"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Witnesses to Peace

On the cross, Christ disarmed the Powers, the Powers that now wrap us in the warm certainty that violence always wins. “The weapon from which they heretofore derived their strength is struck out of their hands. This weapon was the power of illusion, their ability to convince us that they were the divine regents of the world, ultimate certainty and ultimate direction, ultimate happiness and the ultimate duty for small, dependent humanity. Since Christ we know that this is illusion. We are called to a higher destiny: we have higher orders to follow and we stand under a greater protector. No powers can separate us from God’s love in Christ. Unmasked, revealed in their true nature, they have lost their mighty grip on us. The cross has disarmed them: where it is preached, the unmasking and the disarming of the Powers takes place.” John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972, p. 147 – 148.
By their witness to the unarmed Christ, the four Christian Peacemakers now awaiting their fate in Iraq have triumphed. By walking into the grip of the Powers, they, like Christ, have unmasked the secret of violence and revealed its pathetic weakness.

Though I cannot speak for them, I can speak to what their sacrifice signifies to myself as a follower of Jesus. Unarmed, they have walked into one of the most violent situations on the face of the earth, not to reap the $300,000 salaries of the hordes of mercenaries we have hired to sow terror, but “…to root out all aspects of dehumanization that exist within us. We are here to stand with those being dehumanized by oppressors and stand firm against that dehumanization. We are here to stop people, including ourselves, from dehumanizing any of God's children, no matter how much they dehumanize their own souls.” Reflection by Tom Fox, one of the kidnapped Christian Peacemakers in Iraq.

Note in particular that he does not say, “We do this to make the enemy love us.” or “We do this because these enemies will become humanized.” In the words of Bonhoeffer, “The will of God … is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.” This is not meant to be an easy or “fulfilling” choice. Freed from the domination of the “enemy” stereotype, our behavior is no longer enslaved to that dead standard. We are free to treat others, even those who hate us, as we have been treated by Christ. “His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus…By our enemies Jesus means those who are quite intractable and utterly unresponsive to our love, who forgive us nothing when we forgive them all, who requite our love with hatred and our service with derision, … Love asks nothing in return, but seeks those who need it.” And who in the current scene need it more than the Iraqi people?

This is not idealism, but hard, concrete Christian realism. The Powers revel in human dehumanization and the witness of 20 centuries has not ended their reveling. In fact, they have grown clinical in their dehumanizing strategies. But the Christian Peacemakers have conquered the Powers by their unswerving witness to God’s love. In the words of Jon Sobrino, “What does Jesus’ cross really say? It says that God has irrevocably drawn near to this world, that he is a God “with us” and a God “for us.” And to say this with the maximum clarity he lets himself be a God “at our mercy…reason will continue to ask what use a credible but impotent love is, and the answer is anything but easy…Years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it: ‘Only a suffering God can save us.’… There is something in a pure and credible love, even if it is impotent, that – paradoxically – generates hope in the power of love as such.” Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator: A Historical-Theological View, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1993, p. 231 - 2. Or in the words of the Catholic catechism, “The Christian is not to be ‘be ashamed of testifying to our Lord.’ In situations that require witness to the faith, the Christian must profess it without equivocation…We must keep ‘a clear conscience toward God and toward men.’ Catechism of the Catholic Church, article 2471. May the power of the love of the Christian Peacemakers fill our own hearts with the courage to bear witness to the faith we profess.

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