During the first few months of 2003, 36 million people around the world took to the streets in an effort to stop the invasion of Iraq, according to French scholar Dominique Reynie. On February 15th of that year, nearly two million protested in the streets of London. As we know, this massive effort failed to prevent or even moderate the invasion. A consensus in support of war was already in place, formed and shaped by the image-makers and the story-tellers of empire.
Since President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" speech in January 2002, a similar consensus in support of regime change in Iran has been persistently and patiently tended. Now, as we enter the Lenten season, it has emerged full-blown in all mainstream media. Every newspaper and nearly every newscast repeats the same deceptions and half-truths about "the Iranian threat." In a nation like ours that fancies itself to be a democracy, this is the way support for a war of aggression is manufactured.
Will Mennonite congregations use Lent to witness against the emerging consensus? I have my doubts.
Our congregations find it easier to oppose war than to oppose the lies and deceptions that lay the foundation for war. While both require courage, opposition to war is easier because it can be articulated in socially acceptable ways: the teaching of Jesus to love our enemies, our church's traditional refusal to support war, the cycle of violence that war unleashes, etc.
Opposition to the propaganda that prepares the public to support war is a trickier proposition. It requires skepticism of the media, cynicism about the intentions of our leaders, and the articulation of a factual narrative countering what is being reported by mainstream media. Most congregations have no interest in such activities because they seem to depend on political analysis and contested sources rather than the well-understood teachings of the New Testament.
I encourage us to examine our congregational practices in this regard. As part of our witness to the Prince of Peace, shouldn't we be more explicit in contesting the propaganda that is an essential part of making war?
In his letter to the congregations in Ephesus, Paul wrote:
For our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God . . . .
In that spirit of engagement, I offer a modest but practical discipline for our congregations to follow: give up mainstream media for Lent. Here is a bit of poetry to explain why.
Play music in the morning
let NPR be quiet for a change.
Enough of their turning the awful
into reasonable-sounding things.
That New York Times on the newsstand?
Let it lie 'til it's yellow with age!
They provoked the Iraq invasion
now it's Iran we're supposed to hate.
The suits on the evening news
reporting what "an anonymous source" said?
It's just another inside player
dealing both sides of the game.
Let it all go 'til Easter
part of the purge and cleansing we need
if we're to tell truth from fiction.
If we're ever to believe.