Thousands of Christians braved frigid temperatures, icy conditions and on 16 March 2007 to protest in Washington DC against the Iraq war - with some 200 facing arrest, as previously reported on Ekklesia .
The event was backed by people from a whole range of churches, but was not without controversy. And one young speaker publicly apologised for the 'war theology' that some of his fellow evangelicals and Baptists had used to back the action of the Bush government.
Robert Marus of the Associated Baptist News (www.abpnews.com ) in the US reports:
The "Christian Peace Witness for Iraq" began with a service at Washington National Cathedral and ended with about 200 protesters being arrested in front of the White House. It kicked off a weekend of demonstrations marking the four-year anniversary of the war, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 American military personnel and thousands of Iraqi military and civilians.
Raphael Warnock, pastor of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, addressed an estimated 3,000 worshipers at the cathedral, criticizing the Democrat-controlled Congress as "too morally inept" to bring a speedy end to the war. But he also dressed down President Bush, who has begun implementing an unpopular plan to "surge" America's troop levels in Iraq with more than 20,000 new personnel.
"Mr Bush, my Christian brother, we do need a surge in troops. We need a surge in the nonviolent army of the Lord," he said, according to the Associated Press. "We need a surge in conscience and a surge in activism and a surge in truth-telling."
According to organizers, the 3,000 at the cathedral were augmented by 400 more who watched a closed-circuit broadcast of the service at Washington's New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Katie Barge, spokesperson for the sponsoring coalition, said about 1,500 of those marched three miles from the cathedral to Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. There, she said, about 1,500 other protesters joined them for a candlelight demonstration.
Of those, Barge said, 222 crossed the street to pray in front of the executive mansion, resulting in their arrests. Protesters on the sidewalk in front of the White House are required by law to keep moving or face arrest.
Barge said more than 700 had originally signed up for the civil-disobedience demonstration but the inclement weather may have suppressed their numbers.
Evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant, Pentecostal and other Christian groups opposed to the war - including the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America - helped organize the protest. Its organizers called "for an end to the US occupation, real support for our troops, a total rejection of torture and an international commitment to the physical and human reconstruction that is so desperately needed in Iraq."
Lucas Johnson, a student at Emory University's Candler School of Theology and a member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship board, participated in the event. He said he felt so compelled to provide a Baptist witness against the war that he caught a bus from Atlanta to Washington with Presbyterian protesters - and returned to Atlanta the same night.
"There were several points when I had to hold back tears considering the human cost of this war," he said in an e-mail to Associated Baptist Press. "I am so thankful that Baptists were able to play a role in this experience; I regret that there weren't more of us there."
He also apologized publicly for Baptists and other evangelicals who used theological criteria to justify the war from its start. "There are times when I get so discouraged by the abuse of the gospel; hearing the subtle and more blatant endorsements of this war in the name of the Christian faith has made me sick for a long time," Johnson said. "I think I needed to be there for the [event] - not just to speak out, but as an act of repentance."
At least one conservative Christian group criticized the event. The Institute on Religion and Democracy - a Washington-based think tank that promotes conservative causes in mainline Protestant denominations - issued a press release saying the protest was "an anti-US rally, not an anti-Iraq war rally."
The statement also accused the event's organizers of viewing the United States "as the exclusive culprit in all international crises. Their political and spiritual myopia offers nothing constructive to Christians and other people of faith who genuinely seek a peaceful and just world."
[With additional thanks to the National Council of Churches USA]