WASHINGTON — Christian peace activists will mark the 100th day of the Obama administration by asking the president to apologize for the U.S.-led invasion six years ago and continuing occupation of Iraq.
Christian Peace Witness for Iraq plans to gather for a worship service at 7 p.m. on April 29 at Washington's National City Christian Church. Then they will embark on a candlelight procession to Lafayette Park — across the street from the White House — carrying hundreds of loaves of bread as a symbol of repentance and reconciliation.
Marchers hope to meet with the president or his representative. The group then will form one semicircle on a public street while others — as led by conscience — will form another semicircle on a non-public sidewalk where they expect to be arrested.
It will be the third year for the ecumenical group of partner organizations, including the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, to stage protests in the nation's capital. Last year more than 40 participants were arrested for civil disobedience in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. Two years ago 122 were arrested at the White House, while President Bush was away for the weekend at Camp David.
Rick Ufford Chase, executive director of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, said the network is encouraged by President Obama's commitment to withdraw combat troops within 19 months and remove all troops by the end of 2011 but wants him to go further. The president's plan could leave as many as 50,000 troops in Iraq at the end of 2010, which the group believes is too many.
Christian Peace Witness will ask Obama to set a timeline to remove all U.S. military bases and troops from Iraq, help rebuild the country and settle 5 million Iraqis displaced by the war and continue to stand against the use of torture.
"Finally, as a critically important 'first step,' we ask that you offer an apology to the people of Iraq on behalf of our nation," Chase said in a letter to the president. "Healing cannot begin without making it clear we are sorry for the suffering we caused for millions of Iraqis who have lost loved ones, suffered lasting injury, lost their livelihood and their homes, or been displaced by the violence."
Ken Butigan of Pace Bene Nonviolence Service said on an eight-stage trajectory of social movements, the anti-war protest in Iraq is at stage six — a "majority stage" when it is important not to back off and settle for something less than completion.
"We're at a time when it is so crucial to help convey the importance of a full and successful new direction and not simply half measures," he said. "Unfortunately we may be seeing some half measures in the plan to leave troops for example, on the ground in Iraq."
Susan Mark Landis, a peace advocate for the Mennonite Church USA, said she was one of the protestors arrested two years ago, something a lot of folks in her hometown of 8,500 people didn't understand when it made news on the front page of the local paper.
"Most do not understand minds and hearts and countries can change through civil disobedience," she said. "I still believe that civil disobedience is obedience to a higher order, and sometimes we are called to speak to our government in ways different than writing a letter."
The opening worship service features preachers including Tony Campolo, an American Baptist and long-time member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. Chase said Campolo was invited last year but could not participate, but said at the time that if invited he would accept an invitation for 2009. As a result, he was the first person on this year's program.
Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the spiritual home of Martin Luther King, Jr., is scheduled to speak in front of the White House.
Evelyn Hanneman, operations coordinator for the BPFNA, will represent the organization at the worship service and help coordinate the procession to the White House.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.