Dancing with the Archbishop - Jim Wallis on Greenbelt first posted 30 August 2002

 WASHINGTON DC - first posted 30 August 2002 - 854 words

My wife was dancing with the Archbishop. In front of 12,000 people. Joy Carroll (my wife) concelebrated the Eucharist at the Sunday worship service of the Greenbelt Festival with the new Archbishop-Elect of the Church of England, Rowan Williams. After we finished the wonderful liturgy, the musicians on the main stage stuck up some lively Celtic music that got the whole crowd dancing. I was grinning at our 4-year-old son, Luke, dancing away with his 10-year-old cousin Steven, when somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Look, Joy's dancing with the Archbishop!" The next day's London Times carried the picture with a caption reading "The Archbishop dancing with the 'Vicar of Dibley'" (Joy was the script consultant and role model for this hit British comedy show and is known in England as the "real" Vicar of Dibley!) I'm told it's been a long time since British teenagers were heard chanting the name of an Archbishop: "Rowan! Rowan!"

The Welshman and Oxford scholar is not necessarily known for his dancing but rather for his intellect, social conscience, poet's heart, and deep faith. Just a few weeks ago, Williams said a war with Iraq is illegal and immoral. Still in his early 50s, he will bring new energy to the Church of England in its theology, spirituality, and commitment to social justice.

Greenbelt is a festival of music, arts, faith, and politics that has attracted people of all ages in Britain for nearly 30 years. I've often been a speaker there, and it is where Joy and I first met. The days are full of lively discussions and the nights alive with music. Saturday afternoon I was on a panel with Williams and British Jewish and Muslim leaders, reflecting on the meaning of September 11, Williams offered an observation that became for me the best line of this year's festival: "When all you have is hammers, everything looks like a nail."

The United States has the biggest and best hammers in the world. But they are the only weapons we seem to know how to use. And all we seem able to do is look for nails to pound. Iraq is the nail the US government desperately wants to strike right now. By pounding the nail of Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration says a blow will be struck against terrorism. The trouble is that virtually nobody else in the world believes that. In fact, most credible international analysts believe that a war with Iraq could make everything worse - by inflaming the whole region, potentially causing enormous human casualties, possibly unleashing the very weapons of mass destruction the world is most concerned about Iraq possessing, further diminishing the chances for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, and greatly intensifying hatred for the U.S. and the West, which will inevitably recruit more terrorists. The threat of Hussein must be handled in other ways.

Being in Britain for two weeks creates a very different perspective on a war with Iraq than one hears in the United States. Virtually everybody here is against the idea, across the entire political spectrum. In fact, I haven't heard anyone in Britain speak in favour of going to war. Both Labour and Tory Ministers of Parliament I've spoken with or listened to are opposed, as are all the government ministers who have spoken on the subject, church leaders of all stripes, and the newspapers and other media, again, of all political persuasions. People honestly can't figure out what George Bush is thinking.

Every time I spoke at Greenbelt, I said the British voice is perhaps the most important voice in the world on Iraq, maybe the only voice that might be able to stop this war, which I believe could be the biggest US foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. But even though British public opinion is so united against a war with Iraq, the most important voice will be Tony Blair's. And Blair may be the only one who has yet to really publicly voice his opinion. If he ends up supporting his friend George Bush, and the war goes badly, many people here believe it could cost him the next election. So, I told my British friends that they must tell their prime minister to just say no to President Bush.

At the end of my first talk, a man came up to me with his son, and told me his boy had an idea that he wanted to share with me. Twelve-year-old Tim Saunders said: "I heard your talk. And I think we have to stop this war from happening. So my idea is for all of us at Greenbelt to sign a statement and take it to Tony Blair." A petition was circulated, literally thousands of Christians at Greenbelt signed it, and Tim Saunders and others will soon be taking it to 10 Downing Street. It won't be the last that Tony Blair hears from the British people about this. I suspect that Tim would suggest that we in America
might do something like that too.

Human rights campaigner, writer and speaker, Jim Wallis is the founding editor of Sojourners magazine.

Source: printed with permission from Sojourners 2002 (c) www.sojo.net

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