View from the Pew
Churches shy away from anti-war talk
It was a little surprising to find among the audience for peace activist Cindy Sheehan on Wednesday dozens of faces from the pews of island churches.
Church people, up to now, haven't exactly been swelling the ranks of the Veterans for Peace at their weekly Friday anti-war demonstration outside the Prince Kuhio Federal Building.
The choir at Church of the Crossroads, Sheehan's speaking venue, might reprise "Ain't Gonna Study War No More," an echo from the 1960s when the University Avenue church was a sanctuary for opponents of the Vietnam War. But the Iraq war is not a topic widely discussed in churches here, except as a prayer for the safety of all the U.S. military members in harm's way abroad.
"A lot of churches have military families, so people are concerned about how to approach it," said the Rev. Barbara Grace Ripple, a retired Methodist minister who is temporarily at Crossroads church. "We want to support those persons whose lives are on the line right now by getting them home."
The Rev. Renate Rose said: "Pastors are afraid. They don't have the courage to speak out because of the military presence here. There are more churches in the country getting involved, but here in Hawaii, I don't see it." The retired United Church of Christ minister recalled 1980s activism, marching with ministers, a rabbi and the Catholic and Episcopal bishops in demonstrations here against Star Wars, the Reagan administration plan for long-distance striking power by satellite and missile. "The churches were slow to start against Star Wars, but they eventually got the message."
Ripple will be talking about war and peace tomorrow from the pulpit: "I preach from a peace perspective. I am against using violence and war as a means to achieve peace. Violence begets violence -- that's in the Scriptures and has been said by so many other people." She is alarmed that "President Bush is influenced by people who are so narrow, so righteous," she said. "A fundamentalist mind, whether Islamic or Christian, is a narrow way of looking at the world."
Kathi Takakuwa, who attended with another teacher from Pacific Buddhist Academy, said the idea of peace activism will be discussed in classes. "We are all part of what is happening; it came out strong in what (Sheehan) said. Accountability is important for Buddhists. We cannot say other people are causing the problem; we are part of the problem.
"Some of our students didn't know who she is. I told them it is important for us at this school that she is not using violent means to protest violence. She is speaking out, gathering with other people -- that is what we want you to learn here.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Cindy Sheehan, a vocal opponent of the Iraq war, spoke at Church of the Crossroads on Wednesday night. In the audience were a few faces from isle churches, where the Iraq war is not a topic widely discussed.
"What's important for us as Buddhists is that war and peace are a matter of connections. What kind of connections do we want to have as humans?" Takakuwa said a father who shared the stage with Sheehan, telling how his son went to Iraq to support his friends, was providing an example of "a connection that is being taken advantage of. The feeling of not letting his buddies down is so strong that people who are against war are going anyway."
Sister Joan Chatfield, director of the Institute for Religion and Social Change, said, "The peace message isn't being suppressed in Hawaii; I think it's overlooked. We don't hear the war talked about in church, not enough."
She said, "In the Catholic liturgy right now, the season of the Prince of Peace, there are so many great readings" that would fit a sermon about America being at war, such as: "The world was at peace: What would that look like today?"
"Thanks to the success of the war movement, you are criticized as being unpatriotic if you advocate peace. The same thing happened in the Vietnam War," said the Maryknoll nun, who was a peace activist in the 1960s. "When Marines from here were killed, the largest number since Pearl Harbor, we didn't see the outrage. People weren't upset when we went to war without a declaration of war."
Ramsis Lutfy, an Orthodox Christian born in the Middle East, said few Americans have the political consciousness to understand the war. "So many Americans think the United States is the top of the world, the best country, and they denigrate other countries. If you ask them about world happenings, they say, 'I don't care.' The whole culture encourages them to be ignorant.
"The majority of the American population are deep in their own problems, making ends meet, trying to get what the neighbors next door have," Lutfy added.
"I think many churches see that war is not a solution for anything. Christianity is about peace." But for a pastor to stand in the pulpit and apply Christ's teaching about making peace in the context of today's headlines about government decisions to make war, deaths, deployments and grief, "it's not comfortable ... so they don't talk about it."