"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.
Friday, December 30, 2005
Friends of democracy and freedom in action: "At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family's links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services."
While the media titters about Karl Rove back in the saddle and our President looks the other way, children are being tortured in our name. One phone call could put an end to these well-documented tortures, but in the name of protecting Christian civilization from "evil-doers" he won't make that call.
Where does sanity lie? "The will to embrace - love - sheds the light of knowledge by the fire it carries with it. The eyes need the light of this fire to perceive any justice in the cause and actions of others. Granted, there may may in fact be no justice to perceive there...But if there is any justice in their cause and actions, only the will to embrace them will make us capable of perceiving it because it will let us see both them and ourselves with their eyes. Similarly, the will to exclude - hatred - blinds by the fire it carries with it. The fire of exclusion directs its light only on the injustice of others; any justice they may have will be enveloped in darkness or branded as covert injustice - a mere contrived goodness designed to make their evil all the more deadly...The clenched fist hinders perception of the justice of others and thereby reinforces injustice; the open arms help detect justice behind the rough front of seeming injustice and thereby reinforce justice." Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, Abingdon, 1996, p. 216.
God is not asking us to conquer and destroy the evildoers: "Do all you can to live at peace with everyone. Never try to get revenge; leave that, my friends, to God's anger. As scripture says: Vengeance is mine - I will pay them back, the Lord promises. But there is more: If your enemy is hungry, you should give him food and if he is thirsty, let him drink." Romans 12: 19 - 20.
Lord, forgive us the blind "justice" that refuses Christ's sacrifice, who did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but humbled himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. Let the cry of the tortured children reach God's ears and let him put an end to such "justice".
Thursday, December 22, 2005
"Accounts from detainees at Guantánamo reveal that the United States as recently as last year operated a secret prison in Afghanistan where detainees were subjected to torture and other mistreatment, Human Rights Watch said today...The detainees offer consistent accounts about the facility, saying that U.S. and Afghan guards were not in uniform and that U.S. interrogators did not wear military attire, which suggests that the prison may have been operated by personnel from the Central Intelligence Agency.
The detainees said U.S. interrogators slapped or punched them during interrogations. They described being held in complete darkness for weeks on end, shackled to rings bolted into the walls of their cells, with loud music or other sounds played continuously. Some detainees said they were shackled in a manner that made it impossible to lie down or sleep, with restraints that caused their hands and wrists to swell up or bruise. The detainees said they were deprived of food for days at a time, and given only filthy water to drink...The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night.... Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off...J.K., another detainee (name withheld at attorney’s request), also alleged that he had been held in the dark, shackled to the wall and subjected to weeks of sleep deprivation and constant loud music and noise, as well as being beaten during interrogations. “People were screaming in pain and crying all the time,” he told his attorney." Human Rights Watch, "U.S. Operated Secret ‘Dark Prison’ in Kabul", Dec. 19, 2005.
While I was sitting in the pew, envisioning those living in darkness, imagining what it would be like to live every minute waiting for the torture that is sure to come, I thought of the words of Jurgen Moltmann, "We have lost God, and God has left us, so we are bothered neither by the suffering of others which we have caused, nor by the debts which we are leaving behind us for coming generations. We see all this, but it doesn't touch us. We know it, but it leaves us unmoved...Knowledge is no longer the revelation of our power; it is the revelation of our powerlessness. Because this growing apathy...is becoming more and more universal, it has to be based on an objective alienation from God. God has hidden his face and is far from us." Jurgen Moltmann, God for a Secular Society, Minneapolis, Mn.: Fortress Press, 1999, p. 16 - 17. How can we pretend to believe in God when we ignore His face in those we have tossed into the dungeons of our mad fears? Only by being moved by the face of the suffering one can we allow God to recover us. We can pray and sing in the pew all we want, but he remains far from us until we bring mercy to those who wait in darkness for the torturers we have hired.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Civil Disobedience for a Moral Budget
Let us raise a prayer of thankfulness for the actions of the true religious leaders of our country, those who joined Jim Wallis and were “arrested in front of the Cannon House Office Building while kneeling in prayer to protest the immoral budget and tax agenda which slashes spending on the poor to finance tax breaks for the rich.” Sojourners, Dec. 15, 2005. When I contemplate their action within the light of the cross, I am filled with joy that the Holy Spirit still stirs our hearts. This willingness to suffer for the sake of the poor is precisely what Jesus came to show us. In the words of John Howard Yoder, “The willingness to suffer is then not merely a test of our patience or a dead space of waiting; it is itself a participation in the character of God’s victorious patience with the rebellious powers of creation.” John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1971, p. 209.
