attacks or allowed them to happen as an excuse to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ahmadinejad is a dangerous and brutal leader. He kills his own people and calls for Israel to the wiped off the face of the earth. Iran, which has a long history of aggressive behavior and human rights violations, would be a threat to the world if their aspirations to develop nuclear weapons succeeded. The United Nations and the United States must do all in our power to support moderate and progressive elements within Iran that oppose Ahmadinejad.
World religious leaders can play a constructive role as well by establishing dialog with the many religious leaders within Iran that seek peace over conflict.
All the people of the world should applaud those delegates who today walked out of Ahmadinejad speech.
U.S. Senator John McCain's promised filibuster of legislation that would have ended discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military will forever stain McCain's legacy. Along with men like Strom Thurmond, he will be remembered for using his seat of power to discriminate against a minority of his fellow Americans. And like Thurmond, McCain will forever be remembered as a hypocrite. We learned after Thurmond's death that while he had been fighting civil rights for African-Americans he had fathered a daughter with an African-American woman. We know as well that on September 11, 2001 a San Francisco resident, Mark Bingham, helped overpower the hijackers aboard flight United Flight 93. Bingham was a gay man who defended his country. "I may very well owe my life to Mark," said McCain in the aftermath of 9/11. It was believed the terrorists hoped to crash their plane into the U.S. Capitol, where McCain was at work, or perhaps the White House. Bingham, a rugby player and business man, helped to overpower the terrorists. The plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania and countless lives, including perhaps McCain's, were saved. Bingham once again showed Americans that sexual orientation shouldn't be used as factor on which to discrimination against people. A gay man helped save McCain's life on 9/11 and today McCain told all gay and lesbian Americans that their lives and contributions are not as valid as the sacrifices made by straight Americans. McCain's actions today were the worst kind of political hypocrisy. McCain not only dishonored Bingham's memory but dishonored all those who are gay and lesbian and who serve in our military.
Politico: First ladies praise heroic passengers
“It was remarkable to have both first ladies here,” said Gordon Felt, who lost his older brother, Edward, in the Shanksville crash. “It was symbolic of the bipartisan support we received after the crash. It’s moving how they came together. It means so much to us.”
Photo Credit: First Lady Michelle Obama and Former First Lady Laura Bush listen to the national anthem at the Flight 93 Memorial site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, September 11, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
Today - September 11, 2010 - was the day a Florida pastor planned to burn the Qur'an. Now those plans seem cancelled. The world spoke out against his actions (including nearly 19,000 who joined the Facebook site People of Faith Against Burning the Qur'an).
That Florida pastor is saying he cancelled the event because his goal of exposing the "radical" nature of Islam has been accomplished. Sadly, what he truly exposed is that all religions, including Christianity, have their extremists. The world, however, stood up to that extremism. Muslims called for restraint and peace. Christians and Jews stood in solidarity with Muslims across the globe. In an ironic twist, the extremist pastor from Florida helped to bring people of faith together and perhaps defused some of the growing tensions between the American people.
Today, on this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I wrote in an op-ed for The Oregonian - in which I said, in part:
Thousands of religious leaders -- myself included -- released a statement in the days after 9/11 entitled: "Deny Them Their Victory: A Religious Response to Terrorism." It read, in part: "We face deep and profound questions of what this attack on America will do to us as a nation. The terrorists have offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance and injustice is a resort to the random and cowardly violence of revenge -- even against the most innocent. Having taken thousands of our lives, attacked our national symbols, forced our political leaders to flee their chambers of governance, disrupted our work and families, and struck fear into the hearts of our children, the terrorists must feel victorious. But we can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image. Terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further its aims. We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. It is especially important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us."
Our government didn't listen to that plea. It began an assault on Afghanistan that seemed more of an act of vengeance than a genuine effort to root out terrorists. Then we used the excuse of 9/11 to invade Iraq. Security experts have since warned that our actions have made the world less stable.
In scripture, Jesus says: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous."
We didn't listen to those words. We chose another path. Americans had just cause to go after those who conducted the terrorist attacks to prevent further violence. Yet our actions in both Afghanistan and Iraq violated the principles laid out by Thomas Aquinas and others in terms of what a "just war" should be. Our response was not proportional. It did not protect civilian lives. And in the case of Iraq, it was pre-emptive rather than in response to any attack on the United States. We never sought to build a genuine peace out of the ashes of war. Still we are not listening.
The recent opposition to plans for a Muslim community center and mosque near the site of ground zero in New York, and the threats from a Florida church to publicly burn the Quran illustrate that anger, fear and even religious bigotry are some of the lessons we've taken away from 9/11. A fever seems to have taken hold of part of our people. Blind hatred seems to have replaced the desire for reconciliation and peace.Perhaps the experience of the last week will bring us closer together and reinforce the positive role religion can play in the quest for peace.
I want to thank all those who became a fan of People of Faith Against the Burning of the Qur'an. Many of you sent respectful and heartfelt letters to the Florida church asking them to call off their plans. Others are attending events today to remember this 9/11.
Let us all join in prayer today for the victims of that terrible day when religious extremists sought to divide the world. Let us pray for peace, reconciliation and justice. Again, thank you for standing up and being a witness for God's unyielding love. Your actions have brought hope alive again.
Two nights ago - upset that the Dove World Outreach Center had a Facebook page with 9,000+ fans cheering on their plan to burn copies of the Qur'an - I stared another Facebook page: People Of Faith Opposed To The Burning of the Qur'an. In under 48 hours, over 6,000 people have joined. But should we be giving this small church so much attention?
The quick answer is yes. This is just the latest example in a rising sea of hostility and bigotry directed at Muslims (see Mosque, New York) in recent months. An emergency summit of American religious leaders representing many traditions - including Christians, Jews and Muslims - was held yesterday to speak out against this wave of hatred as we approach the ninth anniversary of 9/11.
Just about everyone you can think of - from the Vatican to the World Council of Churches - has condemned Dove World Outreach Center's plans (though I've not yet heard far-right groups such as Focus on the Family weigh in...they're pretty busy bashing gays this week...something they share in common with Dove World Outreach Center).
In any event, most mainstream religious leaders - conservative, moderate and progressive - have spoken out against this small church.
Margret Mead once said: A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
The reverse can also be true. After all, it was a small group of Islamic extremists that attacked New York on 9/11 - killing people of all faiths, including Muslims. They changed the world.
What has made so many people speak up against the Dove World Outreach Center is the collective feeling across religious lines that burning a Holy book is wrong no matter what. The church's hateful teachings on Islam (rants really) are theological malpractice. The pastor and members of Dove World Outreach Center make us feel like we have to take a shower after we see them on television or on the internet because of the filth they spew.
Most people of faith - regardless of tradition - understand the Divine to be peaceful; concerned with justice and reconciliation (though we often disagree on exactly what that means). Our faith(s) compels us, regardless of differences, to stand united against hatred today the same way people of faith in America united against hate on September 11, 2001. We recognize evil when we see it.
In the end, the Dove World Outreach Center might be doing us a favor (ironically). They're forcing Americans to confront the reality of religious bigotry directed at Muslims. The result of their actions may be to bring people together. Perhaps God is working through them in ways we don't fully understand.
