The Common Good

A Meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair

Sojomail - February 20, 2003


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+++++++++++++++++++++ 20-February-2003 ++++++++++++++++++++++
++++++++ A Meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair +++++++++++

 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *William Gibson: The future is here

 H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
     *Meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *And you think a gallon of gas is expensive?!

 P o l i t i c a l l y   C o n n e c t
     *Senator Byrd: "We stand passively mute..."

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *St. John of the Cross: true liberty

 C o l o m b i a   J o u r n a l
     *We are all Iraqis

 B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
     *A national teach-in on the war on Iraq: February 24-28
     *Alternatives to military action against Iraq
     *Help for GI conscientious objectors

 B o o m e r a n g
     *SojoMail readers hit reply
 W e b s c e n e
     *Photo images of peaceful protest around the globe: Feb 15
     *Communities of prayer for peace
     *Musical instruments with attitude

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Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k

"The future is here.... It's just not widely distributed yet."

- William Gibson, novelist


H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
Meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair

by Jim Wallis

On Tuesday, the prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, met with five American church leaders about the decision to go to war with Iraq. President George W. Bush has yet to agree to meet with American religious leaders to hear their concerns about the U.S. rush to war.

The meeting at number 10 Downing Street lasted longer than the usual 15 to 20 minutes for such encounters. Tony Blair met with us for a full 50 minutes and was very engaged in the discussion about the moral and even theological issues at stake in this momentous choice.

Sojourners organized and led the delegation, which included: Bishop John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Diocese of Washington; Bishop Melvin Talbert, ecumenical officer, Council of United Methodist Bishops; Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk, Presbyterian Church USA; and Rev. Dan Weiss, immediate past general secretary, American Baptist Churches in the USA. We were joined by international church leaders Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town; Bishop Clive Handford, Episcopal Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf; Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria; Rev. Dr. Keith Clements, general secretary, Conference of European Churches; and our United Kingdom church counterparts. The trip was made in partnership with similar delegations to Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Moscow, coordinated by the National Council of Churches. In London, the organization Churches Together in Britain and Ireland graciously hosted us.

We affirmed that Tony Blair, a practicing Christian, was bringing "moral concerns" into the debate over Iraq. And we agreed with the prime minister that the issues of terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction were deeply moral and theological issues. We also agreed, unequivocally, that Saddam Hussein was a real threat to his own people and to the entire world.

But we shared with Tony Blair how American church bodies have never before in our history been more united in their opposition to a war. While American and British leaders point out how terrible the regime of Saddam Hussein is (and rightly so), the churches want also to remind the world (and our political leaders) how terrible war is. In moving personal statements, the church leaders testified to our conviction that war is not the answer to the real threats posed by Saddam Hussein. The unintended and unpredictable consequences of war make it far too dangerous and destructive an option. We told the prime minister that the answer to a brutal, threatening dictator must not be the bombing of Baghdad's children.

It was neither hyperbole nor high drama to recognize, we told Tony Blair, that the British people and their prime minister are in a position to influence the decision about a war with Iraq more than any other people or leader in the world. We said that must be a terrible burden to bear and offered our genuine prayers and support to Mr. Blair as he charts the course his leadership will take in the coming critical weeks.

As Americans, we told the British leader that it would be a dangerous thing for the world, and for America, if an issue of such importance were to be decided solely or mostly by American power. We strongly affirmed that the issue of Iraq, with all its possible consequences, must be decided by the world community, in the Security Council of the United Nations, and not by the unilateral decision- making of the world's last remaining superpower. We said that the United States was becoming a "new Rome" in claiming a singular and pre-emptive moral authority to act in the world today, and that this was both bad theology and bad policy.

We respected the "convictional core" of the British prime minister around the legitimate concerns regarding the juxtaposition of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but we urged him to persevere in finding another way to resolve the problem with Iraq apart from an American-led war. In fact, we suggested he, more than any other world leader, might help forge or even broker a better way, even a "third way," beyond doing nothing about Iraq or submitting to the inevitability of an American war, which could lead to a post-war regime in Iraq ruled by an American general. We talked of other directions, especially with a strong role for the U.N. - even a U.N. mandate or protectorate in Iraq - with rigorous inspections and continual monitoring of Saddam Hussein, backed by international force.

