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Christians arrested in march to end Iraq war

Celeste Zappala, a United Methodist whose son was killed in Iraq, marches in a candlelight peace rally in Washington. UMNS photos by Melissa Lauber.
Celeste Zappala, a United Methodist whose son was killed in Iraq, marches in a candlelight peace rally in Washington. UMNS photos by Melissa Lauber.

By Melissa Lauber*
March 19, 2007 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)

The Rev. Charlie Parker and his daughter, Julia, place peace candles on the altar of the National Cathedral.

Nearly 3,000 Christians united around the cross to protest U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq at an event that included worship, a four-mile candlelit procession to the White House and the arrest of more than 100 people in an act of civil disobedience.

"We are here tonight simply and resolutely to begin to end the war in Iraq," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners/Call to Renewal at the worship service March 16 at the National Cathedral. "This is not a protest. It is an act of faith. It will take faith to end this war."

March 19 marks the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq.

Wallis was applauded when he declared the war "morally wrong" and "an offense against God." However, it was the witness of Celeste Zappala, a member of First United Methodist Church in Germantown, Pa., and founding member of Gold Star Families Speak Out, who brought quiet tears to the crowd gathered in the cathedral’s Gothic nave.

Zappala’s son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, died April 26, 2004, in Iraq, guarding a team that was searching for weapons of mass destruction.

She stood in the pulpit of the National Cathedral where President Bush, a United Methodist, had stood after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and called for a war on terror. Zappala shared how that war has shattered her heart, killed 3,210 American soldiers and wounded more than 25,000 people.

"The National Cathedral is the altar of the nation," she said. "Here, we lay before God the sorrows in the lives of all of us."

A member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, Baker was a husband, father and case worker with retarded adults. He was 30 years old.

His mother recalled how it was raining the night she became "part of the sad fellowship of families that have met their worst fear when they opened their front door."

"War is never the answer. America says it is a light to the nations and the hope of the world. But that is wrong. Christ is." -The Rev. Jim Wallis

Zappala said she fell to the floor when told of her son’s death. But she also talked about other casualties of the war: of children and old people in Iraq; of people being broken by the horrors that war brings, and of 1,950 children who have lost parents.

"A wail rises from the throats of all who love these people," Zappala said. "We’re here tonight at the church, each of us a witness to the war and our own complicity in it." War, she concluded, is our failure to love God, whose commandment is peace.

Discerning God’s call

Other speakers at the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq event talked about hope and discovering what the Holy Spirit is saying to churches about war.

"There is a concern that America may lose the war," said the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. "As people of faith, we need to reframe that question. The real danger is that America may lose her soul."

Warnock said it was sinful for the U.S. government to commit resources to the bombing of Iraq and ignore the plight of Hurricane Katrina victims and poverty that casts one of every five American children into poverty. "America’s soul is in danger," he said.

Several United Methodists including the Rev. Kathryn Johnson of Methodists for Social Action, a sponsoring organization, and the Rev. Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, lit candles for peace and placed them on the altar.

"This war is nothing short of evil," said Winkler, who expressed dismay that President Bush cannot hear his own people’s dissent over U.S. involvement in Iraq. "The right thing to do is to bring our troops home," he said.

Bishop John Schol, of the Washington Episcopal Area, lamented the failure of Christians to be peacemakers.

"The bishops of The United Methodist Church have committed ourselves to pray daily for the end of the war in Iraq, and we have committed ourselves to acts of prophetic witness on behalf of peace," Schol said.

United Methodists "cannot remain silent while American men and women in increasing numbers are being sent to Iraq to kill and be killed, while thousands of Iraqi people needlessly suffer and die, while poverty increases and preventable diseases go untreated," he said.

Candlelight vigil


Marchers light candles to begin the four-mile procession to the White House in protest of U.S. involvement in the Iraq war.

The candles from the altar were used to light the candles of more than 2,000 people who then marched through the streets of Washington and arrived at the White House shortly before 11 p.m.

Following a candlelight vigil in Lafayette Park, more than 100 people marched across the street and stood on the sidewalk in front of the White House. In an act of civil disobedience, they refused to move at the request of police from the National Park Service and were arrested.

Rain, snow and sleet mixed with freezing temperatures dramatically decreased attendance at both the worship service and the march. Organizers had anticipated more than 700 people would choose to be arrested. However, they insisted the event is the start of a movement of people of faith that will result in U.S. troops being withdrawn from Iraq.

"Wars make for poor chisels for carving out tomorrows," said the Rev. Rick Ufford-Chase, one organizer, quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"War is never the answer," said Wallis. "America says it is a light to the nations and the hope of the world. But that is wrong. Christ is."

*Lauber is editor of the UMConnection, the newspaper of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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