UUs mobilize to protest war with Iraq
by Donald E. Skinner
Every Friday from 4 to 5 p.m. a group of women dressed in black gather in front of the courthouse in Eureka, California, where they silently protest the threatened war with Iraq. They are often joined by women from the Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, including Julie Neander.
"We wear black because we're in mourning for all the destruction, pain, terror, and violence associated with war," she said. "I have this dream that if every city had women in black we would not be going to war."
In the Humboldt fellowship's religious education classrooms fifth-grader Navarra Carr has led her classmates in folding more than four hundred paper peace cranes. Their goal is one thousand, which they will mail to President Bush as a protest.
At congregations across the continent, this winter has been a season of antiwar activism. Stirred by sermons and moved by their own sense of what should not be, Unitarian Universalists have met in discussion groups, signed resolutions, written to Congress and the president, raised money, and marched in protests, often after traveling to distant cities.
Many members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, Michigan, planted "No Iraq War" signs in their yards this winter. At the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica, California, which by a strong majority voted a statement of conscience against unilateral war, the Rev. Judith Meyer said, "We will continue to speak out when our beliefs in the dignity and value of all people are challenged by threats of war, whether those threats are spoken by foreign leaders or our own."
Five congregations in and around Minneapolis, Minnesota, voted to take public positions opposing war against Iraq. They were White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church (Mahtomedi), Michael Servetus Unitarian Society (Fridley), Pilgrim House Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (Arden Hills), First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, and First Universalist Church of Minneapolis. At White Bear the vote was 184 to 18.
In Ludington, Michigan, the People's Church is participating in the Season of Nonviolence, an international program that runs from January 30 (date of Mohandas Gandhi's assassination) to April 4 (date of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination). An aspect of nonviolence is observed each day. At St. John's Unitarian Church, Cincinnati, the Rev. Dr. Frank Carpenter led the congregation in making a New Year's resolution to reduce its use of gasoline.
Robin Hoecker, 22, an intern with the Unitarian Universalist Association's Washington Office for Advocacy, went to Iraq in December with a group from the National Council of Churches. "I went because I feel that my generation has the most at stake," she said. "We will be the ones fighting this war . . . and . . . facing the consequences and backlash in the future."
The Rev. Dr. John Buehrens, former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, was also part of the contingent. He said, "I came away deeply concerned, not only about the principle of preventive war, which I think is so suspect it can't be squared with justice, but about the consequences for the people of Iraq and for us. Preventive war does not increase our security, and will only lead to further radicalization in the Muslim world."
Members of several congregations in the Philadelphia area who normally come together for a day of community service on Martin Luther King Day, January 20, this year joined in support of a nonviolent civil disobedience action at the Lockheed Martin plant at Valley Forge. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley in Kensington, California, members' peace prayers were read in an intergenerational service.
At the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, senior minister the Rev. Dr. Ken Phifer donated more than $800 from his discretionary fund to support a local peace effort. The church created a bulletin board to honor friends and relatives serving in the war effort and is mindful there are different viewpoints on the war.
Phifer said, "We will continue to honor each person who has made a decision for or against the war, continue to think as clearly as we are able how we can make the world a better place and a safer place, continue to try to do what matters most in life to love one another. Surely that is the deepest meaning of being at peace."
Hundreds of Unitarian Universalists got in vans and on buses and rode for hours to major peace rallies and marches in October and January in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco to join tens of thousands people in protest.
Fourteen went to Washington from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Erie, Pennsylvania. "On a clear and very cold day, it was exhilarating to be part of a remarkable show of antiwar sentiment," said Erie organizer Al Richardson.
Evelyn Jackson, social action committee chair of the Lansing church, traveled twelve hours in a van. "I came back with the feeling that this can't be ignored by those in power," she said. "But I also know that the war machine is moving, and that we have to do more."
Donald E. Skinner is a contributing editor to UU World and editor of the UUA's InterConnections newsletter for lay leaders.