Yesterday was truly a big day in U.S. history. The inauguration of the first African-American President is truly a turning point for our nation, especially given our abysmal history on race. Moreover, it was encouraging to hear Senator Dianne Feinstein’s reflections on the nonviolence of Martin Luther King, President Obama’s message that we need not choose “between our safety and ideals” and his call to diplomacy and international aid over sheer violent force and military power, and Reverend Joseph Lowery’s prayer that one day we will “beat our tanks into tractors.”
Nevertheless, I had a difficult time getting too emotional or excited over this change of guard. For, while yesterday was historical from the perspective of the United States, it was a pretty small speck when history is viewed rightly. As John Howard Yoder tirelessly argued, the locus of history is not with the state but with God’s work through his church. The state is merely the context in which the real drama of history can unfold.
So, while the words and symbolism of the inauguration may be moving, the sobering fact is that the state is still the state. Yes, Obama seems more intent than Bush on using diplomatic tactics to secure peace, but his message to our “enemy” was still virtually the same: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”
Not much room there for Jesus’s message to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and turn the other cheek. But this is as should be expected, because the state is still the state.
Ironically, with this change of guard many of us ‘open-minded, progressive’ Christians will begin to forget that the state is still the state. We will start to put our faith in the ideals of the state and our hope in its progress. As blogger Halden recently argued, now more than ever is it imperative (though difficult) to be resolute in our anti-empire polemics. It was far too easy to maintain a prophetic witness to the state when those in charge overtly sanctioned military aggression, torture, and seemingly unbridled increase of personal power. But when those in power seem to share many of our ideals, the temptation will be to give them a pass when they deem military violence necessary in this or that situation. And it will be difficult for us to make the unfashionable charge that those in power sanction the unjust extermination of the least of those among us. Indeed, to increase the irony still further, it may be the conservative Christians who begin to recognize with more clarity the separation between church and state (as many of my students, for example, ponder whether or not Obama is the anti-Christ!). They will now be the ones to speak prophetically, though their witness will be narrow and tainted by their continual use of political means to grasp for power. (more…)
An older woman activist that I admire came up to me. She was obviously weary, and looked a bit as if she had just been crying. I had just received an email from her earlier, calling all the activists, who stand and witness for peace on Wednesdays at the Civic Plaza, to an emergency meeting. She asked me and my friend to come, saying in all sincerity, “we need a word of wisdom from the younger generation. We really aren’t sure what we should do.”
Only 2 or 3 people have been showing up in the last two months to the public witness here in town. Should we go on with our Wednesday 4:30pm vigils? Recently, the entire leadership of these vigils fell to this older woman–because others wouldn’t or couldn’t do it–and she was feeling exhausted. In addition to hoping to share the load with others, the sadness of the whole situation (16 more people were killed today in Iraq, for example) and the state of the world overwhelmed her. (more…)
This past weekend, my friend Gus was arrested in Georgia. Now before you worry too much, let me further explain that he was arrested after an act of civil disobedience as part of the annual protest against the School of the Americas (a.k.a. Western Hemiphere Institute for Security Cooperation), a notorious training school for some of the worst human rights abusers in Latin America.
Gus was one of 11 people who trespassed across the line into Fort Benning, where the School of the Americas is housed. Thousands of others marched outside the gates of Fort Benning in what was the 18th Annual Protest against the school and the US foreign policy it stands for.
In 2005 the story of the SOA came particularly close to home for me when eight members of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community in Uraba, Colombia were killed while I was in the country with Christian Peacemaker Teams. According to witnesses, the assasins were members of the Colombian military’s 17th Brigade, commanded by an SOA graduate. Ironically, Luis Eduardo Guerra, one of the leaders who was killed, spoke at the November 2002 vigil outside the gates of the School of the Americas.