To be silent in the face of such a strike against human dignity is to be complicit in contributing to the suffering of millions of the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. As Christians we are not only under no obligation to “submit” to a government that carries out such violations of basic human rights, while wallowing in massive corruption, but are directly obligated by our Christian vocation to resist it to the limits of our strength. Yoder shows how Romans 13, often invoked by fundamentalists as banning all resistance to the governing authorities in fact shows that those authorities are ministers of God only to the extent that they carry out his will. “We should then read ‘they are ministers of God to the extent to which they busy themselves’ or ‘in that they devote themselves’ to the assigned function…But we can judge and measure the extent to which a government is accomplishing its ministry by asking namely whether it persistently … attends to the rewarding of good and evil according to their merits.” Yoder, p. 205.
They can arrest us, detain us, torture us, crucify us, but they cannot stop the flood that pours from the fountain of the Spirit. Though we cannot resist with the weapons of the Powers, our insubordination is the more total for that very fact. “The conscientious objector who refuses to do what government demands, but still remains under the sovereignty of that government and accepts the penalties which it imposes, or the Christian who refuses to worship Caesar but still permits Caesar to put him or her to death, is being subordinate even though not obeying.” Yoder, p. 209. We submit to the sovereignty of Caesar not because we accept his justice, but because we fundamentally reject the system maintained by the Powers of this world.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Jesus Falls for the First Time
See the complete set of paintings at Church's "Anti-War" Paintings Draw Fire
"Torture not only degrades the victim, it also ultimately degrades the torturer," said Kimball, who served in Iraq and now teaches history at West Point. "We already have enough soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after legitimate combat experiences. But now you're talking about adding the burden of willfully inflicting wanton pain on another human being. You tell a soldier to go out there and 'waterboard' someone" - strap a prisoner to a board, bind his face in cloth, and pour water over his face until he fears death by drowning - "or mock-execute someone, but nobody is thinking about what that's going to do to that soldier months or years later, when it comes to dealing with the rationalizations and internal consequences. We're talking about serious psychic trauma."On Torture, III: Brutality and Sadism as National Policy, and the Monsters of Our Time”, Once Upon a Time, Dec. 11, 2005.
“[Bush Administration] officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.
The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi's accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.” “Qaeda-Iraq Link U.S. Cited Is Tied to Coercion Claim”, New York Times, Dec. 9, 2005.
Though Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denies rendition for the purpose of torture, “The State Department's 2004 human rights report on Egypt said that despite legal safeguards, there were numerous, credible reports that security forces tortured and mistreated detainees.” William P. Strobel, “Rice defends U.S. handling of terror suspects”, Knight-Ridder, Dec. 5, 2005. According to Human Rights Watch, “The notion that the Syrians won't torture some one because they (the United States) get a promise from the Syrian secret police is laughable," he continued. ‘They know perfectly well what is going on.’ (from the same article).
According to the Independent, “The rationale behind Washington's ‘rendition’ of terror suspects has been called into question by a senior al-Qa'ida operative, who says he made false claims to Egyptian interrogators about the group's links with Iraq in order to escape being tortured.” “Al-Qa'ida operative lied about links with Iraq to avoid torture”, The Independent, Dec. 10, 2005.