Join people of faith in support of the freedom to worship. Stop the War on Prayer.
Religious bigotry is simply un-American. But we are seeing it today.
CBS News reports on this video:
In the video, posted by "lefthandedart," members of the crowd can be heard chanting "no mosque here," partially in the direction of an African-American man walking through the crowd. The man is wearing a white Under Armour cap that appears to given some members of the crowd the impression that he is Muslim.
The man becomes frustrated, asking why the protesters are yelling at him and complaining that they don't know his opinion on the issue. Another man can be heard yelling something like "run away, coward."
"I'm not even Muslim, but I've got my beliefs about this mosque," the African-American man tells a man who seems to be trying to calm him down. At that point, a protester in a blue hardhat confronts the man; other protesters quickly step in to separate the two. The "no mosque here" chant begins again.
Later in the video, a man can be heard yelling, "he must have voted for Obama," while another appears to be complaining about media coverage. At another point, someone can also be heard yelling "Mohammed's a pig, Mohhamed's a pig" as the African-American man talks, after which a woman can be heard saying, "you don't need to say that."We are a better people than this.
A powerful (and morally correct) statement from U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley:
....many mosque opponents argue, just because it can be built does not mean it should be. They say it would be disrespectful to the memories of those who died on 9/11 to build a Muslim facility near the World Trade Center site. I appreciate the depth of emotions at play, but respectfully suggest that the presence of a mosque is only inappropriate near ground zero if we unfairly associate Muslim Americans with the atrocities of the foreign al-Qaidaterrorists who attacked our nation.Critics Of President’s Remarks On NYC #Mosque Ignore Cherished American Values Of Religious Freedom and Tolerance
Such an association is a profound error. Muslim Americans are our fellow citizens, not our enemies. Muslim Americans were among the victims who died at the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks. Muslim American first responders risked their lives to save their fellow citizens that day. Many of our Muslim neighbors, including thousands of Oregon citizens, serve our country in war zones abroad and our communities at home with dedication and distinction.
Some have also argued that the construction of the mosque would hand a propaganda victory to Osama bin Laden. I think the opposite is true. Al-Qaida justifies its murder by painting America as a nation at war with Islam. Celebrating our freedom of religion and Muslim Americans' place in our communities is a blow to al-Qaida's ideology of hate and division. We strengthen America by distinguishing, clearly and unequivocally, between our al-Qaida enemy and our Muslim neighbors.
Tonight President Obama out lined his plans to send an additional 30,000 troops to stop the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He also stated his desire to remove all U.S. forces starting in mid-2011. As the president noted in his address to the nation from West Point, Afghanistan was largely ignored after American forces first invaded after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 in favor of the war in Iraq:
After escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda's leadership established a safe haven there. Although a legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it's been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient security forces.
Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to control additional swaths of territory in Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating attacks of terrorism against the Pakistani people.
Now, throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive.
Religious leaders sent a petition to the president in recent weeks asking for something more than a surge in American troops. I was one of those who signed it. The petition was produced by the folks at Sojourners and read in part:
We are concerned that the discussion in Washington, D.C., is far too narrow. We respectfully and prayerfully suggest that you pursue a strategy built on a humanitarian and development surge.
Massive humanitarian assistance and sustainable development can rebuild a broken nation, inspire confidence, trust, and hope among its people, and undermine the appeal of terrorism. And it costs less - far less - than continued war.
Lead with economic development, starting in areas that are secure, and grow from there - providing only the security necessary to protect the strategic rebuilding of the country. Do not make aid and development another weapon of war by tying it so closely to the military; rather, provide the security needed for development work to succeed. This kind of peacekeeping security might better attract the international involvement we so desperately need, both from Europe and Arab and Muslim countries.
Pursue political and diplomatic solutions by promoting stable governance in Afghanistan and Pakistan; seeking political integration of those elements of the Taliban that are willing to cooperate; engaging with the United Nations and regional states to stabilize the region and promote economic development; and investing in international policing to prevent the spread of extremists and the use of terror.
During his remarks tonight the president directly addressed the Afghan people:
The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They've been confronted with occupation -- by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand -- America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect -- to isolate those who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner, and never your patron.
But I heard no strategy for rebuilding the country and unless we are able to do that in partnership with the Afghan people and the world community there will never be real peace in that part of the globe. The modern equivalent of a Marshall Plan is needed for both Iraq and Afghanistan but such a plan did not seem central to the president’s vision.
At the same time, the president made a good case tonight that a swift withdrawal of the United States would do nothing to serve either the security needs of the American or Afghan people.
But will additional forces really make any long-term difference?
In 2006, the National Council of Churches in Christ in the USA released a statement regarding Iraq that applies to the situation in Afghanistan as well:
… we call upon the U.S. Government to recognize that the continued presence of occupying forces has not provided meaningful security for Iraqi citizens and only exacerbates escalating violence, and begin an immediate phased withdrawal of American and coalition forces from Iraq with a timetable that provides for an expeditious final troop withdrawal. And we further call upon our government to link this withdrawal plan to benchmarks for rebuilding Iraqi society, since the reconstruction of infrastructure, the restoration of essential services, and a foundation for economic growth are necessary to nurture Iraqi hopes for a stable future, and to steps to meet the security concerns of all Iraqis, including the more vulnerable, smaller ethnic and religious communities.
The U.S. should take no action that further harms the Afghan people. Any withdrawal here also needs to be linked to benchmarks.
President Obama should be commended for his thoughtful approach to this mess that was inherited from the Bush Administration. But as The New York Times said tonight in an editorial, a lot of questions remain unanswered this evening:
We are eager to see American troops come home. We don’t know whether Mr. Obama will be able to meet his July 2011 deadline to start drawing down forces.
For that to happen, there will have to be a lot more success at training Afghan forces and improving the government’s effectiveness.
Still, setting a deadline — so long as it is not set in stone — is a sound idea. Mr. Karzai and his aides need to know that America’s commitment is not open-ended. Mr. Obama’s generals and diplomats also need to know that their work will be closely monitored and reviewed.
Otherwise, Mr. Obama will be hard pressed to keep his promise that this war, already the longest in American history, will not go on forever.
It’s not clear how we will even pay for this war to continue.
Congress needs to have an open and fair debate over these issues and America’s diverse religious communities in cooperation with the world faith community should seek to offer guidance both to U.S. officials and the public over how to best bring peace to the destabilized nation of Afghanistan.
Little was said by the president tonight that offers me confidence that we are on the right course in the long-term.Nonetheless, I welcome President Obama's honest assessment of the difficulties faced by the U.S. – such a welcome change after the last president – and thoughtfulness.
On this - another beautiful fall day that reminds me of September 2001 - we stop as a nation to remember those lost on 9/11. Thousands died in a terrible crime. For a brief moment what happened united the American people in a way not seen in generations. Sadly, that moment was lost as some used the attacks to further divide the American people and to push social agendas and foreign policy doctrines that left America weaker and which must have given the terrorists hope.
