Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

It Is Too Soon
distributed 9/13/01 - ©2001

Eco-Justice, as I have often explained, holds together humanity and the rest of God's creation, and seeks genuine justice and peace for all parts of our planet. Eco-Justice Ministries generally has concentrated its efforts in those areas that include some element of the "environmental" and that stretch our compassion beyond the human.

The events of this week, however, call for a shift in focus, and a wrestling with matters of justice and peace in the purely human realm. They call for longer and more searching words than is normal in this forum.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

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For those of us in the Denver area, this week's tragedies have brought back memories of the shootings at Columbine High School a couple of years ago.

The horror and shock that we experienced in that day of school carnage have been dwarfed by the scale of this calamity, and by its graphic images of death and destruction. But still there are painful similarities.

Once again, an unimaginable tragedy, an unthinkable injustice has intruded into our collective lives. As a people, we are brought together by our grief, confusion and anger. We gather around our TV sets, at our jobs, and in our churches, trying to make some sense of the senseless.

From Columbine, and from other tragedies, we all know that the path to understanding and healing will be long and winding, and intensely personal. And we know that our churches will have an important role to play in pastoral care and public witness.

But there is a dramatic difference between Columbine and the terrorist events of this week.

Two years ago, we gathered with the hurting members of our communities, and took the time to work through stages of grief and understanding. Over weeks and months and years, we have worked gradually through different sorts of questions, seeking the right moments to comfort and challenge, probe and listen, lead and be led.

This week, however, we have not been given the time to move gracefully through the complex dance of healing. In the space of two days, our President is racing this nation and its allies toward war. Before the unnumbered bodies have even been lifted from the rubble, the political maneuvering to authorize and fund extensive military actions is being rushed through domestic and international circles of power.

Many of us have not even stumbled out of our shock and disbelief, and into the depths of grief that this crisis should call forth in our hearts and souls. And yet we are already needing to mobilize to condemn this new US jihad.

I heard a pastor this morning, wrestling with how to prepare for his congregation's time of worship on Sunday morning. He said that it was too soon to do analysis and raise the difficult theological questions. Pastorally, he is absolutely right.

But can we, in the Church, let our pastoral sensibilities block us from speaking other words of faith and truth? Can we place all of our emphasis on the fragile feelings of our congregants and friends, while our nation and the world rush to war?

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The Christian scriptures state a message that we need to hear.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and [God's] word is not in us.   (1 John 1:8-10)

Confession, in either word or spirit, is missing from our leaders. "We" are portrayed as good and righteous, and "they" are presented as utterly evil.

Real life is never so clear-cut and tidy.

And here must come the obligatory disclaimer, spoken clearly by all who would raise any voice that challenges the politically correct dualism. Yes, the acts of terrorism were evil, despicable, and (but for the grace of God) unforgivable. This is not an occasion to dabble in moral relativism or situation ethics. The acts of terrorism were utterly and totally wrong.

But the horrible and evil deeds committed by the hijackers, killing thousands of genuinely innocent civilians, do not confer a contrasting and absolute purity on the US. Their enormous sin does not free us from the need for confession.

The prelude to Tuesday's tragedy has been played in a very public theater. The anger and discontent growing out of US (and multinational) hegemony has been far from secret.

  • The decade-old embargo of Iraq, and the continual bombing of targets within that country, has alienated and polarized the region and made it quite easy to portray the US as insensitive to the pain and death inflicted on innocent and powerless citizens.

  • The US's support for Israel, through a year of growing conflict, and with our delegation's walk-out from the UN Conference on Racism, has certainly been perceived by many as condoning the oppression of Palestinians.

  • The US, as the largest arms supplier in the world, has fueled and abetted conflicts in the Middle East and around the world.

  • Protesters from around the world have joined in growing numbers to challenge the economic and political dominion of the World Bank and the IMF, and the shifting of many decisions away from national governments and into less democratic bodies.
It has been no secret that many people, of many nations and many faiths, oppose policies championed by the United States. And yet the US, in statements and policies, has rarely granted legitimacy to that dissent. Those who oppose US interests are seen as "mad or bad," crazy or evil.

In years of conflict and debate, there has been little or no confession or humility. And that national arrogance has helped to fuel the anger and hatred that led to this week's tragedy.

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What is theologically true often has a practical truth as well.

Confession and reconciliation are the path to peace, to shalom. Judgement and heightened conflict will lead us ever farther from peace.

US reprisals, backed with the full power of our military, economic and political might, may destroy the leaders and the safe havens of recent terrorism. But such actions will not resolve the conflicts and the hatred that led to this week's destruction.

There is time to bring the ringleaders and the accomplices to justice. There is time to investigate who was involved, and to explore appropriately focused means of punishment. There is no need for haste.

The urgent need, in the face of this unprecedented slaughter, is for a dramatic act that will break the cycles of vengeance and retribution. In this time of our unspeakable grief, we must find the courage to speak a word of confession and healing.

And if that word will not come from Washington, then it must be spoken by countless people across this land.

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It is too soon.

We should not have to dig this deep into our psyche and our soul while buildings still smolder and families still wait for word of their loved ones.

It is too soon to struggle with complicated questions of responsibility and confession, of appropriate punishment and paths to justice.

It is too soon. But Mr. Bush, by his rush to inflame the passions of war, has forced us to raise these difficult questions.

The Christian faith does not call us to support the power and the prestige of the US. It does call us to seek justice, peace and reconciliation for all. The justice we seek must include ways of bringing the authors and sponsors of terrorism to accountability, but our faithful sense of justice must also go far beyond retribution.

May we, people who seek shalom, people who seek justice for all of God's creation, people who seek to follow the guidance of the Prince of Peace, speak up for our convictions. As the tears of grief still well in our eyes, may we act with courage and conviction to slow the headlong rush into further division and death.

Shalom!   Salaam!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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