Those engaged in public witness for peace must frequently ask themselves what good their efforts do. More than 13,400 Mennonites can ask themselves that question now. As of Sept. 14, that’s how many people had signed a Mennonite Church USA letter to President Bush opposing a possible war with Iraq.
The signature-collecting campaign can be judged a great success. More than 12,000 people signed the letter in two weeks, far surpassing the goal of 5,000. A new goal of 20,000 has been set, with a Sept. 30 deadline.
What difference did it make? On Sept. 12, our voices were heard in Washington. MC USA executive director Jim Schrag and peace advocate Susan Mark Landis got a half-hour meeting with Ben Miller, Iraq specialist for the National Security Council. Schrag got to speak at a Capitol Hill press conference called by Churches for Middle East Peace.
And, perhaps, someone at the White House was impressed that a small denomination’s peace petition collected a very respectable number of signatures. Yet the march to war hasn’t missed a beat.
We didn’t imagine that the MC USA letter would change government policy. U.S. officials’ statements about Iraq have made it all but impossible, according to the wisdom of worldly power, for them to turn away from the path toward war. There was more to our peace petition than a hopeless hope to change the world. We signed the letter for various reasons.
For one, our convictions compelled us. A deeply held belief demands to be shared, regardless of how others receive it. Think of the Hebrew prophets, who kept on proclaiming the word of the Lord to people who hardly ever listened.
For another, we wanted to unite our voices with like-minded people in our own denomination and in other Christian traditions. Many voices together give each other strength.
And we did it for ourselves. J. Daryl Byler, director of the Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office, told MC USA News Service: “More than the impact those names have on officials, I think they will have a greater impact on our church family. There is something powerful that happens when a people collectively say that war is not right. It has a strong impact on our identity.”
This column was reprinted with permission from the Mennonite Weekly Review.