So it did the country good today to see the two major presidential party candidates put aside their campaigns for a moment and in the spirit of national unity join together at Ground Zero. The New York Times reports:
After days of sharp attacks against each other on the campaign trail, John McCain and Barack Obama suspended their political advertising Thursday and made a joint visit late this afternoon to ground zero in New York City to mark the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Mr. Obama, after a 90-minute lunch with former President Bill Clinton in Harlem, traveled far downtown to the former site of the World Trade Center and met Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg near the pile just before 4 p.m. A short time later, Mr. McCain and his wife Cindy arrived and shook hands with Mr. Obama and Mr. Bloomberg.
Then the two presidential nominees walked shoulder-to-shoulder down a long ramp toward the site, occasionally chatting along the way, as Mrs. McCain and Mayor Bloomberg walked behind. Michelle Obama was home in Chicago with the couple’s daughters on Thursday.
At the end of the ramp, the two senators greeted a small receiving line; each took a rose — Mr. Obama, a pink one, and Mr. McCain, a yellow one — and laid the flower on a reflecting pool at the bottom of the site. They stood silent for a few moments, each clasping his own fingers, and then shook hands with officers of the New York police and fire departments.
The four then walked back up the ramp, which was decked with flags of dozens of nations; Mr. McCain took his wife by the arm, while Mr. Obama walked with his hands behind his back as Mr. Bloomberg appeared to point out sights. Near their separate motorcades, the two men shook hands with several uniformed officers and thanked them for their service. They also posed separately for a couple of photographs by children and other onlookers, chatted with some of them, and accepted a couple of roses and notes.
At the end, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama shook hands, and Mr. McCain could be heard saying to his rival, “All right sir, see you soon.” Both appeared cordial but somber.
The idea for the two rivals to appear together at ground zero originated last week during a telephone conversation between the men. When Mr. Obama called Mr. McCain to congratulate him on accepting the Republican presidential nomination, aides to both men said, Mr. Obama proposed the idea and Mr. McCain accepted.
We need more moments like this in American politics - where people even when they disagree with each other on the issues - can come together when it matters. Senator Obama was right to see this as a moment that should be about reconciliation and not politics.
Jonathan Martin reports:
In a moment sure to provide memorable images, Barack Obama and John McCain will stand together in solidarity at the former site of the World Trade Center on the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The campaigns jointly issued a statement today announcing a rare moment of unity in a campaign increasingly marked by sharply worded attacks.
"On Thursday, we will put aside politics and come together to renew that unity, to honor the memory of each and every American who died, and to grieve with the families and friends who lost loved ones," said both senators in a statement. "We will also give thanks for the firefighters, police and emergency responders who set a heroic example of selfless service, and for the men and women who serve today in defense of the freedom and security that came under attack in New York City, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa."
Click here for the full post.
I'm feeling a little bit better about the state of America right this moment.
The 9/11 terrorists clearly hoped to destabilize the United States. Our president has unwittingly helped them to succeed. In response to the attacks President Bush has pursued policies that have helped to make America a weaker nation. Thankfully, the Supreme Court stood up again this week to defend the Constitutional principles that have made our nation a beacon of freedom.
Eugene Robinson sums it up well:
It shouldn't be necessary for the Supreme Court to tell the president that he can't have people taken into custody, spirited to a remote prison camp and held indefinitely, with no legal right to argue that they've been unjustly imprisoned -- not even on grounds of mistaken identity. But the president in question is, sigh, George W. Bush, who has taken a chainsaw to the rule of law with the same manic gusto he displays while clearing brush at his Texas ranch.
So yesterday, for the third time, the high court made clear that the Decider has no authority to trash the fundamental principles of American jurisprudence. In ruling 5 to 4 that foreigners held at Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge their detentions in federal court, the court cited the Constitution and the centuries-old concept of habeas corpus. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's majority opinion seems broad and definitive enough to end the Kafkaesque farce at Guantanamo once and for all.
"The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times," Kennedy wrote. Again, it's amazing that any president of the United States would need to have such a basic concept spelled out for him.
That reference to "extraordinary times" takes care of a specious argument that Bush and his legal minions have consistently tried to make: that when the nation is at war, as it has been since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the president has extraordinary powers that allow him to do basically anything he wants.
Religious leaders, of course, have been calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay for years now. We've also pushed for the prohibition of torture. It is disappointing that John McCain has reversed course on so many of these issues and pledged support for the failed policies undertaken by President Bush.
A moral society can not be maintained through the use of immoral means.
Gracious God, we pled our case before you.
We ask that you remember those who six years ago today were killed and injured in an act of terror meant to draw your people apart. Comfort those who still greave. Comfort those whose injuries have not healed. And please, O God, give strength to those first responders who are now falling ill after inhaling toxic fumes.
We ask that you give hope to the nations that went to war as part of the fallout of 9/11. We admit, O God, that our churches did not do enough to prevent this course of action. Have mercy on us. We ask that you be a protector of the civilians and the young soldiers caught up in these conflicts. Bring them guardians and prophets who wage not more war but fight with the weapon of love to bring an end to war and suffering. Let your peace silence the guns.
Help us, parent of the Prince of Peace, to reconcile the world. Help us find new ways to talk together and new ways to live together in love and respect. Give us the wisdom to stop the wars that rage and to end the brutal terrorism faced by so many. Let your light overcome the darkness of our age. Our hope rests in you.
- written by The Rev. Chuck Currie
Every television news program is carrying the same story this week: we are at risk for another terrorist attack. Information from the intelligence community has confirmed that Al-Qaeda remains a clear and present danger to the America people. The Washington Post reports:
Six years after the Bush administration declared war on al-Qaeda, the terrorist network is gaining strength and has established a safe haven in remote tribal areas of western Pakistan for training and planning attacks, according to a new Bush administration intelligence report…
U.S. intelligence has proven faulty at best but few would seriously doubt that Al-Qaeda wants to do serious harm to our nation and will do so if given the opportunity.
Only the villains behind Al-Qaeda can be held responsible for the violence they wage but President George W. Bush’s policies have allowed Al-Qaeda to grow and remain a serious threat.
In a survey of national security experts conducted by the Center for American Progress it was report that:
More than two-thirds of the experts believe that Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism and 88 percent think that operations in Iraq are undermining U.S. national security….
The Bush administration’s misguided tactics in the fight against global terrorist networks are making the United States a more dangerous place. Eighty-two percent of the experts expect another 9/11-scale attack on the United States sometime in the next decade, and 83 percent believe that the Taliban, Hamas, and Hezbollah have all strengthened over the past year. An overwhelming 91 percent urge the United States to dramatically increase pressure on Pakistan, which many believe will become the next Al Qaeda stronghold. The United States needs to turn its attention away from Iraq if it hopes to contain these terrorist groups.
If we are attacked again it would represent a failure of colossal proportions on the part of President Bush. The war in Iraq has only further destabilized the world and allowed terrorist networks to grow.
We had a good turnout tonight for the showing of THE GROUND TRUTH at Parkrose Community United Church of Christ. The film lets veterans tell their own stories about combat and their difficult journeys re-entering American society. All of us were struck by the imagines of dead children and other "non-combatants." It breaks your heart to watch children die.
It is fair to say that most who watched this film left with anger and with a sense that we have all been called in these times to be peacemakers.
