Levellers

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

BPFNA Statement Against the Escalation of Afghanistan War

The statement against the Afghanistan escalation by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America can be found here.   The statement has also been endorsed by my denomination, The Alliance of Baptists.  I hope other Baptist bodies (denominations, conventions, agencies, congregations, seminaries, etc.) will endorse this statement and spread it widely. I also hope that other Christian and other faith groups will also speak out against the escalation and for just peacemaking  transforming initiative for longterm peace.

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December 11, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, Baptists, peacemaking | Comments Off on BPFNA Statement Against the Escalation of Afghanistan War

A Brief History of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

It’s time for another installment in my series of historical sketches of major grassroots peace and justice organizations, especially those with religious foundations (and, of those, especially Christian peace groups).  In previous installments to this series, I sketched the history of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) (concentrating especially on the U.S. branch), and of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). This time around, I’ll highlight the history of Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). (In future installments in this series, I plan to cover the Brethren-related On Earth Peace, the Mennonite Central Committee, denominational peace fellowships (especially where I have membership or a direct connection such as the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace and Justice, the Mennonite Peace and Justice Support Network and Methodists United for Peace with Justice), Pax Christi International (the Catholic peace movement), Witness for Peace (where I first put my new-found pacifism into practice in ’84), Christian Peacemaker Teams, Every Church a Peace Church (my employer for 3 years), Peace Action, Nonviolence International, Holy Land Trust, Black Voices for Peace (now defunct).  Of the peace groups related to military veterans, I will highlight only Veterans for Peace since it’s members specifically commit themselves to nonviolence.  Some other vocational or occupational groups I plan to highlight include Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Pugwash Conferences on Science and Human Concern. I’d also like to sketch a few faith-based groups from non-Christian religions, especially the Jewish Peace Fellowship, Muslim Peace Fellowship, and Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

For now, we turn to the Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).  As with groups in our previous installments (F.O.R. and WILPF), the AFSC began as a specific response to World War I.  The Religious Society of Friends (nicknamed the Quakers) began as a Christian movement out of radical Puritanism in the mid to late 17th C.  Although it’s founder, George Fox, seems to have been a pacifist since his conversion, the Friends as a whole did not adopt the Peace Testimony as a defining characteristic until 1660.  Since that time, Friends have been a powerful force for peace and justice–making an impact well beyond their numbers. (There are less than 1 million Friends/Quakers worldwide–the majority in Africa.)

Especially in the U.S., the 19th C. was a troubling one for Friends–leading to several schisms between various Yearly Meetings.  This fragmented the peace witness after the Civil War, but numerous Friends played key roles in the development of the international peace movement in the late 19th and early 20th C.  When the U.S. decided to enter World War I, Quaker Meetings formed the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in order to give young Quaker men an alternative form of national service to war. During AFSC’s very first year of existence, it sent women and men to France (along with British Friends) where they worked and cared for children who were refugees because of the war. They also founded a maternity hospital, repaired and rebuilt homes destroyed by the war, and provided returning refugees with the necessities to rebuild their lives.

Over the years, AFSC has been open to hiring non-Quakers, but everyone associated with AFSC must share the Quaker belief in nonviolence and peacemaking rooted deep Quaker convictions about the dignity and worth of all persons (Quaker evangelists–called Publishers of Truth–were instructed to answer “that of God in every person”), in the power of love, service, and nonviolence, and in the ability of the Light (a biblical symbol of God) to speak to all people.  Quakers see their responsibility in opposing war, militarism, and other systems of domination as a calling to “Speak Truth to Power.”

The AFSC continued its work after the end of WWI.  Some major highlights from the early years (1917-1938) include:

  • Feeding 1 million starving children in Germany and Austria in 1919.
  • Feeding and reconstruction work in Poland, including buying 1000 horses from the Polish army to lend to farmers for plowing in 1920.
  • Distributed food, milk, and clothing in famine relief in Russia in 1920-1921. (This work in famine relief saw the rise in leadership of a Friend in business named Herbert Hoover who went on to become U.S. president–and then see his famine relief experience prove fruitless during the Great Depression–though he remained convinced that the New Deal’s programs were the wrong answer.)
  • 1925-1934, helped with poverty relief among Native Americans, African-Americans and immigrants in the inner cities, and poor whites in Appalachia.
  • 1937, provided relief to both sides of the Spanish civil war.
  • 1938, sent a delegation to Germany to rebuke the new Nazi government for its treatment of Jews and worked to get it to allow Jews to leave the country.

As WWII loomed near, Friends, along with Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, managed to get Congress to pass exemptions to the draft for conscientious objectors to war (although the law limited this to those whose pacifism was “based on religious instruction”) and for COs to perform “alternative service of national importance” in work camps run by the peace churches.  Many other WWII -era Conscientious Objectors, religious and otherwise, went to prison, instead.  During these years, the AFSC worked to try to maintain a consistent peace witness around the world in the midst of war.

  • 1941, provided medical help to civilians on both sides of China’s civil war.
  • 1942, provided alternative service for conscientious objectors to war in mental hospitals, conservation programs, and training schools.  Provided relocation help for Japanese-Americans and worked to protect the property of Japanese-Americans interred for the duration of the war.
  • 1943, sent food to relieve severe famine in India.
  • 1944, led the reconstruction efforts in post-war Europe and Asia.

In 1947 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to both the AFSC and the British Friends Service Council on behalf of Quakers everywhere.

  • As the Cold War began, the AFSC published Speak Truth to Power(1955) as a pacifist alternative to the arms race.
  • 1961, sent volunteers to work in developing countries.  This began earlier and, along with similar programs run by Brethren and Mennonites, was the inspiration for John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps program.
  • Following the 1962 ceasefire between France and Algeria, AFSC worked in Algeria to develop garden and poultry projects, milk stations, and clinics to fight poverty-related diseases.
  • 1965 –worked to place 7, 000 African-American children in previously all-white Southern public schools and pushed to keep school desegregation a front burner issue. (Friends had pioneered here.  Even during the days of slavery, Friends schools were open to everyone. When segregation laws in many Southern states forbade teaching white and black children together, Friends founded numerous private schools for African-Americans because of the horrible quality of the state-run “Negro schools.”  Rosa Parks attended such a Quaker primary school.)
  • 1966, provided free medical aid to civilians in North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and areas held by the NLF. (This led to official investigations of the AFSC by the House Un-American Activities Committee which, thankfully, no longer exists.)

And on and on it goes.

Today, the AFSC has programs seeking economic justice both globally and in the USA, programs on immigration rights, equality for LGBT persons, the Wage Peace campaign to end the war in Iraq and rebuild Iraq justly, a program to combat the militarization of American Youth (including counter-recruitment), work for fairer patterns of international trade, programs to end weapons build ups and the international weapons trade (especially work to end nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and work against weapons that mostly harm civilians, such as landmines), programs for debt cancellation and debt relief in Africa, a program for a just two-state peace in Israel-Palestine, reforming the U.S. criminal justice system (including abolishing the death penalty and ending police abuse).

A glance at these many programs shows that the AFSC’s peace witness is not just a negative peace (the absence of war or armed conflict), but a positive peace built on the presence of justice and human reconciliation.

November 28, 2009 Posted by | American Friends Service Committee, church history, Friends (Quakers), Historic Peace Churches, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking | Comments Off on A Brief History of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

A Brief History of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Like the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) began out of the horrors of the First World War.  It also grew from the first wave of international feminism.  As women in Europe and North America were struggling for the vote (suffrage) and equal rights with men, they also were leading the way to more just and compassionate societies.  Many of the women involved in the struggle for women’s rights had also been part of the movement to abolish slavery and some were still struggling for equal rights for minorities. Many were working to end child labor and for better housing and working conditions for the poor.  They also worked for international peace. In fact, it was widely believed at the time that women would more likely vote for peace and against war–this was an argument many feminists themselves used–that femalWhioe suffrage would transform the world because women were more naturally just and compassionate and peaceful than men.  (This belief in female moral superiority was also used by men to argue AGAINST female suffrage.)

While subsequent history has proven that women are just as fallen and sinful as men are, it is true that the early feminists were also campaigners in many moral and social causes, and none more so than the budding peace movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  Thus, the eruption of the First World War in 1914 was seen as a horror and a huge mess by many of these leaders.  True, some women rallied round the flags of their various nations–reverting to nationalist militarism–and others, like Alice Paul, used the contradictions of a supposed “war for democracy” when women did not have the vote to put pressure for passage of women’s suffrage.  But for many of the leaders of this first wave feminism, stopping the war became the most essential cause of their lives.

The war began in August 1914.  In April, 1915, some 1300 women from Europe and North America, both from countries at war with each other and from neutral countries, gathered for a Congress of Women at the Hague in the Netherlands. They were responding to the call of Dr. Aletta Jacobs, M.D., a Dutch suffragist and feminist, who urged that women concerned for peace come to the Hague.  The purpose of the Congress of Women was to protest the killing then raging throughout Europe–which would soon spread to Europe’s colonies in Asia and Africa and would draw in the United States as well.  The Congress issued some 20 resolutions:  some short-term such as calls for cease fire and resolution by binding arbitration from neutral parties, and others with more longterm goals–to lay the foundations to prevent future wars and produce a world culture of peace.  They called on all neutral nations to refuse to join sides in the war, to pressure the belligerant nations to cease fire and to pledge to help solve their differences through binding arbitration.  They called for a league of neutral nations (an idea that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson would later use in his argument for a League of Nations–in fact, most of Wilson’s 14 point peace plan came originally from the Congress of Women’s 20 resolutions!).

