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.
For years, I’ve had discussions about the term “Evangelical” with other Christians who see peace and justice as a core part of the gospel. I always argue that the term is too far gone and they argue that we should reclaim it. That it is theologically accurate and the best word to describe who we are.
At the same time, I’ve never been very comfortable with the label “Liberal” either. Coming of age with Clinton bombing countries right and left (7 or 8 depending on how you count) in the name of liberalism probably had something to do with it.
A friend just sent me It turns out I’m a Mennonite! from the blog of Greg Boyd, a prominent dissenter in the mega-church movement. In July 2006 he was profiled in the New York Times after he lost 20% of the membership of his mega-church after refusing to endorse conservative political causes. He is author The Myth of a Christian Nation.
This past weekend Boyd was at Hesston College for a conference and found a connection with the Mennonite tradition. He says, “…on a deep level, it kind of felt like coming home.” In many ways his reflections echoes the stories told inComing Home: Stories of British and Irish Anabaptists in which people from many different Christian traditions share how they connected with Anabaptism. I worked with many of these folks while in England and it was incredible to see the impact the Anabaptist tradition had on their lives. Boyd’s post has that same energy. It’s an energy that I see as critical to the future of Anabaptism, rather than be as part of the Mennonite church or an Anabaptist movement of people from many different denominations (as in the UK).
The difference between Boyd’s story and those of my friends in England is that Boyd also immediately discovered some of the shortcomings of the Mennonite tradition. I remember vividly the disbelief from British friends when I told them that more than half of Mennonites voted for Bush. This made no sense to them based on what they’d discovered as Anabaptist core convictions. Boyd put it this way:
But there was another very interesting thing I learned about the Mennonites: they’re in trouble. I heard this from a number of people, including John Roth. One man literally wept as he told me how he’s been grieved seeing Mennonites abandon their core vision of the Kingdom and core convictions over the last several decades. They’re losing their counter-cultural emphasis and becoming “Americanized” and “mainstreamed” (as various people told me). Consequently, many Mennonite leaders are getting involved in partisan politics in a way that goes against the Mennonite tradition. While Evangelicals tend to be co-opted by Right Wing politics, these leaders are being co-opted by Left Wing politics. They’re basically defining Kingdom social activism as supporting radical democratic policies. Yet, three fourths of Mennonites are Republican. Hence there’s growing tensions between the leadership and the body of the Mennonites.
For many years now, high profile Christian leaders have been saying that homosexuality is destroying the church. It turns out that it may be their homophobia that is isolating the church and undermining opportunities for connecting with a new generation of non-Christians.
Ten years ago, “the vast majority” of non-Christians [under 30] had generally favorable views of Christianity. Now, that number stands at just 16%. When asked specifically about Evangelicals, the number are even worse: only 3% of non-Christian Millennials have positive associations with Evangelicals.
These changes didn’t come out of the blue. The study found that the strongest negative trait associated with the church among non-Christians was “anti-homosexual” at 91%. A close second and third were judgmental (87%) and hypocritical (85%). According to the the summary of the study, as quoted on Alternet:
Non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else.
Last week I wrote about the worsening situation in Burma. Today is International Bloggers Day for Burma and the country is in the midst an increasingly repressive crackdown on thousands of monks and ordinary people in the country who were on the streets last week. The BBC reports:
Residents of the main city, Rangoon, say the streets are quiet during daylight hours, with the police and army keeping a low profile.
But during the overnight curfew, they say raids by the security forces continue.
The BBC’s Chris Hogg, in neighbouring Thailand, says if it is a tactic designed to scare people, it is working.