It was the first time Gus had attended the vigil, but not the first time he had risked arrested. This year he was arrested twice while occupying Senator Durban’s office to encourage him to end the occupation of Iraq. But Gus isn’t your average peace activist type. He does janitorial work for the building where I live, working alongside my wife to sweep the floors and the was the windows here. He does not often talk about his convictions unless pushed.
I’m afraid this didn’t come as a huge surprise to me but I definitely have a sick feeling in my stomach right now. This is a clip from 1994 of Dick Cheney. He even uses the term quagmire. It’s like he was looking into a crystal ball at the future…and then they did it anyway.
Since Ben Anderson asked about the difference between pacifism and nonviolence over on the Practical nonviolence prevents bank robberies post, I thought I’d start a new thread along the same line to see if others wanted to add their thoughts on the topic. It just so happens I came across a current event which adds an interesting angle to the discussion.
This past Friday, Irish Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire was shot by the Israeli military while participating in a nonviolent protest against the wall being built in the West Bank. I for one didn’t hear anything about until this evening when it happened to show up on my Google news page. A quick search shows that only 13 articles have been written about this incident in the past week. Robert Naiman highlighted this dearth of coverage in a blog post on the Just Foreign Policy website (also sent out as a press release by the International Solidarity Movement). Naiman’s challenge is a good wake up call to pacifists who often advocate nonviolent social change as an alternative to armed struggle: (more…)
I was going to leave this as a comment to the post left a few days ago, asking the question how we support our troops without supporting their mission. I decided to leave it as a post instead. Here it is.
I struggle with this question as well.
I think one possible message to send is that Bush, in his latest plan of escalation, in which he committed 20,000 extra troops to Iraq (including giving orders that 4,000 troops deploy to the Anbar province), was irresponsible.(more…)
I was just reminded of the significance of the fact that yesterday was April 4. If you go back in history a few decades – you’ll remember that April 4, 1968 was the day MLK Jr. was assassinated. But right now, I’m more interested in what happened one year before that on April 4, 1967 (40th anniversary was yesterday). King gave one of his more famous speeches at Riverside Church, titled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.
I’ll spare you a reflection or commentary of that here but I just want to make note of this anniversary and suggest that you all take a little time to read it (pdf)* or listen to it (quicktime).* It’s pretty long so you might have to take more than a “little” time. I must have been out of the loop yesterday because I didn’t hear or read anything about it in the media. I usually catch things like this.
I must say though, that it’s not a very big mental jump to replace a few words and King could be speaking to us today. Forty years later, the message is as relevant as when he made it.
*if you don’t want to download the pdf, it’s also here and audio can also be heard here (realmedia) and here (mp3).
So, should we support the troops? This seems to be an eternal issue, displayed as it is on bumper stickers and on the news.
At the outset, I should note that as a Christian pacifist, I believe heeding Christ’s call and caring for the world’s citizenry should be a higher concern than supporting American troops. Still, this seems to be an important issue these days, so here are my thoughts on the issue:
The Troops as Individuals
We need to start, for the time being, by dividing the issue of “supporting the troops” from that of “supporting the mission.” See, the troops are individuals, and as such they deserve our love and support. I have a number of military friends, some of whom have been to Iraq. In fact, I just talked to one yesterday. I give love and friendship to these people, as they are children of God who are loved by Him. I do not agree with their occupation, but agreement is not a prerequisite for friendship.
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. (more…)
Recently, Glenn Beck said on his radio talk show that the Democrats want America to lose in Iraq. Why? Because they want to prove President Bush wrong, Beck said. He then added that while some question only the judgment of those on the left, he questions their very patriotism.
This shouldn’t be surprising to those of us who listen to right-wing talk radio. Nevertheless, Beck’s comments got me thinking: what is patriotism? Is it true that people who strongly disapprove of their country’s policies are unpatriotic traitors, or is patriotism a little more complicated than that?