At the end of the Congress, the women elected small teams of delegates to take the messages of the conferences to the belligerant and neutral states of Europe and to the President of the U.S.A.  These delegations managed to visit 14 countries (during wartime!) between May and June 1915.  They also decided to form themselves into a permanent organization with an international headquarters and national branches. This beginning of WILPF was first called the International Women’s Committee. They elected Jane Addams (1860-1935) of the U.S.A. as the first president of the Congress and as the delegate to Pres. Wilson. Addams was already famous throughout North America and Europe as a pioneer in what today would be called social work and community organizing.  (See Hull House.)  Addams had been raised a Quaker, though her father had served in the U.S. Calvary and was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  The adult Addams left her Friends meeting, tried for a time to be a Unitarian (because of their greater acceptance of male/female equality), but eventually became a baptized member of the Presbyterian Church.  She had been elected to the Chicago City Council on a reform ticket.  Upon returning to the U.S. from the Hague, she not only presented the views of the Congress to President Wilson (who, as I said, “borrowed” heavily from them when he formed his own peace plan), but formed the Women’s Peace Party to try to keep the U.S. out of the war.

When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, the rights of pacifists and conscientious objectors were greatly trampled. Speaking out against the war was prosecuted as treason, as was counseling draft resistance or even refusal to promote the buying of war bonds! Freedom of the press and speech were greatly curtailed–even ignored–during the war fever.  Addams, who continued to protest the U.S. involvement in the War, did not end up in jail as so many, but she had her passport revoked and lost much of her prestige, attacked in the press.  She was kept a virtual house prisoner for some time.  Addams’ younger associate, Emily Greene  Balch (1867-1961) lost her post as Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College due to her refusal to support the war or sign a loyalty oath.   Other International Women’s Committee women in other countries faced similar or worse hardships, some even being thrown into prison for the duration of the war.

When the war ended in 1919, the International Women’s Committee attempted to be true to its promise to hold a parallel Congress to the official peace meetings of the belligerant nations.  Because the French government would not allow German delegates to meet in France, the IWC’s Congress met not at Versailles as they’d planned, but in Zurich, Switzerland.  A small number of women “ran shuttle” from the Zurich meeting to the governmental deliberations at Versailles–though they do not seem to have made much of an impact.  The Treaty of Versailles was so brutal in its treatment of Germany and other defeated nations that historians widely credit it with sowing the seeds of the rise of Naziism and the Second World War.  The Women’s Congress denounced the terms of the Treaty of Versailles as revenge of the victors and correctly predicted that it would lead to another global war.  They decided to make the International Women’s Committee permanent, called it the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and stated its purpose as “to bring together women of different political views, and philosophical and religious backgrounds, to study and make known the causes of war and to work for a permanent peace.” That remains the purpose of WILPF to this day.

In 1922, WILPF tried to get the League of Nations to convene a World Congress to renegotiate the Treaty of Versailles at a “Conference on a New Peace.”

In 1924, correctly seeing the development and global sale of arms as a major cause of war, WILPF worked to mobilize scientists to refuse to work on weapons of war or on projects funded by the military.

In 1927 WILPF first went to China and Indochina, moving beyond the European and North American scope of its concerns.

In 1931, first WILPF president Jane Addams, now in failing health, was belatedly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but she was too ill to travel to Oslo to receive it. (Addams would finally die in 1935.)

In 1932, WILPF delivered over a million signatures for complete global disarmament to a disarmament conference.

From 1940 to 1945, WILPF found ways to aid victims of fascism, Naziism, and Japanese imperialism.

In 1946, WILPF was at the founding of the United Nations and pushed for the concept of mutual security–urging that security be based on justice and freedom from want, rather than on military might and prestige.  WILPF gained official UN status as a non-governmental organization (NGO) at that founding meeting of the UN.

In 1946, Emily Greene Balch, first International Secretary of the WILPF, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  In 1958, WILPF sent missions to the Middle East. In 1961, WILPF convened the first of many meetings between American and Soviet women to break down the barriers of the Cold WAr.

From 1963 onward, WILPF was a major force urging an end to the Vietnam War, undertaking investigative missions to North and South Vietnam.  In 1971, they went to Chile, where the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) had just toppled the elected government of Salvador Allende and installed military dictator Pinochet, to investigate Pinochet’s human rights abuses.

From Northern Ireland to the Middle East to East Timor, WILPF has been a force for peace. With an International Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, WILPF has a UN Office in NYC, and national “Sections” on every continent except Antartica.  There are 36 national Sections in all.  WILPF works on peace, disarmament, racial justice, economic justice, environmental health, the democratization of the United Nations (especially the reform of the Security Council), defense of human rights.  It also pushes for greater roles for women in negotiating peace treaties since women and children are often disproportionally affected by war and conflict. And it recruits young women peacemakers for the next generations.

As WILPF approaches 100 years of work (2015), it’s vision is still that of its founding:

  • the equality of all people in a world free of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.
  • the guarantee of all to fundamental human rights including the right to sustainable economic development
  • an end to all forms of violence: rape, battering, exploitation, military intervention, and war.
  • the transfer of world resources from military to human needs, leading to economic justice within and between nations
  • world disarmament and the peaceful arbitration of conflicts through the United Nations.

The U.S. Section has a Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA) that focuses on peace education among children.

In addition to Nobel Prize winners, Addams and Balch, WILPF has had numerous amazing members and leaders including Coretta Scott King, Phyllis Bennis (whom I suggested as Under-Secretary of State for the Middle East, though no one took me seriously), Evelyn Peak, Dr. Elise Boulding, and many others.  I urge women who read this blog to check out WILPF and its national sections and men to pass this page on to the powerful peacemaking women in your life.

November 10, 2009 Posted by | feminism, gender, human rights., nonviolence, peacemaking, violence, war, women, young people | 5 Comments

A Brief History of the Fellowship of Reconciliation

In between my posts on a biblical case for Christian pacifism, I am going to write some brief historical sketches of the major grassroots, contemporary peace organizations–with special concentration on religious, especially Christian, organizations and especially those in North America (because I know them best).  The “modern” peace movement began in Europe and North America in the 19th C.  In North America, a major root was the largely Christian movement to abolish slavery with its stronghold in the Northern United States, but also with Canadian participants, especially after the Fugitive Slave Act meant that runaway slaves were not safe until the reached Canada.  Although 19th  C. North America  had a Christian peace witness from Mennonites, Dunkers (now called the Church of the Brethren) and some smaller sects such as the Universalists, and the Shakers, the major Christian peace witness to the larger, ecumenical church at this time was by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) who made up a disproportionate amount of the leadership of the Abolitionist movement.

Because of the Quaker peace witness, many non-Quaker abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison (a white newspaper editor raised as a New England Baptist) and Frederick Douglass (a former slave, editor of The North Star, and lay-preacher for the African Methodist Episcopal Church) and Sojourner Truth (former slave and traveling preacher) were pacifists who hoped that slavery could be abolished without war–though some later, reluctantly endorsed the Civil War after Lincoln added the abolition of slavery to his war aims.  The evangelical preachers of the Second Great Awakening, including Charles Finney, Timothy Dwight Weld, Jonathan Blanchard, Alexander Campbell (one of the founders of the Stone-Campbell movement that today is divided into the Churches of Christ, (Independent) Christian Churches, and the Disciples of Christ) and others were also pacifists and crusaders against slavery, child labor, and for the rights of women.

Opposition to Pres. James Polk’s War on Mexico (1845-1848), which was a thinly disguised ploy to gain territory and to break the Missouri Compromise and spread slave states all the way to the West Coast, was found across the religious and political spectrum–not until the Vietnam War would an American War have such widespread opposition from the American people themselves.  That opposition produced the first U.S. peace societies, the beginnings of a widespread anti-war movement–one that grew again following the U.S. Civil War and which united political conservatives and liberals at the end of the 19th C. in opposition to the Spanish-American War (in which the U.S. took over the Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico) and the Philippine-American War (in which the U.S. gained colonies in the Philippines, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Samoa).

In Europe, similar movements were growing in response to numerous 19th C. wars, including the British war in Burma, the revolutions against the Spanish throughout Latin America,  the Crimean War, the Savoy Revolt in India, the Boer War in South Africa, the British War in Afghanistan.  The beginnings of discontent with these long series of wars probably began with the 18th C. Napoleanic conquests.   In addition to Christian influences, the European peace movement drew from the growing body of international law in the 19th C. (with more institutions for international arbitration and law), and from two rival economic philosophies–the global free trade movement (wars disrupt business) and the various labor and socialist movements–both Marxist and non-Marxist versions (labor was likely to see most wars as exploitations of the poor by international capital).

Alfred Nobel, capitalist with a guilty conscience after inventing dynamite and making his fortune on munitions, was convinced at the turn of the century by his secretary Bertha Suttner (an author and activist in the peace movement) to make one of his Nobel Prizes in his will dedicated to peacemakers, bringing new prestige to the movement. 

The Fellowship of Reconciliation (F.O.R.) was birthed with the First World War.   In the aftermath of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Serbia, and the quick choosing of sides by the European alliances, peace activists, especially Christian peace activists realized that a pan-European (and beyond that to Europe’s colonies around the world) could erupt.  In August of 1914 an international group of church leaders, clergy and laity, gathered in Switzerland to make a last ditch attempt to stop the war.  The conference had barely begun when word came that the fighting had begun–they were too late.  Conference attendants raced to rail stations to return to their home countries before the borders would be closed.  At a railway station in Germany, two of the conferees, a British Quaker named Henry Hodgkins (who taught philosophy at Queens College, Cambridge University) and a Lutheran minister named Friedrich Sigmund-Schulz (who was, astonishingly, chaplain to the Kaiser!) clasped hands and pledged that because they were Christian brothers they, personally, could never be at war and they would seek to work for peace between their nations, regardless of the policies of their respective governments!

