Thursday, March 22, 2007

Latest form the Communictions Committee

From John Shuck . . .

What are you doing with your congregations in regards to the war in Iraq? I would be curious as to what you all struggle with (especially clergy) in regards to talking about war in general, but this war in particular, with your congregations. I would like to ask some basic open-ended questions:

1) Is this action by the United States, in your opinion, morally justified? What reasons can you give for your answer?

2) Does it, in your opinion, meet the criteria for a Just War set out by Augustine and others?

3) Is this an issue that should be addressed in church or should the church leave this issue to others?

4) What difficulties and successes have you had in talking about issues of war with your congregations?

5) How important is it to you that you keep your pulpit at all costs?

6) Is it automatic that you will lose your pulpit if you address issues of importance such as war?

7) What support could you use from other clergy or laity in addressing this issue?

Peace, john shuck


John said...

Highly important questions,John. Perhaps we could star by listing the members of our churches who are in the Armed forces abroad.

In our 333 membership, we have
2 Majors in Iraq,2 privates in the infantry and one helicopter pilot.

I alsi have a brother-in-law who serve in the British army in Afghansitan,

John Shuck said...

Thanks John. I, too, have relatives (a nephew) and church members and relatives of church members in the armed services in Iraq. Certainly, they need the support and prayer of the congregation. We support them even though we disagree sharply with the orders they have been given by their commander in chief.

Speaking against the war is not easy. It could most certainly alienate people in the congregation. That is part of the call.

The first question is one we all have to answer first: Is this war morally justified? What we do with that answer follows the answer itself.


Jim said...

I suppose if I saw that my vocation as a Pastor was to solely be a leader of a community of resistance against the empire then I would agree that part of my call would be to alienate people in my congregation by telling them they should believe the war in Iraq is wrong and that as a congregation we'll take a stand against it.

I don't really believe the war is justified, but I also don't believe that I'm justified, by the power of my position in the community, to piss everyone else off who might not agree with me.

Ritchie said...

You ask these questions now?!!!

It is five years late and 500 billion dollars short (think about it), not counting the untold tens of thousands (hundreds?) dead and maimed.

The only proper thing left for the church to do now is sackcloth and ashes.

"Who knows, God may turn and relent...".


John Shuck said...


I asked these questions and raised them before the war began. That isn't important. My point is to stop the war. Now we have the opportunity, with public opinion changing, and congress slowly standing up to this, to act.

This isn't a matter of agreeing or disagreeing or making statements, it is a matter about ending this thing!

So Jim, what the hell do you stand for?

John Shuck said...


Sorry for being harsh.

My point is that my call or whatever isn't to piss people off. I think it is about empowering people to act. To me that is what preaching is about.

If you and I both agree that the war is not justified, then what do we do now? What has worked what hasn't?

When I look around the blogs of Presbyterian clergy, (I am not judging, just noticing) I see that very few blog about this. I am curious as to why. Not so much the blogs alone, but the silence in general.

I can't imagine anything more important than this. I honestly wonder what the silence means.

Is that we feel powerless, don't care, are afraid, what? And what can we do to support each other in this?

We are in the midst of war that could go on for decades.

Again, sorry to pounce on you. Please forgive me for acting out on my frustration.

Jim said...

Well John, that's a good question...

I stand as a spiritual leader in my community meaning that I serve them in a way that deepens their faith in God and grows them in their ability and willingness to love God and to love and serve others.

I stand to help them see that their faith in God must necessarily inform their views on various social/political concerns of the day, but I also realize that they may very well come to different conclusions than I do.

What I will not stand for is using the pulpit as a bully pulpit. While I am free to state my own faith informed opinions from the pulpit and in conversations with parishioners, I will never use the pulpit to castigate and purposely alienate those who may come to very different conclusions than I do on the basis of their own faith.

Ritchie said...


I made the point before the war started too.

My point now is that the church missed its window of opportunity and we are now past the point of no return. We cannot end this war. We can pull out, yes, but the war will not end. We cannot win this war, because there is no "win criteria". All we can do is get pulled deeper and deeper into a never ending meat grinder.