The critical need for a resolution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict also figured prominently in our discussions. The Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Riah, spoke with great authority and clarity and told Prime Minister Blair, "The road to Baghdad leads through Jerusalem." The British government is making the critical connection between Middle East peace and the problem of terrorism and even Iraq, much more than the U.S. government has. We committed ourselves to helping change that.

British Secretary of State Clare Short also met with our delegation for an hour and a half, and joined us in the meeting with Mr. Blair. Short is becoming an important advisor to church efforts to find a solution to Iraq that is both effective and humanitarian.

I was impressed by how Prime Minister Blair entered into a real dialogue with us, shared our concerns for the people of Iraq for a genuinely international and U.N. solution, and recognized how crucial a Middle East peace was to this moment. I also saw a Christian political leader seriously wrestling with crucial matters of theology and moral discernment as we all approach the hour that is, in Martin Luther King Jr.'s words, "five minutes before midnight."

May God be with Tony Blair and with all of us.

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F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
And you think a gallon of gas is expensive?!

These price comparisons put things in perspective:

Diet Snapple 16 oz $1.29 ........$10.32 per gallon
Lipton Ice Tea 16 oz $1.19.......$ 9.52 per gallon
Gatorade 20 oz $1.59 ............$10.17 per gallon
Ocean Spray 16 oz $1.25 .........$10.00 per gallon
Brake Fluid 12 oz $3.15 .........$33.60 per gallon
Vick's Nyquil 6 oz $8.35 ........$178.13 per gallon
Pepto-Bismol 4 oz $3.85 .........$123.20 per gallon
Whiteout 7 oz $1.39 .............$25.42 per gallon
Scope 1.5 oz $0.99 ..............$84.48 per gallon
(and this is the real kicker)
Evian water 9 oz for $1.49.......$21.19 per gallon.

So the next time you're at the pump, be glad your car doesn't run on Scope, Whiteout, Pepto-Bismol... or water.


P o l i t i c a l l y   C o n n e c t
Senator Byrd: "We stand passively mute..."

U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) made the following statement February 12 on the floor of the Senate: ...

We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of our newspapers is there much substantive discussion of the prudence or imprudence of engaging in this particular war.

And this is no small conflagration we contemplate. This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.

This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time. The doctrine of pre-emption - the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future - is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self- defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the U.N. Charter. And it is being tested at a time of worldwide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our - or some other nation's - hit list. ...

To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. I truly must question the judgment of any president who can say that a massive unprovoked military attack on a nation that is over 50 percent children is "in the highest moral traditions of our country." This war is not necessary at this time. Pressure appears to be having a good result in Iraq. Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time.

To read Sen. Byrd's entire speech, go to:



"Gifts of the Red Tent: Women Creating" is the sixth
biennial Women Doing Theology conference organized by
women in the North American Anabaptist community.
Celebrating the connection between theology and the
arts, the conference is planned for May 16-18, 2003,
at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Registration is due by April 19, 2003.
For more information, visit:
or contact MCC U.S. Women's Concerns at (717) 859-3889;
or e-mail:


S o u l   W o r k s
True liberty

The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until the cord be broken, the bird cannot fly.

- Saint John of the Cross


C o l o m b i a   J o u r n a l
Todos Somos Irakis (We are all Iraqis)

by Ryan Beiler

The march to the U.S. embassy in Bogotá last Saturday was small compared to anti-war protests that drew millions across the globe, but it was a perfect sampling of the movement: student radicals eager to face off with riot police, church folks singing spirited songs of protest, children on parents' shoulders, and gray-haired veteran activists.

And as in many such protests, multiple concerns coalesced on banners or in chants such as:


(The translation loses the rhyme and rhythm: "We are all Palestinians! We are all Iraqis! We are all Colombians! Yankees, get out of here!")

It is not difficult for Colombians to connect themselves to conflicts in the Middle East. Colombia is the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid behind Israel and Egypt, and many Colombian analysts, such as Ricardo Esquivia of Justapaz, a Mennonite justice and peace organization based in Bogotá, assert that this has more to do with its strategic economic and geopolitical significance than wars on drugs or terrorism.

