KEN SEHESTED was the founding director of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. His story and his writing are included in Daniel Buttry’s new Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Ken currently is pastor of the Circle of Mercy congregation in Ashevile, North Carolina, with his wife Nancy Sehested and Joyce Holiday. In 2003, Ken was part of a Christian Peacemakers Team in Iraq just before the US invasion. He also was one of the most effective voices against the Gulf War, engaging in fasting and other anti-war activism during a time when many Americans concerned about peace remained inactive.
King’s Legacy Calls on us …
To Say No to Attacking Iran
By Ken Sehested
On Sunday, our Circle of Mercy Congregation will gather to consider renewing a prophetic call we issued in 2007—the last time tensions were rising between the U.S. and Iran. Our appeal—called “We Say No”—was “a Christian statement in opposition to war with Iran” and urged others to join us in calling our nation’s leaders to avoid an attack on Iran. With the recent assassination of another Iranian scientist—the fourth to be targeted in the past two years—tensions between our two countries are again at a boiling point.
(For background on these news developments, here is a January 13 Christian Science Monitor report.)
This is an appropriate time, on this observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, to reaffirm our earlier convictions. Virtually no one in American media, the U.S. Congress or the Obama Administration is willing to talk about these assassinations as an act of terrorism. One can imagine the outcry here if U.S. scientists were being targeted, if Iran’s submarines were patrolling our coasts, if our nuclear program were the target of a cyber attack, if our energy exports and financial transactions were blockaded, or if Iranian political leaders were openly calling for “regime change” in the US. No one denies that our two nations have real and substantial policy disagreements. What seems increasingly clear, however, is that the U.S. is baiting Iran toward a dangerous retaliatory response.
The legacy Dr. King bequeathed to us—highlighted by the new memorial in our nation’s capitol—is more than a fanciful pipedream or fairytale. Revering the dreamer while reneging on the dream only hollows his memory. If Dr. King is to be more than a national souvenir, his commitment to nonviolent struggle—stemming from his vision of the Beloved Community—must become our commitment as well. Thus the following convictions need reaffirming.
… they are a law unto themselves and promote their own honor. Their own strength is their god. Habakkuk 1:7b, 11c
Despite assurances to the contrary, we believe our leaders may be calculating the benefits and risks of attacking Iran. Our reading of this moment in history, in light of our commitments as citizens and our convictions as followers of Jesus, impels us to oppose such a move. As with the ancient empire described in the Prophet Habakkuk’s oracle, our government is setting its “national interests” above international norms of justice. With an escalating military budget—already larger than those of all other nations combined—we seem to have established our own destructive threat as the source of national glory and honor.
Pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out with fatness, their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues range over the earth. Psalm 73:6-9
It is not our habit to engage in partisanship on any political party’s agenda. We believe in the separation of church and state. But not in the separation of values from public policy. Not only are these religious convictions suffering scandal; so, too, are the core values of this Republic’s founding. It was Thomas Jefferson, in 1807, who asserted, “The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force.” Now, with the Administration’s 2002 “National Security Strategy” document, the U.S. claims justification for waging preemptive war. This policy undermines our democratic traditions, any and every theory of when war is “just,” and the very foundation of international law itself. The contradiction is staggering.
Accordingly, should the U.S. preemptively attack Iran, we shall vigorously protest. For some of us, this commitment includes the willingness to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience.
In the same way, we also pledge vigorous support for any leaders willing to consider Iran’s security concerns and national interests alongside those of our own. Competition in belligerent behavior carries catastrophic risks. The only enduring security is mutual security.
Another way is possible. Waging peace will require at least as much commitment—as much courage, pride, honor and ingenuity—as the pursuit of war.
We say no to war against Iran. It is both a contradiction to the Way of the Cross and a defamation of national honor. We say yes to the strategies of multilateral diplomacy and other nonviolent initiatives. We invite other Christians, other people of faith, and other people of conscience to deliberate these convictions and consider similar commitments.
Sisters and brothers, especially in the household of faith: the Apostle Paul’s instruction—overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21b)—is both a spiritual truth and the foundation for politically realistic strategies to transform conflict. The Way of the Cross leads home.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.