Back in the U. K., Hodgkins quickly acted on his promise. He convened an ecumenical Christian conference at Queens College from which about 20 individuals declared that they could not conceive of God as a nationalist and that they would not agree to a moratorium on the Sermon on the Mount for the length of the war. From this meeting the British chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation was born. 

Travel during wartime is uncertain, but a year later Hodgkins came to New York City and convened a meeting of interested pacifists at Union Theological Seminary in NYC that included some of the most influential theologians and ministers and laypeople of the day including Reinhold Niebuhr (who would, in the ’30s, break with the F.O.R. and forever after be a severely harsh critic of Christian pacifism), Ernest Lefevre (who followed Niebuhr’s break and then went further and became a neoconservative!), John Haynes Holmes (prominent Unitarian minister), Jesse Wallace Hughes (prominent labor leader who would later found the more secular War Resisters’ League), and others. 

In Germany, Rev. Sigmund-Schultz’s opposition to war and the Kaiser’s war aims quickly led to loss of his position as the Kaiser’s personal chaplain.  He was soon imprisoned until 1917.  Upon release from prison, Rev. Sigmund-Schultz founded the German chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Internationaler Versöhnungsbund, which is a thriving branch of the F.O.R. today.  After Hitler’s rise to power in the ’30s, Sigmund-Schultz was an early outspoken critic and died in a concentration camp.

In 1919, after the war ended, the F.O.R. created an International branch (IFOR), headquartered first in Switzerland and today in Alkmaar, the Netherlands.  There are today 85 national branches of IFOR, on every continent on the globe.  The International Fellowship of Reconciliation and some of its national member branches (including the U.S. branch) have broadened from being ecumenical Christian organizations to interfaith pacifist organizations (but still religiously based).  Other branches, such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation in England (F.o.R. E.) are still specifically Christian, perhaps in reaction to the strong secularization of that nation.

The F.O.R. and its various branches have been involved in nonviolent struggles for justice and peace throughout the twentieth century until today.  They were early supporters of Gandhi’s work in South Africa and then India and helped to plant FOR branches among the Gandhians while learning Gandhian nonviolence theory and adding it to their religiously based pacifism.  Six (6) prominent members of the IFOR have won the Nobel Peace Prize (Jane Addams, USA, 1931; Emily Green Balch, USA, 1946; Chief Albert Luthuli, South Africa, 1960; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., USA, 1964; Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Northern Ireland, 1976; Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentina, 1980) and literally hundreds of others have been nominated for it and hundreds of its members have won other peace and human rights prizes.  IFOR has nongovernmental status at the United Nations as it works to create a culture of nonviolence, peace, and justice.

In the U.S. branch of IFOR, as well as in the British branch and, perhaps others, many members also belong to religious peace fellowships specific to their faith or denomination, some more organically connected to the F.O.R. than others (e.g., the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Muslim Peace Fellowship, the Lutheran Peace Fellowship, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Disciples Peace Fellowship, the Catholic Peace Fellowship, etc.)  There are also regional branches of the U.S. F.O.R.–I have served on the board of the Louisville Chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation which meets monthly on the campus of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

The U.S. branch of the F.O.R. has often spun-off other organizations during its various campaigns.  For instance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) began when F.O.R. board member Roger Baldwin sought to protect civil liberties guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution that were being trampled during World War I–especially the rights of conscientious objectors to war.  Likewise, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) was founded by staff members of the F.O.R. during the 1940s, especially James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, and George Houser–beginning with students at the University of Chicago Divinity School.  The F.O.R. was involved in the Civil Rights movment, the movement against nuclear weapons, to stop the Vietnam War (and every war thereafter), work to end the death penalty and work for prison reform, to end apartheid in South Africa, to free Burma from military rule, to end U.S. support of dictatorships, to work for women’s rights, labor rights, and, since the 1990s, the rights and equality of LGBT persons.  F.O.R. workshops on nonviolence in the Philippines laid the groundwork for the nonviolent people power revolution in the ’80s–and similar stories can be repeated around the world.

The F.O.R.’s role in various nonviolent campaigns and peace efforts has not usually been widely noted.  For instance, the role in the Civil Rights movment is mentioned in most history books, but seldom in any public celebrations of the achievements of that struggle.  But the FOR and its members have never been about getting “credit,” but about experimenting with the power of love and nonviolence and forgiveness as a force for personal and social change.

I have been a member since 1983.  Only recently returned from the U.S. army as a conscientious objector, I went twice to Nicaragua with the movement Witness for Peace, which aimed to stop the civil war and the Reagan-backed terrorists known as the Contras.  On my second trip unarmed into this war zone, most of the delegation happened to be members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, of which I had never heard. Upon my return to the states, I joined up and have counted my membership to be one of my deepest commitments.

The F.O.R. is not perfect and has made mistakes.  A major mistake, in my view, happened just after its birth.  As Paul Alexander shows in his Peace to War:  Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God, the early Pentecostals, especially the AoG, were pacifist and strongly opposed WWI. (They did not officially abandon pacifism until 1967.) But there was little contact with Pentecostals or other conservative Christian groups by the members of the F.O.R. at that time, who were mostly liberal, mainline Christians who looked askance at conservative groups.  That view has changed, but a major opportunity that would have strengthened both groups was lost.

Nevertheless, some of the strongest activists and theologians for peace have come from the ranks of the Fellowship of Reconciliation–and do so still.

Here is a partial list of famous members of IFOR or one of its branches:

  • Rev.  Paul Jones, Episcopal bishop removed from his diocese in Utah because of his pacifism and opposition to WWI.
  • Norman Thomas, Presbyterian minister turned union organizer and leader of the Socialist Party, USA.  Ran for U.S. president on a Socialist and  pacifist platform 5 times.
  • John Haynes Holmes, Unitarian minister.
  • Jane Addams.
  • Alfred Hassler, American Baptist leader.
  • Bayard Rustin, African-American Quaker, labor and civil rights leader–not as well known as others because he was gay in a time when that was literally illegal in most of the U.S.
  • James Farmer, Jr., African-American Methodist minister and founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
  • Glenn Smiley, Methodist pastor and advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • A. J. Muste, Congregationalist minister turned Quaker who led the F.O.R. through the middle of the 20th C.
  • Lillian Smith, Southern novelist.
  • G. H. C. MacGregor, Scottish New Testament scholar.
  • Andre Trocme, French Reformed pastor-theologian who led the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to hide 5,000 Jews from the Nazis, thus saving them from the Holocaust.
  • Dorothy Day, co-founder and motivating spirit of the Catholic Worker movement.
  • Clarence Jordan, radical white Baptist New Testament scholar who founded the interracial farming community known as Koinonia in South Georgia in 1942.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
  • John M. Swomley, Jr., Methodist theologian and ethicist.
  • Thomas Merton, Trappist monk.
  • Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., Catholic priest, poet, biblical scholar, and radical anti-war activist.
  • Martin Niemöller, German Lutheran pastor who was held as Hitler’s personal prisoner during WWII.
  • Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher.
  • Maurice Friedman, Jewish philosopher, Buber scholar, and one of the founders of the Jewish Peace Fellowship.
  • Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentine sculpter, writer, and nonviolent activist who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Hildegard Goss-Mayer, German peace activist whose workshops on nonviolence in the Philippines sowed the seeds for its 1986 nonviolent revolution.
  • Elise Boulding, Quaker sociologist.
  • Howard Thurman, African-American mystical theologian.
  • Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Catholic laywoman and co-founder of the Irish peace movement and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
  • Cesar Chavez, Mexican-American labor and civil rights leader; co-founder of the United Farmworkers of America.
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist priest, leader of the Buddhist nonviolent protest against the Vietnama war; nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Joseph Lowry, African American Methodist pastor and civil rights leader.
  • John Dear, S.J., Catholic priest, pastor, author, and nonviolent activist.
  • Rabia Terri Harris, founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship.
  • Walter Wink, United Methodist New Testament scholar.
  • John Howard Yoder, Mennonite theologian.
  • Vincent Harding, African American Mennonite historian.
  • Edwin Dahlberg, former president of the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, USA) and the National Council of Churches, USA.
  • Walter Rauschenbusch, theologian of the Social Gospel (for the last year of his life).
  • Glen H. Stassen, Baptist ethicist.
  • George Edwards, Presbyterian New Testament scholar.
  • Jim Forest, founder of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.
  • Barbra Deming, Quaker, feminist.
  • Albert Einstein, ‘Nuff said.
  • Rabbi Leo Beerman, rabbi of Temple Leo Baeck, Los Angeles.
  • Sami Awad, founder of Holy Land Trust and the Palestinian News Network
  • Rev. Rick Ufford-Chaise, Presbyterian minister, founder of BorderLinks, past-presiding officer of the Presbyterian Church, USA.
  • Rev. Glen Gersmehl, Executive Director of the Lutheran Peace Fellowship
  • Rev. Susan Mark Landis, Executive Director of the Mennonite Peace and Justice Support Network
  • Rev. Mel White, co-founder of Soulforce–using Gandhian and Kingian nonviolence to combat the spiritual oppression of LGBT folk in the church and society.
  • Charles Raven, Anglican theologian
  • H. H. Farmer, British NT scholar
  • Jean Lassere, French Reformed pastor and theologian and friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
  • Danilo Dolci, the “Sicilian Gandhi” who faced Sicili’s Mafia with Gospel nonviolence.
  • Ibrahim Rainey, Imam and co-founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship
  • Joan Chittister, OSB, a Benedictine prioress.
  • Gene Sharp, Quaker and historian who has done more to analyze the “nuts and bolts” of nonviolence than anyone.