The Bush administration stepped over what was already a blurry line in Colombia and expanded military aid that had been officially limited to counternarcotics to also be used for counterinsurgency. More than 70 members of the U.S. Army Special Forces recently arrived in the northeastern department of Arauca to train Colombian troops to defend an oil pipeline partly owned by U.S. multinational Occidental Petroleum from attacks by leftist guerillas.

Though the U.S. State Department has labeled both leftist guerillas and right-wing paramilitaries as terrorist groups involved in drug trafficking, common knowledge on the Colombian street and documentation by human rights organizations testify that paramilitary death squads regularly work hand-in-hand with the state security forces to combat the guerillas and those they label collaborators.

Moreover, almost all significant military operations and coca fumigations are against the guerilla-controlled areas and not the paramilitaries'. But as with Saddam Hussein, the guerilla targets of U.S. policy are not sympathetic victims. Their fine-sounding social justice rhetoric was corrupted long ago by drug money.

As in the Middle East, the real victims are the innocents in the crossfire. "The great majority of those being killed are neither guerillas nor paramilitaries, but campesinos [rural farmers]," asserts a municipal official in one of Colombia's many conflict zones. Conservative estimates place the civilian death toll at 80% of all those killed in combat.

And just as many fear that attacking Iraq will spark a much larger conflict, Esquivia asserts that sending U.S. arms to Colombia is "like pouring gasoline on a fire."

A U.S. embassy official here spun that metaphor in a more frightening direction, stating that, "sometimes to put out a big fire you have to start smaller fires."

Knowing the effects that scorched-earth policies have had in Latin America in the past, one would hope that a U.S. policy truly interested in peace and human rights would be more creative. But in Colombia, as in the Middle East, such statements compel us to look behind war-for-peace rhetoric and ask what our government's interests really are. And, as Colombians chanting "todos somos," we must identify with the real victims and take to the streets in their defense.

As I was leaving Saturday's rally, one seasoned activist admonished me, "Wherever you go, Mr. Journalist, tell them that Colombia is strong in the struggle."

Que todos seamos. So may we all be.

--Ryan Beiler, web editor for Sojourners, just spent two weeks in Colombia with a delegation sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee and Justapaz: Christian Center of Justice, Peace, and Nonviolent Action.

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B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
A national teach-in on the war on Iraq

February 24-28

Can Saddam be disarmed without war? What role can nonviolence play in bringing justice and democracy to the region? What are the real reasons for the rush to war? Will war lessen - or increase - the threat of terrorism in this country? Are there alternatives to war?

Across the country, students will explore the complex issues surrounding the planned war on Iraq and engage in a dialogue about creative, nonviolent alternatives to war.

If you are interested in downloading a free copy of the Teach-In packet, visit or contact Nathan Johnston at

Why is our best option invisible?
Alternatives to military action against Iraq

by Glen Gersmehl

Despite the dangers outlined by Colin Powell in his presentation to the U.N. Security Council, the majority of Americans still feel uncomfortable with a U.S. war against Iraq. As Christians, our difficulty with a violent response is rooted in the explicit and often repeated teachings of Jesus.

The tremendous risks of war - to our soldiers, to the Iraqi people, to our economy, to the war on terrorism, to U.S. relations with our allies and the Muslim world - have received serious if sporadic media attention. But it is striking that in all these months, only a tiny handful of articles or editorials have offered more than a few sentences exploring a realistic alternative to military action that goes beyond diplomacy.

As important as diplomacy is, it represents just one dimension of that alternative, just one type of power aside from military power. Consider this: In just the past 20 years, a third of the world has experienced change brought about by nonviolent movements, successful beyond anyone's wildest expectations. They succeeded against some of the most ruthless regimes of the 20th century: Marcos in the Philippines, apartheid in South Africa, Ceausescu in Romania. Most were completely nonviolent on the part of the participants.