Tomorrow I'll be leaving for The Dallas, a city along the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. The reason for my trip: the fall gathering of the Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ. The Rev. Dr. David Greenhaw, president of Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO., is our keynoter and I've been asked to introduce Dr. Greenhaw.
Saturday night I've been invited to play poker - a rare treat for me - and will make it back to Portland in time for that.
Then I will be back to preaching this Sunday morning.
On Sunday afternoon, I will also be guest of Air America's State of Belief program. Visit their site for additional information.
I finally read the president's speech last night commemorating 9/11.
You would have hoped that Bush would have used the speech to rally the country together but instead he used the speech to defend his indefensible policies in Iraq.
Edward Kennedy offered the best reaction:
"The President should be ashamed of using a national day of mourning to commandeer the airwaves to give a speech that was designed not to unite the country and commemorate the fallen but to seek support for a war in Iraq that he has admitted had "nothing" to do with 9/11. There will be time to debate this President's policies in Iraq. September 11th is not that time."
But unfortunately the president keeps trying to link Iraq with 9/11 - even when all the evidence shows otherwise.
I have nothing new to add to the debate over Iraq today but will repeat here what I said in my sermon this past Sunday:
Did you know that somewhere around 40,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the U.S. invasion? And that over 2,500 Americans have died there? We were told at the time that Iraq was involved with 9/11 and that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and if we did not invade we would be inviting another terrorist attack. We know all that now to be false. At the time the Vatican and the World Council of Churches implored the United States and Britain not to invade Iraq. Christian religious leaders have been nearly united in opposing the Iraq war. But even now when confronted with evidence that our government invaded based on lies and false information our leaders refuse to change course.
Before we spent too much time attacking our leaders for the path they took it is worth remembering that our response to 9/11 may have been the most human response possible: we sought vengeance and struck out wherever we could.
We thought of our enemies as people separated from God's love - much as Jesus seemed to do when he called that woman no better than a dog.
The result has been to create a world more dangerous.
We have to ask ourselves now how long we will continue to allow vengeance to rule our world. The terrorists wanted war and chaos. The terrorists wanted Christians and Jews and Muslims to be separated from one another. The terrorists wanted us to think of one another as no better than dogs - to be people separated from God. Unless we allow ourselves as Jesus did to repent and be transformed the terrorists will have won the day. If we truly believe that we are all God's children we cannot let this war go on. If we truly believe that we are called by God to be peacemakers we need to address the inequities that divide the rich world from the poor world and we must address the conditions that help allow terrorism and war to foster.
God is still calling us to seek peace.
Someone needs to tell the president.
Press Release from the National Council of Churches USA
New York, September 11, 2006 – Five years after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the horror of that day still stings the hearts of men and women of goodwill throughout the world, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches said today.
“Along with all Americans,” said the Rev. Bob Edgar, “as we think of the victims in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, on the airliners and the rescue teams, we believe that, despite the horror that marked their deaths, our loving God has granted them a place of peace, where the troubles and sorrows of this world can touch them no more.”
Edgar said: “We also pray that the families and friends they left behind will one day find divine healing and comfort.”
Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC associate general secretary for International Affairs and Peace, also recalled the heroism of rescue teams, police and civilians that day. “In the midst of tragedy came an unprecedented wave of national unity,” he said.
Kireopoulos expressed concern that the nation’s early resolve to root out the sources of terror in Afghanistan and elsewhere has given way to the distractions of the war in Iraq.
“The United States government has offered a series of justifications for the war in Iraq, “including the need to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the desirability of planting a new democracy in the Middle East, and the need to destroy a major base for terrorism, all of which have been proved false or ill considered as events unfolded.”
The NCC point of view of this war in Iraq is informed by our belief that all war, though sometime used to overcome a greater evil, is contrary to the will of God, and an affront to God’s creation. If scripture is our guide, then we are called to seek peace (Matthew 5:9) and to turn our swords into plowshares
Kireopoulos called upon the U.S. to develop, by the end of the year, a plan for the phased withdrawal of American and coalition forces from Iraq. Such a plan should be linked to benchmarks for the rebuilding of Iraqi society, he said.
He also called for meaningful support of U.S. troops in Iraq. This would include providing soldiers with adequate armor to protect them from gunfire and explosive devices as well as giving earned benefits to veterans, especially injured veterans.
But the best way to support the troops is by “creating a withdrawal plan that brings their sacrifices to an end,” Kireopoulos said.
He called on the U.S. to commit the necessary resources to finding the actual perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, and bringing them to justice through internationally recognized judicial processes in the U.S.
Edgar also said the U.S. should not “contemplate another invasion, another war,” by confrontation with Iran as it seeks to develop a nuclear program.
On the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, “we must take a higher road, breaking cycles of violence and pursuing peace,” Edgar said. “In this way we will truly honor the memory of those who died on September 11, 2001.”
This morning I preached at Parkrose Community United Church of Christ on Mark 7:24-30, and on how Scripture illustrates for us a way to live free from the acts of violence we saw on September 11, 2001, in the U.S. invasion of Iraq - and in the continuing war there.
Use the below link to download the podcast of this sermon for your iPod or personal computer.
(click with the RIGHT mouse button on the hyperlink and choose "Save Target As" and save to your desktop or other folder - once downloaded click on the file to listen).
Want to read the text of the sermon? My incomplete notes are below:
We Were There…. - United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
September 11 Fifth Anniversary Worship Resources - United Church of Christ
9/11: Memories, Questions, Hopes - United Methodist Church
Presiding Bishop's message for the fifth anniversary of 9/11 - Episcopal Church USA
Respond To The Call - Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
"I'm not aware of any situation in the world where there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people where an individual can be tried and convicted without seeing the evidence against him," Brig. Gen. James Walker, U.S. Marine Corps staff judge advocate told a Congressional hearing. - Reuters
"I'm not aware of any situation in the world where there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people where an individual can be tried and convicted without seeing the evidence against him," Brig. Gen. James Walker, U.S. Marine Corps staff judge advocate told a Congressional hearing. - Reuters
As a Christian, I am called to seek non-violent responses and agree with those who assert that war is contrary to the will of God. That is not to say that I believe violence is never justified as a defense. But I do believe that violence - particularly state violence - nearly always represents a failure of our response to God's will for us.
Many Christians have spoken out against the U.S. use of torture in the on-going conflicts associated with Islamic fundamentalism. In fact, the invasion of Iraq was opposed by the Vatican and the World Council of Churches. The National Council of Churches USA (NCC) helped led domestic opposition to the war.
This week the president of the United States announced - as human rights groups had previously charged - that the CIA has run secret prisons where detainees are stripped of all rights. In response, NCC "reaffirmed its abhorrence of secret prisons operated by the United States and called upon the government to bring American prisoners to trial."
The president now wants prisoners to go to trail but does not want them to have access to evidence against them or other basic rights.
"Pentagon lawyers balked at Bush's proposal to limit the terrorism suspects' access to evidence," reports Reuters.
"I'm not aware of any situation in the world where there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people where an individual can be tried and convicted without seeing the evidence against him," Brig. Gen. James Walker, U.S. Marine Corps staff judge advocate told a Congressional hearing.
