Last week’s announcement that the Bush administration is seeking to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization is the latest drumbeat in an intensifying confrontation that could lead to war.

In an interview with The New York Times, former Iranian deputy defense minister, Alireza Akbari warned that the measure could cause instability in the region. “If they [the U.S. government] put pressure on the security apparatus of a country, they should expect a similar reaction.”

As sabers continue to rattle, it’s still unclear whether these latest developments will translate into a military confrontation in the near future. For more than a year now, rumors of war between the U.S. and Iran have ebbed and flowed. Officials within Vice President Dick Cheney’s office have advocated for military intervention, whereas the State Department and the Secretary of Defense have made public statements favoring a diplomatic approach. Current presidential candidates have largely refused to take any option off the table to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

With war still raging in Iraq, many of us are hungry for a sign of hope that the tensions between the U.S. and Iran will not evolve into military confrontation. While it’s hard to see hope in the daily headlines, an ecumenical delegation to Iran found signs that the tensions between our two nations can indeed be mediated.

Last February, 13 representatives of national religious groups and denominations, led by the Mennonite Central Committee and the American Friends Service Committee, journeyed to Iran in an effort to build bridges of understanding between our two nations. Rather than approaching Iran as the “axis of evil,” they met with Muslim and Christian leaders, government officials, and Iranians from many walks of life. Through listening and sharing their own stories, they returned from Tehran with new hope for an easing of tensions between Iran and the U.S. Specifically, they call on the two countries to take the following steps:

  • immediately engage in direct, face-to-face talks;

  • cease using language that defines the other using “enemy” images; and

  • promote more people-to-people exchanges, including among religious leaders, members of Parliament/Congress, and civil society.

While in Iran with the ecumenical delegation, Sojourners/Call to Renewal representative Jeff Carr was struck by the dramatically different narratives Iranians and Americans told of the history between the two nations: the CIA’s overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected leader, the installation of the shah, the 1979 revolution, the ensuing hostage crisis, and the current nuclear standoff.

Since the delegation’s trip to Iran, we’ve received numerous requests for information about the current conflict between the U.S. and Iran from Americans who also wish to understand the roots of tension between our governments.

To meet this need, Sojourners/Call to Renewal and Faithful Security have collaborated to produce a Words, Not War Study and Action Guide. The study guide includes fact sheets, stories from the ecumenical delegation, suggestions of ways to advocate for Words, Not War, and a study guide that serves as a companion piece to the PBS “NOW” program “Talking to Iran.”

The first step to reconciling the tension between the U.S. and Iran is to learn one another’s stories. Through the Words , Not War Study and Action Guide and the PBS program “Talking to Iran,” you’ll be able to learn more about the delegation’s experience in Iran and the roots of the tension between the two nations. Our hope is that based on this information, you will feel led to make a public witness for the need for a diplomatic solution to the current standoff between the U.S. and Iran.

In the words of Jeff Carr, “May God help both our nations and peoples to begin the healing and reconciliation process so that we may avoid war and build that lasting peace.”

Jessica Wilbanks staffs Faithful Security: the National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Weapons Danger. She lives in Taos, New Mexico.

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