Episcopal bishop arrested in US anti-war protest

By staff writers
10 Dec 2006

Bishop Marc Handley Andrus of the Episcopal Diocese of California in the USA has been arrested for blocking the front door of the San Francisco federal building to protest against the deaths caused by the Iraq war - writes Mary Frances Schjonberg for the Episcopal News Service (ENS).

His participation in the 7 December 2006 protest and his arrest are "just one piece of a sustained effort" to work for peace, Andrus told ENS.

Other parts of the effort include further liturgical events, diocesan participation in the upcoming release of a documentary about four soldiers who sought conscientious objector status, and the possibility of having Episcopalians participate in a Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) trip to Iran.

Bishop Andrus said that his protest sprang not just from his own convictions about the war but "from a base of considered opinion by the House of Bishops and the Episcopal Church about this war."

"It's not a capricious act, but it is my conviction that while there's widespread opposition to this war, that the elected leaders need to know that we continue to want concerted and active moves towards peace," he said.

Andrus, carrying his crosier and singing "Down by the Riverside," was among 250 protesters, including members of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and people of other faiths, who had marched from Grace Cathedral, on Nob Hill, to join the monthly "die-in" on Golden Gate Avenue near City Hall.

The protest was meant to "memorialize all who have died as a result of US-led hostilities in Iraq," according to a 29 November invitation to the protest posted on the diocese's website.

The bishop celebrated a requiem Holy Eucharist at the plaza in front of the building. After they received communion about two dozen participants went one by one to lie down in front of the federal building's two main doors. Andrus was the first protestor to do so. Federal Protective Service officers began arresting protesters for lying down and blocking the building's two main doors.

Officers placed Andrus in handcuffs–as one said, "How are you?" and shook the bishop's hand, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Protesters applauded, cheered and sang as Andrus was photographed by another officer and led inside the building.

He and 11 other protesters were detained in a room inside the federal building for about two hours, according to diocesan spokesman Sean McConnell. They were cited for unlawful assembly and told they could either pay the charge's 5 fine or appear in court at a later date. All 12 decided to appear in court, McConnell said.

Andrus said the decision was made as a way for the group to continue its protest by pleading not guilty "because of our sense that international law and the unjust nature of this war required civil disobedience."

In the invitation to the event, Andrus wrote that "at the Eucharistic table we become aware of this divine reality, that while humans may forget the dead — and may indeed willfully forget them — God remembers them. In the Iraq war the numbers of those who have died mounts, and is staggering. While even the numbers of the dead are unknown to many of us, our faith teaches us that God does not forget them."

A small group of protesters led by Quakers have gathered once a week outside the federal building to hold a silent vigil. Once a month the vigil is followed by the "die-in." Andrus has attended a number of the weekly vigils, but this was the first "die-in" he has been able to attend, according to McConnell.

McConnell said "a handful of people were upset that the bishop was going to do this," after the invitation was issued for people to join the protest.

Andrus said one man, a veteran of the Vietnam War, told him that the protest summoned up for him all the feelings he had about fighting in Vietnam while hearing of angry war protests at home. The bishop said he told the man that he believes that protests of the Iraq war can be and have been "completely respectful of all the soldiers."

"The Bishop of California has been called to lead all the people in our diocese and beyond on the path of peace, and this was the first and visible step on that journey," McConnell said. "As we continue on this journey, we will invite all people of all faiths to join us."

Andrus became the eighth Bishop of California in July. The Diocese of California comprises about 30,580 Episcopalians worshipping in 80 congregations in the greater San Francisco area.

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