Back in 1965 NCC offered theological language that addresses the rights of prisoners during a time of war.
"Christians believe that man is made in the image of God, that every person is of intrinsic worth before God, and that every individual has a right to the fullest possible opportunity for the development of life abundant and eternal. Denials of rights and freedoms that inhere in man's worth before God are not simply a crime against humanity; they are a sin against God."
Human rights groups are also concerned with the president's plans.
Legislation proposed by the Bush administration and introduced in Congress yesterday would recreate a system of fatally flawed military commissions akin to those that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down on June 29, 2006 in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Human Rights Watch said today.
Moreover, the legislation would decriminalize the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by civilian interrogators. This would rewrite the standards of basic humane treatment that have guided U.S. policy since the Second World War.
"The last thing the U.S. needs is for public attention to focus on the unfairness of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad's trial rather than the seriousness of his alleged crimes," said Jennifer Daskal, U.S. advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "The U.S. should be seeking justice - not preordained convictions."
Clearly, the president is on a campaign to stoke fear among the American people in advance of the November elections and the debate - as it always is with Bush - has been couched in language that boils down to you're either with the president or for the terrorists.
Several key Republican leaders seem ready to buck the president and align themselves with religious leaders and human rights groups opposed to the president's plan. Brig. Gen. James Walker provided a great service to the nation with his testimony before Congress.
What happens this week in Congress will speak volumes about our relationship with God. Are we a people of faith committed to Biblical principles of justice or have we abandoned our most sacred values for political expediency? The president has already answered the question for himself. Where does the Congress stand?
Did you hear about the new ABC "docudrama" on 9/11 that blames Bill Clinton for the attacks? This story has been making the rounds and this post maybe a little late to the party. But just in case you haven't heard....
Next week, Americans will commemorate the five-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. ABC Television is marking this important moment with a miniseries called "The Path to 9/11." Promos for the movie say it is "based on the 9/11 Commission Report." The miniseries' writer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, claims he "wanted to match the just-the-facts tone of the report," and describes the project as "an objective telling of the events of 9/11." In fact, the film is an inaccurate and deeply-biased account that blames President Clinton for the 9/11 attacks while whitewashing the Bush administration's approach to terrorism. The events leading up to September 11, 2001 are too important to play politics with the facts. Act now. Tell ABC to tell the truth about 9/11.
Nowrasteh is a conservative political activist.
Among the problems with the program:
A key scene in "The Path to 9/11" involves President Clinton's national security adviser Samuel Berger, "who freezes in dithering apprehension" when a CIA agent radios in from Afghanistan to say that he and a group of local tribesmen "have Osama bin Laden within sight." The CIA character "begs for the green light to capture or kill the al Qaeda chieftain, but the line goes dead, suggesting that Berger and his colleagues, including Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, frozen in indecision, had hung up on the CIA man." According to Richard Clarke -- former counterterrorism czar under Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II, and now counterterrorism adviser to ABC -- this depiction is "utterly invented" and "180 degrees from what happened." In a statement posted on ThinkProgress, Clarke stated that there were no U.S. military or CIA personnel on the ground in Afghanistan who ever saw bin Laden, and that contrary to the movie, "the CIA Director actually said that he could not recommend a strike on the camp because the information was single sourced and we would have no way to know if bin Laden was in the target area by the time a cruise missile hit it." In fact, as 9/11 Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste pointed out yesterday, the commission actually found that President Clinton had given the green light to every "operation that had been cleared by the C.I.A. to kill bin Laden." In other words, ABC invented from whole cloth a scene which makes the incendiary claim that the Clinton administration passed on a surefire chance to kill or catch bin Laden.
As Clarke has stated in his book and in interviews, President Clinton did a great deal to combat terrorism and the Bush Administration dropped the ball when they took office. Could Clinton have stopped the attacks had he still been in office? That's impossible to know. But everyone from peace promoting U.S. Christian leaders to national security experts has asserted that Bush's policies have made America a less secure place to raise a family. ABC isn't running a docudrama - they're running a movie length campaign commercial for the Republican National Committee.
Islamic fundamentalists killed thousands on 9/11 but the ensuing damage to our Constitutional democracy came not from the outside but from the far reaching attacks on civil liberalities undertaken by the Bush Administration.
Today we can be glad that the U.S. Supreme Court “struck down the military commissions President Bush established to try suspected members of al-Qaeda, emphatically rejecting a signature Bush anti-terrorism measure and the broad assertion of executive power upon which the president had based it,” according to The Washington Post.
The defense of our democracy must take place within Constitutional bounds. Sadly, this president has shown a certain level of contempt for the Constitution. We may find that this president has in the end done more harm to America than the terrorists. If we abandon our freedoms in response to terror then the terrorists have won.
A few weeks ago during a Seattle radio interview I called Ann Coulter “nuts.” One caller said my words were unchristian but another blogger wrote to say calling her a “nut” was an act of Christian charity. Her interview this past week where she charged that 9/11 widows had enjoyed their husband’s deaths proved my point. Coulter is a dangerous woman who will do and say anything to divide Americans along political, religious and racial lines for political gain. She is a warrior for the most extreme elements of the far right in America. The art of politics ought to be about bringing Americans together to face difficult issues that have the potential to harm the health of the nation and the world. Is Coulter a Christian? I do not know what religious affiliation if any she claims. But her words and actions are unchristian and I hope that those in the Religious Right and those in the Republican Party disown her message and that the media stop covering her nutty rants. For our democracy to thrive our discourse needs to reject the hate-speech of Ann Coulter and embrace those voices who seek with intention to reconcile our people.
Statement from the National Council of Churches USA
New York, June 11, 2006 -- The suicides of three prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba have prompted a renewed call by the National Council of Churches USA that the facility be closed.
The suicides are "another milestone in a sordid history of human rights denial and crimes against humanity," said the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC General Secretary.
"Americans who love their country and its historic ideals are mortified by this continuing blot on our honor, on our steadfast defense of freedom, and on our commitment to democracy and the rule of law," Edgar said.
Edgar also repeated a plea he made in February to Secretary of State Condoleeeza Rice that the NCC be allowed to send a small interfaith delegation to Guantanamo "to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees."
Rice has not responded to the request. Similar requests were turned down by former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 and 2004.
Last February, Edgar praised a United Nations report that called upon the U.S. to close Guantanamo, to refrain from "any practice amounting to torture," and either bring detainees to trial or "release them."
The NCC Governing Board, composed of representatives of the council's member communions, has warned that the denials of human rights and freedoms "are not simply a crime against humanity; they are a sin against God."
The full text of Edgar's statement follows:
The deaths by suicide of three prisoners of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility are another milestone in a sordid history of human rights denial and crimes against humanity. As the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches USA made clear in February 2004, the denial of rights and freedoms are not simply crimes against human beings: they are sins against God.
We urgently renew our call, made most recently on February 16, 2006, that the United States close its Guantanamo Bay detention facility without delay.
We also renew our request to the Secretary of State that the National Council of Churches USA be allowed to send a small interfaith delegation to Guantanamo to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees.
