Paul A. Lacey / American Friends Service Committee – 2004-12-17 23:12:00
Dear President Bush,
You know you preside over a nation deeply divided, and the deepest divisions, the deepest distrusts, occur in questions with the most compelling moral resonance. We are divided on questions of war and peace, of social and economic justice, of how to combat terror and protect citizens’ constitutional rights.
We are conflicted by the profound contradictions of widening poverty in a land of plenty, opportunities for a better life foreclosed by the country’s military expenditures. Parents fear their children will never have as good a life as they did. Children worry that aging parents will end their lives impoverished by health costs.
All those and many more difficult and complex problems are exacerbated by the spirit of fear, suspicion and hatred which dominated the recent election. Whether they voted for you or for your opponent, many voted against someone they hated.
That is a terrible and terrifying situation. It will not be addressed by calls for healing but only by steady, prolonged, dependable acts of healing and reconciliation. All of us need to discover what acts of healing we are called to perform, but you and your government, because you hold such overwhelming power, are under a correspondingly greater burden to initiate and enact reconciliation.
The strong can not expect the weak to placate them and call it healing. If they do not believe they will be heard deeply, the weak and out of power feel they have only stubborn resistance to sustain integrity.
Religious Appeals Went Unanswered
Before the war in Iraq began, I wrote you on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee. The letter went unacknowledged.
Many church leaders from large denominations, including bishops from your own Methodist communion, asked to meet with you and were refused. Undoubtedly they, and we, would have said things disagreeable to you, but a door could also have been opened for further communication, perhaps thus discovering some common ground on which antagonists can build shared work.
Instead, the loyal opposition can only publish open letters in the press or demonstrate in the streets. You go over our heads; we try to go over yours. Your supporters and your opponents consolidate their positions by invoking a new civil or culture war. The battle lines become so sharply drawn that there is little space for quiet diplomacy. Increasingly, that space between the battle lines will become an intellectual and spiritual “free-fire zone”, “no man’s land”.
Figures of Speech that Mask Violence and Killing
Those figures of speech are glib and cheap but they so infect our discourse that they lead to literal acts of violence and killing. We take you at your word that you want to be a uniter. We do not believe that you want to preside over spiritual and political wars which tear at the fabric of civil society.
We urge you to act on your best impulses, to let us, your vehement critics, participate with you in quiet, reflective talks. Such conversations would not be easy. It takes time to transform simultaneous monologues into dialogue. Those of us critical of your actions, at odds with your philosophy, will not find it easy, either, to listen well.
We hold our beliefs passionately, and our inability to connect with you or leaders in your government have stiffened our resolve. When we believe we have been demonized, we do not fully resist demonizing you and your followers.
The first Quakers, 350 years ago, gave us a vocabulary and a history of experience to describe the kind of engagement we believe is needed now. They taught us that every human being came into the world endowed with a measure of light, an inward witness. That witness is from God.
Listening to it can lead us out of error and into right action. Appealing to the inward witness in others can help them find their right decision, and their witness can also correct and instruct ours.
We ask you to reflect on ways you can open yourself and invite others, supporters and opponents, to open themselves to the Light; the Inward Teacher, the Witness in the soul, so we may learn from and teach each other, how God would have us live.
You have spoken often of how sustained you feel knowing millions of people pray for you. Please believe you have the prayers of many who disagree with you at the most fundamental level. We hold you in God’s Light, as we hope to be held in that Light. We pray for healing and true reconciliation, the reconciliation which can let peace flow like a river and justice pour out like mighty waters.
Paul A. Lacey
Clerk of the Board of Directors
American Friends Service Committee
© 2004 AFSC
American Friends Service Committee
1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102