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In the Right Spirit: Religious Leaders Propose a Way to End Iraq War

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Some of the work of Rabbi Michael Lerner crossed my desk this week. Lerner is the editor of Tikkun Magazine, and national chair of an interfaith movement called the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Together with other clergy, he is preparing to launch an ad campaign headlined, "Religious Leaders Propose A Way To End The War In Iraq."

It is a simple Three-Point Plan grounded in Christian and Jewish scripture; but more importantly, it is in the right spirit to promote constructive healing of the devastation wrought by American intervention in Iraqi society.

It represents the beginnings of an attitudinal shift required by America's leaders if we are to have any hope of repairing the upheaval, widely felt throughout the Middle East, caused by America's actions.

It is the shift called for by voters in the 2006 Midterm Elections, who crossed all party lines and affiliations to deliver a profound rejection of Bush policies: a declaration that Bush has taken the wrong direction in Iraq, the wrong direction in the "War on Terror," and the wrong direction for the American nation.

Though Americans remain somewhat untouched by the horror, the Bush administration has been the architect of a tragedy greater than Watergate, worse than Vietnam and even approaching the scale of the American Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

It is this tragic confluence that the work of Rabbi Lerner and his co-sponsor, Baptist minister and evangelical author Tony Campolo, is geared to address. They begin with a call for "repentance." While the word may conjure an image of weakness for some, it represents moral fiber and backbone that, so far, hardly any American political leader has shown the courage to assume.

And it is exactly where the heart of America resides. Sixty percent of the American people view the invasion of Iraq as a "mistake." Real leadership now should not be embroiled in discussions about the tactical value of withdrawal versus escalation, but about how to take responsibility for the mistakes of the Bush administration, how to restore America's standing in the world, and how to put forward foreign policy objectives that can help build global community.

Rabbi Lerner and Reverend Campolo offer both spiritual insight and a practical path for a "strategy of generosity" to replace the misguided "strategy of domination" currently embraced unthinkingly by Democrats and Republicans alike.

They call for Congressional leadership to stand up on behalf of the American people, if the Bush administration cannot or will not take responsibility for its own destructive failings.

Secondly, they have the vision to entirely bypass the withdrawal-versus-escalation debate. Since the day that Saddam Hussein was overthrown in April 2003, it has been abundantly clear that the United States cannot and should not have attempted to impose an occupying authority over the Iraqi people. The only issue is: if not the United States, who can help provide security in Iraq? And how can they be convinced to take the lead? Lerner and Campolo wisely recognize the cultural, linguistic and religious affinities of Iraq's neighbors, and the potentially valuable role of the Arab League.

Finally, they call for a moral, spiritual and continuing financial commitment by Americans, not only to the Iraqi people but toward all our fellow human beings on this planet. Quibble with the dollar amounts and percentages if you must, but recognize that their recommendation is in the right spirit to advance the progress of humanity, to overcome the terrible cost that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has inflicted upon the world, and to rebuild the greatness of the American nation that has been squandered by lackluster leadership.

I urge everyone who reads this to add your signature to the proposal by Rabbi Lerner and Reverend Campolo, and to contribute toward spreading their message, if you can.

Then, perhaps, our leaders will hear the voice of the people, to act as America should have done in April 2003, and as the true heart of America would have spoken at the hour of the Fall of Baghdad:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in: to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." (Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address)

This is a spirit Americans once knew; and it is the true 'way forward,' to find that voice of strength within ourselves, again.

Religious Leaders Propose

I - The war is wrong! The remedy for wrong-doing begins with repentance; therefore we propose that the President go before the United Nations and confess that based on reports from intelligence experts, he believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He should explain that this was why he called for an invasion of Iraq. Those reports were wrong and hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been killed and entire cities have been devastated. For the sufferings and deaths that have come from this invasion, he should ask for forgiveness on behalf of himself and the American people who overwhelmingly supported this great wrong.

The scripture declares:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (II Chronicles 7:14 KJV)

It is right for a religious president to live out this prescription and declare that it is not a sign of weakness to confess a wrong-doing. We believe that it is only the spiritually strong who are able to do this. We believe that such a confession will go far to restore the stature of America as a truly moral nation. And in repenting on behalf of all Americans, including those who are not religious, the president should acknowledge that this entire society has mistakenly adhered to the view that safety and security can be achieved through domination or control of others, but that a better path to safety and security is to treat others with generosity, care, and genuine concern for their well being.

In the case that the President is unable or unwilling to pursue this path, we urge the Congress to pass a resolution rejecting the strategy of domination and embracing the strategy of generosity, and calling upon the world's peoples to forgive our society for the destructive path it has followed. It should then send representatives to address the United Nations and convey this appeal for forgiveness on behalf of the American people.

II - We should call upon the Arab League to replace the U.S. and British forces with Arab soldiers. Fellow Arabs know the language, understand the culture, and especially the Religion of the people of Iraq far better than do our own soldiers, who are usually perceived as modern-day imitators of the Crusaders who once devastated Muslim countries. The U.S. and Britain should withdraw our forces as Arab forces take our place, give our bases to these forces, and require that any US corporation operating in Iraq give at least the majority of its profits to the task of Iraqi reconstruction.

III - We call upon the United States to commit fifty (50) billion dollars to rebuilding Iraq. True repentance requires the works of repentance. It is not enough to simply say, "We're sorry!" This financial commitment is little compared to the two (2) billion dollars a week the war is presently costing. This plan should be part of a larger Global Marshall Plan which the U.S. announces - to commit at least 1% of the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. each year for the next twenty years toward the goal of eliminating global (and domestic) poverty, homelessness, inadequate health care, inadequate education, and for repairing the environment. This provides a major step toward a Strategy of Generosity which is the key to rebuilding respect and trust in the United States. It is this kind of generosity which is required by the Scriptures of all the Abrahamic religions and should be pursued not only because it helps increase American security and respect for America around the world, but because it is morally appropriate and religiously mandated.

Circulated by:
Rev. Tony Campolo, an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church and President of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education and author of Letters to a Young Evangelical (Basic Books, 2006).

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine, national chair of The Network of Spiritual Progressives, , and author of The Left Hand of God (Harper Collins, 2006).


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Michael Butler is a poet, performing artist and political activist. He voted for Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential Election.
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