New revelations about extraordinary rendition continue to emerge: “Binyam Mohammed, 27, says he spent nearly three years in the CIA's network of 'black sites'. In Morocco he claims he underwent the strappado torture of being hung for hours from his wrists, and scalpel cuts to his chest and penis and that a CIA officer was a regular interrogator…A senior US intelligence official told The Observer that the CIA is now in 'deep crisis' following last week's international political storm over the agency's practice of 'extraordinary rendition' - transporting suspects to countries where they face torture. 'The smarter people in the Directorate of Operations [the CIA's clandestine operational arm] know that one day, if they do this stuff, they are going to face indictment,' he said. 'They are simply refusing to participate in these operations, and if they don't have big mortgage or tuition fees to pay they're thinking about trying to resign altogether.’” “MI6 and CIA 'sent student to Morocco to be tortured”, Guardian, Dec. 11, 2005.
International law is quite clear and specific about such activities. The Convention Against Torture, signed by the United States 21 years ago to this day, on December 10, 1984 states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Convention Against Torture And Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, United Nations, Dec. 10, 1984.
Codicil for Christians: “Anyone with knowledge of illegal activity and an opportunity to do something about it is a potential criminal under international law unless the person takes affirmative measures to prevent the commission of the crimes.” Brecher, Cutler, and Smith, In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond, New York: Henry Holt, 2005. p. 13. Our silence in the face of this monstrosity makes us complicit in the crimes of this administration.
I end with the words of a mother explaining to her children that the U.S. does not torture: “Everything is connected, and each time I turn on a light switch, I need to think about where that energy comes from and if the way it was produced hurts or benefits life. If I extend that question to everything I consume, it won’t be possible to use plastic without knowing the consequence might be the murder or mutilation of a child in Iraq to protect my “right” as an American to petroleum products…There is no path, no blueprint, no road map to peace; the path is peace. Act peace, be peace, buy peace.” “How Can I Tell My Children the U.S. Doesn't Torture?” BuzzFlash, Nov. 30, 2005.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
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.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Friday, December 02, 2005
Jesus Takes Up His Cross
See the complete set of paintings at Church's "Anti-War" Paintings Draw Fire
As Christians, it seems that our duty is to dig deeper than the merely pragmatic concerns now being raised about the war in Iraq, valid as these may be. Our first concern should not be success, but whether our national projects advance the Kingdom of God. No matter how successful or otherwise the war in Iraq might be, we should struggle against it if it contradicts that Kingdom and the laws that should govern it. Perhaps a few more words by John Howard Yoder might bring this point to it's head, "He who resorts to blows confesses he has no better arguments. Violence is weak not only in the motivation and the moral resources which keep out the enemy but cannot create a wholesome society. It can aggress but not defend; it can revolt but not build. It can eliminate a specific abuse but cannot bring social health. If a regime established by violence is to survive, this can only be by demonstrating its capacity to increase progressively the areas of freedom and of orderly legal process. The one thing you cannot do with bayonets, as the dictum has it, is to sit on them." John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacificism, Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1971, p. 167. The failure in Iraq goes far deeper than incompetent execution. The spirit that prosecuted this enterprise emerged from a culture of death, as Pope John Paul II so often described it.
John Paul II's attitude toward this war can be fairly summed up in his statement made on January 13, 2003 in an address after the American Congress authorized the use of force, "NO TO WAR! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity." The culture of death in which this war was gestated can be characterized in the following passage from John Paul II's Gospel of Life, "This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable 'culture of death'. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency." This is the culture that justifies war as long as it can be successfully spun, but turns against it and its promoters once they are perceived as ineffective. It then becomes painfully clear that it is the ineffectiveness that is condemned, not the naked aggression involved in invading a sovereign country based on lies. The Tribunal at Nuremberg stated, "To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." This is the evil that Christians should, in my opinion, be focused on, not the fact that the aggression is not going well. It would be far worse if this deeply sinful plan were actually working. I also see an analogy here with Yoder's insight that the church should rejoice in her weakness, that her duty is not to make the powerful more effective, that we Christians need "no longer hold ourselves to be morally or psychologically obligated to tailor or moral standards to the needs of the people who are running the world", or running it into the ground in the current situation.