As disciples of Jesus, we need to be thinking about what is coming next.

America will of course just pull out, sooner or later, with or without the help of the church, with our tanks between our legs, our dignity gone, our pride humiliated, our economy devastated but if we are very lucky no WMDs on our soil.

What we need is God's forgiveness for having made it start. We need to confess that we are powerless to make it stop. We need to beg God's intervention, to forgive us of our folly, and make it stop for us.

America has a national day of thanksgiving. But our pride has had the best of us. Maybe now what we need is a national day of contrition. That I think is the unique contribution that only the church can make. That is the leadership path our pastors can take.

Sackcloth and ashes. I am totally serious.


Jim said...


No offense taken, even though my blood pressure did rise a bit! It is a valid question to ask.

I certainly stand guilty in a long line string of other pastors (though I was in seminary when the war began) and bloggers in not being more vocal about my own opposition.

I suspect that part of the problem is we're just not sure how to get out of the morass we've created. I'm not sure pulling our troops and leaving Iraq to its own defense is the right moral answer at this point. But conversely I don't know what is.


John Shuck said...

A National Day of Contrition. That sounds like a good idea. The Christian Peace Witness for Iraq on March 16th was something like that.

If we are going to be in war for the next several decades as "stay the course" seems to suggest, and

if the much of the driving energy for this war will be religious (Muslim vs. Christian), then the church could be an important witness in that regard. We will need to hold it every year.

Ash Wednesday sounds like a candidate for that. Another possibility (or both) would be a Muslim holy day for Christians to honor to celebrate our common heritage and our common commitment for justice and peace. A day also with repentance for the use of our religious traditions to promote violence.

Empires (and it seems that the U.S. now qualifies as one) keep their interests on foreign soil by creating a problem and setting themselves up as the only solution to that problem. An Empire's success is based on the divisions within the country or countries it occupies. Keep them at odds (ie. Sunnis vs. Shiites) and then keep the pax. In the meantime the Empire remains present and in power and in control of the resources.

I think it is important for people of conscience, even though we may not have a strategy or solution to, at least seek to uncover the truth. An Empire's propaganda should not stand unchallenged as gospel truth.

Finally, I am not sure what God's intervention might mean. It seems to me that God is the power of truth and courage within human beings themselves.

I think that intervention begins with breaking the silence--and of speaking once again of morality--what is good and what is not.

Thanks, Jim and Ritchie and John for the conversation. I hope it will continue and that others may join in as well.


Jodie said...

I like the idea of a National Day of Contrition. But I would not try to confuse it with politics. Good politics may come of it, but the purpose should be to reflect on our own pride and sin and how our self-righteousness can lead us off the right path in any circumstance.

Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, maybe even the Monday after Easter. After all, if Jesus coming back from the grave doesn't give you pause, what will? If Pilate had only known...

OTH, sackcloth and ashes sounds like a really cool way to protest in front of the White House. Can you imagine half a million people sitting on the lawn of the Mall, wearing sackcloth and pouring ashes on their heads?

Jesus lives,


John Shuck said...

Thanks Jodie,

The sackcloth and ashes symbolism would be very appropriate. So anyone game to do that on Good Friday?

Actually, our Ash Wednesday service this year was on the theme of repenting for the war. It was a powerful service. We had a peace vigil in front of the church on the eve of the fourth "anniversary" of the invasion.

My church has a higher percentage of folks against the war than most Presbyterian congregations, but not all are.

Most of my clergy colleagues, even if they are against this war, would be more reticent to talk about it with their congregations (let alone have a sackcloth and ashes service).

Yet we need to talk about what this war (and the silence about it) is doing to our souls. Sure, we hear about the war everyday on the news. But we don't have a spiritual conversation about it.

How do we talk about the war spiritually? How do we reflect upon it spiritually?

I don't think war is a political matter. I think it is an ethical matter and a spiritual matter. We are all good at speaking about the war politically, but less good at speaking about it spiritually.

Thanks again, Jodie,

Stushie said...

What about the war between our culture and faith?