Far too many more to count.

November 8, 2009 Posted by | church history, ethics, heroes, human rights., pacifism, peace, peacemaking | 6 Comments

A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism: The Sermon on the Mount II

Sorry it took so long to get to this entry, Gentle Readers.  I was interrupted by the move.. 

I argued that Jesus does not teach impossibly hard ideals in the Sermon on the Mount. Despite the New Moses typology in Matthew’s Gospel (Jesus goes up on a high mountain to deliver the new teachings), this is not “new law” in the sense of new burdens, harder rules to keep.  It is, as I argued in the section on the Beatitudes, grace–the delivering love and empowering grace which enables faithful discipleship.  The Beatitudes describe the virtues, the character traits, of disciples living into the Kingdom/Rule of God which Jesus brings.  We aren’t burdened with this “hard teaching” as a way to earn divine favor, but are invited into the adventure and joy of the in-breaking Rule of God.

After the Beatitudes, the Sermon can be diagrammed as 14 (twice the holy number 7) triadic statements in which the first part of the statement gives a traditional moral rule or principle (all but one of them drawn from the First Testament), the second part describes the “cycles of bondage” or “mechanisms of enslaving sin” that keep us from following that moral rule or principle, and the third part (Jesus’ commands) shows the process of deliverance out of those sinful cycles of bondage.  In this exposition, I am closely following my teacher, Glen H. Stassen and will also draw from the work of NT theologian Walter Wink.  (See Stassen’s full exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount here which reproduces an article he first published in the Journal of Biblical Literature.)

Now, scholars have often been misled at this point.  They haven’t seen 14 Triads, but 7 antisthenes or contrast statements (“You have heard it said of old/But I say unto you.”) But this view sets Jesus in opposition to the First Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures that were his own Bible and the Bible of the earliest Christians.  But that cannot be right because Jesus constantly affirms the Hebrew Scriptures, indeed, in the very Sermon on the Mount, he rebukes those who would claim that he comes to replace the Torah or Law instead of fulfilling it (Matt. 5:17-19).  Also, in the phrases following Jesus’ “but I say to you” refrain there are no commands–no imperatives.  What follows instead are participles and gerunds–i.e., forms of speech showing continuous or ongoing action (the cycles of bondage).  The commands, the Greek imperatives, come later–showing the way of deliverance.  So, we have a three part structure in which Jesus does not contrast the traditional Jewish teaching, but rather affirms it, shows why it is often hard to keep, and then shows a way of deliverance than goes beyond the older teaching but does not contradict it.  The following chart shows the entire pattern from Matt. 5:21-7:12.

THE FOURTEEN TRIADS OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT 

 TRADITIONAL               RIGHTEOUSNESS              VICIOUS     CYCLE                  TRANSFORMING                    INITIATIVE  
         
1. You shall not kill   Being angry,or saying, You fool!   Go, be reconciled
              
2.  You shall not commit adultery    Looking with lust   Remove the cause of temptation (cf. Mk 9:43ff.)
         
3. Whoever divorces,give a certificate   Divorcing involves you in adultery   (Be reconciled: I Cor 7:11)
         
4. You shall not swear falsely   Swearing by anything involves you in a false claim   Let your yes be yes, andyour no be no
         
5. Eye for eye,tooth for tooth   Violently/revengefully resisting by evil means   Turn the other cheek; Give your tunic and cloak; Go the Second mile; Give to beggar & borrower
         
6. Love neighbor & hate enemy   If you love those who love you, what more is that than the Gentiles do?   Love enemies, pray for your persecutors; be all-inclusive as your Father in heaven is
              
7. When you give alms,   blowing a trumpet like hypocrites   but give in secret, and your Father will reward you
         
8. When you pray,   making a show like the hypocrites   but pray in secret, and your Father will reward you
         
9. When you pray,   babbling like Gentiles, thinking the wordiness will be heard   Therefore pray like this: Our Father….
         
10. When you fast,   appearing gloomy to others,like the hypocrites   but dress with joy, and your Father will reward you
         
11. Do not pile up treasures on earth (cf. Luke 12:16-31)     Where moth & rust destroy, and thieves enter & steal    But pile up treasuresin heaven
             
12. No one can serve two masters   Serving God & wealth, worrying about food & clothes   But seek first God’s reign and God’s justice/righteousness
         
13. Do not judge, lest you be judged   By the measure with which you judge, you’ll be judged   First take the log out of your own eye
         
14. Do not give holy things to dogs, nor pearls to pigs   They will trample themand tear you to pieces   Give your trust in prayer to your Father in Heaven

The items in bold show places where Jesus’ teaching is paralleled elsewhere–in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6, in Luke 12, in Mark. There are also partial echoes in Paul’s writings, in the Epistle to James, and even in Revelation.  These echoes are seldom in the sections describing the cycles of bondage (which some have viewed as impossible teachings or new rules) but either in the first section (reaffirming the Hebrew Scriptures) or in the third section (describing the way of deliverance and new life)–thus showing where Jesus was heard to place his emphasis.  

In other words, Jesus doesn’t say, “You have heard of old “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” but I say to you “Don’t be angry.”  Who could never be angry?  Jesus was moved with anger (at the way that ritual rules harmed the sick) when he healed a man with a withered hand (Mark 1:41) and he demonstrated anger at the moneychangers in the Temple (an incident we will revisit later in this series).  Nor does Jesus say, “You have heard it said of old, “Thou Shalt not Commit Adultery,” but I say to you, “Don’t ever lust.”  Nor does Jesus say, “You have heard it said of old, “Whoever divorces must give a certificate,” but I say to you, “Never divorce.” 

Instead, Jesus says, “You have heard it said of old, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” but I say to you that nursing anger (the Greek is the verb for holding onto –the way some people treasure grudges) and calling people “Fool!” leads to judgment. ” So, how to get out of this bondage to anger than leads to various forms of judgment and sin–including, often enough, killing? Here comes Jesus’ gracious command! “If your brother has something against you GO TO HIM and seek to be reconciled.”  This is so important it must take precedence even over worshipping God (leave your sacrifice and go).  Now, THAT we can do!  We cannot guarantee that the brother will want to make peace (Jesus’ audience would surely have remembered Cain and Abel).  But we don’t have to wait for him to come to us.  We can take the initiative, no matter who was at fault. We can seek to repair the breach in fellowship (“brother” was probably also heard by Matthew’s readers as referring to “fellow church members”) instead of nursing our anger or calling names or congratulating ourselves on our self-righteousness.

And nations can do this, too.  One government offends another.  Can we ask that a government not be angry? No, but we can ask that it not nurse that anger or refuse to speak to the enemy nation or congratulate itself on its own righteousness.  We can ask that one government go to the other and seek to make peace.  After all, when you speak of the grievance between you it may include hard words of truth that the other might not want to hear–so we should be prepared to hear such ourselves.  Will this guarantee peace? Of course, not! But REFUSING to speak almost always guarantees strife and war–vicious cycles of violence and judgment.

Likewise, we avoid committing adultery by removing the causes of temptation that lead us to lust.  Here, Jesus uses typical Hebrew hyperbole.  We should not literally pluck out our eyes (I can lust with both eyes closed) or cut off our hands (I can lust without any hands!).  But we should remove ourselves from temptation.  If working late nights with a beautiful colleague alone is tempting you to break your wedding vows, then don’t work with that one alone–always meet where there is plenty of light and crowds.  If you have to, get another job.  Don’t troll the internet for pornographic sites.  Don’t do things which are likely to lead to your lusting (“committing adultery in your heart”) which will all too often lead to actual adultery.  Walk away from the conditions or people or contexts which tempt you.

In order to keep this post brief enough, we will skip several of these to go to another that bears directly on our topic of Christian pacifism.  The 5th Triad (5:38-42) gives the traditional teaching, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Even in the First Testament, the intent of this rule was to limit revenge.  The common pattern in the ancient world, and today, is for unlimited revenge.  You take my eye, I take both your eyes. You take my tooth, I just may take your life. You take my life, my brother wipes out your family.  This is the “morality” of the Mafia or the Japanese Yakuza. It is the “morality” of street gangs–and of most nations during wartime.  To this, the Hebrew Scriptures tried to place a break:  All you may take in revenge for a lost eye is the enemy’s eye.  All you may take for a tooth is the enemy’s tooth.  But Jesus knows this is not sufficient.  If we seek revenge, we get caught in escalating cycles of vengeance and violence.

Now, most English Bibles are not helpful here.  Verse 39 is usually translated as “Do not resist evil” (KJV) or “Do not resist an evildoer” (NIV).  The first is ridiculous. Jesus resisted evil every time he cast out demons or confronted the Scribes and Pharisees.  “Resist the Devil,” we are told, “and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7).  The NIV translation is grammatically possible, (taking ponero as a substantitive dative) but it doesn’t fit much with Jesus’ own actions, either.  As Clarence Jordan and others have noticed, ponero is most likely an instrumental and so should be translated as either with evil or by evil means.  Further, as Walter Wink’s exhaustive search of secular Greek shows, antistemai doesn’t mean any kind of resistance, but VIOLENT resistance–it is the term used for rebellions and armed insurrections.  So, 5:39 should be translated something like, “You have heard it said of old, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but I say to you “Do not resist violently or by evil means.”  Rather, if someone strikes you on your right cheek. . .