If you stretch the time frame back 50 years to include the liberation of India, even the anti-Nazi resistance in Denmark and Norway, and the U.S. civil rights movement, the number of people affected rises to two- thirds of the world's population! "All this in the teeth of the assertion, endlessly repeated, that nonviolence doesn't work in the 'real' world," as Walter Wink emphasizes in his path-breaking book "The Powers That Be."

Think about it: The most successful route to "regime change" in our time has been absent from the public debate about Iraq!

To read Gersmehl's entire article, go to Download "Nonviolence and Iraq" at


Help for GI conscientious objectors

If you have questions or doubts about your role in the military, for any reason, or in this war, help is available. Contact one of the organizations listed below. They can discuss your situation and concerns, give you information on your legal rights, and help you sort out your possible choices. For questions, or for discharge or other GI rights information, visit:, or call the GI Rights Hotline: (800) FYI-95GI.

Also contact Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) at (510) 465-1617 or (888) 231-2226, see, or write

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B o o m e r a n g

Al Fischer writes from Washington, D.C.:

I am so thankful for SojoMail. Each edition is always so relevant and helpful. You have really motivated us to do what we can to stem the propaganda and war talk.


Leland Dolan writes from Houston, Texas:

Most of the messages I get on Sojourners are against President Bush's war against Saddam Hussein. Personally, I really don't know what to think. My first concern is the safety of us American citizens on the homefront. If the U.S. goes to war against Saddam, our troops might overthrow him and his regime, and in the future, he will no longer be a threat with his weapons of mass destruction. However, an attack on Saddam's secular Iraq would inspire the very theocratic Osama bin Laden to initiate another "9/11" attack upon our homeland, which would be applauded by a majority of the Arabic/Islamic world. As I see it, if we attack Iraq now, then it will be some time before he can employ WMD against us. That will give us all an extra lease on life.


SojoMail reader John Deever writes:

Thanks to David Batstone for his piece on Dick Cheney in last week's SojoMail. I understand this episode as part of Cheney's personal shadow coup of our country. I have lots of evidence on my personal Web site:


Wendy Bilgen writes from Ankara, Turkey:

There is an Iraqi refugee praying in my living room. He is here because his life is in danger if he returns to his homeland, Iraq. He'll either be beaten to death or starve to death. He represents one of thousands who are here because of continued threat and abuse (including the beating and rape of children) inflicted on civilians living under the oppression of an evil dictator. This is a reality if I am to believe the reports coming from these asylum seekers who daily cross the border looking for refuge and sometimes end up in my living room. Not one of them blames the West or even the U.N. sanctions; all blame Saddam.

I wonder if you could channel just half of your energy toward confronting Saddam's regime and equipping these thousands with some kind of response to this oppression that is meaningful to them. To most of them, forcefully overthrowing the evil dictator is the only way they see for freedom from oppression. We must remember that the oppressed are not being heard; the strong and powerful are. We are hearing the voice of the strong of Iraq even from you. I know you understand that Saddam is an evil dictator; you've written that often. But do you understand that he is controlling the lives of people to such an extent that he has convinced many that the West, and not his own control of resources, is the reason for the suffering in Iraq? I'm afraid he's got you singing his tune - maybe not the whole song, but the important refrain.


Dale Perkins writes from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada:

Canadian Christians of a progressive persuasion desperately hope that U.S. Christians will give prophetic leadership in your land. We are aghast that your president, elected by a minority of your citizens, is permitted to go unchecked on his crusade to establish the American Empire and bludgeon every president, prime minister, chairman, or dictator who dares question his claim to absolute hegemony. As discounted bystanders, Canadians can only pressure our prime minister not to capitulate to the threats of economic reprisals if we don't comply to President Bush's every wish. We're urging our government to resist the threats of the American Emperor, and to run the risk of his displeasure, fully prepared to bear the effects of more soft-wood lumber disputes and other forms of embargo put on our country. However, we need to know there are fellow travelers who follow Christ living south of the 49th parallel who are willing to put their well-being on the line to stand up to this tyranny. To the degree I hear those voices in Sojourners, I give thanks and have greater hope for our future.