There may not be any body bags to count, but countless numbers of souls are being sent to hell through our culturalization of the Christian faith.

Jodie said...


We are talking at the end about the same thing. Our culture is a warrior culture of violence. We love contact sports and war movies. Tv shows and computer games are all about domination by force, be number one, top dog, kick butt - all in the name of truth right and the American way. Superman, Batman, Die Hard, Rambo, the Shooter - its all a culture of death and violence.

And it poisons our faith.

It takes our eyes off the Prince of Peace. It seduces us to invade other nations and actually convince ourselves we are doing the right thing. Our faith is in ourselves and our power to do unto others before they do unto us.

We think we are rich and powerful and courageous, but we are poor, our gold has rusted. Our strength has been sapped and we are afraid of our own shadow. Wretched people that we are, who will save us from this death spiral?


Stushie said...

So, Jodie, do we go to war against the politicians, or against those culturalists who are taking people to hell?

Jodie said...


Can you tell the difference?

By using the term 'go to war' you have already capitulated to their way of seeing things. Our calling is to convincingly show there is an alternate culture and an alternate politic to choose from ("a still more excellent way"). But it is all politics ("kingdom" is a political term) and culturalizing (a culture of peace not pax, of loving your neighbor as yourself, of doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God).

"Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary use words"


John Shuck said...


Thanks for making that link between our culture (violent, greedy) and the gospel of justice and love exemplified by Jesus.

This is why I suggest that the war in Iraq is an extension of our culture of violence and thus a spiritual concern. We think that this violence is normal and patriotic.

The call of Jesus is a call to resist that with an alternate vision.

Stushie said...

So, John & Jodie, what would Christ say to the terrorists and suicide bombers in the Middle East - leave it to Mohammed?

John Shuck said...

This article was published today, Americans Face a Moral Reckoning by James Carroll. This article puts words around what I have been feeling.

I quote a little bit from this article here:

"In effect, the disastrous American war in Iraq is the text, while America’s militarized way of being in the world is the context. Armed power at the service of US economic sway has made a putative enemy of a vast population around the globe, and that enemy’s vanguard are the terrorists. Violent opposition to the American agenda increases with each surge from Washington, whatever its character. Both text and context reveal that every dream of empire brings sorrow, obviously so to the victims of imperial violence, but also to the imperial dreamers, whether or not they consciously associate with what is being done in their name.

But the word sorrow implies more than grief and loss. The palpable sadness of a people reluctantly at war can push toward a fuller moral reckoning with the condition of a nation that has made its own economic supremacy an absolute value. To take on the question of an economy advanced with little regard for its sustainability, much less for its justice, implies a move away from the focus on Bush’s venality to a broader responsibility. How do the sorrows of war and empire implicate you?"

I don't know, Stushie. What would Christ say to the terrorists and suicide bombers. What would Christ say to you or to me?

Stushie said...

This has more to do with anti-disestablishmentarianism than anything else. I've noticed a great sickness in this country for people to be revulsed at their own nation. Time and time again I read of people ashamed of the United States, but in reality no matter where those people lived, they would hate their own.

What would Christ say to the terrorists and suicide bombers?
Probably something along the lines of being vipers and hypocrites, whose father is Beelzebub. At least with Jesus, we would hear the truth about these murdering marauders and tyrranical thugs.

John Shuck said...


So, as I hear you, you would say the Iraq war is morally justified?

I don't think it is a matter of being "revulsed" or by our nation or a matter of anti-disestablishmentarianism. I don't think the Hebrew prophets were revulsed by Israel as such but they were revulsed by the practices of Israel's leadership.

In my understanding of theology, Christ is no respecter of any nation. Christ calls all of us to the way of peace.

There cannot be peace without justice. This is the question all nations including the United States must ask of themselves. Are we pursuing justice as the way to peace or military strength as the way to peace?

If military strength is the path, there will never be peace.

Jodie said...


What would Jesus say to terrorists? That is a no-brainer:

"Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword."

Why is repentance out of the question for you?



Stushie said...

Good point Jodie. Where is repentance in all of this?

