"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.

Monday, June 30, 2008

There is No Place for Neutrality

Today, the corporate-controlled media is full of headlines about the spectacular rescue of Ingrid Betancourt from the notorious FARC rebels in Columbia. As Christians, we rejoice with Ingrid and those who love her for her release from captivity. But before we allow the personal to obliterate the social background to this rescue, perhaps we should pause a moment to reflect on why she was captured and the truth of the U.S. relationship to the Columbian people. As Christians dedicated to truth above all, so we must gaze unblinkingly on what the economic system that provides us with unprecedented comfort has done to the Columbian people.

Columbia, far from being a "democracy" is an oligarchy ruled by a tiny percentage of the population, not as stark as the contrast in the U.S. where 1 percent owns 40% of the wealth, but stark nonetheless. 37 landholders own half the arable farmland, while the vast majority subsist on less than 3 percent.

What does St. Basil have to say about such a situation? He speaks with the simplicity of all the saints: "Though you have not killed, like you say, nor committed adultery, nor stolen, nor borne false witness, you make all of this useless unless add the only thing which can allow you to enter the kingdom... If it is true that you have kept the law of charity from your childhood, as you claim, and that you have done as much for others as for yourself, then where does all your wealth come from? Care for the poor absorbs all available resources... So whoever loves his neighbor owns no more than his neighbor does. But you have a great fortune. How can this be, unless you have put your own interests before those others?...I know many people who fast, pray, groan, and do any kind of pious work that doesn't affect their pockets, but as the same time they give nothing to the needy. What good are their merits? The Kingdom of heaven is closed to them." - St. Basil, Homilia VII.

Where does the wealth of the 37 Columbia families come from? It comes from the poor whom they exploit and from drug money which is the result of American self-indulgence. Cocaine is one of major means by which we wish away the world we have created. In addition, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has been connected to the drug trafficking through members of his own family.

As one dedicated to non-violence, if I were a Columbian, I might well follow the path followed by the Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó. The story of this group who tried to stand above the violence sheds much light, painful as that light might be, on the situation that breeds the FARC. "The Comunidad de Paz was established as the first organically constructed and established peace community within Colombia that sought the existence of an alternative autonomous society surrounded by a raging four decade old war. San José's goal was to be a progressive community independent from violence existing apart from the armed activities and actors presented throughout the country." - James J. Brittain, "The Paramilitaries Burned Wayuu Children Alive and Killed Others With Chainsaws"

The response of the government to the Comunidad de Paz's attempt to live in peace with both the rebels and the government was swift and stark as the parables of Jesus: "One of the principal founders of the historically significant community was a man named Luis Eduardo Guerra. Guerra, like all too many social justice-minded personalities within the Andean country, was brutally murdered on February 21st. His remains were found alongside Deyanira Areiza Guzman (Guerra's partner), Deiner Andres Guerra, (Guerra's son), Luis Eduardo Guerra, (Guerra's half-brother), Alfonso Bolivar Tuberquia Graciano (a leader/member of the Peace Council of the Mulatos humanitarian zone), Sandra Milena Munoz Pozo (Graciano's partner), Santiago Tuberquia Munoz and Natalia Andrea Tuberquia Munoz (Graciano and Munoz's children). The murderers, according to several eye-witnesses, were members belonging to the 17th Brigade of the Colombian army." - James J. Brittain, "The Paramilitaries Burned Wayuu Children Alive and Killed Others With Chainsaws"

In other words, the attempt to respond non-violently to the Columbian situation was met with extreme violence. In response, the Comunidad de Paz made the following confession: "On March 8th the Comunidad de Paz released a statement which stated that the community had been the recipients of 'many attacks' such as 'harassments, threats, beatings, bombings, murders' and now, 'massacres'. Nevertheless, the people of San José presented that 'the will of the community is firm' and they are determined to maintain their 'position of pacifist coexistence'." - James J. Brittain, "The Paramilitaries Burned Wayuu Children Alive and Killed Others With Chainsaws"

At the Nonviolent Jesus, we too are determined to maintain our position of pacifist coexistence, but with a questioning heart. If non-violence leads to murder, if the situation is one where no shades of grey are permitted, then what must be our response? I strongly believe that it must be greater faith in the heart of the nonviolent Jesus. But before we make this decision too easily, consider the fate of the Wayuu people at the hands of the Columbian government.

"On April 18th, 2004 paramilitaries (and soldiers) entered into the village of Bahía de Portete where a large majority of Wayuu peoples inhabited. On this date the state forces systematically 'burned two children alive and killed others with chain saws'." The father of the two children who were burned alive made the following statement: "You can not imagine how it is to have to escape on the run so that they won't kill you, and then hear the cries of the kids, of my two little sons who they burned alive with out me being able to do anything... They burned them alive inside my pick up. Also, they beheaded my mother and cut my nephews to pieces. They didn't shoot them, they tortured them so we would hear their screams, and they cut them up alive with a chain saw." - James J. Brittain, "The Paramilitaries Burned Wayuu Children Alive and Killed Others With Chainsaws"

To be a Christian is to care about injustice even against people you don't know personally. Can we as Christians make a simple response to these acts? If we do, then we have not really responded to these acts, but to some figment of our spiritual imagination. Especially when we consider the response of the Wayuu people, "Since this time an increasing number of Wayuu have become members of the FARC-EP, while others have organized indigenous-based self-defense movements working in a cooperative manner with other objectively devoted social movements seeking emancipatory conditions for their people. As a result, attacks against the Wayuu (who have chosen to defend themselves) have dropped precipitously since the spring of 2004." - James J. Brittain, "The Paramilitaries Burned Wayuu Children Alive and Killed Others With Chainsaws"

The choice to defend one's people by joining the FARC has led to a reduction of horrendous attacks. How do we as those dedicated to the message of Jesus respond? One way is to say that because our Christian communities have failed to support and publicize groups such as the Comunidad de Paz and to bring attention to their suffering, they have been left with the stark choice of death or displacement. Because we have been so busy with soccer moms and Nascar dads, we have failed to show the awareness and dedication of those who resisted U.S. attacks on Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980's. The situation in Columbia calls out for the same level of solidarity and resistance, but so far any Christian support for alternatives in Columbia has been barely visible.

I would like to end this brief meditation on the situation in Columbia with a reflection on the dedication needed by those who embrace nonviolence. Consider those who risk career and livelihood to resist torture, "We have to get as serious about our resistance to war and torture, as our friends, our sons and daughters are about war. Theirs is a total commitment. And mine must be the same. We have to take time in prayer, and look at when God is calling us to resist the empire under which we live. There are a hundred ways for dissent to be on the side of power: and there are even more ways for dissent to be on the side of poor, on the side of those who have been tortured, on the side of those marginalized." - "We Need Story and Direct Action", Susan Crane

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