It has been four months since the United Nations Commission on Human Rights called upon the U.S. to close Guantanamo, to refrain from "any practice amounting to torture," and either bring detainees to trial or "release them." The National Council of Churches USA immediately endorsed the U.N. report, and called upon the U.S. government to accept its recommendations.
Since then, 75 detainees have staged hunger strikes to protest conditions in the jail. Amnesty International has described the facilities as "a legal black hole" where detainees are denied access to any court, legal counsel or family visits. "Denied their rights under international law and held in conditions which may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," Amnesty reports, "the detainees face severe psychological distress."
Americans who love their country and its historic ideals are mortified by this continuing blot on our honor, on our steadfast defense of freedom, and on our commitment to democracy and the rule of law. We appeal again to the President and to the Secretary of State: bring this cruel and humiliating chapter to an end. Close the Guantanamo Bay facility immediately.
The National Council of Churches USA is composed of 35 Orthodox, Protestant, Episcopalian, historic African American and peace church traditions representing 45 million Christians in 100,000 congregations in the United States.
A federal jury decided today not to put Zacarias Moussaoui to death and instead decided that the convicted 9/11 conspirator would spend the rest of his life in prison. The decision will cause controversy but it was the moral choice. First, the jury seemed not convinced by the government's argument that Moussaoui himself was involved directly with the 9/11 attacks (he was in jail during the time). That, however, is not the major reason that I oppose the death penalty for Moussaoui. I stand convinced that the death penalty is immoral and that by putting a person to death the state only continues different cycles of violence that threaten to consume us all.
This past November a broad coalition of religious leaders once again called for the abolition of the death penalty in the United States:
Open Letter from Faith Leaders Opposing Capital Punishment
To Whom It May Concern:
We, the undersigned faith leaders, reflecting the rich diversity of faith traditions and spiritual practices observed in the United States, stand together in expressing our deep concern that nearly 1,000 executions have occurred in this country since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976.
We join with many Americans in questioning the need for the death penalty in our modern society and in challenging the effectiveness of this punishment, which has consistently been shown to be ineffective, unfair, and inaccurate. The death penalty not only applies disproportionately to the poor and to people of color, but also continues to make fatal mistakes, with 122 people now freed from death rows across the country due to evidence of wrongful conviction. As the number of executions increases, the likelihood that we have, or that we will, execute an innocent person becomes a near certainty.
Many organizations of victims' family members, such as Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, are saying that the death penalty offers them nothing. With the prosecution of even a single capital case costing millions of dollars, the cost of executing 1,000 people has easily risen to billions of dollars. In light of the serious economic challenges that our country faces today, the valuable resources that are expended to carry out death sentences would be better spent investing in programs that work to prevent crime, such as improving education, providing services to those with mental illness, and putting more law enforcement officers on our streets. We should make sure that money is spent to improve life, not destroy it.
The United States continues to be one of the top executing nations in the world and is out of step with the majority of its global allies on this issue. We would be a better society by joining the many nations that have already abolished the death penalty.
As people of faith, we take this opportunity to reaffirm our opposition to the death penalty and to express our belief in the sacredness of human life and in the human capacity for change. We urge our elected officials at the federal and state levels to take a closer look at the reality of capital punishment in America and seek ways to achieve healing and restorative justice for all those who suffer because of violent crimes.
[Institutional affiliation is for identification purposes only. These signatures do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the named faith communities.]
National Organization Heads
Jim Winkler, General Secretary, The General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church
Rev. William G. Sinkford, President, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Rob Keithan, Director, Washington Office for Advocacy, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Director of the Joint Commission on Social Action of the Union for Reform Judaism and Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Rev. Phil Jones, Director of the Church of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office
Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory, Director, Washington Office Presbyterian Church (USA)
David A. Robinson, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA
Dr. Michael Kinnamon, Chairperson, Justice and Advocacy Commission, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
The Rev. Dr. John Edward Nuessle, Executive Secretary for Missionary Support Services, General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church
Rev. Sala W.J. Gonzalez-Nolan, Minister for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ
Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston, Director, Disciples Justice Action Network (Disciples of Christ), Coordinator, Disciples Center for Public Witness
Rev. James F. Schrag, Executive Director, Mennonite Church USA
J. Ron Byler, Associate Executive Director, Mennonite Church USA
Susan Mark Landis, Peace Advocate, Mennonite Church USA, Executive Leadership
Rev. J. Daryl Byler, Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
Rolando L. Santiago, Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
David Whettstone, Legislative Associate For Domestic Affairs, Mennonite Central Committee US Washington Office
Mary Ellen McNish, General Secretary for the American Friends Service Committee
Pat Clark, Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation
Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Charles and Pauline Sullivan, Co-Directors, International-CURE
Frank and Ellen McNeirney, National Coordinators, Catholics Against Capital Punishment
T. Michael McNulty, SJ, Justice and Peace Director, Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Brother Brian Halderman, S.M., Society of Mary, Marianist Province of the United States
Very Rev. David B. Powers, Sch.P. Provincial, Piarist Fathers USA Province
The Rev. Dr. Paul H. Sherry, Coordinator, The National Council of Churches Anti-Poverty Program
Bob Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches
It would be easy - even understandable - for one to argue that the death penalty is justified for anyone even remotely involved with 9/11. But it would have done nothing to bring any real justice to the event and would have only in the end reduced our national moral credibility further.
Related Link: On Not Executing the Insane
I don't know about you but it rips my heart out to see the clip from that new movie about United Flight 93. So many emotions for all of us are still raw from September 11th. You have to wonder if there will ever be a time when the memories will fade. I hope not. On that day a group of radical fundamentalists betrayed their God - our God - with a terrible act of violence. Muslims, Jews and Christians have all killed and been killed by those who think their actions are sanctioned by God. What fools God must think we all are. Even now our president - who seems to believe he is on a divine mission - wages war and justifies his actions by invoking God.
Will you see this movie about the United flight? I'm not sure I ever will. People keep asking if it is too soon to make a movie out of the events of 9/11. I'm not at all concerned about the timing of the film. The people on that flight really were heroes. All of them must have been terrified and known that their efforts would end in death. They knew, however, that if no one took action and many more people would die. Whenever I go to Washington, DC now and see the Capitol Building and the White House I remember what those citizens did for our nation - what they gave. A movie that reminds us of their heroism should be welcomed by us all. It just breaks my heart to think about watching it.
There is another 9/11 - related movie coming out: The Saint of 9/11. This is a documentary about one more hero from that day. Father Mychal Judge was a Roman Catholic priest and a chaplain for the New York Fire Department. He was killed after rushing into the World Trade Center with other fire fighters. Judge was listed as the first casualty of 9/11 and is regarded by many as a saint. Others, because of his unconventional style and because of his homosexuality, view(ed) him quite differently.
A profile in New York Magazine from November 12, 2001 reads in part:
"There's a very old postcard of a giant Jesus looking in the window of the Empire State Building in those long, long robes," says McCourt, in a brogue as thick as potatoes. "And that was Mike Judge in New York. He was everywhere. Over the city. And ooohhh, how good it was to know he was there."
