The Spiritual Crisis In Our Lives Generated By The War In Iraq


    Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt of a speech presented by the author at the Spiritual Activism Conference, on May 17-20, sponsored by the Network of Spiritual Progressives published on

    Almost 40 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned this nation about “the giant triplets of racism, militarism and materialism.” At the end of August 2005, while Cindy Sheehan was outside of the Bush compound in Crawford, Texas, waiting for an answer to the question, “What is the noble cause for which my son has died?” Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. More than a third of the National Guard and equipment specifically trained for those kinds of natural disasters was in Iraq. And it became clear that the triplets had come of age, and the war had come home.

    I have been on the front lines of this anti-war movement since before it began. Military Families Speak Out is an organization of more than 3,000 military families. Our soldiers have served, are serving, or have died in Iraq. It is the first time in American history that there have been so many military families speaking out against a war. Clearly something has gone wrong when you’ve got military families on the forefront of the peace movement.

    What I have found fascinating as I’ve been doing this work, marching next to mothers, fathers and grandparents, many of whom marched once before, is that we are here again, as a nation and as a people.

    Four decades ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. evoked the power of soulforce as a necessary tool for modeling nonviolence and building the Beloved Community. His vision from the mountaintop rang a bell for peace, justice and freedom that resonated within the hearts of millions of Americans. Committed to the principles of non-violence, Reverend King, who spoke so convincingly of love, was assassinated the day after delivering the famous “I See the Promised Land” Sermon. I believe that this nation has been living in the shadow of “The Dream” ever since.

    There has been no subsequent public discourse on the need for peace and nonviolence in this nation’s foreign policy, much less in Homeland Security. There have been no more clarion calls for genuine compassion and forgiveness between peoples. The revolution of values that Dr. King deemed necessary has been ignored or forgotten.

    The basic premise of non-violent resistance, agape love and spiritual power has been relegated to the back room of some barely remembered hall.

    Spiritual awakening

    Suppose for a moment that the mountaintop spiritual awakening for this nation happened in the 1960s. As a collective, this country was closer than it has ever been to embodying the principles of love, compassion and justice. The slogan of the era, “All you need is love,” was more than an ad campaign. People actually seemed to believe it.

    Modeled after Gandhi’s teachings of ahimsa and his efforts to dismantle institutionalized racism in India using non-violence, one of Gandhi’s gifts to Dr. King, and, I believe, one of Dr, King’s gifts to us is soulforce, the translation of satyagraha. Satya refers to truth as the equivalent of love and both as qualities of the soul. agraha is unyielding will-power, a passionate, steadfast commitment, which is an emotional attribute. Soulforce is the combined capacity of emotional and spiritual intelligence. It is the heart of the Dream.

    One of the reasons that my friend Cindy Sheehan’s sitting down outside of President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, so galvanized not just this nation, but the world is because we saw some of the same qualities that we saw at the forefront of the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement of the ’60s.

    We saw soulforce there.

    I have seen it in the military families that I have walked with and worked with and cried with. Soulforce is desperately needed now.

    Part of what made the movements of the Sixties so successful was that they were driven by the people who were directly impacted by what was going on, and those who allowed themselves to be impacted.

    I am deeply, deeply disappointed by the fact that almost 70 percent of the American public has indicated that they think the war is wrong or they want the troops home, but so very few are doing anything to make it happen.

    What the war in Iraq and the overwhelming challenges of our times are calling us to do is to engage our spirituality.

    As Dr. King said, “New Laws are not enough.”

    In the ’60s and ’70s, we thought that new laws would be enough. We thought it would be enough just to end the war in Vietnam. What we are seeing is that new laws are not enough, because ultimately and fundamentally what is needed is soulforce.

    We need people to engage in the public sphere with the deepest essence of who they are. With their flaws, and failures. With their magnificence, and their hopes and dreams. We do this not only for ourselves, not only for our children, but for the future of the world.

    I’ve spoken at so many different events and rallies and vigils, and I’m standing there, literally in the middle of a graveyard sometimes. Standing there, watching a parent plant a white cross for his dead son while cars are driving by.

    This nation seems to be driving by this war. We are not as a nation and as a people bearing witness to the war. And as spiritual progressives, as Christians and Buddhists, and Muslims and Jews, and Hindus, and God knows, as human beings, we are asked to bear witness.

    We are failing to do that. And yes, our government is facilitating that — you bet they are. They don’t allow pictures of our dead loved ones in the news. They don’t want photographers and the media coming to funerals.

    I have heard story after story about friends of mine waiting for several hours for the passengers on an American Airlines flight, or Delta or Continental, waiting for hours for all of the passengers to get off the plane, and then the luggage, the cargo and pets. Do you know what comes off the plane last? What is left of their children. This nation is walking down a path we cannot afford to keep moving on.

    An invitation

    God is inviting the people of America to become who it is we have said that we are. That is the opportunity before us at this time. If we do not take it, the consequences are appalling. Silence is not support.

    Yet, as I have been doing this work, I have been amazed at how many religious people, spiritual people, who do not agree with the war in Iraq and yet are doing nothing. That is not the level of spirituality that is required at this time upon this planet.

    Every single one of us is being called. The only question now is, “Are we calling back?”

    We are being called to move into a more authentic — fuller — expression of our spirituality, which is a fundamental aspect of who we are. It’s a component of soulforce, which is about truth and spiritual power, and pure human expression. That’s why when Cindy Sheehan sat down, people around the world stood up. Because there was something in that simple question, “What is the Noble Cause?” that completely by-passed our minds and got us in our hearts.

    Earlier this week, I went to an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute that chronicles the history of America’s wars, including the war in Iraq. It was called “The Price of Freedom.”

    No. Death is not the price of freedom. Betrayal is not the price of freedom. Silence is not the price of freedom. The price of freedom is something that, frankly, we don’t want to pay. The price of freedom is integrity. The price of freedom is democracy. The price of freedom is justice. The price of freedom is peace. The price of freedom is compassion.

    And that is where the spiritual community really has got to step up and get involved. In the whole run-up to the war in Iraq, the Pope was clearly and consistently saying, “If you invade Iraq, God is not with you.” Yet, too many of our leaders, and our preachers, tell us that the occupation of Iraq is God’s work. How dare we allow faith to be used to justify this war?

    But more pernicious and devastating is the belief that somehow we’ve got to be flawless before we get involved. We think we’ve got to be perfect before we can; we’ve got to be masters before we do. I know, because I struggle with it, too. But let me tell you, for those of us who are reading these words, and those of us in the spiritual progressive community, we have done enough, and we do know enough.

    It is upon us now to share it with the world.

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    Stacy Bannerman
    Stacy Bannerman is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus ( and on the Advisory Board of Military Families Speak Out ( Her book, When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Citizen Soldiers and the Families Left Behind, will be released by Continuum Publishing in 2006. Her husband deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard 81st Brigade in March 2004, and returned home in March 2005.


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