Now, many people read the Sermon at this point to be teaching a “doormat” approach to life.  In fact, in popular speech, “turn the other cheek,” is code for “let people abuse you–even invite their abuse.”  Even many who see a positive dimension to these teachings often view them as “surrending one’s rights” for the sake of God’s Rule.  Instead, I follow the work of New Testament theologian Walter Wink in seeing Jesus’ transforming initiatives here as teaching nonviolent resistance to evil, a “third way,” other than surrender or violence.  Wink urges the reader to pay close attention both to the language of the text and to the historical and cultural background in first-century Palestine.  “If someone strikes you on the right cheek. . .”  In Jesus’ culture the left hand was reserved for “unclean” acts (it was an age before toilet paper) and the cultural taboo against touching someone with the left hand was very strong.  In fact, one could be fined heavily for touching someone with the left hand.  So, we are to imagine that the striker used his right hand.  But the only way to strike the right cheek with the right hand is to use the back of the hand.  So,  this is not a punch, but a backhanded slap across the face.  But this immediately tells the audience that this is not a fight between equals, but the abuse of a social inferior by a social superior.  One does not backhand someone except to humiliate him or her, to publicly put the inferior in his or her “place.”  Equals do not backhand each other.  Masters backhand slaves or servants; the rich backhand the poor; abusive husbands backhand wives; tyrannical fathers backhand children (maybe even an adult or nearly adult son who is being deeply humiliated).  In such a situation, the social inferior usually does not dare to strike back. The rich man who backhands his servant has guards or can get them.  The wife, in a culture where divorce can only be initiated by the husband and where restraining orders for domestic abusers are unheard of, must live in the home.  Does the inferior nurse resentment and plot revenge in the night? Does s/he instead simply “take it” and cooperate with her or his own oppression and self destruction? No, Jesus says, “turn to him the left cheek also!”  But the social superior cannot backhand the left cheek without using the taboo left hand–which would humiliate the oppressor and leave him open to court action!  If he strikes with the right hand, he has to punch the inferior, which involves treating him as an equal!”  In “turning the other cheek,” the abused person refuses to be a victim, but also refuses violence and revenge. Instead, the “victim” confronts the abuser with her or his full humanity and demands to be treated as an equal–inviting repentance from the abuser.  If the humiliating slap was public, the tables have been turned.  Like the nonviolent activists of the civil rights movement, the abused one is told by Jesus to refuse to cooperate with evil or to respond with violence–a way of deliverance from the cycle of abuse–culturally specific–is demonstrated.

Jesus’ next example of this “third way” involves corrupt law courts.  “If anyone would sue you for your coat. . .”  The basic attire in the Palestine of Jesus’ day, as it had been for centuries, was two long robe-like garments, a lightweight inner robe and a thicker, heavier, outer robe.  If someone was so poor (homeless) that they needed a loan and had no other collateral, the Law of Moses, allowed the lender to take the outer garment in pledge.  But, the outer garment or cloak had to be given back at every sundown because, of course, the poor man would need to sleep in it. Without it, he could die of exposure in the desert air.  But courts can become corrupt and side with the rich against the poor.  Centuries before Jesus, the prophet Amos had condemned those whose corruption was so great they were copulating on “garments taken in pledge,” (Amos 2:8). This may have been hyperbole, but it shows the prophet’s anger at the abuse of the poor and the rejection of the protections for the poor in the Law of Moses.

Jesus shows similar anger at the courts of his day who were letting lenders actually sue homeless people for their outer garments–in effect condemning them to death by exposure!  So, Jesus says, “give to him your tunic also.” In other words, strip butt naked in the courtroom!  Now, remember, that while Jewish society had strong nudity taboos, the shame fell mostly on those VIEWING the nudity rather than on the nude person.  Thus, drunken Noah’s curse on son Ham and grandson Canaan for laughing at his drunken, naked old body. And thus, the faithful sons walk backward to cover Noah. (Gen. 9:20-27).  So, Jesus is again advocating a nonviolent protest that could shame the court (literally EXPOSING its lack of justice) and of the lender! (Jesus’ original hearers were probably dying of laughter at the imagined scene.) Of course, this move probably would result in getting the nude protester thrown in jail, but he would at least not die of exposure.  And it probably would result in some new rule against nudity in court or something. Jesus is not giving hard and fast rules, but trying to teach a METHOD of confronting evil and oppression without violence.  Thus, he is also inviting his hearers to use their own liberated, sanctified, imaginations to think of continuous similar examples in ever-knew situations as one lives the Third Way of the in-breaking Kingdom in the midst of this still-Fallen, often oppressive, world order.

Jesus’ third example comes from the Roman occupation of Palestine–which, like all occupying armies, was hated by the locals.  But Rome was a smart empire that liked to limit the times it needed to use the Legions to suppress local uprisings.  So, Roman law had limits placed on the oppressive actions of the occupying troops and strict penalties (usually death) for breaking them.  One of those rules allowed for any Roman soldier to grab any local in a conquered territory and force him to carry a burden, such as the soldier’s pack, for the soldier.  (When Jesus is crucified, this is what happens to Simon the Cyrene, who is forced to carry Jesus’ cross.  See Mark 15:21) But the local could be forced to carry such a burden only one mile.  After that, the soldier had to take back the burden or get another carrier.  The Roman roads were marked throughout the empire with mile markers for many reasons, but they made it easy to check that this rule was carried out.

Now, even though this was limited, naturally locals hated ANY forced labor by occupying troops. It reminded them that they were not free. Specifically in Palestine, it reminded faithful Jews that the Holy Land was occupied by godless, pagan, Gentiles who could, like Egypt of old, treat God’s people as slaves any time they felt like it.  Imagine the anger, the resentment that could build up, the cycles of bondage to violence that could result. (Note to American readers: Then imagine how the local Iraqi or Afghan people, EVEN IF THEY FIRST WELCOMED THE U.S. TROOPS as an alternative to Saddam or to the Taliban, respectively, feel about the occupying troops. The longer those troops stay, no matter how noble they believe their mission, the more hated they will be.  Think how the average American would feel if foreign occupying troops paraded down our cities and towns!  Back to Scripture.)

In that situation, many Jews associated with the resistance movement (later called Zealots) advocated assassination of Roman soldiers.  By contrast, the Herodian puppet government and the Sadducees and Temple elites, urged cooperating with the Romans no matter what they did.  Jesus does neither. Instead, he says, go a second mile.  The enemy soldier wonders what’s going on. Is this Jew trying to get him in trouble with his commander? Is he leading him into an ambush? Is he insulting his strength, saying that the mighty soldier is too weak to carry his own pack?  Imagine him begging to get his pack back or ridiculously knocking down the pack carrier to take it back! On the other hand, the second mile, provides the pack carrier time to confront the soldier with the injustice of forced labor and of the occupation at all. It gives time to sow seeds of repentance and peacemaking. At any rate, the pack carrier is transformed from a forced laborer–an object–into a volunteer–a free moral agent.  Here is the pattern. Jesus teaches not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent, creative, transforming, resistance to evil that can deliver both oppressors and oppressed from cycles of destructive anger and revenge.

 The 6th triadic statement reinforces our theme.  The traditional teaching is to love one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:9) and, in Jesus’ day, many interpreted that to mean also “hate your enemy.”  There is no command to hate enemies in the First Testament.  But that is how the command to neighbor love was understood in Jesus’ day–Love your fellow Israelite.  Much as contemporary Americans seem to think they are to love only other Americans (or only “REAL” Americans) and hate people in other countries–a view surprisingly found in many U.S. churches!  The second section, the mechanism of bondage, is given as a rhetorical question, “If you love only those who love you, what more are you doing than the Gentiles?” Even the pagans have THAT much morality! By giving this as a rhetorical question, Jesus calls into question the supposed moral superiority of God’s people and reminds them of how often they have failed to be a “light for the nations,” and fell under God’s judgment. He invites them to remember the destructive cycles just described as the results of just loving those who love you.

The way of deliverance is to love your enemies. (This command of Jesus, to love enemies, is quoted throughout the New Testament and throughout early Christian literature. Nothing else Jesus said was remembered by the early church as being so central as this command.) And Jesus tells how one is to love enemies: praying for them.  This will show that one is “perfect” (i.e., perfect in compassion) as God is–giving rain and sun to both the just and unjust. 

Here is the heart of Christian pacifism because one cannot love an enemy by killing him or her.  Notice how practical Jesus is–he assumes his hearers, including his disciples, will have enemies.  This is not pie in the sky naivete.  Too many Christians think they are too “nice” to have enemies.  Jesus is more hard-headed and practical.  He often is matter of fact about how following him will give one enemies.  But the key to Christian living is how one deals with enemies–loving them and praying for them.  Working to make peace.  One may have to confront their evil actions as the previous triadic teaching showed.  One may need to confront massive evil with massive nonviolent direct action. But one must hold out hope for the repentance of the enemy, for their conversion.  One must not respond with violence that continues the cycle of revenge.

We’ll stop here for this post.  The biblical case for Christian pacifism, for gospel nonviolence, is much broader, but nowhere is it clearer.  This is the heart of God’s call in Jesus to a new life, a new way of life, which shows a new pattern to the world.  The church, as the disciple community of Jesus, is to be the first fruits of the in-breaking Rule of God–and this is what that fruit looks like.  The heart of Christian living is love of enemies.

