Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

The Candidates and Torture: We Can Shape the Debate

U.S. readers: the next round of presidential “debates” will happen in New Hampshire on 03 June and o4 June.  Human Rights First has generated an online petition to make sure the candidates are asked where they stand on torture.  You can read and sign the petition here.  We will not know where the candidates stand unless the questions are asked.  We can also contact the candidates campaign websites (especially any we are leaning toward supporting) and let them know that we will not vote for any candidate who condones torture, even “torture lite” techniques such as waterboarding. We need to push harder for closing all secret prisions, ending torture, ending the Guantanamo Bay gulag, restoring Habeas Corpus for EVERYONE, including terrorist suspects, restoring full compliance with U.S. and international law in all human rights matters.

I don’t about anyone else, but I was greatly disturbed during the last Republican debate when only one candidate (John McCain, himself a victim of torture as a Vietnam Prisoner of War) categorically rejected all forms of torture.  That he did so to stony silence while the audience cheered the other GOP candidates torture proposals was quite chilling.  Democrat or Republican, no candidate who condones torture is fit for public office, much less the highest office in the land.

May 30, 2007 Posted by | economic justice, human rights., torture, U.S. politics | 2 Comments

Needed for Long-Haul Peacemaking: A Spirituality of Nonviolence

By now, many in the U.S. have read the emotional decision by “peace mom” Cindy Sheehan to “retire as the public face of the anti-war movement in the U.S.” If not, you can read it here.  For those who may not know, Cindy Sheehan is the mother of a U.S. soldier slain in Iraq whose public confrontation with Pres. George W. Bush in 2004 brought sustained mainstream media attention to the peace movement and to the failures of the occupation of Iraq for the first time.  She is one of the founders of Gold Star Families for Peace (composed of family members of those whose lives have been lost in Iraq), and a member of Military Families Speak Out (composed of U.S. military families who oppose the war). 

I do not question Ms. Sheehan’s right to “retire” from her very public role.  The poor woman has never even had the space to properly mourn her son, Casey’s, death.  Her written decision is full of frustration, the exhaustion of someone villified by the Right and, then, when she held the Democrats to the same standards as she did the Republicans, villified again by the Left.  This kind of “burn out” is common in social activism, unfortunately.  In his memoir of the Civil Rights movement, Walking with the Wind, John Lewis (then Chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC or “Snick”], now U.S. Representative from Georgia) talks movingly about the way that many of the civil rights workers suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder like Vietnam veterans–but without any access to mental health services.  Today’s anti-war activists aren’t subject to the exact same kinds of stresses–jailed constantly and beaten (and the women activists were often raped by police officers), shot at, seeing friends and colleagues killed, on the go constantly, living on subsistence wages for years, etc.–except for those whose loved ones are in Iraq.  But the pressures are great, nonetheless.

This is a cautionary tale for the rest of us, including myself.  Outrage, righteous indignation, anger, public grief, are all valid reactions to war and human rights abuses, but they will get us only so far. They may strain marriages and family life. They may lead to speech and action that is not in the spirit of nonviolence and active peacemaking.  And, since imperialist militarism is a system (biblically speaking, a Power), it will resist change for the good.  Work for justice and peace over the long haul requires spiritual discipline, requires deep roots in a spirituality of nonviolence, including cultivating the virtue of patience.

Cindy Sheehan is stepping down from her leading role in ending the war and occupation of Iraq. The rest of us need to step up and do more–and beyond ending one war, working for a just and peaceful world on many fronts.  For those of us who are Christians, it is part of our calling as disciples.  But, in doing so, we need to guard against burn-out. We need to attend to contemplative prayer and other spiritual disciplines.

May 30, 2007 Posted by | love of enemies, nonviolence, peacemaking | 4 Comments

Christian Appeal for Peacemaking Action in Middle East

The Patriarchs and Heads of  local Christian Churches in Jerusalem have issued an appeal for International Church Action for Peace in Palestine and Israel June 3-9, 2007.  You can read the entire appeal as a pdf file here.  (Requires Adobe Acrobat reader. Download one for free here.)

Responding to this urgent appeal, which is focused on the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War and the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (an event that Palestinians call “the Catastrophe”), Churches for a Middle East Peace encourages all Christians to pray for peacemaking in Israel-Palestine and urges advocacy on this issue.  They suggest that Christians flood the White House comment line and emails with calls for bold diplomacy for an end to the Occupation. The U.S. President has more influence with the government of Israel than any other head of state and has chosen not to work for peace there.

Churches for a Middle East Peace suggests a message worded something like this:

 I appeal to the President to take diplomatic action now to stop the spiraling Israeli-Palestinian violence and restore hope for peace. The Arab League Peace Proposal opens the door for Israel-Palestinian negotiations that can end the occupation and lead to a two-state solution. Without vigorous peacemaking, violence fills the vacuum. The time for action is now.

The White House comment line is 202-456-1111 or email comments@whitehouse.gov .  I suggest further that we write letters to our local papers and make this a matter of prayer in all our churches.  Although urgent action for a just peace is needed before the next presidential election, email the campaigns of the various presidential candidates (especially any you support) and let them know that you expect vigorous peacemaking and a return to the U.S. role as an honest broker between both sides, not one-sided support for Israel as some candidates have indicated.

For non-U.S. readers:  Although bold diplomacy from the U.S. president could play a unique role, it may be that a real breakthrough comes from elsewhere. Contact your leaders with similar calls for bold diplomacy.

May 30, 2007 Posted by | Israel-Palestine, just peacemaking | Comments Off on Christian Appeal for Peacemaking Action in Middle East