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2007-11-06 issue:

Move beyond prayer to stop the war

A Speaking Out column

by Scott Key

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In his June 19 editorial, Everett J. Thomas pointed out how Mennonites support war and concluded, “There seems to be nothing we can do but write letters and pray that [the war in Iraq] will stop.” Prayer is mysterious and powerful. God calls us to pray for peace and justice. Prayer changes things, especially ourselves as we see the world differently and are moved to outrage and action.



How can we stop war—other than by not joining the military?

My family—Lorie, Rachel (age 11) and Joshua (age 8½) and I—asked this question. We were (and still are) angry and frustrated. We decided to act. Lorie joined the board of Peace Fresno. As a family, we have added our voices to large-scale (at least by Fresno standards) protests and marches. We join a few others at the peace corner, holding signs such as, “Who would Jesus kill?” and “Peace: A Way of Life,” for hundreds of cars driving by. Yet, month after month, the war policy has not changed. We have come to realize that war needs money and personnel. If you take these away, war is a difficult venture. I am cochair of the Central Valley Counter-Recruitment Coalition. As our family continues to struggle with what to do, here are some of our suggestions:

Work against war
1. Do not support the war machine. Ah, but this is complicated. As Thomas pointed out, our economy revolves around the military-industrial complex, with thousands of direct jobs and tens of thousands of indirect jobs tied to the war machine. The elimination of war would lead to the loss of good jobs, which would trickle down into most communities, causing a tsunami of economic hardship and pain. The restructuring of our economy is a long-term project. It would be difficult for us to extricate ourselves from the economy. But there are beginning steps: Do not work for a company directly tied to the tools of war; do not buy products from companies with direct ties to war; do not invest in companies with direct ties to war.

2. Do not pay for war. If you are self-employed, choose to withhold the portion of your taxes used for war. This is risky, as you will be labeled a war-tax resistor, and the federal government can seize property. Like many Mennonites, I do not have this choice because my employer automatically withholds federal taxes. But you can still ensure that the least amount of tax is withheld and thereby stop the government from using your money interest free. All of us can visit our members of Congress to push for the passage of the Peace Tax Fund (www.peacetaxfund.org). Lorie has discovered that our representative needs more than one visit but she sees this as part of her peace witness.

3. Reduce military recruitment.
With a budget approaching $4 billion, the Pentagon has ratcheted up its recruitment efforts. Slick ads peak interest, but the “selling” of the military is entrusted to thousands of military recruiters who entice students to enlist with promises of money for college, job training, travel and adventure. Recruiters are swarming high schools, shopping malls, community events, wherever young people gather. To protect young people and stop war, become involved in counter-recruitment, helping young people opt out of releasing their contact information to military recruiters and learn about alternatives to military service. The work is challenging but rewarding (see www.fres-no-war.com).

Work for peace
1. Bring peace education into the schools. While it will take many years for the core curriculum to change, it is possible to add peace curriculum. Talk with teachers and administrators. Ask them to bring in guest speakers and add units from a peace perspective. The focus of speakers and curriculum can be anti-war, conflict resolution, social justice and many more. It is crucial to find allies on school campuses such as teachers, counselors and administrators.

2. Change school environments. Help local schools adopt restorative discipline programs. These programs serve as the foundation for students to consider alternative approaches to conflict resolution. Help students create peace clubs. While student clubs need a faculty sponsor, students still connect with their classmates better. Student clubs can invite guest speakers, handout materials and sponsor special events.

While prayer is crucial, it should lead to action. Jesus used prayer to energize for action. Jesus called his followers to action. Will our actions stop war? If all Mennonites acted for peace, there would be change at the local level and, hopefully, over time, in our society. I invite you to join our family as we struggle and work for peace.

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