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, discipleship, ethics, Jesus, love of enemies, New Testament, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, Sermon on the Mount | 17 Comments

Obama’s Heroes Would Not Approve of His War in Afghanistan

Thanks to Derrick Crowe of Rethinking Afghanistan and Return Good for Evil for this video.

We have to speak truth to power–always. In season and out, regardless of change of administrations.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, foreign policy, nonviolence, peacemaking, U.S. politics, war | 11 Comments

A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism: The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Pt. 1

 The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is the largest block of Jesus’ teaching we have recorded.  For our purposes, it does not matter whether or not Jesus gave the Sermon at one point or whether Matthew has arranged various of Jesus’ teachings into this current form, as many scholars believe. (A wandering preacher would most likely repeat many teachings in different forms before different audiences.) Many have believed that Jesus’ here gives incredibly hard teachings–counsels of perfection–that only saints can live (the Medieval Catholic view) or that no one can fulfill and which drive us to the sheer grace of God (Reformer Martin Luther’s view).  I contend (with others) to the contrary that the Sermon is full of grace and shows us the God’s gracious way of deliverance from bondage to mechanisms of sin.  (I will give a small bibliography on the Sermon on the Mount in a separate blog posting, but I will say that I am drawing strongly from the work of Walter Wink and Glen H. Stassen for much of what follows.)

First, to help us see the empowering joy of the Sermon on the Mount, we need a better definition of grace.  Too often we understand grace only in terms of forgiveness, of “God’s unmerited favor on sinners.” But grace is not only forgiveness, but empowerment to follow God. Grace enables our faith to be lived out in faithfulness.  Of course, we are never perfectly faithful. We fail and need forgiveness.  But to use that as an excuse for continuing in disobedience is simply wrong–and leads us back into the bondage from which Jesus delivers us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the German Lutheran pastor who defied Hitler, ran an underground seminary for anti-Nazi pastors, was marginally involved in a plot to overthrow Hitler, and whose work to smuggle some Jews out of Germany led to his arrest and execution, called this kind of thinking “cheap grace.”  He contrasted that with the costly grace of the gospel.  Likewise Miraslov Volf, a theologian from war torn Croatia, says that to accept the comfort of the Crucified One while rejecting his Way to advocate not only cheap grace but a deceitful ideology in place of the gospel.  So, let us approach the Sermon on the Mount prepared to hear it as a Word of empowering grace, delivering us from the mechanisms of bondage to various patterns of sin, enabling us as Christ followers to live by a new pattern, a way of life profoundly different from the world-system we know.

The Beatitudes (Matt. 5: 3-12).  The Sermon is given to Jesus’ disciples/followers and to crowds who are potential followers.  The crowds are not just any non-believers, but are those who have heard of Jesus (maybe even heard him directly) and are interested. They may even be half convinced that he is the Messiah, God’s agent for the redemption of Israel.  In presenting it in his Gospel, Matthew is saying that the Sermon is to be of continuing guidance for his Christian community–and the Church’s decision to include it in the New Testament is their recognition that Jesus continues to intend this Sermon to guide disciples and potential disciples, now.

The Sermon begins with words of grace, of blessing for those who are citizens of the Kingdom or Rule that Jesus brings.  Building on themes from Isaiah 61, these “beatitudes” are not commands or rules.  They proclaim God’s blessing or joy on those who display the grace filled virtues of the inbreaking Rule of God.  Because the characteristic of joy is so strong, Glen Stassen translates the beatitudes this way:

Joyful are the humble poor who know their need of God, for theirs is the very Reign of God.

Joyful are those who are deeply saddened to the point of action, for they will be comforted.

Joyful are those whose wills are surrended to God, for they will inherit the earth.

Joyful are those who hunger and thirst for restorative justice, for they will be filled.

Joyful are those who practice compassion in action, for they will receive God’s compassion.

Joyful are those who seek God’s will in all that they are and do, for they will see God.

Joyful are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

Joyful are those who suffer because of working for restorative justice, for theirs is the reign of God.

Joyful are you when they criticize, persecute, and slander you, because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in God.  For in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.

 

The “poor in Spirit,” are called simply the physical poor in Luke 6:20 (which we’ll examine more fully in our chapter on Luke) and are contrasted with those who are “rich now.”  So, who does Jesus bless, the poor or the poor in spirit?  The problem disappears when we realize that Jesus is referring to Isa. 61.  The anawim in Hebrew are traditionally the “humble poor.”  They are economically poor but they also, perhaps because of their poverty, realize their need of God. The rich often believe they have no need of help from God or anyone.  They trust in their riches.  But if you are poor, one lost paycheck can lead to hunger; one serious illness can lead to foreclosure and homelessness. One divorce (perhaps even against one will), one catastrophe, is enough to turn their lives from barely liveable to disastrous.  So, many poor more naturally turn to God.  Luke emphasizes the Old Testament theme of God’s care and protection for the economically poor (e.g., Ex. 22:25-27; 23:10-11; Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 15:7-11; 2 Sam. 22:28; Ps. 72:2, 4, 12; Isa. 26:6, 49:13, 66:2; Zeph. 3:12).  Matthew does not exclude this, but he puts the emphasis on their empty hand of faith before God.

The 3rd Beatitude is usually translated “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake,” but the same Greek word (dikaiosune) means both righteousness and justice.  And today’s English tends to mean by “righteousness” what the Bible means by “self-righteousness.” They make it about ourselves, about a personal quality of righteousness.  But Jesus wants disciples to be other directed, to seek to set right what is wrong.  He wants us to hunger and thirst for the kind of healing  justice that tends the wounds of individuals and societies. 

I skip the details of the other Beatitudes for brevity’s sake.  I note that they all fit together.  Life in the Jesus Way is characterized by poverty of spirit (knowing one’s need of God), by mourning/grieving the things that grieve the heart of God–so much that we are moved to action; by  wills completely surrendered to God.  The Jesus Way people hunger and thirst for justice, who are merciful (practicing compassion in action), by purity of heart, by suffering for the sake of justice, by being persecuted for the sake of Jesus (just as the prophets were persecuted).  In this pattern are the peacemakers–not the warmakers–who are called the children of God.  Again, at this point, there are no commands.  The Beatitude does not command us to be peacemakers in order to earn status as God’s children.  Rather, Jesus’ followers are God’s children and joyfully make peace because they are God’s children.  In describing this vision in the Beatitudes, Jesus is not heaping burdens upon his listeners and potential followers, but describing a vision of JOY and INVITING us to participate.  This is the pattern of participation–a pattern that includes joyful peacemaking. 

Of course, while all of us disciples and would-be disciples want to live a pattern of life like this, full of joy displaying the joyous virtues of the Way of Jesus, but we also know that we often find ourselves trapped in other, more destructive patterns.  In our next installment we will see how the main body of the Sermon address these forms of bondage in 14 Triads that present a traditional moral teaching, describes the mechanism of bondage that make holding to that teaching nearly impossible, and then presents transforming initiatives–Jesus’ new commands that show us the way out of the destructive cycles that bind us–empowering grace, indeed.

October 21, 2009 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, discipleship, ethics, Jesus, peacemaking, Sermon on the Mount | 12 Comments

A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism III: Ways People Evade Jesus

There are numerous ways that Christians claim that Jesus is Lord, but still manage to evade his teachings and examples as claims on their lives as disciples.  I was first alerted to this by John Howard Yoder, who describes many of these evasions early in his The Politics of Jesus.  Later, my teacher, Glen Stassen presented a similar lengthy list of ways people evade taking the Sermon on the Mount seriously. (Since the Sermon on the Mount is the largest block of Jesus’ teaching we have recorded in the Gospels, how we treat it is a strong indication of how we’ll treat Jesus altogether.)  If we name and describe (briefly) the various ways we dodge Jesus (while swearing loyalty to him), it will help us avoid falling into the same traps.

