"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the Heaven: ... A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."
Ecclesiastes, 3:1 and 3:8.
But how to know what time it is?
This past week, clergy and spiritual leaders have had to grapple with their feelings about the war in the Persian Gulf and the U.S. involvement in it as they strove to offer guidance and consolation to their congregations. Listen to some of their voices.
Rabbi Nathan Abramowitz, Tifereth Israel, Washington: "It's an anguishing issue. I think obviously when given the choice, we prefer peace over war, negotiations over killing. Obviously. But if you live in the world of the moment, then the world of the moment makes tremendous demands upon us. We've got to face up to the dangers of refraining from action, of permitting aggression, of permitting murder, and the destruction of a sovereign state. ... There is background to where we are today, a background to what Iraq has done before, a regime that has violated its treaties, used poison gas against the Kurds in its own country. ... Although it would seem that a moral leader would want to avert bloodshed, bloodshed had already been unleashed. And moral leadership may require taking the long view. If we do not speak up now, where will we be later?"
The Rev. Robert Rokusek, campus ministry, Georgetown University: "Personally I have been persuaded we have a legitimate role there. But any responsible pastor will be involved in a process of discernment to help people to know their conscience, rather than lead them. ... People who believe believe they need to pray at this time. We've been encouraging people to pray for peace for several months, but the sobriety of the moment has caught us in its clutches. We will be having a 10-minute silent prayer each week on a central part of the campus. We think there is a need for people of faith across different traditions to gather together. We are not only Catholics. We have people of no faith, the Islamic faith, the Jewish faith -- all different stripes. We hope they will feel welcome and free to share with us our need to seek peace in prayer. Hopefully that will transfer into deeds in people's personal lives, to be instruments of peace among each other."
The Rev. A. Knighton Stanley, People's Congregational Church, Washington: "There are a lot of ambiguities about the war -- about the black religious community in regard to Saddam Hussein, about the position of the U.S. in the struggle, and the disproportionate representation of black men and women in that struggle when all has not been achieved here. I look at the folk in my congregation whose hearts are broken because they have loved ones who are there. It brings tears to my eyes to see the willingness with which black men and women have gone. ... My feeling is that both the leaders of the nations of the West and of the Mideast need to make a new assessment of what the world is going to be like, a world that includes all persons and ideas within a just society. The high potentates of the Arab world are equally guilty as the high potentates of the West. We have carelessly supported atrocious positions out of the misinterpretation of religious traditions. We need to take a look at that carefully. I would hope that the U.S. in particular would begin to think in more moral terms of what the new world order should look like. That is the leadership required of us as a nation in the future."
The Rev. Margaret Dodds, Rockville United Church: "I don't have any words of wisdom. It's been a suffering week for me. I'm feeling there is a great need for healing and quiet. We've heard a lot of words. There is great pain -- everyone had been praying for peace until the last minute. I'm very distressed and pained and angry that we've been drawn into something that seems to have become inevitable. The great need is for comfort. ... The difficulty as a pastor is finding the resources that will be needed to be given to others. And being human, we're caught up as mothers and fathers and family members. I'm 55. I had a brother in the Vietnam War. My first boyfriend was in the Korean War. My father was in World War II. And I'm sick of the whole mentality that produces war."
The Rev. William de Veaux, Metropolitan AME Church, Washington: "As a church we believe war should not be advanced, and that we should have sought other means -- negotiations and allowing the sanctions to take their course. ... I was a military chaplain with airborne units in Vietnam, and I want to make a distinction: Those of us who came back from Vietnam were not as warmly received as those who came back from World War II and Korea. So, if we are in opposition to this war, we are not in opposition to the men and women fighting it. We are praying for their safe return. ... Those of us who have been through the experience of combat are convinced there must be a better way. But it is no longer our prayer that there be no war, but that the war will be stopped. We need to reconsider our posture there. Having started the war, now it is time for us to pause and allow Mr. Hussein an opportunity to reconsider his position and negotiate. He knows we are serious. Every negotiation must offer face-saving opportunities for a way out."
Rabbi Bruce Lustig, Washington Hebrew Congregation: "What's going on right now is a microcosm of Jewish history. As the largest wave of immigration to hit Israel stands ready to transform Israel and give an even greater rebirth to its economy, its culture and its vivacious nature, at the same time there is the international threat of the Arab world, which is exacerbated by Saddam Hussein. It's so ironic. There is such excitement and euphoria about this wave -- a chance for security in these greater numbers and simultaneously one of the most hostile attacks. ... I believed strongly that there were limits to the sanctions, based on the history of what has gone on in the terrorist world. Every time there has been no response to terrorism, there has been a license to continue. But there needs to be someone drawing the line."
Sayyid M. Syeed, National Institute of Islamic Thought, Herndon: "Every American Moslem has a dilemma these days. We have chosen this country ourselves. And we need to develop an orientation that will be different from Moslems in other countries. But when the country we have chosen, which has offered us opportunities and believes in the dignity of human life, when that same country gets involved with a situation that goes against the basic principles of the American forefathers, we have a problem. The American government has not shown a similar level of condemnation on similar issues like Palestine and Kashmir, where people have also been suffering because of occupation. There are long discussions of violations of human rights in other countries. We knew in what ways Saddam has been violating the human rights of his own people. American Moslems have never considered him a hero. But for the last several decades our newspapers have been reporting the situation in Palestine -- the extreme violence Moslems have been undergoing. We receive those images in our bedrooms. They offend our theology, our ethics, our morality, our respect for universal brotherhood, and complicate any interfaith dialogue."
The Rev. John Boyle, Presbyterian minister and pastor at the Lutheran Home, Rockville: "I'd be in favor of negotiations, but what in practical terms will be different three months from now? And the technological precision with which they've been able to target is actually an ethical advance in the conduct of warfare, because it ensures civilian immunity. At some point you have to make a decision. What would be different six months from now? I think seeing the intransigence of the Iraqis, that they do view it as a holy war. Why wouldn't this come up again? I'm a little surprised to feel this way. I'm used to being on the other side. But take a look at your Scripture, at Joel 3:10, for example, where they are told to beat their plowshares into swords, their pruning hooks into spears. If Jesus had been coming along the road to Jerusalem, and he came upon the Good Samaritan before he was attacked, is someone going to tell me Jesus would not try to defend him, to resist evil before it happened?"