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A Tribute to the Prophetic Wisdom of the Rev. George Regas

On October 31, 2004, three long years after 9/11, on the eve of the 2004 election, Rev. George Regas preached a sermon at All Saints Church, Pasadena - the very place we gather today. In hindsight, his sermon, “If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush,” was so prophetic, so wise, so true, today we cry out to the world: “Why didn’t you listen to him?”

Rev. Regas assured his audience that he didn’t plan to tell them how to vote. Still, his words were so searing and powerful that the IRS came after him. (They later dropped the investigation). In his sermon, Rev. Regas imagined Jesus debating Kerry and Bush about ending war and violence, eliminating poverty, and holding tenaciously to hope. Recalling his words today helps fill the aching void created by the loss of this remarkable human being and reminds us of his profound impact on everyone fortunate enough to know him.

“How deeply the world longs for peace,” Rev. Regas begins. Yet, he notes, ”President Bush has led us into war with Iraq as a response to terrorism.” He imagines what Jesus would say:

War is itself the most extreme form of terrorism. President Bush, you have not made dramatically clear what have been the human consequences of the war in Iraq. More than 1,100 U.S. soldiers dead, 8,000 wounded—some disabled for life, and now the latest figures say 100,000 Iraqi fighters, women, and children are dead. Oh, the cost of your war...

The killing of innocent people to achieve some desired goal is morally repudiated by anyone claiming to follow me as their savior and guide.

The killing of innocent people to achieve some desired goal is morally repudiated by anyone claiming to follow me as their savior and guide. Mercy brings mercy and revenge brings revenge. Tragically, your world refuses to learn this truth even after so many bitter experiences in every part of the world. Mercy brings mercy, Revenge brings revenge.

“How Jesus mourns the death of those 3,000 people killed on September 11,” Rev. Regas declares. But, “Jesus also mourns the death, devastation, and loss in Afghanistan and Iraq and Sudan and Israel/Palestine and in so many other parts of the world. They too are part of God’s precious human family.”

“Jesus would say to us:

Yes, mourn the deaths of those closest to you who have died; yet it is troublesome that you in America could get so caught up in the tragedy of September 11 without ever noticing all my children who have been blown apart by this war, and the 30,000 children under five years of age across the globe who die every day of malnutrition and hunger. My heart can hardly bear it.

“Jesus confronts both Senator Kerry and President Bush:

I will tell you what I think of your war. The sin at the heart of this war against Iraq is your belief that an American life is of more value than an Iraqi life. That an American child is more precious than an Iraqi baby. God loathes war. At the time of the trauma of September 11 you did not have to declare war. You could have said to the American people and the world, ‘We will respond but not in kind. We will not seek to avenge the death of innocent Americans by the death of innocent victims elsewhere, lest we become what we abhor.’

Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster. It will take years for the widely felt hostility in Iraq and around the world to ebb. The consequences of arrogance, accompanied by certitude that the world’s most powerful military can cure all ills, should be burned into America’s memory forever.... In the midst of great suffering, I call out to you; ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.’”

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Jesus turns to President Bush again with deep sadness.

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Is what I hear really true? Do you really mean that you want to end a decade-old ban on developing nuclear battlefield weapons, as well as endorsing the creation of a nuclear ‘bunker-blaster’ bomb? Are you really going to resume nuclear testing? That is sheer insanity. This only encourages nations to build their nuclear arsenal in defense against you. This is morally indefensible. The development of battlefield nuclear weapons and threatening their use against ‘rogue’ nations and willing to strike first is a dangerous change of policy. Talk of winnable nuclear war is the greatest illusion. I am indignant when I hear people in your government saying a nuclear war could end for anyone as a victory.

Rev. Regas goes on: “Everything I know about Jesus would have him uttering those words. From my own study, prayer, reflection and dialogue, I say that nuclear war is the enemy. Anyone who can avoid seeing the horror of that has lost his soul. The political reality that nuclear war still remains an option for America and other countries is the paramount horror of modern existence. The nuclear bomb is the most outright evil thing that human beings ever created. What does it say about the moral values of a nation that puts its security in nuclear weapons that are morally outrageous? I believe that Jesus calls us to be nuclear abolitionists through the political process. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.’”

Why didn’t the world listen to George Regas? Why didn’t those in power heed his warnings and take his advice? The direct deaths in U.S.- led wars worldwide since 9/11 top 800,000 and indirect deaths from war-related disease and water shortages are several times that number. These wars have created 37,000,000 refugees and cost $6.4 trillion. They have killed more than 7,000 American military personnel and wounded over 50,000. More than 7,402 U.S. contractors have also been killed - and more than 30,000 active-duty personnel and veterans of these wars have died by suicide.

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The War on Terror and the endless wars it has fostered, all built on lies and hubris, have been an abject failure. Detainees have been tortured, civil liberties curtailed, innocent Muslims entrapped and targeted. Islamophobia has spread, the surveillance state is now entrenched, police forces have been militarized, drones have killed hundreds of innocent civilians, including children. The U.S. military and the CIA have committed war crimes and atrocities with impunity, and xenophobia, nativism, racism, and violence have been normalized. Why didn’t those in power listen to George Regas?

Rev. Regas ends his sermon by turning to his vision of hope. He quotes Senator Bobby Kennedy speaking in South Africa in 1966. “Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence…. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of our generation.”

Rev. Regas concludes: “Hold on to hope that your life and witness count. Hope will make a tremendous difference in the tasks you assume for yourself. Cynicism and despair are deathblows to any movement for national renewal and world peace, or just your trying to survive the challenges of daily life. I believe that passionately.

“Many of us have been working on all of this for a long time. It is a terrible day when we let our defeats and failures beat us down into hopelessness and despair. Dante knew the destruction of the loss of hope, for he placed over the gates of hell the words, ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.’ Despair is the deathblow to a new and better and more just future. It is unmistakably clear that when we lose our capacity to hope, we lose our capacity to shape our future.

“Do you remember those days when your heart was full of hope that life could be different, that life could be transformed and healed, that life could be better and more wonderful?” Rev. Regas asks. “Remember the energy that brought to your life. Those dreams you have for your children and grandchildren, those dreams for your marriage or close relationships, those dreams for your job—they are powerful engines for change in your life. Don’t let anyone take them from you. Nor take from you your dreams for a new America and a peaceful world.”

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Today, we remain inspired by you, George Regas. We have been listening. We will not lose hope. We will not despair. And we promise to honor your memory by marshaling our capacity to shape the future for a new America and a peaceful world.

Stephen Rohde, Chair, ICUJP

Adapted from Rev. Regas’s Oct. 31, 2004 sermon. The full text can be found at https://online.anyflip.com/lbow/iqro/