"I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice. I don't want any
greatness for it, particularly a greatness born of blood and falsehood. I want to keep it alive by keeping justice alive." --Albert Camus
"What are you going to Iran for?"
That is the response I get from friend, foe, and loved ones alike. The conversations take a more inquisitive turn when I say that I am leading a civilian diplomacy mission to Iran on the behalf of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. "What do you hope to accomplish?" they ask.
But it is a question that has different intent depending on whether they are friend, foe, or loved ones. My foes, with whom I admittedly do not spend a lot of time, say I am naive. Some, flags waving vigorously in their voices, declare that I am unpatriotic. Any meeting with "those" people is futile, they moan. They say: "The oppressive Iranian government is a threat to our national security, possess nuclear weapons, and needs to be toppled."
So they say.
Friends are also concerned that I am naive, but in their case, believe I am naive regarding my own government's foreign policy. "Look at Iraq", they sternly warn me. "What makes you think you can stop a war with Iran?" they pose with furrowed brow. There is so much work that needs to be done in the U.S. for peace, justice, and reconciliation, they note.
My loved ones are another story: "What if you are kidnapped or killed? . . . What about your kids?!" they ask with a plea for me not to go behind their questions.
But in response to their "What" questions—I want to answer the question, "Why?"
Why am I going to Iran?
This is my prayerful effort to answer that question—as much for myself, as for my friends, foes and loved ones.
While I have spent the majority of my adult life as an organizer and activist, I am first and foremost a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I stand in the tradition of my grandfather, the late Elder James Thomas, who believed Jesus to be the "Prince of Peace." With less than a third grade education in the fields of Zent, Arkansas, granddaddy poured into me the hope of his slave great-grandparents.
"Boy"—his term of endearment—"You must take your schooling and use it to make people free -- to make peace with all kinds of folks."
When I was ordained in the Church of God in Christ, (the tradition of my grandfather), the Bishop, elders, and women in white laid hands on me with these words: "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14 KJV). Moreover, the Constitution of the Church of God in Christ's has a conscientious objection statement against war. I am bound by the tradition of my grandfather to be a voice of peace crying out in the wilderness.
The hope for peace and the freedom yearned for by my great-great-great grandparents, I carry with me to Tehran. And as I always, though my ministry may be imperfect, I hope to honor the hands that ordained me.
Additionally, I believe that to be a Christian of any kind, means honoring the life and legacy of Jesus of Nazareth. And I believe that in order to do this, we are called to stand in opposition to the powers and principalities of war. And with some of those principalities and powers, now, saber rattling against the people of Iran, I believe that I am called by God as a Christian to go to Iran. It is my witness as a Christian at this moment.
Furthermore, I serve as the Associate Minister for Social Justice, Missions, and Community Action at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, where there is a belief in the universal love of God and the hope of peace. With the blessing of my pastor Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Lewis, I go. Theologically, this work is important to Middle Collegiate Church because it is critical that the church take a key role in the international ministry of peacemaking.
Moreover, what actually convinced me to lead a delegation to Iran after some hard conversations with friends and loved ones (and yes, some foes) was our Celebration of Life Meal-a weekly community dinner for folks who are HIV positive. There was something about praying with and walking among folks I may not see week to week because their illness may claim their lives gave me the spiritual capacity to say "yes".
So much is at stake. Another international war in the Middle East will not only add fuel to violent fire in that region but it will undoubtedly drain even more domestic resources from the most vulnerable U.S. citizens—like Black and Brown men, women, and transgendered folks with HIV.
For them, I go.
I am honored to have been asked by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) to lead this delegation. I said a political and ideological "yes" to leading the FOR delegation with only a second thought. For nearly a century this grand organization has stood, often as a lone voice for peace in the face of international conflict. As a Freeman Fellow with FOR, I have bathed in the organization's archives and been baptized in its historical waters of pacifism, nonviolence, and civil disobedience. Their delegations of civil diplomacy, such as the mission I am leading to Iran, date back to the Cold War. FOR has had the courage to extended the hand of peace and reconciliation when our government issued threats of war and retaliation to Russia and China. Among many other things in its long history, FOR currently accompanies peace communities in Colombia.
This is the eighth FOR delegation to Iran. From August 5th-21st, 2008, we will meet with religious leaders, government officials, and ordinary Iranians to say, war is not the answer. Our delegation to Iran includes a wide range of individuals committed to peace and justice in their local communities and the world. I shall accompany noted Bush Administration critic, Scott Ritter and a twenty something woman who is half-Jewish and half- Iranian who has never been to Iran. Our ultimate aim is prevent another war in the region.
In the course of our journey we will be meeting with leadership of the World Council Churches in Geneva, Mouvement International de la Réconciliation (MIR), the French affiliate of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and members of the French government in Paris. Our hope is to build an international, interfaith coalition to prevent a war against the precious people of Iran. We seek peace and dialogue as means to resolving international conflict and creating a more just world.
Ultimately, this delegation is not for the government of Iran but our own government. We are modeling the power of talking directly with the people with whom there is a perceived conflict. The fact is that Iran does not posses nuclear weapons and has the right under the Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium for non-nuclear weapon purposes. (Parenthetically, perhaps, it would help if we began to imagine a world without nuclear power and weapons.)
Finally, I truly want my children to grow up in a world where governments have "beaten their swords into plowshares" and "study war no more". For them, I go. To this end, we must seek peace with all humans—for it is the holiest of acts. If, God forbid, the U.S. becomes involved in a war on Iran, we will have not failed. But if we do not go, therein, lays the failure -- a failure of nerve and a failure of faith.
This is why I must go to Iran.
Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou is the Associate Minister for Social Justice, Mission, and Community Action at Middle Collegiate Church and Freeman Fellow for Interfaith Peace Organizing with the Fellowship of Reconciliation-U.S.A. Rev. Sekou was the founding National Coordinator of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq. His essay “The God of My Grandparents” appeared in the Feb. 2008 issue of the Rail.
ContributorRev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou
Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou is a Senior Community Minister at Judson Memorial Church and the author of the forthcoming book Gods, Gays, and Guns: Religion and the Future of Democracy (Ig Publishing, 2009).