WASHINGTON – More than 3,500 Christians from 48 states are expected to attend a march through the center of the nation's capital ending at the White House on Friday.
Participants of Christian Peace Witness for Iraq will begin by gathering for a worship service at the famed Washington National Cathedral followed by a candlelight procession to the White House. The thousands of Christians will then surround the White House and 700 will risk arrest by remaining in prayer in front of the White House.
The event – which seeks to call for an end to occupation in Iraq, an end to torture, and to provide support for U.S. veteran and troops among other goals – boasts to be the single largest anti-war civil disobedience to take place at the White House since the war started four years ago. It is also the largest Christian demonstration against the war.
"These are pastors and lay people, Christian people, who want to express their faith," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president and founder of Sojourners - a progressive social justice ministry and one of the event's organizers – to The Washington Post.
Other sponsors include the National Council of Churches, Episcopal Peace Church, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Lutheran Peace Fellowship, and Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.
The war in Iraq, which has divided America from long-time political allies and even divided America itself, has similarly divided Christians, with mostly conservative believers – including prominent Christian leaders such as Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Charles W. Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship - opposing immediate withdrawal of American troops in Iraq, while more liberal believers lobby for a pull out.
Reasons given by Iraq war supporters include the fight for human freedom in the Middle East, the war on terrorism, the security of Israel, and the consequences for Iraqi civilians of a pull-out of U.S. troops.
"I know what I'm about to say is not going to be a popular thing," said Colson in a January commentary released prior to President Bush's State of the Union Address, in which Bush spoke extensively on Iraq, "But to pick up and leave would break the promises we have made to the Iraqi people, would leave hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians defenseless, would lead to massive chaos and bloodshed, and would be an act of moral dishonor."
Colson said the job of a government biblically is to "wield the sword to preserve order and protect life." He gave as example that a policeman stopping a robbery cannot simply walk away when the shooting gets heavy.
"It is his duty as a magistrate to stay and restore peace," said Colson. "Isn't that the same position we are in now in Iraq?
"The politicians tell us we should bring our troops home, and everything will be just fine. Sadly, in a fallen world, it doesn't work that way. The innocent will die," he concluded.
Friday's march will commemorate the fourth anniversary since the U.S.-led offensive started on Mar. 20, 2003. More than 3,200 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousand of Iraqi civilians have died during the four years, according to Agence France-Presse.
Other Iraq war protests involving tens of thousands of Americans will take place across the nation on Saturday. The one in Washington is expecting people from more than 150 cities and will meet at the U.S. Capitol and then march to the Defense Department's Pentagon Headquarters.
Anti-war events are also planned in Los Angeles and New York.