Yes, I call myself a pacifist. And yes, I went with a group from my area as a reporter on the Christian Peace Witness. If alarm bells are ringing in your head about my capacity to be objective, you’re not the only one.
Here’s why I thought I could do it: While overall I oppose war and violence, I have a lot of questions and issues with the war in Iraq. The CPW was a response to that war specifically, not a call to disband the U.S. military or whatever. The more I learn about Iraq, the more I realize it’s an intensely complex situation that has no easy answers. I don’t pretend to know what should be done there. Not to mention I didn’t seek out the CPW—it came to me when the local trip coordinator contacted my editor to see if we’d do a story. I looked at the info and realized it would be a much better story if I went with them. My editors know our readers eat it up when local people do interesting things, so I ended up doing a front-page package deal of three stories and lots of photos for Sunday’s paper.
It was with that questioning mindset that I went into the CPW trip. I didn’t know ahead of time and couldn’t have known that all but two of the 32 people on the charter bus would self-identify as Mennonites. I figured it would be a bit more mixed, like the rest of the CPW. I didn’t wear the green “Mennonite” armband the leader passed around. I could have, but that would have taken away from my credibility as a reporter.
I talked with every single person on that bus on the way to D.C. I highly recommend it, too! When I would go on trips in high school and college, I’d talk to people next to me on the bus, but I never made a point to talk to everyone.
A steno pad of notes and three stories later, I’m ready to pursue my questions. (It’s only a conflict of interest if I make up my mind before the story is done. After that, I can do what I want.)
What should happen in Iraq? Is pulling out now and possibly leaving helter-skelter the best way to insure stability in Iraq?
How can Christians in the U.S. encourage Muslims in Iraq to get over their differences and stop killing each other? I asked this of a pastor on the bus, and he said it’s a tough issue, but winning them over for Christ would be most effective. Then he said the Christian Peacemaker Teams have been sent out of Iraq, and they cannot possibly have an impact if they aren’t allowed in. He said the teams set up crisis mediation centers where Muslims can come to work out their issues without fighting. So do we have to convert these people before they will listen to us? Do we honestly have nothing practical to give them other than coming in on an evangelical mission that will supposedly give them the tools to be peaceful? This is the post-modern in me coming out, but I’m uncomfortable with overtly evangelical efforts because they have the potential to view a person only as a soul and not as a mind, spirit and body with real needs. I know many service workers who try to meet people’s needs in the hopes the needy people will see Christ in it. Going the opposite way doesn’t really work for me.
And then there’s my skepticism that Muslims will be interested in coming to Christian mediation centers to work out their differences. I know if I were having a problem with another Christian, I wouldn’t be interested in going to a non-Christian mediator. I need to research that, obviously, because for all I know it could be wildly popular in Iraq.
Do we actually think President Bush and legislators will listen to us? A religion teacher on the bus referred to Christians as “legal aliens” in their countries of residence because our first allegience is in God’s Kingdom. I asked him why a country’s leaders should listen to legal aliens. It’s because we choose to be here willingly and are working to improve the country, he said. Patriotism does not consist of rubber-stamping every decision the country’s leaders make. (I’m in full agreement on the patriotism part.) Considering that we’d be legal aliens wherever we went, by his rationale, I have to wonder how willingly we’re here. It’s not like we can just go be part of only God’s Kingdom right now. What’s the alternative—suicide?
Does diplomacy always work if you do it long enough? What other means are available to people who oppose war and violence? If people aren’t being honest and humble in their diplomacy, how do we encourage them to become better at open communication?
What point is there in civil disobedience and getting arrested, like some 220 people did at the White House on Friday night? Yeah, it gets media attention, but is that a good enough reason to break civil laws that don’t conflict with God’s laws? I know of nothing in the Bible that says “If there’s a police line, you should cross it and pray at the fence in front of the White House.” That’s different than civil disobedience that protests an unjust law, like Rosa Parks sitting in the front of the bus. Unfortunately, some local readers who commented on the arrest story went too far on the other end and said the Bible compels Christians to obey ALL laws in their countries of residence. That’s not my understanding. Obey the laws except when necessary to follow God, and be willing to accept the civil consequences for the laws you break: That’s the way I read it.
Last but not least: Is democracy the best governmental structure for Iraq? Is democracy the “most Christian” of all existing forms of government?
Gee, did I pose enough questions to respond to, or what?