Baptists will participate in what is expected to be a massive peace demonstration in London on Saturday, opposing war with Iraq.
Officials expect roughly half a million people to participate in the march, organized by the Stop the War coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Muslim Association of Britain.
Rev. Graham Sparkes of the Baptist Union of Great Britain has advertised demonstration details to further participation. Sparkes, mission advisor in the department of research and training in mission, is responsible for the union’s engagement with social and political affairs.
“There is evidence of strong support amongst Baptists,” Sparkes told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail from union headquarters in Oxfordshire. “As someone who seeks to enable Baptists to reflect and act on issues of political concern, I sense that the build up towards war in Iraq has troubled many. I am aware of a large number heading to London for the demonstration, including senior members within our denomination.”
President Nigel Wright and General Secretary David Coffey of the Baptist Union of Great Britain will participate in the march, as will Norman Kember, secretary of the UK Baptist Peace Fellowship.
“If you want to join with other Baptists at the London demonstration against possible war in Iraq, you are invited to meet under the Baptist Peacemakers banner outside St Martin’s in the Field, Trafalgar Square, from 1100 to 1200,” read the news release at the union’s Web site.
“Even in a democratic country, it is easy for political leaders to lose touch with the views of ordinary people,” said Sparkes. “This is a way of ordinary people raising their voices. We hope we will be listened to. We hope it will make the Prime Minister pause and even at this late stage, change direction.”
Sparkes and Kember have written to the Baptist Times of Great Britain, cautioning against war in Iraq and urging Baptist participation in the march.
“I think that this large demo will put a lot of pressure on Tony Blair who has not been able to convince the British public that military action is justified,” Kember said in an e-mail, adding that he expects as many as 500 Baptists to participate.
“I would not expect Baptists to be a large sector of the demo, John Rackley, vice president of the Baptist Union, told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail. “But it has been noticeable in my own church in Bath that since the Millennium about 5% of our membership have been involved in … direct action relating to this and allied issues.”
Sparkes said Jubilee 2000—a campaign to cancel Third World debt—brought many Baptists and other Christians into the streets for the first time. Now they are demonstrating again.
Rackley will not participate in the demonstration but will meet a delegation of American church leaders, led by Jim Wallis of Sojourners, on Monday. Sparkes helped arrange the meeting, which may involve Prime Minister Blair.
“There was a lot of hope when Tony Blair became Prime Minister, and so many good things have happened, but alas, on this one he has got it wrong,” said Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid. Montacute, an Englishman, now works in Falls Church, Va.
“How sad that on the one major issue when a fresh approach was needed to the international situation, he and his government are letting us down,” Montacute said. “Blair seems to be too close to Bush and getting his country dragged into a war that few want!”
Kember said that Blair’s “cosying up to Bush has increased the risk of terrorism against the UK.”
Sparkes, Kember and Rackley all pointed to the U.S. arms trade as a significant factor in world terrorism and unrest.
“In this post 9/11 world, we have to address the root causes of terrorism and violence—the resentments that have built up, the arming of regimes that years later become havens for terrorism, the failure to address the Israel-Palestine question,” Sparkes said. “A war in Iraq will do nothing to address such root concerns, and until we choose to, terrorism will continue.”
Sparkes referred to these considerations as “political realities” and called on U.S. Baptists to “reflect on gospel realities. We are called to be peacemakers, and that is a far more demanding and costly task than making war. We have to be prepared to take risks for the sake of peace.”
Kember urged the West to shift attention from war-making to peace-making.
“It is about time that the axis of evil of hunger and poverty and debt with lack of education and medical care were made the first targets of the rich western nations,” said Kember. “They can always find money for militarism but not for humanitarian works.”
“Let’s slow down the rhetoric, cut back on the scare tactics, and pray for peace,” he said. “Let’s spend less of our money on plastic sheets and duct tape, and more on candles of peace!”
The Baptist Times cited several Baptist churches having members who will attend the march. Those churches include Sutton Baptist Church in Surrey and Christ Church Baptist Church of King’s Langley.
Rev. Stuart Dennis of Milton Keynes Baptist Church has been a local organizer in the Stop the War coalition. Other Baptist churches have petitioned Prime Minister Blair and their Member of Parliament.
Speakers at the Hyde Park rally will include: London Mayor Ken Livingstone; former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter; ex-Member of Parliament Tony Benn; and Peter Price, the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
Rackley mentioned a woman from Malvern who had contacted him about Saturday’s march. He said she would be a “typical” participant in the march.
Malvern “is a small quintessential English country town,” Rackley said. “She told me that she is going on the Demo. This is the first time she has done such a thing. She is in her late 60s. She is so angry at what she perceives as a foolish, blind course of action.”
Rackley added, “We see only further instability in the Middle East if the war is pursued and we feel that it just does not add up.”
Cliff Vaughn is associate director for EthicsDaily.com.