Does the Church care for the 2000, or even the one? (Revised version)

Tuesday, October 25th marked the day that the 2000th member of the US Armed Forces died in the war in Iraq. As many as 15000 were wounded and about 8000 were able to return to duty. The rest were not. A friend reading the first draft of this wrote and gave these numbers: "At least, 7,159 of the returning veterans have been severely injured, including 10% with spinal injuries, 10% with head injuries and 8% who were amputees. Among the 420 who lost limbs, at least 44 were multiple amputees."

The estimates of Iraqi civilians killed in the war and resulting civil chaos is by conservative estimates now over 25000. The numbers of people wounded or displaced by the war and the civil unrest is very high.

Numbers mean very little, of course. The first life lost is as valuable as the last, and the number 2000 is just a number. Today one columnist suggested that actually, the war in Iraq has cost very few American lives. This seemed to be counted as a good. Of course it remains to be seen how to value the lives of the many dead, displaced, and destroyed who go unnamed and unmentioned in most of what we hear and see.

In what terms are the human cost of war to be measured? Perhaps the measurement must be in terms of the cause, perhaps in terms of the willingness to live and die for one’s comrades, perhaps in terms of the greater good. Perhaps there is no way to describe the full measure of devotion by which someone will take up arms and place themselves in harm’s way.

In any event today, October 26th, in the little town of Lewes, Delaware, we along with other communities held a special vigil. One hundred and ten of us came together where a smaller group regularly week by week holds a 45 minute silent vigil to remember the human cost of war. We came with candles, signs, and a string of 2000 stars, each with the name of someone who had died. We stood in profound silence for an hour. We remembered.

When we look at the stars in the heavens our may think of the Creator and the creation are a source of glory and grace. When we look at the stars knit together with twine, held by one hundred and ten regular paid up Americans, we still can think of the stars in the heavens, and the Creator who is the source of all our hope. But we look to at the lost stars, lost with so many others who die at the hands of others. Each has a name, and each name is of some mother’s child. In our destruction we know how far we are indeed from the glory that is God’s.

In the midst of all this, in the remembering and silence I am reminded that among the human costs of war are the ways in which the glory and grace, otherwise found in the beauty of nature and the wonder of the created order get transmogrified into the glory of devotion and the grace of camaraderie under fire. Great things of the human spirit are revealed in war, but none is so great that it justifies the deadening of the spirit in the grief of those whose lives are changed forever, and not for the good.

The Silent Vigil is the right spiritual practice for remembering. But there is also the need for the Vocal Vigil: the cry of anguish and the shout of outrage that stands as witness agains our self created horrors.

The human cost of war, particularly when it is war without clear purpose and reason, ought to be a source of public grief and political outrage.

The Silent Vigil is one side of the mirror. The Vocal Vigil is the other. The Church as a source of spiritual strength needs to be part of both the Silent and the Vocal Vigil.

I am profoundly disappointed in the Church on both counts. At our Silent Vigil very few clergy take part. In the Political and Public Verbal Vigil too little is heard from the churches.

Yesterday I asked of a 1600 member list serve what people were doing regarding the occasion of the 2000th death of an American member of the Armed Forces. I had three responses.

Today I looked at the web sites of various Anglican and Episcopal entities to see if there was any comment at all about the war. There was none that I could find. I was reminded by people who read the first draft of this that there have been statements earlier by bishops and others, but I was looking for something these past two days. I found nothing.

Surely the people of the Church know the deaths continue? But where is the action, or reflection?


  1. Not sure if you browsed down under, Mark. All the Bishops of the great Southland are against this war (in which we are involved too). The Bishop of the armed Forces has apologised for initially supporting it.

  2. There are a few things I think we can reflect on in this post:
    Every church is a peace church. The Episcopal Church is a peace church.
    The American Friends Service Committee helped organize nearly 600 antiwar events yesterday in 49 states and Canada including the vigil in Pittsburgh.

    Last evening we had a silent march and vigil attended by over 100 dressed in black. It was led by our local Gold Star Parents. Diane Davis Santoriello and Neil Santoriello Sr. got the visit that every soldier's family dreads. "I heard the knock and I looked out and saw our pastor and I knew immediately," Mr. Santoriello. I would bet some of our Episcopal clergy have had to deliver this message.

    Edith Bell, an 81-year-old Raging Granny who survived Auschwitz, said she was "infuriated" about this war.
    "We were all bamboozled and our rights were taken away slowly" during the Holocaust, and that is beginning to happen here.
    What is it that we are seeing as a Church?

  3. We are organizing a protest in Sewanee. I will mention it tomorrow in the seminary chapel, as well as the death of Rosa Parks and the unfinished agenda for racial justice in this country, in my sermon for Sts. Simon and Jude, on the text "He is our peace. He has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us."

    Even when the military is not involved, we are fighting a relentless war against the poor.

  4. Christ Church, New Haven CT is reading the names of all 2000 on the afternoon of All Souls' Day before the Solemn High Requiem-- it seems necessary to make some witness-- though we'd planned to do this in the summer well before the list reached this particular marker -- or before so many natural disasters killed so many as well. David Cobb


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.