  1. The Dispensationalist Dodge:  Jesus’ teachings, especially the Sermon on the Mount, were not meant for the “Church Age,” but for the future Kingdom of God.  My disagreements with Dispensationalism, even “progressive Dispensationalism,” are legion, but now is not the time to rehearse them.  Suffice it to say that I find it extremely unlikely that when the Kingdom or Rule of God comes in all fullness that we we will still have enemies to love, that anyone will backhand us on the right cheek, sue us for our cloaks, or any occupying troops will force us to carry any packs even one mile.  In the fullness of God’s Rule (whether in heaven or on earth), will we still have relationship problems that require us to stop our worship, go to our sister or brother and talk to them, seeking peace?  All these teachings seem very much for this world.  And at the end of the Sermon, Jesus tells the parable of the houseowner who built his house on rock (comparing him to the one who hears Jesus’ teachings and puts them into practice) versus the one who built his house on sand (comparing him to the one who hears Jesus’ teachings and doesn’t practice them.) The idea that Jesus never intended his teachings to be for the “Church age” is falsified by the very words of Jesus in the text.
  2. The “Preterist” Dodge: Jesus expected the Rule or Kingdom of God to Come either in his lifetime or shortly after–and his teachings were only meant to be an “interim ethic.”  He did expect his disciples to practice his teachings, but they are so heroic that they could never be practiced for long–and the ongoing centuries required a different ethic for the Church.  This view was made popular by the New Testament scholar, Albert Schweitzer, in his classic The Quest for the Historical Jesus.  Schweitzer had much right, but this seems off.  Why would the ongoing centuries make Jesus’ ethic less normative?  It is true that many Christian pacifist movements throughout the history of the Church had, at least initially, a heightened eschatological feeling, but the resurrection and the Holy Spirit give an empowering grace for Jesus’ ethic.  When Schweitzer later adopted his own spirituality of “reverence for life,” I wonder that it did not lead him to reconsider his “interim ethic” view.
  3. The public/private split dodge.  Jesus’ teachings are only for individual Christians in their private lives, but if they hold a public office requiring violence (e.g., soldier, judge, executioner, head of government) they must be governed by some other ethic.  This dodge was a favorite of the Reformer, Martin Luther and many Lutherans (and others) since then.  The problem with this is that there is no evidence for this in the New Testament texts.  Nowhere do we find Jesus saying, “In your private lives, if struck on the right cheek, turn the other also, but as a member of the Sanhedrin it’s okay to condemn people to death.”  The problem with such “two kingdom” thinking was shown most graphically in the German Third Reich–with many Christians reserving their Christian behavior for private lives, but as guards or doctors at death camps they used a different morality.  We cannot limit Christ’s lordship to the church; Christ is cosmic lord and if that is still hidden in the world (to finally be revealed at the End–Phil. 2), it is to be manifest throughout all aspects of the lives of Christians.
  4. The “inner attitudes” dodge.  This one was popular with John Calvin.  Jesus’ teachings are about our inner attitudes more than about our outer actions.  We can love our enemies even if, in war, or execution of criminals, we must kill them.  There are attitudinal dimensions to Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus wants us to renounce the nursing of anger and holding grudges rather than just avoiding killing people. But Jesus has plenty of instruction for actions, too. He tells us that we love our enemies by praying for them, seeking to do them good, stopping our worship to make peace.  We confront those who backhand us (an act of humiliation) by turning the other cheek, so that they are forced to acknowledge our human dignity; we confront those who who would sue us poor for the very coat on our backs by stripping naked in the court of (in)justice; we react to the occupation troops who force us to carry their packs one mile, by carrying them two miles.  None of those commands are simply about our inner attitudes.
  5. There is the dodge that simply ignores Jesus’ teachings and example because, supposedly, the only that counts is Jesus’ atoning death.  Historically, one strand of Lutheranism took this view–even concentrating on justification to the exclusion of sanctification. (I’ll never forget how stunned I was when one Lutheran theologian defined sanctification as “getting used to your justification!”) But this view is becoming more popular with a broad range of American evangelicals–especially the resurgent 5-point Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention.   But this makes Jesus into a cipher–so that he was just marking time until the crucifixion.  It also reduces the cross and resurrection into a divine transaction–not asking what the human motives of the Romans and their Jewish puppet leaders were for killing Jesus (something this series will discuss).  While it is true that the Apostle Paul could say that he determined to know nothing “but Christ Jesus and him crucified,” (1 Cor. 2:2  ), but even Paul could paraphrase Jesus’ teachings (e.g., Romans 12) and was quick to say that Christ was also an example for his disciples.  The Baptist prophet Clarence Jordan mocked this view by saying that American Christians “will worship the hind legs off Jesus, but not do the first thing He says!”  The debate in the ’90s among some American evangelicals over whether or not Jesus could be someone’s savior without also being Lord gets into this, too.  The answer is clear:  Jesus called out disciples, that is followers and in the Great Commission commanded them to make disciples from among all the nations and part of that disciple making would be “teaching them to practice all things that I have taught you.” (Matt. 28:18-20).  Following Jesus’ example and teachings is not an optional add on to Christian salvation–but part of the very definition of the term “Christian.”

There are other evasions, other dodges, but these are the most common, especially among lay Christians.  Readers can bring up others in comments.  Naming and rebutting these dodges, these ways we evade Jesus’ claims even while calling him “Lord, Lord!” puts us on guard against the evasive tendencies of our own unfaithful hearts.  For, as John Calvin rightly noted, the human heart is an idol factory.  We seek to root out these evasions and to be able to take Jesus’ teachings seriously as describing a distinct way of life for Christians who embody a foretaste of inbreaking Rule of God.

October 14, 2009 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, discipleship, Jesus, Kingdom of God, New Testament, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, violence | 10 Comments

A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism II: Why Start with Jesus?

In beginning our examination of Holy Scripture on the questions of war, violence, nonviolence, and peacemaking, we will begin with Jesus, as presented in the 4 canonical Gospels, then turn to the rest of the New Testament before examining large sections of the Hebrew Scriptures or “Old” Testament.  Why are we taking this approach?  Why begin with Jesus?

We begin with Jesus (and, in a different sense, end with Jesus) because, for Christians, Jesus is the ultimate authority on matters of faith and practice, of doctrinal and ethical convictions and living.  The earliest Christian confession, found repeatedly in the New Testament, is “Jesus is Lord!”  That is the ultimate title of authority in the first century Roman empire in which the NT was written.  The Romans proclaimed that Caesar was lord–was supremely sovereign.  For the early Christians to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord!” was to say “Caesar is NOT lord! NOT supreme! NOT our ultimate authority!”  It should carry the same political weight today.  No Christian can give ultimate authority to anything or anyone else than Jesus.  There have been many attempts at political or religious or other Powers and Authorities to try to usurp that authority.  In the days of the Third Reich, the Nazi ideology claimed by the “German Christian” movement argued for “Christ for the Church, Hitler for the Fatherland!”  They proclaimed that considerations of “Blood” (racial-ethnic identity), “Soil,” (national land ownership, but also implying cultural superiority), and “Volk” (Peoplehood, a term having far more racist overtones in German than the English equivalent of “Folk” carries) could be valid revelations of God alongside biblical revelation.  This is what led the Swiss theologian Karl Barth to reject the ancient tradition of “general revelation” of God through nature and reason, along with the particular revelation of God in and through the unfolding history of Israel and the Church recorded in Holy Scripture.  The Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church (which arose to combat the heresy of the German Christian movement), written by Barth declares in Article I, “Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we must trust and obey in life and in death.”  Then along with this affirmation, it gave a denial, “We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and and truths, as God’s revelation.”  

In considering a biblical case for Christian pacifism, we do well to heed the lessons of Barmen. I am not claiming that any particular government is “another Hitler,” (a charge that is flung about by both Right and Left far too quickly). I am saying that governments make idolatrous claims and they want obedient subjects whenever they want to wage war.  Even liberal democracies like the U.S., which allow for conscientious objection to military service, prefer that the numbers of conscientious objectors remain small.  They give out propaganda campaigns through military recruitment commercials and military recruitment in public school classrooms and this seeps into the minds of churchmembers almost by osmosis.

 In the 1990s, I was slightly irritated with the U.S. evangelical fad of wearing “WWJD?” (for “What Would Jesus Do?”) on bracelets and T-shirts and other paraphanelia because I didn’t think that this was accompanied by any serious examination of the Gospels to see what Jesus did in his time and place as any kind of guide to what the Risen Christ would have his disciples do here and now.  The question WWJD? was not, it seemed to me, being answered by serious Bible study, but by mere guesswork–informed no doubt by sermons and praise songs, etc., but not tested by serious NT study.  Yet, immature as that fad was, it was onto something.  It could have led to a great reformation of the Church in these United States.  It at least understood that Jesus’ life, teachings, and death are a model for Christian discipleship (1 Peter 2:20-22).  But since the attacks on the U.S. on 11 Sept. 2001, these have all but disappeared.  Most ordinary American Christians are not asking themselves anymore “What Would Jesus Do?” certainly not in responding to terrorists (or suspected terrorists), to Muslims, to immigrants, to treatment of “detainees.”  These ordinary Christians are not asking, “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” or “Who Would Jesus Torture?” but are taking the name of Christ as a totem in all out war against declared national and religious enemies. (I remember how shocked I was when newspapers ran a picture of a tank in Iraq with the words “New Testament” painted on it.  See below.)

tank

 See also my previous post on the “Military Bibles” with accompanying quotes by George Washington, George W. Bush, General Patton, etc. designed to remake Christianity into a religion of war and conquest. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginning with Jesus, and reminding ourselves via Barmen, of how crucial it is to begin with Jesus, and to expect that the gospel message of Jesus will be one that other Powers and Authorities don’t quickly welcome, is a helpful corrective to the many insidious ways that rival messages try to pour Jesus into their preexisting molds:  Jesus as CEO of a Fortune 500 company preaching a gospel of capitalism; Jesus as Therapist, preaching a gospel of self-actualization; Jesus as Self-Help Guru; Jesus as Super-Patriot (forgetting that Christians are a global community, called out “from every tribe and tongue and  people and nation” (Rev. 5:9); Jesus as Warrior and not the Prince of Peace.

This brings us to another problem:  If we “begin with Jesus,” whose Jesus?  That is, what view of Jesus guides our interpretation?  The “politically correct” Jesus of the so-called Jesus Seminar is very different from that planned by the folks at “Conservapedia.”  The Jesus of Rod Parsley stands in great contrast to the Jesus of Jeremiah Wright; the Jesus of Rick Warren is vastly different from the Jesus of Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis.  Whose Jesus?  How do we keep from making Jesus over into our own image?  Well, as the late theologian H.Richard Niebuhr said, we have the “Rosetta Stone” of the original Gospel portraits.  There are no absolute guarantees against misinterpretation, but we will consult a range of contemporary New Testament scholarship, and the Gospel portraits resist attempts to fully distort Jesus into an idol of our own making–as often as that has been tried. 

