August 13, 2002
Voices Seldom Heard
-- Martin E. Marty
Last week we mentioned how rare have been the reported-on voices of religious figures questioning the potential war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Also rarely reported on are religious questionings of American responses after 9/11. Maybe there have not been many questioners. Some were sighted in a gathering near Washington this month, and they will be reported on in Sightings.
Many readers will turn away because sponsors of the forty-person gathering go by initials WCC, NCC, and CWS, often dismissed as naively leftish. And I do find some comments, e.g., from Palestinian spokespersons and someone from the Philippines to be, though understandably so, too biased to include here.
Elizabeth Ferris of the World Council of Churches in Geneva said the meeting was "part of an on-going process of discernment among the churches about the way forward in this post-September 11 world." Many "yearn" to assess American church leadership, having "the sense that US churches have turned inward and feel defensive at queries from other parts of the world."
Walter Altmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Brazil, said that "hopes have vanished" around the world that the attacks would find the US "leading a world-wide effort to create a more just world." "We must reject a view that since the attack on the World Trade Center was evil, any response to it is justified and good." The spiral of violence is an expression of an addiction.
Most consistent were attacks on American a) hyper-reaction; b) lack of self-criticism and perspective and c) unilateralism, readiness to go it alone, without allies, partners, consultations.
Bishop Stephen P. Bouman, on the scene near ground-zero as bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, spoke with special credentials. He and the pastors he serves have buried victims and consoled families after the World Trade Center attacks. "The emotions are still raw," and he shares them. Yet he suggested that "continuing violence" in which America participates, or will, "denigrates the memory of the victims of September 11." He believes that the mourners at Ground Zero were "not crying out for revenge." They also "showed an impulse to protect the stranger," as when people "formed a protective cocoon around members of an Arab congregation." More: "We can't let the better instincts of our congregations get hijacked by vengeance."
Ferris concluded: if there is hope for the future it is in "conflict reduction, redemption, recovery, forgiveness and reconciliation." Such voices are rarely heard and even more rarely reported on. Will they keep on being heard as war in Iraq draws ever nearer?