Faith leaders call on U.S. to de-escalate tensions with Iran

(OGA) Following more than a week of violent exchanges between the U.S. and Iran, a number of faith leaders have signed a letter to Congress calling for diplomacy and peacemaking efforts. Nineteen leaders, including the Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), wrote that recent events have left them “deeply disturbed” about the direction the U.S. is taking.

Satellite photo from the commercial company Planet shows damage to at least five structures at the Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq. —by Planet Labs, Inc. – sourced by National Public Radio

“Actions of violence will only exacerbate the situation, leading to increased violence, hatred, and discord between the U.S. and Iran,” the letter states. “The way of peace is not easy, yet we believe it will result in lasting security and justice for the people of Iran and the United States.”

On January 3, Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was killed by missiles shot from American drones as his convoy traveled near Baghdad International Airport. Days later, Iran responded by firing missiles at two U.S. bases in Iraq.

“We ask Congress to do everything in its power to ensure the U.S. does not continue its escalation of U.S. military action toward Iran; and indeed, to do all that is possible to deescalate the tensions, including robust support for diplomacy,” the letter states. “Military action will likely further destabilize the region and result in the loss of precious human life.”

The faith leaders say war will impact the most vulnerable, causing irreparable harm and dimming prospects for peace.

“It is Congress, not the President, that must approve the U.S. entering into a new war and Congress has the authority to stop the U.S. from funding future military activities against Iran,” the group states. “We urge you to not delay in asserting your war powers authority and move the U.S. away from the precipice of war.”

Nelson, the Reverend Jimmie Hawkins, director of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness, and the Reverend Cindy Kohlmann, Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018), also signed on to a letter requesting that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights hold the U.S. accountable for violating the U.N. Charter in escalating the tensions with Iran.

The letter is from the Poor People’s Campaign and is signed by a number of multifaith leaders, including the co-chairs of the campaign, the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II and the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis. The letter calls for a meeting with Michelle Bachelet Jeria, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“We are gravely disturbed, indeed outraged, by the death that is occurring because of our President’s rogue actions in the Middle East,” the letter reads. “His willingness to bypass congressional approval, violate international law, pardon convicted war criminals, implement harsher sanctions and abandon existing peace deals, sets a dangerous precedent that can have continued lethal and destabilizing results.”

The group calls on the United Nations immediate intervention in the situation, saying the U.S. must respond to its violations of human rights, international law, the U.N. Charter, and the laws of war.

“The lives of people in the Middle East and around the globe hang in the balance,” the letter states. “The lives of those we represent—among the 140 million poor and low wealth in the United States, 43 percent of the U.S. population—also hang in the balance as the world teeters on the precipice of a devastating war.”

by Rick Jones, Office of the General Assembly 

Read both letters in full below:

Faith Leaders Letter to Congress

January 9, 2020

 

Dear Members of Congress:

We write to you as faith leaders deeply grieved by the current rise in violence and tension between the U.S. and Iran. The events of recent weeks, including the assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani, and the Iranian missile strike on January 7 against US and Iraqi bases in Iraq, have left us deeply disturbed. Our faith teaches us that in times of conflict, the best way forward is through diplomacy and peacemaking. Actions of violence will only exacerbate the situation, leading to increased violence, hatred, and discord between the U.S and Iran. The way of peace is not easy, yet we believe it will result in lasting security and justice for the people of Iran and the United States.

We ask Congress to do everything in its power to ensure the U.S. does not continue its escalation of U.S. military action toward Iran; and indeed to do all that is possible to deescalate the tensions, including robust support for diplomacy. Military action will likely further destabilize the region and result in the loss of precious human life. War will impact the most vulnerable, causing irreparable harm and dimming prospects for peace between our two nations. We pray for the people of Iraq who now have been caught in the crossfire between Iran and the United States.

It is Congress, not the President, that must approve the U.S. entering into a new war and Congress has the authority to stop the U.S. from funding future military activities against Iran. We urge you to not delay in asserting your war powers authority and move the U.S. away from the precipice of war. We further encourage you to pass legislation that will bring us back to the negotiating table with Iran.

During this challenging time we are grateful for your service to this country. Please know we are lifting you up in our prayers.

 

Sincerely,

Joyce Ajlouny
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee

Rev. Eddy Alemán,
General Secretary
Reformed Church in America.

Rev. Traci D. Blackmon
Associate General Minister Justice & Local Church Ministries
The United Church of Christ

J Ron Byler
Executive Director
Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Rev. Dr. Julia Brown Karimu
President, Division of Overseas Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon
Executive Director
Churches for Middle East Peace

Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer
General Minister and President United Church of Christ

Bishop Sally Dyck
President
General Board of Church and Society The United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray
President
Unitarian Universalist Association

Susan Gunn
Director
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Rev. Glen Guyton
Executive Director Mennonite Church USA

Dr. Eli S. McCarthy
Director of Justice and Peace Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Rev. Teresa Hord Owens
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Diane Randall
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Very Rev. Jack Clark Robinson, ofm,
Chairperson
Franciscan Friars (ofm) of the U.S.-6 Provinces

Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson
Associate General Minister, Wider Church Ministries and Operations, United Church of Christ
Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Nikki Toyama Szeto
Executive Director
Evangelicals for Social Action

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary
National Council of Churches

Letter to United Nations High Commissioner

Dear Movement Family,

Today we joined faith leaders, including denominational and national leadership, with moral advocates across the country in requesting that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights hold our government accountable for violating the UN Charter and escalating us toward war with Iran. This afternoon we formally requested a meeting with High Commissioner Bachelet. As the request began:

 

“We write gravely disturbed, indeed outraged, by the death that is occurring because of our President’s rogue actions in the Middle East. His willingness to bypass congressional approval, violate international law, pardon convicted war criminals, implement harsher sanctions and abandon existing peace deals, sets a dangerous precedent that can have continued lethal and destabilizing results.

