new york -- on international Human Rights Day, December 10, the faith-based revolt against the impending war in Iraq poured out of hallowed halls and into the streets, joining people in 120 other cities and towns. Following an interfaith vigil in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, more than 100 ministers, imams, rabbis, nuns, lay leaders, seminarians and faith-based community organizers blocked the sidewalk and were arrested in front of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
The accused, after being divided by gender, were packed into two holding cells at the NYPD's 17th Precinct. Among the 60 men in our cage were Rev. Herbert Daughtry (pastor of Brooklyn's House of the Lord Church), Rev. Luis Barrios (liberation priest at St. Mary's and San Romero), Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream), Imam Faiz Khan (of the Asma Society), and Daniel Ellsberg (publisher of the Pentagon Papers).
Most in the men's cell wore clerical garb, many carried sacred texts, and one smuggled in Prison Journals Of A Priest Revolutionary by Philip Berrigan. Father Berrigan, a Jesuit priest who spent 11 years of his life in prison for anti-war civil disobedience, succumbed to cancer last week. His spirit seemed to hover over the space as the jailed read his words aloud.
The holding cell became a forum for prayer, storytelling, announcements, an impromptu teach-in, planning for next steps and loud singing and clapping. An Episcopal archbishop stopped by the precinct to see if the conditions inside were adequate. One of the jailed ministers responded: "We're doing fine. The problems are out there."
The day was, in a sense, a reunion. Many of the seasoned jailed clergy already knew each other from their work with Latin American liberation movements, the civil rights movement, the Plowshares movement for disarmament and more. It was as if they were renewing their vows. They were recommitting to an old, sacred struggle, with some new details, and welcoming the younger among them.
One of the "secular saints" inside, Ellsberg, proudly introduced his 25-year-old son, Michael, on this occasion of his first arrest. He told a story of 25 years ago, when baby Michael was only three months old. Back then, his father first presented him to some of the same people in this very cell, saying: "I want to introduce you to your future co-conspirators." After all that time, they were meeting again.
Prior to the day's civil disobedience, Rev. James Lawson, who was responsible for much of the training in non-violent resistance during the civil rights movement, addressed the participants. He admonished that the severity of the impending war in Iraq will demand much more than symbolic protest. It will require Americans, especially people of faith, to render the war plans of this administration literally unmanageable -- by blocking traffic in the streets, standing in front of government agency doorways, sitting on the floors of congressional offices and choosing the rite of passage into the nation's jails. He was giving voice to a call that more and more people of conscience, both within and outside religious institutions, hear in their hearts.