How many more American troops and Iraqi civilians must die before America’s churches speak a prophetic word to President Bush that violence only begets more violence and more violence is not an acceptable path forward?

How long before American Christians practice the Christianity of the one called Prince of Peace, who told his followers that peacemakers were the children of God and one disciple to put away his sword? How long, O God, how long?

On Sunday, the 3,000th American soldier died in Iraq. December became the third deadliest month of the war with 111 military fatalities, exceeded only by April 2004 with 135 deaths and November 2004 with 137 deaths.

More than 22,000 U.S. troops have been injured

Associated Press estimates that over 2,180 Iraqis were killed in December, the worst month for civilian deaths in 20 months. The average daily death rate in December was 75 people. Iraqi Body Count estimates civilian deaths between 52,297 and 57,871

An estimated 1.6 million Iraqis have fled from their homes but remain in Iraq. Another 1.8 million Iraqis are refugees in neighboring countries.

On the day that American newspapers carried front page headlines in extra large type about the hanging of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity, one news story went largely unnoticed.

The Pentagon will request nearly $100 billion more in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than the $70 billion appropriated in September. The military wants $170 billion for fiscal year 2007, representing a 45 percent increase over what Congress approved for 2006. Congress has appropriated over $500 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan and other anti-terrorism operations since 2001.

How much more treasure must be wasted? How much more blood must be spilled?

President Bush’s answer is more spilled blood, more wasted treasure.

The Bush administration is reportedly pushing for a massive surge in troops, an undefined “short-term” increase of as many as 30,000 troops, to achieve an undefined mission in a nation locked in a civil war.

Bush, who often said he would increase troop levels if commanders asked for more armed forces, now appears to be pressing military leaders to ask for more troops.

Neoconservatives, who play a pivotal role in the rush into war under flawed pretenses, are campaigning for the military surge. One has advocated a “permanent surge” in armed forces.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that the Bush administration had not offered a clear purpose for additional troops that would justify more American casualties. He expressed doubt that a surge in troops would work.

If all politics really are local, then local churches are the linchpins to politics. If churches are the linchpins, then church pulpits are the center point to the politics of war. If church pulpits are the center point to the politics of war, then the church pastors are the core to a new direction in Iraq.

The war in Iraq is the preeminent moral issue before the American church, and clergy are at the heart of what the nation does next.

The war in Iraq is neither a Democratic nor Republican political issue. It is neither a pro-military nor anti-military issue. It is neither a pro-Israel nor anti-Israel issue.

It is not a negotiable moral issue, as preacher Rick Warren said when he endorsed Bush in 2004, identifying five non-negotiable moral issues such as gay marriage, stem cell research and abortion.

The war in Iraq is the preeminent moral issue of our time.

Make no mistake. The American public opposes the war for pragmatic reasons. It isn’t working. The reasons given for it were false. The promised progress was a lie. No victory is near.

The public doesn’t need more understanding of the issue. The public doesn’t need to be more patient. The public does need moral clarity that informs their growing opposition to the war.

Surging troop levels violate three of the time-honored rules of a just war. First, a surge does not provide a reasonable hope for success. It only prolongs the failed war. Winning the war is a myth. Second, a surge does not ensure non-combatant civilian immunity from war. It only escalates in a civil war the number of deaths and disfigurements. Third, a surge increases the war’s costs which already outweigh the original goals for the war.

Now is the time for churches to speak with moral clarity, as moral surge protectors, from a reckless escalation of the Iraqi war.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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