"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, July 04, 2008

Demonstrate the Gospel in Word and Deed

The story is so compelling, too compelling in fact - it is a script manufactured in the bowels of the corporate-fueled press, with talking points approved by the Pentagon. Government commandos descend into the jungle to release 15 hostages held by the demonic FARC for six long years. What rejoicing in the all-controlling efficiency of intelligence operations! The official narrative is well summarized in the God's Politics blog: "Glory be to (Colombia´s military) intelligence! Glory be to the army soldiers!" ... "God blessed (this rescue operative), but not just God, Uribe blessed it! Yes, long live Colombia ! We are winning the war!" - Janna Hunter-Bowman, "Good News from Colombia: Rescue of FARC Hostages"

It was an impeccable military operation. "According to news reports, Colombian intelligence infiltrated the FARC leadership and not a shot was fired in the rescue mission. If media sources are accurate, the Colombian military essentially tricked the guerrilla into handing over four of the highest profile kidnap victims and 11 soldiers and police." - "Good News from Colombia: Rescue of FARC Hostages (by Janna Hunter-Bowman)", God's Politics. So are we to celebrate our consummate deception?

Before we leap up in celebration of this brilliant intelligence operation, may we pause for a moment to consider why FARC took the hostages in the first place? You will look long and hard to find any statements from the FARC itself in the corporate media or even the Christian progressive media. The reigning assumption is that an organization run by violence-crazed, drug-dealing madmen couldn't possibly have anything of value to say to those genuinely interested in peace and justice. But a recent interview with Rodrigo Granda, the leading spokesman for the FARC, reveals surprisingly peaceful motivations for the kidnappings. In the following excerpt, he is asked by his French interviewer, Jean Batou, "How can the FARC–EP justify taking civilians captive?" He answers as follows: "Of course, it is common knowledge, that war of this kind needs funding. This war was forced on us by Colombia’s rich, so they are the ones that have to finance the war they unleashed. That’s why the FARC–EP holds people for whom a monetary payment is collected, which is really a tax. This money is set aside to maintain the apparatus of the people’s war. As you may know, we talk about constructing a new power, a new state. If in Switzerland, France, or the United States someone ducks out of their duty of paying taxes, then that person has to go to jail. The new state we are shaping has fixed the payment of a peace tax. That means that any individual or corporate body, and any foreign companies operating in Colombia and making profits of over a million dollars a year, have to pay a peace tax equivalent to 10 percent of these profits. Debtors are told they have to enter into dialogue with those who manage the FARC–EP’s finances to pay this sum. If they fail to do so, of course, these people will be arrested and taken to prison until they pay and fulfill their obligations toward those of us who are shouldering the responsibility of the new state, constructed and led by the FARC–EP, acting as the People’s Army." - "The Guerrilla in Colombia An Interview with Rodrigo Granda, Member of the FARC-EP International Commissio", Monthly Review, March 2008

In effect, the FARC is saying that the rich landowners of Columbia in justice should be subject the same tax policies that are prevalent throughout the civilized world. The evasion of their obligations to the people they have exploited for their private profit requires the enforcement of a just punishment, as is accepted by all Western democracies.

Now let us consider the parallel between the policies advocated by the FARC and the recommendations of Cajetan, St. Thomas Aquinas' greatest commentator: "Now what a ruler can do in virtue of his office, so that justice may be served in the matter of riches, is to take from someone who is unwilling to dispense from what is superfluous for life or state, and to distribute it to the poor. In this way he just takes away the dispensation power of the rich man to whom the wealth has been entrusted because he is not worthy. For according to the teaching of the saints, the riches that are superfluous do not belong to the rich man as his own but rather to the one appointed by God as dispenser, so that he can have the merit of a good dispensation." - Cardinal Tommaso Cajetan, St. Thomae...Summa Theologica cum commentariis Thomae de Vio Cajetani. In other words, our goods are owned by God and given to us so that we can share in His goodness and mercy by freely sharing them with others. Does not class warfare arise from an economic system that contradicts the Gospel root and branch?