Well, let’s unpack this a bit. According to Beck and many others like him, to be patriotic is, at very least, to support your nation in its foreign policy endeavors, even if major mistakes have been made. After all, according to this line of thinking, defeat and embarrassment are two of the worst evils a nation can suffer, so victory must be fought for at all costs. It would seem, then, that the true patriot should want power, prosperity, and prestige for his or her nation. (more…)
Pray for the Smucker family. Their son Nathaniel’s coat and shirt were
caught in the gears while grinding grain. Nothing would give, so now
he is gone. We made his clothes too well. Perhaps this is our sin. (more…)
Back in September, Michael wrote about Agustin Aguayo here on YAR. Today Agustin was found guilty of desertion in a US military court in Würzburg, despite 3 years of attempting to get out of military service as a conscientious objector. According to the Independent, “He faces up to seven years in prison, a dishonourable discharge and loss of pay.” This development is the latest in a very long struggle for Agustin, so please keep him in your thoughts and prayers. [Update: The Washington Post reports that Agustin was sentenced to eight months in prison, which means that, given timed served, he'll likely be out in a few weeks.]
Michael, as the director of the Military Counselling Network (MCN), is quote in a number of articles on the case. This probably means he’s been answering lots of media calls recently and may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. Keep him and MCS in your thoughts as this case may mean lots of increased publicity for them as well as increased interest from soldiers. They’ve been advertising for help on YAR recently as you may remember.
For the last three weeks I haven’t been blogging as much because I’ve been doing support work for a Christian Peacemaker Teams emergency accompaniment team in Oaxaca, Mexico. The team of two CPT reservists was invited to Oaxaca because of increasing repression by state and federal police of local people who have been protesting to remove their governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (more on why below). The state government has replied by killing more than 15 Oaxacans and 1 American and imprisoning hundreds of Oaxacans on fabricated charges.
This Christmas, we are inviting you, along with your families and churches to write Christmas and New Years cards of support to the families of those who have been imprisoned. Here’s the story of one of the families:
Bernadita Ortiz Bautista, a 40 year old Mixteca Indigenous woman, was arrested along with her son Alejandro (19) and two of her daughters, Rosalva (12) and Beatriz (14). Rosalva and Beatriz saw the police beat their mother. The Mexican authorities held the children for three days (separately from their mother) before releasing them. They are now at home helping to care for five younger brothers and sisters. Their father, Pablo Ortiz, says he is unable to work, because he needs to be home with the children now that the mother is away. Typical of homes in Campimiento, their one room house is only sixteen feet long and thirteen feet wide.
In some recent research that I’ve done over the past semester of school, I’ve come across some things that have really interested me regarding the early church versus our political situation today.
This all stems out of a paper by Ted Grimsrud entitled “From pacifism to the just war: the development of early Christian thought on war and peace.” The title is really pretty self-explanatory. Grimsrud claims (and I’m inclined to believe him, since he’s way smarter than I am) that the early church writers advocated a completely pacifist lifestyle. This held until the century leading up to Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as Rome’s state religion. The gradual enculturation of the church forced the development of theologies that treat violence, specifically state-endorsed warfare, as acceptable. Since the church was Rome’s religion, it had to be able to excuse Rome’s actions. (more…)
I live with three wonderful women. All four of us are peace studies majors trying desperately to figure out what that means. Our last party was to celebrate the 6th anniversary of the UN resolution 1325, which highlights women in peacebuilding—a bit pretentious, I know, but I take any opportunity I can to have an evening of poetry, singing, sharing, and dancing–especially when it is in celebration of courageous, yet often ignored, women. Our door is open and guests have poured in and out since the beginning of the semester. This weekend we had a more unexpected group of guests. We hosted 6 West Point cadets—friends of friends who needed a place to crash. Life is full of beautiful surprises. We ushered the men in uniform into the guest bedroom—appropriately adorned with “make love, not war” painted brightly across an old sheet, Tibetan prayer flags, and Yoda. (more…)