More than 40 faith-based peace activists were reportedly arrested late Friday afternoon in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill for civil disobedience protesting the war in Iraq.
The arrests followed a day of interfaith worship and prayer services across Washington and vigils around the country commemorating the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq March 20.
According to a press release, thousands of worshippers attended noon services at 10 different houses of worship in Washington before marching through driving rain for a rally near the U.S. Capitol. Leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Unitarian traditions challenged people of faith to be relentless in encouraging their political leaders to take bold and unequivocal action for peace.
Delegations from the Olive Branch Interfaith Peace Partnership, the organizing coalition, met with staff representing both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The leaders called for a clear exit strategy from Iraq and regional, multilateral efforts for development and diplomacy.
Bob Spinks, networking and development coordinator for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, attended the event as staff representative. BPFNA is a partner with Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, an ecumenical group committed to ending the war in Iraq, supporting veterans, advocating an Iraqi-led peace process and saying no to torture.
Christian Peace Witness held similar events around the county, along with four days of workshops, prayers and protests. “It’s not enough just to pray for peace,” said Jeannie Hunter, associate pastor at Second Presbyterian Church, site of a 12-hour vigil on Friday. “We also have to act to make peace.”
According to The Tennessean, Pastor Jim Kitchens said the vigil was about prayer and not politics. “This is not a Democratic peace vigil,” he said. “This is not a Republican war vigil. It’s not a pro- or anti-Bush rally. It’s not so much that we change God by prayer. But we change (ourselves) when we are intentional about talking to God and listening to what God would tell us. The gospel tells us to be peacemakers.”
According to the Department of Defense, nearly 4,000 United States soldiers have died in Iraq. Civilian deaths are estimated between 81,000 and 89,000, according to the Iraq Body Count database. A new book predicts the war will cost nearly $12 billion a month in 2008 and as much as $2.7 trillion or more by 2017.
On Saturday a Mennonite professor told about 700 religious peace activists that there is no military solution for Iraq.
“Using military power is like taking a hammer to a beehive,” Lisa Schirch, a professor at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., said at the sixth annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference in Alexandria, Va.
Originated by the National Council of Churches USA, the weekend conference was designed to make religious voices for justice and peace heard in the hall of Congress and the White House.
Churches in the U.S. and the United Kingdom will hold a day of remembrance, prayer and action on March 19, the eve of the anniversary of the war with Iraq. Supporting organizations of the emphasis sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, England, and Pax Christi include the Baptist Peace Fellowship of Great Britain.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.