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Christians from across the United States are expected to travel to Washington this week for an expressly Christian war protest against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq four years ago.

Participants in Friday’s Christian Peace Witness for Iraq plan to gather for an ecumenical worship service at Washington National Cathedral, followed by a candlelight procession to the White House. Marchers plan to encircle the White House with prayer and candlelight. Hundreds have indicated they are considering whether to kneel in an act of civil disobedience, knowing it could lead to their arrests.

The event has been in planning for about six months, Rick Ufford-Chase, convener of a national steering committee representing 36 partner organizations, said Monday in a conference call.

“This has been one of the most exciting and thrilling coalitions I’ve ever been a part of,” said Ufford-Chase, executive director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and past moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

In addition to the Washington rally, Ufford-Chase said, more than 180 local events are planned across the country as well as in New Zealand, England and Canada.

An EthicsDaily.com columnist, Belmont University Professor Andy Watts, is an organizer of one such event in Tennessee, a peace rally and vigil on the Statehouse grounds in Nashville 12:30-3:30 p.m. Friday, followed by a vigil at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church. The Nashville Peace Coalition is also sponsoring at peace march and rally to end the Iraq war at 2 p.m. Saturday beginning in Owen Bradley Park.

Planners said the purpose of the Washington protest is to raise a “prophetic Christian call” to end the occupation of Iraq, begin reconstruction, end torture and provide support for veterans and troops.

Marie Dennis, director of Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, said planners were intentional about it being a Christian rather than interfaith effort.

“Our reason for bringing together people in the Christian tradition for this witness was we believed our tradition would lead us very clearly to take this very public stance in opposition to the war,” she said.

Because, “there had been many Christian voices that had been in support of the war,” she said, it was also important for an alternative Christian message to be heard.

“As Christians we are called to do justice and to show mercy,” said Evelyn Hanneman, interim coordinating director of Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, adding that unjust spending on the war prevents any growth in spending for health care, education or other social services.

“Unless the war is stopped soon, the United States will not be able to take care of its neediest citizens for years or even generations to come,” she said.

Peace activists and faith leaders from Episcopal, Mennonite, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches told reporters they believed people in the pews are increasingly coming to view the war in Iraq as a mistake.

Hanneman said Baptists “are never of one mind” on anything. The BPFNA is not aligned with any specific Baptist denomination, she said, but draws members from a variety of groups who share the group’s vision for “peace rooted in justice.”

“It does appear that more and more of the Baptists are speaking out against the war,” Hanneman said.

The National Baptist Convention U.S.A. at its midwinter meeting in Birmingham, Ala., passed a resolution renewing earlier calls for an end to U.S. military involvement in Iraq and urging President Bush and Congress to begin withdrawing troops.

Following a historic gathering of the four black Baptist bodies in January 2005, leaders of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; National Baptist Convention of America; Progressive National Baptist Convention; and National Missionary Baptist Convention of America issued a joint statement calling for an end to the war and withdrawal of U.S. military from Iraq.

They called the war “a costly and unnecessary military action begun on grossly inaccurate, misconstrued or distorted intelligence against a nation that did not pose an immediate or realistic threat to the national security of our nation.”

The General Board of American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., issued a statement before the war encouraging efforts by the United Nations and urging the U.S. government to resolve the issue of disarming Iraq through diplomacy instead of military means.

The nation’s largest Baptist group, however, the Southern Baptist Convention, has been among the most vocal supporters of the war. A 2003 resolution described Operation Iraqi Freedom as “a warranted action based upon historic principles of just war.”

Last summer the convention resolved to pray for the president and troops. Messengers applauded loudly when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mentioned the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Baptist Press, the SBC news service, covered the war so extensively early on that the Library of Congress selected it for an Internet archive about the war.

Numerous statements of support for the war prompted one observer to christen the SBC as “the War Denomination.”

The Baptist Center for Ethics opposed the war from the start. Executive Director Robert Parham wrote an editorial even before the invasion warning that it would be an unjust war.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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