"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 09, 2006

Unconditional Forgiveness

"We three, members of a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation to Iraq, were kidnapped on November 26, 2005 and held for 118 days before being freed by British and American forces on March 23, 2006. Our friend and colleague, Tom Fox, an American citizen and full-time member of the CPT team working in Baghdad at the time, was kidnapped with us and murdered on March 9, 2006..."

"We unconditionally forgive our captors for abducting and holding us. We have no desire to punish them. Punishment can never restore what was taken from us. What our captors did was wrong. They caused us, our families and our friends great suffering. Yet we bear no malice towards them and have no wish for retribution. Should those who have been charged with holding us hostage be brought to trial and convicted, we ask that they be granted all possible leniency. We categorically lay aside any rights we may have over them."

Here indeed is the central creed that Jesus Christ is calling many to in our time: "Through the power of forgiveness, it is our hope that good deeds will come from the lives of our captors, and that we will all learn to reject the use of violence. We believe those who use violence against others are themselves harmed by the use of violence." Violence harms the perpetrator far more than the victim. Every act of violence is a wound in the soul, which can only be healed by Christ's love, which is often manifested in acts of nonviolent resistance such as the Christian Peacemakers practice.

But do we embrace weakness for the sake of weakness? Do we forgive because we lack the power to do anything else? Is this an acceptance, a resignation, to powerlessness, an acceptance of the fate of the slave? It is rather a knowledge of where true power lies: "But what is decisive for Christian mysticism is first of all the knowledge that the one who suffers wrong is also stronger (not just morally better) than the one who does wrong. That 'God is always with the one who is suffering' entails not only consolation but also stengthening: a rejection of every ideology of punishment, which is so useful the the cementing of privileges and for oppression."

We forgive our oppressors not because we love or even accept our oppression, but because we are stronger than they are and our refusal of their violence in itself contains their defeat.

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