If repentance is required of both sides, then as well as marching through the streets of Washington for peace, shouldn't we also be organizing a rally in Bagdhad, Tehran, and Mecca? Shouldn't we also be sending PCUSA money to Christian missions in Iraq? Shouldn't we also be building Christian churches in Muslim countries? (The RC church has just been granted permission to build one in Qatar, after more than 20 years of protests from wahabbi muslims - 100,000 RCs live in Qatar - check the details on Stushie's Stuff).

What I'm seeing is a one-sided attack on the US. We're not perfect, but neither are our adversaries. If we are honest about bringing Christ's type of repentance to this war, then we need to be serious about evangelizing in Muslim nations. Otherwise, it's just a semantic game of words.

Jodie said...


When the prophets attacked Israel and called it to repentance, I can’t think of a single instance in which Israel responded by telling the prophets to go ask the other guy to repent as well. Not even the worst of the Kings of Israel ever had that much pride.

I am a missionary kid and a missionary grandkid. I am married to a missionary kid. I have friends and relatives who are missionaries all over the globe, even to Muslim nations. The PCUSA does indeed send money to these missions. You should join us. Come defend America’s policies to her victims for a few years while at the same time you are evangelizing them. It is from that experience that I get my own sense of shame and repentance. I think even >your< pride would crumble under the strain.

With the freedom of democracy comes a certain responsibility that does not allow you to divorce yourself from the collective US – the “We The People”. Whatever the US does, you do, and whatever you do the US does. So much so that it is historically very hard to make the case that an American is “attacking the US” when speaking out against the American government or its laws. So much so that the charge of “treason” is almost impossible to make in America. Contrast that to England where to this day if you want to speak out against the government it is customary to avoid the charge of treason against the Queen or King by placing a soapbox under your feet, so as not to be standing on English soil when you do. Thus the expression “to stand up on a soap box”.

(Although the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act do go a long way to erode the protection We The People have against the Executive branch)

So yes John, the problem is spiritual, but it manifests itself as Americans forgetting their civics lessons and slowly drifting away from their democratic heritage. The burden of responsibility appears to be too great, and the end result may very well be the disappearance of democracy from this land. When the Athenians gave up theirs they never got it back. Nor did the Romans. The Germans only got theirs back after their own demise and devastating defeat. This I fear will be the ultimate cost of our un-repentance. It will be a tragedy of Global consequences.

The church can still teach the values of responsibility and the need for humility and repentance. These are valid spiritual disciplines that would do much to restore the standing of our people among the nations or the world. Maybe even bring us peace.


Stushie said...

The soapbox ilustration is irrelevant in modern Britain. It's an historic nicety - the last time anyone was hung for treason in Britain happened more than a century ago.

People who are free can speak out against their government, but sometimes they do it because they hate who is in power and will use any excuse to criticize their leaders.

This war, like any other war in history, is not moral, but sadly it seems to be necessary. We never asked for 911 to happen here...we never provoked it either. The Muslim fascists who hijacked those airplanes selfishly, brutally, and satanically chose to kill all those people.

Whether we like it or not, they are our adversaries because they continue to live in a 6th century world. You only have to see how horribly their culture treats women to recognize that. When was the last time our faith stoned women to death?

John originally asked if we should criticize the war from our pulpits. I have done, and still do, but I also am willing to call these Muslim brutes for what they are.

Perhaps the real question should be: Are we willing to criticize our government and Islamic terrorists from the same pulpit?

Jodie said...


It's not just the war in Iraq that needs criticizing from the pulpit. It's our whole way of thinking that needs revamping.

The war in Iraq has nothing to do with 911. Never did. Even president Bush said so. My relatives in the marines were told they were going to Iraq a whole year before 911.

All 911 did was create a lynch mob atmosphere where somebody could say "Get that guy - he's got the same religion as the other one" - which by the way he didn't - and we all said "Yeah, get him"

Well, we got him. Hung him up for the whole world to see. Wrecked his whole country too.

(but we let the real 911 guy and his countrymen get away)

What accounts for that?