Judge was gregarious, mischievous, a luminous presence; he thrived on movement and kept a preposterous schedule, as if he'd found a wormhole beneath the friary on West 31st Street that allowed him to be in six places at once. On any given evening, he might be baptizing a fireman's child, ministering to an aids patient, or listening to Black 47, a Celtic rock band that had a regular gig at Connolly's on West 47th Street. Judge got 30 to 40 messages a day on his answering machine. Every six months, he'd wear another machine out.
"He was the busiest person alive," says Joe Falco, a firefighter with Engine 1-Ladder 24, the company across the street from Judge's home. "He'd come back at all hours of the morning, blowing his siren so we could park his car. No one knew how he did it. No one understood how he maintained his energy."
The firemen loved him. He had an encyclopedic memory for their family members' names, birthdays, and passions; he frequently gave them whimsical presents. Once, after visiting President Clinton in Washington, he handed out cocktail napkins emblazoned with the presidential seal. He'd managed to stuff dozens of them into his habit before leaving the White House....
Obviously, Mychal Judge was not what one might call a conventional priest. But he was, arguably, a typical New York Franciscan -- earthy, streetwise, thoroughly engaged with the characters and chaos of the city. If times required it, Judge would hold Mass in the most unlikely places, including firehouses and Pennsylvania Station. This drove certain literalists in the clergy crazy, but no matter -- Judge pressed on. (To one of his antagonists, a certain monsignor in the chancellery who frequently phoned to admonish him, Judge once said: "If I've ever done anything to embarrass or hurt the church I love so much, you can burn me at the stake in front of St. Patrick's.")
The other pillar of Judge's spiritual philosophy was Alcoholics Anonymous. Once, at the White House, he told Bill Clinton that he believed the founders of AA had done more for humanity than Mother Teresa. "He was a great comfort to those with troubles with the drink," says McCourt, who usually saw Judge twice a month at AA. "He'd always say, 'You're not a bad person -- you have a disease that makes you think you're a bad person, and it's going to fuck you up.' " McCourt pauses a moment. "He had no compunction about language. Not with me, anyway."
Back in the early eighties, Judge was one of the first members of the clergy to minister to young gay men with aids, doing their funeral Masses and consoling their partners and family members. He opened the doors of St. Francis of Assisi Church when Dignity, a gay Catholic organization, needed a home for its aids ministry, and he later ran an aids program at St. Francis. Last year, he marched in the first gay-inclusive St. Patrick's Day parade, which his friend Brendan Fay, a gay activist, organized in Queens.
Cardinal O'Connor wasn't exactly a fan. "I heard that if Mike got any money from the right wing," says McCourt, "he'd give it to the gay organizations. I don't know if that's true, but that's his humor, for sure."
We lost all kinds of people on that day. Democrats, Republicans, the rich, the poor, Christians, Jews, Muslims, gays, straights.
All God's children.
What should be the overarching lesson from that dark day in 2001?
Don't let the fundamentalists - wherever they are - rule. They always seek to divide and God calls us to reconcile.
Movies are great and powerful tributes. Standing up - as Father Judge did - for God's peace is even better.
Photo credit: The St. of 9/11 - Reuters
Send the Embassy of Afghanistan a message urging that charges be dropped against Abdul Rahman and that he be set free.
It looks like the controversy over a Bush Administration plan to allow an Arab-owned company to manage American ports is coming to an end. The company apparently plans to transfer operations to an American-run entity (though everyone seems a little unclear what that means).
The debate over this issue has been heated and unfair.
I've appreciated that the president has often since 9/11 reminded people that not all Muslims are to blame for the terrorist attacks. His comments in this area are a rare bright spot in his otherwise lousily conduct as president.
Unfortunately, this president has also stoked fears of terrorism and then exploited those fears for political gain at every opportunity. Those fears came back to haunt him this month as Democrats and Republicans joined in claiming that allowing an Arab-run company to operate American ports would not be safe.
Senator Frank Lautenberg summed up the opposition to Bush's plans at a New Jersey rally:
"We wouldn't transfer the title to the devil, and we're not going to transfer it to Dubai."
Lautenberg has been a great senator but his comments smacked of racism toward Arabs.
All Democrats showed us on this issue was that they could be as exploitive as the president and campaign just as dirty. Partisans will cheer the Democrats and congratulate themselves over defeating Bush. But the cost of this victory was too high. Lautenberg, at the very least, owes Arabs everywhere a clear apology.
Related Link: American Public Opinion About Islam and Muslims
News out of the World Council of Churches Assembly meeting this week in Porto Alegre from Ecumenical News International:
A group of religious leaders from the United States has issued a public letter criticizing the war in Iraq and acknowledging their churches' inability to stop it.
"We confess that we have failed to raise a prophetic voice loud enough and persistent enough to deter our leaders from this path of preemptive war," the Feb. 18 letter to the assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) states. It notes that that it came from the WCC's US Conference, a grouping of 34 US member churches of the Geneva-based council. There were no individual signatures on the letter.
"There is division within our churches," the Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, a member of the Orthodox Church in America and moderator of the US Conference, told journalists in Porto Alegre attending the WCC's ninth assembly. "We cannot speak authoritatively for any church, but we are responsible leaders elected by our churches and we feel compelled to speak."
Kishkovsky said that "around the world the US Christian voices that are heard support President Bush and the war. We want the world to know that there's a serious moral struggle going on and in reality a majority of Americans does not support this war."
The Rev. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), said the letter was not intended to undermine US troops in Iraq. "They are our sons and daughters and the sons and daughters of our neighbors," she explained. "We honor their courage and sense of duty.
"But here in Porto Alegre," she continued, "we meet the parents of other sons and daughters and neighbors whose lives have been torn apart by this war * and we have to tell them that we're profoundly sorry."
The letter, in the form of a "confession," also criticizes US government policy saying it contributes to environmental degradation and growing poverty around the world.
"An emerging theme as we visit our partners around the world is the growing sense that we're being seen as a dangerous nation," said the Rev. John Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ. He said this is "not just due to the violence of the war but the unchecked destruction of the environment and our wealth in the face of the earth's poverty."
Watkins added: "We benefit every day from the policies our government undertakes. As beneficiaries we have to confess."
Press Release from the National Council of Churches USA
New York, February 16, 2006 -- The National Council of Churches USA has "emphatically supported" a United Nations report released yesterday that calls upon the United States to close its Guantanamo Bay detention facility "without further delay."
The report of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights of the Economic and Social Council also recommended that the U.S. refrain from "any practice amounting to torture" and either bring detainees to trial or "release them without further delay."
In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NCC General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, also renewed a request to allow the NCC to send "a small interfaith delegation" to Guantanamo "to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees." A similar request was turned down by former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 and 2004.
"Today we renew that request, not only for the benefit of the detainees but for the benefit of the reputation of our country in an increasingly skeptical world," Edgar wrote. "Unless our government quickly allows independent, credible access to the detainees, the charges made in the U.N. report will only take on greater weight."
On February 23, 2004, the NCC Executive Board expressed its "great consternation and frustration" that hundreds of detainees are being held in Guantanamo without charges or trials.