Is not the tax imposed by the FARC one that St. Thomas Aquinas would find eminently just? The "riches that are superfluous do not belong to the rich man as his own but rather to the one appointed by God as dispenser" and who more just a dispenser than the representative of those dispossessed by the government who fronts for the 37 families who control 50 percent of the arable land in Columbia? The FARC targets those whose economic situation is comfortable - those, in other words whose wealth is superfluous for life or state, whose wealth, in fact, is owed as a matter of justice to those who have been defrauded.

As is typical in the media today, our attention is focused exclusively on the personal drama of the hostages and their feelings of relief. The larger context of the struggle in Columbia is not even mentioned. Yet it is one that the Christian resistance in the U.S. could learn much from. The "democracy" we enjoy here in the U.S. could disappear quickly if the masses began to take it seriously. The strategy of global capital is well summarized by Rodrigo Granda, "In general, if we analyze the behavior of bourgeois states over time, we observe that they have various ways of applying what they call 'representative democracy' and that they combine practically all forms of struggle to exploit the people. The 'gringos' call it the 'carrot and stick approach,' which they practice in the following way: if they consider that the masses are meek, they can let them develop certain forms of restricted democracy for a time; if they consider that those masses are becoming radicalized, then they take troops into the streets and impose repression. But if they notice that those mass movements have already become radicalized, then they employ state terrorism, and wage genocide against their opponents and the extermination of the mass organizations. It is this terror at its most horrifying that was experienced by nearly all countries here in our America in the recent past and still persists in Colombia." Jean Batou, " The Guerrilla in Colombia An Interview with Rodrigo Granda, Member of the FARC-EP International Commission", Monthly Review, March, 2008

What is the Christian response to state terrorism? In practice, it is usually to look the other way and to tolerate violence repression rather than take the risk of informed resistance. An atmosphere of studied ignorance descends on the Christian mind. In this foggy atmosphere, there are no Palestinians struggling to survive, all resistance movements that are forced to take up arms are terrorists, and, above all, there is no Christian obligation to really understand the social realities of the world in which we live.

Christians who take their biblical responsibilities seriously realize God in the cry of the poor and the weak who seek justice. They are not satisfied with superficial slogans about "free markets" and "terrorism", but seek to understand why it is necessary for millions to starve while there is enough food to feed everyone. At the very least, it is the Christian obligation to support and publicize movements such as the Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó in Columbia, a "third way" nonviolent alternative to the current warfare in that country. The members of this group dedicated to peace have been murdered by government sponsored paramilitaries because no neutrality can be tolerated in Columbia. Instead, such massacres are met with holy silence, a silence which feeds the flame of atheism more effectively than secular propaganda ever could.

In the words of John F. Kennedy, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable." The collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of global capital have not altered this reality, but reinforced it. Though Kennedy asked us this question in the context of the Cold War, how many Christians have asked themselves why so many peasant-based insurrectionary movements continue to flourish long after the demise of the supposed sponsor of these movements, the Soviet Union? Could it be that there are objective social forces in globalized economies that these movements are responding to?

"It is not a matter of engaging in both the gospel and social action, as if Christian social action was something separate from the gospel itself. The gospel has to be demonstrated in word and deed. Biblically, the gospel includes the totality of all that is good news from God for all that is bad news in human life--in every sphere. So like Jesus, authentic Christian mission has included good news for the poor, compassion for the sick and suffering justice for the oppressed, liberation for the enslaved. The gospel of the Servant of God in the power of the Spirit of God addresses every area of human need and every area that has been broken and twisted by sin and evil. And the heart of the gospel, in all of these areas, is the cross of Christ." - Christopher J. H. Wright International director of John Stott Ministries (from Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament)

If you feel called to understand the realities that lie behind the "spectacular rescue" in Columbia, a good starting point is the following article: The Real Operation to "Rescue" Ingrid Betancourt and US Mercenaries

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