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'We Can Still Stop This War' -- Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Service Draws 3,200 to Washington National Cathedral; Peace March Follows

January 20, 2003, WASHINGTON, D.C. -- An estimated 3,200 people filled the Washington (D.C.) National Cathedral this afternoon (Jan. 20) to pray for a peaceful resolution of the Iraq crisis.   Afterward, worshipers marched down Massachusetts Avenue with candles and "War Is Not the Answer" placards to take that message to the White House.

The Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Prayer Service for Peace and Justice focused on the connection between war and poverty.  The theme of the service was inspired by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who in his last Sunday sermon, delivered at the Cathedral during the Vietnam War and just four days before he was assassinated, challenged the country to "find an alternative to war." (Click here for the full text of that sermon.)

Today's ecumenical service was co-sponsored by the National Council of Churches, Children's Defense Fund, Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Call to Renewal and Sojourners.  Leaders of at least 24 denominations, faith-based organizations and religious orders participated.

"Imagine that the kind of time, creativity and money that are being poured into preparations for war against Iraq were being poured instead into the challenge of ending poverty in the United States and around the world," said Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. "Martin Luther King, Jr., was right -- war diverts attention and resources from the needs of impoverished people, especially the children. War is an enemy of the poor."

The service's three segments -- "for peace," "for the eradication of poverty and racism" and "for the world" -- each included readings from Dr. King's last Sunday sermon, on March 31, 1968.  Each segment also included Scripture, prayer and a brief reflection.

"Most gracious God .... (H)elp us today to remember that our gathering in this cathedral is not a time for demonstration!," said the Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, in his reflection on "for peace," which he offered in the form of a prayer. "Help our nation, its leaders and the leaders of Iraq and other nations that would use violence as a threat or means to accomplish their ends to understand that we are living in a new global age where war is no longer an option in settling disputes.

"Most gracious God," he continued, "help us as a nation to use the richness of our wealth, technology, medical research and agricultural abundance as the new 'weapons of mass rebuilding' in our war against violence, poverty, disease, famine and the feeling of hopelessness that billions of people on this planet now experience. May we seek to remove from our language once and for all the phrase 'weapons of mass destruction!'"  (Click here to read the full text of Bishop Chane's reflection.)

The Rev. Jim Wallis, Executive Director and Editor of Sojourners and the Convenor of Call to Renewal, reflected on "for the world."  He said, "Today we pray to God and plead with our national leaders to avoid the destructiveness of war and find a better way to resolve the very real threats involved in this conflict with Iraq.  We believe that is possible, and we believe we can still stop this war before it starts."

"From this National Cathedral and then in our candlelight vigil at the White House," Wallis said, "we appeal to President George W. Bush today, not in anger, but in hope, to a fellow brother in Christ, to heed the words of the prophets, the words of our brother Martin Luther King, Jr., the words of Jesus the Prince of Peace -- to win this battle without war, to transform our swords into plowshares, and, yes, to persevere in disarming the world of weapons of mass destruction -- all of them, including our own -- but without the killing of more innocents."

Mrs. Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund, offered the reflection on "for the eradication of poverty and racism."

Organizers of the service pointed out that, by most accounts, war with Iraq would cost at least $100 billion.  Meanwhile, a $10 billion cut in domestic spending is imminent.  $100 billion, they note, is:

  • Three times the amount spent by the federal government on K-12 education.
  • Enough money to provide healthcare to ALL uninsured children under the age of five in the United States for the next five years.

The Administration's current 2003 budget would increase funding for defense, homeland security, and international affairs by $42 billion above the 2002 level -- adjusted for inflation -- while reducing funding for non-defense social spending outside homeland security by $10 billion.  The Health and Human Service Education bill, which funds numerous social programs, receives the largest cut ($2.7 billion).


(Pictured Above, Left to right) Marian Wright Edelman, Jim Wallis, John Bryson Chane, Douglas Fromm, Bob Edgar, Lydia Veliko and John Thomas lead the Jan. 20 peace march from the Washington National Cathedral to the White House.  Their banner reads: Pray & Act for Peace and Justice.  Photo by John Paarlberg

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