September 11 – Six Months Later

A Policy Statement on Terrorism and War

Since the morning of September 11, fear and anger have been redefined, inviolate boundaries have been crossed, the unimaginable has become the reality of our daily lives. Even the most measured and peace-loving among us have found our beliefs tested since we watched as the endless horrors of that day piled one upon the other. Our hearts are broken for all who suffered personal loss in this great tragedy, and we pray for our nation and world as we navigate an uncertain and unsettling future.

With the passage of time, however, emotion is tempered by reason and by faith. While those horrendous acts deserve utter condemnation, we remain committed to our belief that a peaceful solution must always be the first course of action. Our God equally mourns the senseless death of all God’s children, whether in a high-rise tower in New York City or a hovel in Kabul. As we enter this season of rebirth and renewal in the Christian year, let us remember that the North Carolina Council of Churches has spoken out for peace before — most recently in the Middle East and Latin America. Now, let us speak again.

We have learned valuable, and in many ways reassuring, lessons over the last six months. There has been resounding opposition to terrorism from many corners of the world and signs that some groups which have conducted their business through violence before have reconsidered their tactics. We have seen a renewed interest in other cultures and religions and efforts at interfaith understanding that will help build and strengthen faith-based ties across the globe.

We have seen individual acts of heroism and kindness that remind us that Jesus is truly present in each of us and guides us even in our greatest sorrow. And we have seen a renewal among our faith communities and those they serve as we turn to our truest source of comfort and strength.

Some of the lessons have been more painful, however. The acts of intolerance against people of other cultures, beliefs and religions continue; the encroachments upon civil liberties grow. We are witnesses to an unwillingness to acknowledge that the conduct of our nation’s foreign policy and our history of choosing and training allies indiscriminately have played a role in what has befallen us.

Even among our faith communities, there is a lack of unanimity over how our government should proceed. We struggle mightily with traditions that interpret differently the proper course of action in the face of aggression and at what point a defensive posture becomes an offensive one. On some things, however, there is no debate. We remain, as an organization, committed to the cause of world peace, to the protection of the innocent, and to the provision of humanitarian aid to those who need it. We believe we are called to justice and mercy in our dealings with others, and we believe we must follow Jesus’ lessons of forgiveness. There is perhaps no greater example of this than He showed us as He was tortured and crucified. “Father, forgive them,” He begged. “For they know not what they do.”

Other lessons we might look to in the gospel, as we struggle with issues of violence and war, are forward-looking and direct us to positive action. They are perhaps best summarized in the words many of us learned in church school before we could even read. The teachings of the Beatitudes provide a framework for our actions as proclaimed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Not all Christians would interpret these powerful words in the same way. Within our Christian tradition, we find at least two accepted philosophies. Just war teaches that lasting peace may require military action so long as it meets certain criteria. Non-violence, on the other hand, teaches that bloodshed benefits no one and that it is possible to respond to violence in non-violent ways. Aspects of this war in Afghanistan, however, raise so many questions and objections that they bridge the gulf of ideas that would otherwise divide us. Regardless of philosophy, we must challenge the disproportionate response delivered by the United States and its allies. We cannot look at the condition of innocent non-combatants in Afghanistan, wounded and starving bystanders of our misdirected bombs and humanitarian indifference, without arguing that we have victimized people so long oppressed that they recall no other way of life. And we have to question whether our most powerful nation exhausted all humane solutions before turning to high-tech weapons and conveniently constructed alliances.

It is not too late for the United States to play a positive role in the rebirth of Afghanistan and in the reestablishment of a government that will turn away from extremism, violence and infighting to provide true leadership. The interim government is on a path that allows women to put down their burkas and put on robes of equality and freedom, should they choose. Its leaders are focused on winning the sort of financial investment that will allow Afghanistan to begin reconstruction of its crumpled infrastructure. With the help of established non-governmental organizations, time and attention may now turn to the massive humanitarian needs of that country. We, as a nation, must support this as it is the surest means to long-term stability there.

Also, as a nation, let us pray for the men and women who serve in our military, for their families and friends, and for all they sacrifice. And let us pray for our government’s leaders as they face an unprecedented crisis – one intended to provoke them into an unprecedented response. Our prayers are needed particularly now, as our leaders are poised to take military action in other countries and as the assault on civil liberties in our own compounds. We must ask God to give them the wisdom needed to reconsider the threatening posture they have assumed, and to lead them to action, free of self-interest, and based in justice and mercy. And we must ask God to give them the wisdom not to finance America’s activities abroad and new security measures at home at the expense of domestic programs which serve our most vulnerable citizens

Finally, let us agree that no war or other governmental action should be rooted in revenge or retaliation. As we have tragically seen in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, in Ireland and elsewhere, that scorecard of hurled bombs will never be balanced in terms of lives lost, justice found, or souls at peace. God calls us to do better by one another. We now call on churches and government to review their policies and practices to denounce those that breed violence and affirm those that create peace.

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