Five years ago today my family and I joined many people from all over the country on a march to stop the imminent war in Iraq. Before going on that march I wrote this piece for Highbury News. Events have since taken their course and the tragedy of the war in Iraq is still taking its toll. What was said five years ago came to mind as I was preparing to preach on Romans on Sunday morning.
Over the last twelve years there have been a few occasions when it has been very difficult to write the Minister’s Memo.
This is another such occasion.
The difficulty each time has been the same.
I am writing a fortnight before the date when Highbury News will be published. I am all too conscious that much can happen in a fortnight.
God forbid, we may find ourselves by the time you read this at war.
It may be that the threat of war has receded.
In the twelve years I have been here at Highbury I have made it quite clear where I stand on the issue of war. Nothing I have heard has persuaded me to change my views.
9/11 had a profound effect on me as it had on us all. I have lived through the cold war, through the period of terrorism linked with Northern Ireland. I recognise that the world faces a new order of terrorism. And it is right for the world to respond.
I firmly believe that the proper response to the kind of terrorism we witnessed on 11th September 2001, involves, first and foremost, painstaking intelligence-gathering, the kind of intelligence-gathering that’s going on as I write very close to home.
The gathering of that intelligence then has to be linked to thorough policing with full international co-operation and backed up by the force of law. The fruits of that policing have been seen in recent weeks with the arrest of groups of terrorists, not least here in this country.
I firmly believe that the campaign against terrorism is not served by going to war with Iraq. To the contrary, I fear that war with Iraq will result in an increase in the very terrorism the world rightly seeks to combat. War will accomplish the very de-stabilising of the Middle East the terrorists aim to achieve.
By focusing the world’s attention on a regime that is diametrically opposed to all that that network of terrorists stands for, the Governments of the USA and the UK are in grave danger of playing into the hands of Osama Bin Laden. They are in danger of reinforcing the terrorists and entrenching for generations to come their way of looking at the world.
The worst consequence of such a war is that it will open up a major and bloody rift between the world of Christianity and the world of Islam. That, too, is something the terrorists long for.
Terrorists feed religious hatred and bigotry ... and then they feed off it. We have seen it happen to our cost in Northern Ireland. We are witnessing it in the Middle East. The very hatred that is fundamental to their cause is contrary as much to the teaching of the Qu’ran as it is contrary to the teaching of Christ.
The fact that this war will be interpreted by the terrorists and those who fuel the fires of terrorism as having to do with our faith and the faith of Islam places a responsibility on us as Christians. We cannot simply stand by and do nothing.
What can we do?
As Christians I believe we cannot remain silent. I share with you the dictates of my conscience. I hope you will do the same with me ... and with others too. If we believe that war can be justified in this instance then we need to be prepared to say so. If on the other hand we feel that war cannot be justified we need to say so too.
Between my writing this and you reading it I hope to go to London to share with many others from all over the country in declaring my opposition to this war. On Saturdays at 11-00 the Society of Friends invites us to join them in silent vigil on the Promenade outside Cavendish House. On Fridays from 9-00 until 6-00 the people of St Gregory’s invite us to call in and share in prayer for peace.
I believe there is a responsibility on all of us as Christians to seek to build bridges of friendship and understanding through conversations with those who belong to the other faith communities of our town. It is vitally important that we do not allow terrorists or the outbreak of war to prise apart in hatred and bigotry those of different faiths. The people of all the faith communities of our town share a commitment to peace and to justice. That is something we need to recognise and affirm.
The great faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam not only share many of their scriptures, a belief in the same God, but they also share a commitment to the Ten Commandments and to the so-called golden rule which Jesus regarded as a summing up the teaching of all the law and all the prophets: ‘in everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 7:12) Let us affirm those great ethical principles together.
Finally, and most important of all, I believe we need to pray. I commend to you the prayer Mike Lodge shared with us at the united service with our friends from St Luke’s. It is a prayer that can be shared by the people of those other faith communities too. It is a prayer for peace:
from death to life
from falsehood to truth;
from despair to hope,
from fear to trust;
from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill
our heart, our world, our universe ...
Peace, Peace, Peace.