Mark Bigland-Pritchard writes from Bristol, England:

Scott Rosner's anti-European rant (Boomerang, 2/12/03) shows just how distorting "patriotism" can be. I'm glad that he's getting to read the Sojourners site, though - it might eventually open up his perspectives beyond the narrow self-censored confines of conformist opinion expressed in the U.S. media.

Scott, you may not like it, but your country needs friends that can warn you off when you're about to engage in rash, unconsidered, and potentially disastrous action. And that is what the majority of the people of (all of) Europe - together with most of the governments of "old" Europe - want to do.


Lora Steiner writes from San Juan Chamelco, Guatemala:

After reading Mr. Rosner's reasoning for why we should support the U.S. government, I felt compelled to respond.

The U.S. government does give a lot of money to foreign aid, but it is not the largest donor. Less than one percent of the U.S. budget goes toward foreign aid, and about half of that is military aid, the bulk of which goes to just two countries, Israel and Egypt. In a ranking of 21 industrialized nations according to the percentage of Gross National Product that goes to economic assistance, the U.S. ranked 20th.

At the same time, the U.S. allocates over a third of its budget for direct and indirect military expenses (This is a low estimate; I've heard estimates as high as one-half). Having lived now in three countries where the effects of past or current U.S. military intervention or funding is destroying innocent lives, I have to challenge those who would support the government based on what it claims it has accomplished. I believe that the United States has a lot to offer the world, but we have to be willing to open our eyes first and see ourselves the way others see us.


Wes Bungay, president of the God's Squad in Sydney, Australia, writes:

Mike Florio needs to re-read his bible. He seems to have missed the point when Jesus said "Blessed are the poor, for the kingdom of God is theirs," and when Jesus taught us to pray the Lord's Prayer "to make God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven." Jesus would have a lot to say to Mr. Bush: "Woe to you who are rich." When 24,000 people die of hunger every day it is nothing but sinful that the U.S. government could spend billions of dollars on a war. Jesus said, "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me." Mike, re-read your bible and see what a political statement it is to love the poor when the rich of the world are ignoring them. "This is what the Lord requires." (Micah 6:8)


Jon Kuhrt writes from London, England:

It was good to read Mike Florio's piece in last week's Boomerang about how the Christian ethic cannot be applied en masse but only as an individual. I say "good" because I think all sojourners should print this out as a succinct reminder of the attitudes that we are up against.

His thoughts are indicative of a kind of limited Christianity that is consciously separated off to a spiritual, individualistic realm that has no impact in God's world. It confines Jesus' teaching to mere piety, denying the grace of God to work in the fullness of creation. It denies the centrality of the incarnation, and it's tragic that it is this kind of spirituality that is often passed off as being biblical. The biggest irony is that it is passed off as being non-political. It isn't. It reinforces the status quo and is consequently highly political. As Kenneth Leech has written, "All Christians are political, whether they recognise it or not, particularly when they do not recognise it."


Rev. Bruce Bjork, director of programs of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, writes:

I am beginning to believe that the real budget crisis is not located primarily in Washington, D.C., but rather in the capitals of those states facing their own budget deficits. Here in Minnesota, that deficit for the 2004-05 budget is projected to be in the $4.5 billion range. Early indicators suggest that there are going to be massive cuts for programs that provide services for our most vulnerable neighbors. We are told that we must "share the pain," but most of the hurt seems directed at those who are least able to bear it. As we gear up to advocate for a just federal budget, let's not forget that there are 50 state budgets that need our attention as well.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:



W e b s c e n e
This week's best of the Web

*Photo images of peaceful protest around the globe: Feb 15

The U.S. Green Party has put together a Flash Film of visions of peaceful protest from around the world on February 15. Check it out at:


*Communities of prayer for peace

Join with others worldwide to hold a prayer vigil for world peace. Go to:


*Musical instruments with attitude

The haunting tones of the Waterphone. The lovely sound of a Stoessel-laute. The call of a well-tuned Nondo. is your source for unique and experimental music, instruments, players, and more. From the balalaika to the Gravikord, the Hmong Harp to the Theremin, you will never find a more complete collection of music's unknown - but not unloved - stepchildren. Go there now:


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