The US President’s order to carry out a lethal drone strike violated the UN Charter’s prohibition on the use of force. The assassination of General Qassim Suleimani represented an act of war against a country with whom the United States was not at war. Trump’s claim of imminent danger from Suleimani is unfounded and must be investigated.

The threat to add new sanctions to Iran, and to involve the NATO military alliance, all indicate that the threat of war remains very real. Furthermore, we know that the majority of impact from these sanctions will be on the poor.”

 

To: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
From: [Your Name]

High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
c/o Craig Mokhiber, Director, OHCHR New York

Dear Commissioner Bachelet,

We write gravely disturbed, indeed outraged, by the death that is occurring because of our President’s rogue actions in the Middle East. His willingness to bypass congressional approval, violate international law, pardon convicted war criminals, implement harsher sanctions and abandon existing peace deals, sets a dangerous precedent that can have continued lethal and destabilizing results.

The U.S. President’s order to carry out a lethal drone strike violated the UN Charter’s prohibition on the use of force. The assassination of General Qassim Suleimani represented an act of war against a country with whom the United States was not at war. Trump’s claim of imminent danger from Suleimani is unfounded and must be investigated.

The threat to add new sanctions to Iran, and to involve the NATO military alliance, all indicate that the threat of war remains very real. Furthermore, we know that the majority of impact from these sanctions will be on the poor.

We will not be silent as our president publicly announces willingness to commit a minimum of 52 violations of international law and war crimes — attacking civilian and cultural centers, including churches, museums, mosques and libraries in Iran. Further, Trump has said he would do it once again without authorization from Congress. Indeed, these are disturbing, world-altering actions which, if allowed, will bring war that could escalate to world-wide proportions.

As U.S. moral advocates and faith leaders who understand our collective accountability to human rights for all around the world, we are requesting your immediate intervention in the present moral crisis. The United States, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, threatens international peace and security. The United Nations, beginning with its human rights system, must respond to its violations of human rights, its violations of international law and the UN Charter, and its violations of the laws of war.

The lives of people in the Middle East and around the globe hang in the balance. The lives of those we represent — among the 140 million poor and low wealth in the United States, 43% of the U.S. population — also hang in the balance as the world teeters on the precipice of a devastating war.

Dr. Martin Luther King taught us that “war is the enemy of the poor.” War is a crime against the poor civilians of Iran, Iraq, and the whole Middle East region, who pay for U.S. wars with the destruction of their lives, their health, their homes and their country’s environment. It’s a crime against the poor of the U.S. as well who pay with their tax dollars going to the Pentagon instead of to jobs, health care and a green new deal. And who pay with their lives and health through disproportionate service in the military.

As a nation, we cannot seek goodness and peace while at the same time pursuing the evils of war. We cannot uproot systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the false moral narrative while embracing militarism and the war economy.

We believe that the international community, through the United Nations, alongside mobilized social movements of poor and marginalized and committed people, must respond to these violations of human rights, the violations of international law, the threats of more war crimes to come.

It is with profound humility and careful moral discernment that we are urging you to help hold our government accountable for making war on the Middle East and on its own people.

Respectfully submitted,

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II
President, Repairers of the Breach
Co-Chair Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
Executive Director, Kairos Center
Co-Chair Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

[Following in alphabetical order]

Joyce Ajlouny
General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee

Sr. Dottie Almoney
ELCA Deaconess Community

Rev. Traci D. Blackmon
Associate General Minister
Justice & Local Church Ministries
The United Church of Christ

Phyllis Bennis
Institute for Policy Studies

Bishop Yvette Flunder
The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries

Imam Khalid Griggs
Vice President
Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)

Roshi Joan Jiko Halifax
Abbot, Upaya Zen Center

Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins
Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness

Rev. Teresa Hord Owens
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Reverend Dr. Alvin O’Neal Jackson
Executive Director
Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington

Valarie Kaur
Sikh activist
Founder of the Revolutionary Love Project

The Rev. Cindy Kohlmann
Co-Moderator, 223rd General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Rev. Dr. John Mendez
Pastor Emeritus of Emmanuel Baptist Church
Progressive National Baptist Convention

Rev. Mary Katherine Morn
President/CEO Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson
Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Sister Noreen Stevens
ELCA Deaconess Community

Rev. Dr. Robin Tanner
National Director for Religious Affairs, Repairers of the Breach
Minister, Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, New Jersey

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, PhD
The Shalom Center

Rabbi Elyse Wechterman
Executive Director
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association

Min. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
School for Conversion

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