Click the read more link to sign the petition. (more…)
All day today I’ve been meaning to sit down and right something meaningful about the escalating situation in Burma which seems ripe for change or extensive repression. Turns out someone with far more experience has done a great job of laying out the history of the situation there and a useful perspective on what’s happening:
Excerpt from Burma on the March by Gene Stoltzfus (founder of Christian Peacemaker Teams):
Buddhist teachings and values are deeply ingrained in Burmese society and when monks lead, an unwritten message is sent to the nation. The arrest of monks creates a shocking dissonance in the minds of the Buddhist population. In the practice of Buddhism in Burma, people frequently leave the routine of their lives for a few weeks to become monks. With saffron robes, shaved heads and begging bowls they examine their lives, perhaps in the hope of gaining merit, more spiritually centered living, or to move along in their own personal cycle of karma. Some of the monks walking in the demonstrations now are almost certainly people who have only recently joined the monastery for a brief break.
A friend asked why I go to Iraq at a time when the situation is deteriorating even further. I go in expectation, trusting that the Jesus way of nonviolence always brings more creativity and positive change to situations of injustice and violence than the tools of war. The resurrection for me is a sign that life trumps death. Yes, it is a high risk project, but a project that participates already in the future for which we pray and yearn!
Yesterday at a debate with Senator Kerry, security guards at the University of Florida used a taser on a student who went over his alloted question time:
I showed this to a friend and his response was that the student seems to be deliberately escalating the situation. Personally, I find the situation disturbing because of how quickly the security guards escalate the situation in the first place, by grabbing him. What do all of you think? (more…)
Campaigning against the arms trade has always been a David and Goliath battle with a few small underfunded non-profit organizations against a massive, wealthy industry in which multi-billion dollar deals are routine. Good news usually comes after years of quiet, mostly thankless work.
All that is to say that I was extremely happy to read about the closure of the Defence Export Services Organisation this week. DESO is (or was) a uniquely British government department whose sole purpose is to promote the sale of British weapons abroad using whatever “legal” means available to them.
During my time in the UK I spent a good deal of my time working with SPEAK, a Christian student campaigning network who was working to close DESO. In 2004 we spent a few hours on the coldest day of the year praying in a trench outside DESO headquarters and bringing them baskets filled with daffodils. As with many public witnesses, it was a whole lot of work and shivering that felt like a drop in a vast, empty bucket. (more…)
There hasn’t been a video posted here in a while, so I thought I’d share this one. I’m not a big fan of the Colbert Report, but in this interview Colbert refrains from interrupting Benjamin Barber enough to allow him to make some very provocative points about consumer capitalism:
This interview is a repost from my blog on the Mennonite of an interview with Jarrod McKenna, a leader in the Emerging Church movement in Australia and founder of Empowering Peacemakers in Your Community, an organization that runs trainings on nonviolence and ecology in Australian schools, churches and prisons. I’ve previously referenced an article Jarrod has written on Emerging Peace Church Movement & the “Open Anabaptist Impulse”. Jarrod won the Donald Groom Peace Fellowship, a national Australian peace award. The Original intention was to do an interview with him for this blog and so, though I published it on the Mennonite site first, I think YAR is its true home. Enjoy! If you have your own questions for Jarrod, feel free to leave them in a comment and perhaps he’ll come by and answer them himself.
Tim: Where did you first come across the Anabaptist story?
Jarrod McKenna: The timing of my intro to Anabaptism was nothing short of God’s grace. It was a hugely significant time in my life though I was only 13 years old. Just before school started for my first year of high school, I made the very serious decision to follow Jesus. Up to that point I had gone through school not having the easiest time because of my dyslexia and ADD. I dealt with it by being the funny kid and when that didn’t work, beating kids up. I got good at both and was popular because of it. Yet the emptiness I felt would keep me up at night, looking up at the stars from my bedroom window and saying â€œGod, if you’re there, I need youâ€. While some people have dramatic conversion experiences mine didn’t happen in a flash. But slowly my eyes opened to the Holy Spirit’s gentle work in my life. Night after night as the stars ministered to me I began to be sensitive to God’s love for me, and that love meant I could change, and follow Jesus. (more…)