Now you are saying we should continue sacrificing the lives of our own children and theirs at the rate of hundreds and thousands a week, at the financially catastrophic rate of 3 billion dollars a week, enough money to fix both our education and our health care systems many times over just to keep the Muslim men of Iraq from stoning their women?

(how's that even working?)

You go ahead and explain all that to God. Maybe He will listen, who knows. Me, I think I'm going with the sackcloth and ashes.


John Shuck said...

Jodie wrote:

"It's not just the war in Iraq that needs criticizing from the pulpit. It's our whole way of thinking that needs revamping.

The war in Iraq has nothing to do with 911. Never did. Even president Bush said so. My relatives in the marines were told they were going to Iraq a whole year before 911."

Exactly. The bad guys, the terrorists who attacked on 9/11 were Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden.

The United States government funded Al Qaeda for years during the late 70's, 80's, and 90's. The strategy was that we would do anything to stop the Soviets. The doctrine was that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

There was no forward thinking. No concern for the actual people who lived in those countries.

Al Qaeda attacked Americans and others with American made and supplied arms. These are facts and I can show you the references. It should be no surprise. It was the U.S. Empire acting as Empire's act.

The message that I think needs to be proclaimed from the pulpit is that this type of foreign policy is immoral.

The U.S. promotes peace through strength unilaterally. This will fail. It is failing and it will bring chaos to the world.

The only way to bring a lasting peace is for all interested parties to work together. Otherwise we will continue to create one Al Qaeda after another.

Jodie said...


All this is true, but when you speak from the pulpit you speak in the "prophetic voice".

i.e., what does God have to say about it.

This is a different role than say that of a newscaster, or of an editorial commentator for a major newspaper, or a political scientist or military adviser. In those capacities you may have very valid things to say, all of them true, but none of them unique to the Gospel.

There is a meta message that goes beyond the details of this particular conflict which left unattended will only lead to a new one. It is what was missing in the anti Viet Nam war movement, and I think it is a major reason why a new anti war movement is so anemic in getting started. People instinctively know it does not address the core problem. It fills us with a sense of helpless hopelessness.

(Another reason is the lack of a draft. If our non military children were being forced against their will to fight, things would be quite different. Also, somehow, the staggering financial cost of the war hasn't hit home yet)

The core problem can and should, however, be addressed from the pulpit. In all likelihood it will still be true once this war is over (even if it not over in our lifetimes). Who are we as a people? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children? What are our values? How do we develop them into action? How is the Gospel an answer to those questions? Use the war only as an example, a case in point, but do by all means use it. Let others figure out the details that apply to this one in particular.



John Shuck said...


Thank you for this. I think you have pointed out the challenge of prophetic preaching. You wrote:

"There is a meta message that goes beyond the details of this particular conflict which left unattended will only lead to a new one."

And your questions at the end need to be at the top of my list:

"Who are we as a people? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children? What are our values? How do we develop them into action? How is the Gospel an answer to those questions? Use the war only as an example, a case in point, but do by all means use it. Let others figure out the details that apply to this one in particular."

I think you have hit upon the truth.


Stushie said...

I as born in an Empire - the British empire - we had taken over regions in the world for centuries and not because we wanted to liberate them from tyrants; it was because we wanted to exploit the people and use their natural reosurces.

You have bought into Socialist propoganda by calling this an imperial war. The president & the leaders of our nation agree that the US will pull out its troops - the only disagreement that they have is when this will occur.

An Empire doesn't pull out of anything and it also doesn't have an elected leader. You use the term to suit your own biases, which aren't prophetic words or radical preaching. Even Jeremiah knew that those who were crying Peace! peace were false prophets in his time because they preached what they desired and not what God wanted.

Here's a question: did God want Saddam Hussein eliminated? if we believe in predestination, then obviously He did.

Aric Clark said...


Did God want Saddam eliminated? Did you really ask that?

The obvious counterpart to your conclusion is that God wanted 9/11 to happen as well. God must also want the 2/3 world to go on starving and dying of easily preventable diseases. God must surely intend AIDS, natural disasters, genocide, murder and rape equally.

You can not mean what you say, because it is morally repugnant.