"Our concern is based on the fundamental Christian belief in the dignity of the human person created in the image of God, and on the rights accorded all persons by virtue of their humanity," the Executive Board said in 2004. The board cited an NCC policy statement on human rights in 1963 that said, 'Christians believe that man is made in the image of God, that every person is of intrinsic worth before God, and that every individual has a right to the fullest possible opportunity for the development of life abundant and eternal. Denials of rights and freedoms that inhere in man’s worth before God are not simply a crime against humanity; they are a sin against God.'
Edgar called upon the leaders of member NCC communions and other faith leaders to join him in calling upon the U.S. to heed the recommendations of the U.N. report on the "Situation of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay."
The full text of Edgar's letter follows:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Rice,
I urge you to give serious personal attention to the report “Situation of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay” that was issued on February 15 by the Commission on Human Rights of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
We emphatically support the recommendation that, “the United States Government should either expeditiously bring all Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial, in compliance with articles 9(3) and 14 of ICCPR, or release them without further delay”.
We also support the recommendation that, “the United States Government should close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility without further delay.”
And, as the report continues, “Until the closure, and possible transfer of detainees to pre-trial detention facilities on United States territory, the Government should refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, discrimination on the basis of religion, and violations of the rights to health and freedom of religion.”
These recommendations are consistent with a February 23, 2004 resolution of the Executive Board of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, which states, “Our concern is based on the fundamental Christian belief in the dignity of the human person created in the image of God, and on the rights accorded all persons by virtue of their humanity” …and the belief “that indefinite detention of persons without due process is a violation of their dignity and worth as children of God.”
We are deeply disturbed that a group with great international stature has concluded after careful study that, “The interrogation techniques authorized by the Department of Defense, particularly if used simultaneously, amount to degrading treatment in violation of article 7 of ICCPR and article 16 of the Convention Against Torture” and that “force feeding of detainees on hunger strike must be assessed a mounting to torture as defined in article 1 of the Convention Against Torture.”
The response by Ambassador Edward Moley that seeks to discredit their findings on the basis that the Special Rapporteurs rejected the invitation to personally observe conditions at Guantanamo ignores well established international practice that an investigation cannot be conducted without private access to detainees.
In 2003 and 2004 the National Council of Churches requested and was denied an opportunity to send a small interfaith delegation to Guantanamo to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees.
Today we renew that request, not only for the benefit of the detainees but for the benefit of the reputation of our country in an increasingly skeptical world. Unless our government quickly allows independent credible access to the detainees, the charges made in the UN report will only take on greater weight.
Finally, we believe it is time for serious reconsideration of the retention of U.S. presence on the territory of Cuba. The history of the lease that was imposed on the Cubans in 1903, and the lack of any strategic national interest in maintaining an American presence on Cuban territory, contributes to negative views in which our country is held in this hemisphere and worldwide.
Robert W. Edgar
Everyonce and awhile I go through my e-mails and search the web for feedback regarding this site. Some of what people write is a little nutty. On the other hand, some of the e-mails are great and I learn a thing or two from people who write in. Here is a small selection of recent e-mails:
When 1 UCC church was vandalized, you condemned conservative evangelicals for being slow to the draw in condemning that act. Well, some angry liberal who hates Southern Baptists just torched 6 of their churches in Alabama. It's your turn. How long are you gonna wait to condemn it and how many words will you use? Are you gonna condemn every single liberal religious voice out there that hesitates the least bit? Let's see how consistent you are.
- February 3, 2006
Martin Luther King was almost entirely a media-created hero. Even the idealized King would be useless against a Bin Laden, a Hitler or just anybody who's determined to be violent.
- February 9, 2006
Hi there I saw that you were encouraging Email. I want to highlight one of the founders of Evolution a man named Earnest Haeckel. He can be quoted as saying "...where faith commences, science ends...". I think it is an important quote. I'm sure glad he said it. Earnest is credited with the theory of recapitulation, the idea that we all go through the evolutionary stages as embryos, "the fish stage" may ring a bell. Haeckel likely was a brilliant man who believed that we evolved. His works on the embryonic stages we go through have been in many books. Even today the idea is still contained in some science books. During his time, his contemporaries challenged the accuracy of the drawings were. We now just take pictures; photographs do not have any opinions and are much more objective. Embryologists of today have shown that his drawings we’re wrong, this has been known for a while now. Embyos do not look like each other, especially not as Earnest depicted them. As Earnest so eloquently put it, ..."where faith commences science ends." His faith, belief in evolution, guided his drawings, his drawings are not scientific. The photos are irrefutable. I'd be happy to send you a copy of the evidence against his work in the regard to recapitulation theory. As for the rest of his work I'm sure he believed in it too. It has taken 100 years until we could photograph the evidence and it still won’t go away. That is because Evolution is not a theory, it is a hypothesis that can be loosely supported when you throw out the evidence that doesn't fit and then, find a platform that can not be challenged like the public schools and the universities. May you consider the "cleverly invented stories" that have been told and examine them, but also consider the great Christian men and women today who are scientists and find much reason to question the last 100-150 years of evolutionary indoctrination?
- February 8, 2006
Republicans have cut college funding and doubled Army enlistment bonuses to ensure only the poorest will suffer the burden of arrogant Republican foreign policies.
- February 7, 2006
I just finished listening to the interview and it sounded great. Welton, myself and the entire staff really do appreciate your work and determination to make sure religion is used properly in American life. Jon Niven Deputy Press Secretary, The Interfaith Alliance
- February 7, 2006
Good to hear you are feeling better and great to see you back on your blog. I just recently read Bono's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2 and was wondering if you have read it yet. I know you are probably busy with your new appointment, settling in and playing with the twins. I thought I would send along the speech in case you haven't read it.
- February 5, 2006
The fact that Christians, believers in god could support abortion shows just how phony most Christians are, I guess if you're involved in a convoluted belief in an imaginary god you can justify anything. Christians worship a god that murders children....it's in the bible many times, so I guess that's ok,,,,,what a f-------- joke. Take your bible and throw it in the garbage, it's MADE UP NONSENSE, A FABRICATION OF ANCIENT STORIES MEANT TO SCARE PEOPLE INTO COMPLIANCE, HA HA HA HA ! A JOKE!
- January 28, 2005
Much to my dismay, my own congregation chose to leave the UCC this year. It was one of the oldest, largest, and most properous within the State of Illinois, and generally felt that the UCC had departed from the founding faith. Most members are conservative in religion or at least mainline and also in politics. From my travels, that appears to be the case in most UCC congregations. Within the leadership of the denomination, there seems to be less and less toleration for such positions. We really were a "community church" and mainline in orientation. The congregation continues to grow rapidly, and intolerance within the UCC was restraining it.
- December 27, 2005
I came across your site while looking for discussion on being a Christian and being pro-choice. I found this entry and its comments
particularly helpful. I'm from a fairly fundamentalist background, and I'm just now finding out that I can make my faith my own -- and not what someone tells me I should think/believe. I'm now starting to articulate where I stand, and the resources and discussion I've found through your site have been very helpful. Thanks so much! I'm bookmarking your site so I continue reading (and maybe participating in?) the discussions you generate.
- December 25, 2005
Im not sure why Archbishop Burke is the lightening rod, he is only holding fast to the unending teachings of the magisterium of our mother church. His stand is just what an archbishop is to do and I applaud him.
- December 23, 2005