An objection to this method of beginning with Jesus is that God’s revelation begins with the First or “Old” Testament–with Abraham and Sarah and Moses, with the faith and history of Israel, and the critique of the prophets.  This is true.  One does not fully understand Jesus apart from his context and heritage–his teaching in parables paralleled the teaching style of the sages of the Wisdom tradition (as found in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job ) and he stood deeply rooted in the tradition of the prophets of Israel/Judah.  Those not familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures miss all the “Old” Testament quotations, paraphrases, themes, and allusions throughout the New Testament and especially in the Gospels and on the lips of Jesus.  We also misunderstand Jesus by not understanding the rival factions within first century (i.e., Second Temple era) Judaism–rivalries so sharp that some scholars speak of the rival Judaisms of the Second Temple era–prior to the “normative” rabbinic Judaism of the 2nd C.  We will have to situate Jesus (and the Jesus movement that became the early Church) within the rivalries of the Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots (or proto-Zealot revolutionaries and social bandits), Essenes, or Hellenized philosophical Judaism like that of Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE-50 CE).  And it is important to note that what we call the “Old” Testament was the Bible of Jesus and the early church.

But we must still learn to read the Hebrew Scriptures as Jesus did.  For us, all these centuries later, there is often a tendency to develop our theology from a particular reading of the Old Testament and then decide to fit Jesus in and be sure he says or does nothing to disturb our view of biblical revelation.  Yet Jesus was constantly surprising both his rivals and his disciples–who read the same Scriptures.  Flat Bible approaches end up subordinating Jesus to a doctrine of biblical authority or a reading of Scripture derived apart from Jesus. They end up becoming religions “about” Jesus that stand in contrast to the faith of Jesus.  The NT writers resist this tendency.  “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is they that speak of me.” John 5:39.  Or, as the writer of Hebrews put it, “Long ago at many times and in various ways God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but in these final days God has spoken to us supremely by a Son.” Heb. 1:1. 

Christians throughout history have reacted to previous moldings of Jesus into mistaken shapes by affirming the supremacy of Jesus himself as revelation.  Thus the Southern Baptist Convention, for instance, in 1925 and 1963 said, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”

So, we will begin with Jesus, with the portraits of Jesus and his teachings found in the 4 canonical Gospels. In our next installment, we will consider ways in which people try to avoid or water down Jesus–often without realizing that’s what they are doing.  And we will argue for reading the “Old” Testament as Christian Scripture, as the Bible of Jesus and the earliest Christians.

Note:  My approach is not the only way to present a biblical case for pacifism.  One could read the entire Scripture through lenses shaped by Jesus but present such a reading in a “Genesis through Revelation” canonical order.  That is the approach taken by Church of the Brethren scholar Vernard Eller in his classic, War and Peace from Genesis to Revelation (Repr. Wipf and Stock, 2004).  It’s also the route chosen by Mennonite theologian Ted Grimsrud on his website, PeaceTheology.net in a blog series that will become a book, The Bible on Peace.  I recommend both works strongly.   But I have seen so many recent attempts to remake Jesus and distort Jesus’ message (see the picture above for an extreme example) that I am taking extra precautions that, in the words of the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, “We Do See Jesus.” (The phrase comes from the essay, “But We Do See Jesus”: The Particularity of Incarnation and the Universality of Truth” reprinted as chapter two in Yoder’s The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (University of Notre Dame Press, 1985). )

October 11, 2009 Posted by | Bible, discipleship, ethics, Jesus, New Testament, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, theology, violence, war | 13 Comments

Too Soon the Laureate

One word leaps to mind in considering the Nobel Committee’s announcement yesterday that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to President Barack Obama:  premature.  Alfred Nobel’s will was very clear on who could nominate someone for the peace prize (members of national parliaments or congresses, political science or philosophy faculty in universities, and persons who have already won the prize) and who would determine (in secret) the recipient (a committee formed by the Norwegian Storting or Parliament but whose members cannot include sitting members of the Storting or the Norwegian government).  But Nobel’s will (largely because he wrote it without legal help, distrusting lawyers) is notoriously vague on the criteria for winning the Peace Prize.  This has led to a wide variety of Nobel Peace Laureates in the century plus of the award–from pacifists and peace activists, human rights activists, to politicians and diplomats from many countries, to organizations that work for peace in a wide variety of ways.  The award has been given for diplomatic efforts leading to the end of wars and to signing of peace treaties. It has been given for relief work in the midst of war (e.g., the International Red Cross and Crescent Societies, Doctors Without Borders, etc.), for aid to refugees. It has been given for efforts in arms reduction, or to nonviolent social movements, and for efforts to eliminate major causes of war and violence such as poverty, ethnic or religious conflict, or environmental threats.

But the vagueness of criteria for the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize has led to some very odd choices:  most notoriously when former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam’s chief negotiator Lu Duc Tho (neither a person of peace) were awarded the Prize jointly for negotiations toward ending the Vietnam War.  Lu Duc Tho became the only person in history to turn down the Nobel Peace Prize saying, rightly, that no peace had been achieved and that the talks were breaking down. Another time the Nobel Committee made an embarrassing choice designed to encourage a peace process was when they jointly awarded the prize to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat.  Both Rabin and Arafat had previous histories as terrorists and some argued that Arafat had not yet abandoned that role.  One member of the Nobel committee quit in protest.

The selection President Obama is not that bizarre.  In fact, if his ambitious foreign policy agenda is successful at any of his peacemaking goals:  a just two-state peace between Israel and Palestine, reversing the nuclear arms race, etc., then I fully expected that he might be a future Nobel Laureate.  But this seems, at best, premature  –even to Pres. Obama to judge from his reaction.  Yes, he has stopped U.S. torture, although failing so far to hold any of the torturers accountable and pushing for the continuation of the practices of indefinite detention without trial (for some al Qaeda members that the administration believes guilty of crimes but cannot prosecute because the evidence was obtained by torture under the Bush regime) and rendition.  But the prison at Guantanemo Bay is not yet closed and the “detainees” have not been either tried in regular courts or released.  Yes, he has begun the slow ending of the occupation of Iraq, but most of our troops are still there.  Yes, he wants to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace process, but has failed so far to get Israel to stop building new settlements or get Palestinian factions to reconcile with each other or stop stockpiling weapons for future attacks against Israel–nothing has yet happened.  Yes, we are scheduled to have nuclear arms reduction talks with Russia–but they haven’t yet taken place.  He has expanded the war in Afghanistan and started an undeclared one in Pakistan with predator drones.  He wants a new engagement with Iran that leads to their abandoning of their nuclear weapons ambitions and, eventually, to the first resumption of U.S.-Iranian diplomatic ties since 1979–but no progress has yet been made and recently he seemed to imply a willingness to bomb suspected Iranian nuclear plants.

The hawkish Obama has proceeded apace, but the Obama who dreams of peacemaking has yet to move from hope to actual change.  Thus, I call this award premature, and Obama himself calls it “a call to action.”  That, I suggest, is how peace activists from around the world should react–not by mocking or condemning this choice, but by using it as moral leverage in encouraging real peacemaking from this administration.  As filmmaker Michael Moore said yesterday, “Congratulations, Mr. President–now go out and earn it.”  That should be the unanimous note of peace activists–encouraging this president to live into the award that he does not (yet) deserve.

Later this weekend, I will email the White House with this message and a list of suggested actions that Pres. Obama can take between now and the formal presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize in December that will act as steps toward fulfilling that “call to action.”

  • Announce that the U.S. will “re-sign” the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty “unsigned” by former Pres. Bush.  Since the legality of “unsigning” a ratified treaty is murky (and unprecedented!) under both U.S. and international law, I doubt that this would even need ratification by the U.S. Senate–but with 60 Democratic Senators, such ratification should be pro forma.
  • Announce that the U.S. will “re-sign” the Treaty of Rome that authorized the creation of the International Criminal Court and will join the ICC instead of continuing the Bush-era attempts to evade the ICC’s jurisdiction.  Joining will require Senate confirmation, and some will balk out of fear that the ICC might attempt to try members of the Bush admin. for war crimes related to torture and rendition if the U.S. does not prosecute them, but Obama should take that risk.
  • Sign the International Treaty Banning Landmines.  The U.S. is one of the few democratic holdouts even though American Jody Williams (who won the Nobel for her efforts) founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.  Even many famous generals around the globe support this since landmines are of limited military value in war, but continue to kill and maim civilians long after wars are officially over.
  • Sign the Treaty Against Child Soldiers.  Former Pres. Bush refused because he wanted the U.S. to still be able to have 17 year olds in the military–but out military will hardly crumble without them.  And this treaty gives some teeth to efforts to stop the kidnapping and forced induction of adolescent and pre-adolescent children into both government and rebel armies–most notoriously by the so-called “Lord’s Resistance Army” in Uganda.
  • Announce an increased pace of the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.
  • Announce an end to use of the predator drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan because of the enormous loss of civilian life.
  • Deny General McChrystal’s request for additional troops in Afghanistan. Freeze at current levels while re-thinking Afghanistan–seeking a new way forward.
  • Announce that the U.S. will unilaterally reduce its nuclear weapons by 10% across the board. We need MUCH deeper cuts around the globe, but this unilateral step could jump-start the talks with Russia and show the world that you are serious about reversing the nuclear arms race. It could be a transforming initiative that invites similar moves on the part of others.

Beyond these steps, the way grows harder and must include cooperation from both Congress and international partners.  Grassroots peace and human rights organizations should do our part by supporting the actions the Obama administration takes for peace, praising them, and encouraging more and criticizing steps in the wrong direction.  Also, not waiting for governments or prizes, we need to continue our own, independent, actions for peace.

October 10, 2009 Posted by | foreign policy, human rights., Iran, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, peacemaking | 12 Comments