"This has been the most serious opposition to government activity I have seen recently [among the religious left]," said Bill Leonard, Dean and Professor of Church History at the Divinity School at Wake Forest University.

"We've had a little more time to build visibility and mass, in terms of participation," explained the NCC's Media Liaison, Carol Fouke. "We've also done more organizing and coalition-building this time around, and we've been more aggressive getting our message out."

The religious focus seems to distinguish the American antiwar movement from that of other countries. "Just how different America can be was evident from the placards at the most recent antiwar demonstration," Gary Younge wrote this week in The Guardian, a leading newspaper in the U.K. "Compared with similar British marches, it was more religious--'God loves people against the war', 'Peace is Jewish'".

To anyone who remembers the Vietnam War protests, religious liberal involvement in the antiwar movement won't be a surprise. In the 1960s, members of the clergy like Catholic priests Philip and Daniel Berrigan, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used their religious platforms to speak out against the war.

But, University of Cincinnati's Rhys Williams explained, mainstream religious groups mostly joined the protests after it became clear the war wasn't winnable. Now, "it's much more about people feeling from the beginning that this doesn't seem like a moral place to get involved," he said.

Rev. Bob Edgar agreed that there was a difference between religious protests now and during the Vietnam era, noting, "It took the church 10 years to organize against the war." He said the National Council of Churches, by contrast, has been organizing against the war since August, when Bush first announced he would act unilaterally against Iraq.

Religious groups' most dramatic step in organizing against the war was Edgar's trip to Baghdad in January with a delegation of other Christian leaders. "They don't 'think,' but they 'know' that armed intervention in Iraq is anti-Christian," wrote Richard Land in his Beliefnet column about the NCC trip. "Such certitude is as startling in its arrogance as it is in its source, the habitually relativist NCC."

Other antiwar tactics and ideas have included inviting the Pope to speak out against the war at the United Nations and the "Food for Bombs" project, which encourages participants to mail a half-cup of uncooked rice in an envelope to President Bush, along with a quote from the New Testament, "If your enemies are hungry, feed them (Romans 12:20)."

The most controversial tactic of peace activists is the "human shield." Antiwar activists from the U.S. and Europe began arriving in Iraq this week to act as human shields in Baghdad, trying to protect orphanages, schools, and hospitals if there is a war. Mainstream religious organizations haven't endorsed the human shield idea, but at least one Muslim group in the U.S. plans to participate. The Associated Press reported that Badi Ali, president of the Islamic Center of the Triad in North Carolina, will take a group of Americans--both Muslim and non-Muslim--to Baghdad to act as human shields at the end of the month. Another group, the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Team, will also leave for Iraq in late February.

The NCC said they hadn't taken a stance on using human shields in Iraq, but "we have been in favor of as many U.S. church groups [as possible] going to meet with the Iraqi people and pointing to the humanitarian disaster that war will bring," said Fouke.

It's unclear if these tactics will have an effect on U.S. policy. "[The antiwar movement] is one of the collective voices that the president and others have to pay attention to," said Benford. "It's forcing them [the Bush administration] to have to make a more articulate case for launching a more aggressive campaign."

When asked about the TV ad featuring Talbert--who is from the same Methodist denomination as Bush--White House spokesman Ari Fleischer replied, "The decisions that the President makes about war and peace and about whether or not force needs to be used in Iraq are based on the President's judgments as a secular leader about what is necessary to protect this country. The President is a deeply religious man. But these are decisions that the President will make based on intelligence reports, based on information that he is aware of on how to protect our country from potential attack."

"President Bush has spoken quite a bit about his religious faith," said Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War and a former U.S. congressman from Maine. "I think it's appropriate to have someone in his denomination speaking out on this issue, saying things that might give him pause."