The Common Good

Let Us Pray for the World's Bad Actors

Let us pray for Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe and for the Burmese generals. Let us send them our love. This is the counterintuitive radicality of the Christian witness. This is why living the teachings of Jesus is difficult. When we invite people to become Christians, we ought to tell them that we are asking them to live a life that makes no earthly sense.

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It makes no earthly sense to love a man who has clung to power at the expense of the physical and financial health of his nation. It makes no earthly sense to love a group of generals who want to maintain their power while their people live lives of poverty and repression. This week Robert Mugabe arrested Alec Muchadehama, a human rights lawyer representing people accused of working to overthrown Mugabe.

Also this week, the Burmese generals arrested Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She had been living under house arrest for the past 13 years because of her efforts to free her country from the grip of a military government. She was taken to a residential facility on the grounds of Insein prison after an American man swam a lake and came, uninvited, onto her property. She was about to turn him over to her guards when he asked her to give him time to rest. She did. This act of kindness landed her in prison.

Some observers say this is an attempt to mute her voice in advance of elections next year. The new elections may be an opportunity to establish a civilian government. However, some observers believe the military will still hold inordinate power.

Just peace theory holds that democracy and human rights are necessary to establish peace. They show respect for the human person. Democracy allows citizens to have a voice in choosing their leaders and in making the laws that will govern them. It means that citizens in a democracy bear a measure of responsibility for what their government does. Moreover, the concept of the democratic peace conceptualizes a world where democracies tend not to make war against other democracies, therefore the more democracies the less war.

Human rights show respect for the individual person and for the international community, which in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that the dignity of all human beings ought to be respected. The international community has named these rights. When people are working for democracy and for human rights, they deserve our prayers, our love, and our active support. We ought to pray for the strength and success of people such as Aung San Suu Kyi and Alec Muchadehama.

Leaders such as Mugabe and the Burmese generals do not deserve our love. Yet, the teachings of Jesus command us to love them nevertheless and to pray for them. We give them what they do not deserve because Jesus gave us what we do not deserve. Our redemption.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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