The day after I wrote a post on the hypocrisy of the church titled The War Prayer, I read Chris Hedges' June 1st piece in TruthDig.com titled War Is Sin. He lays out the case that war is the ultimate betrayal, and that the church is at the heart of that betrayal, helping "mold us into compliant citizens for the empire." This is an extremely powerful and fitting indictment of the church. Chris is no neophyte; he graduated from Harvard Divinity School and spent nearly twenty years as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. He has seen the ugly underbelly of the beast, and he speaks real truth to power, a prophetic witness that you will not find in the corporate press.
As Chris tells it, "War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions. Those who return from war have learned something which is often incomprehensible to those who have stayed home. We are not a virtuous nation. God and fate have not blessed us above others. Victory is not assured. War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity for evil we ascribe to those we fight."
I know only too well that the prophet is not welcome in his (or her) home town (or church). Chris speaks of those who go to war, and come back home to speak truth to power, to unmask the hypocrisy that pervades every level of society. And it is not just in the United States; the same lies are told in every nation that wages war. In the U.S., Iraq Veterans Against The War, Veterans For Peace, and Vietnam Veterans Against The War are organizations in which veterans come together in a prophetic voice against war.
Of course, as Chris reminds us, these "contemporary prophets" are often "condemned or ignored"; by and large, we Americans prefer to fly the flag proudly, particularly in our churches, and there is no room to question it - My country right or wrong!!! And so the killing continues, so long as we are insulated from it, and a steady stream of physically and spiritually wounded veterans return home, some of them able to speak out with a prophetic voice for peace.
What can we do to help bring an end to such madness? Here are just a few ideas.
- Support returning veterans. Listen to their stories.
- Support one of the veterans organizations listed above.
- Stand with veterans (and others) on one of the street corners around the country in their weekly or monthly vigils for peace.
- Speak out in your church, temple or synagogue against language that fosters violence in people who should be following the ways of peace.
- Challenge the presence of the national flag in the sanctuary.
- Start a dialogue in your church about what it means to be a Peace Church.
I'm sure you can come up with plenty of ideas. Share them with others. Speak out. Be sure to read Chris Hedges' article, War is Sin in TruthDig.com. Who knows; you might find your prophetic voice. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, "There is the grain of the prophet in the recesses of every human existence." Don't be afraid to speak out; you are in good company.
Photo: Members of Veterans For Peace at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day nonviolent vigil and direct action Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor (Trident nuclear submarine base) in Kitsap County, Washington, January 19, 2009. Photo by Leonard Eiger, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.