The Common Good

Let's Tell the Truth About This International Madness

The horrible human costs and increasing danger the world is now facing in Gaza, Ukraine, and Iraq show the consequences of not telling the truth. And unfortunately, we seem to mostly have political leaders who are unwilling to admit the truth of what’s happening, deal with root causes instead of exploiting symptoms, and then do everything possible to prevent the escalation of violence and further wars. Instead we have politicians who are mostly looking for opportunities to blame their political opponents, boost their own reputations, and protect business interests. As people of faith, we are called to speak the truth in love. It’s time for some truth telling.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Refugees Fleeing ISIS Offensive Pour Into Kurdistan, Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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In Gaza, do we really believe that Palestinian lives are less valuable than Israeli lives at dozens to one? Why can’t we say that both Hamas and the Israeli government are responsible for this escalation and conflict that has already killed hundreds of people? If Hamas is morally responsible for targeting its rockets at civilians in Israel, why isn’t Israel morally responsible for killing hundreds of civilians and children, including four Palestinian boys on the beach who are the same age as my youngest son? Their weeping mothers cursed the actions of both Israel and Hamas — I’m with them. As Secretary of State John Kerry revealed in a microphone mistake before a Fox News interview, the Israeli attacks are hardly a “pinpoint operation.” And if Hamas is responsible for opposing a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, why isn’t the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also held responsible for continually blocking a fair and just two-state solution while continuing to expand Israel’s brutal and unjust occupation in Palestine and continued oppression in Gaza? Why don’t we hold all those morally accountable who refuse political solutions and only work in favor of military solutions that have and will always fail? Can we just continue to ignore the enormous human suffering caused by such failed political leaders — on all sides?

It seems almost certain now that it was Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine who shot down a passenger airliner carrying 298 people, with missile launchers supplied by Russia. Vladimir Putin’s lack of truth telling about Russia’s involvement in this morally indefensible act is consistent with his disingenuous statements about his intentions in annexing Crimea and deliberately destabilizing the Ukraine. But clearly confronting Putin’s lies and moral complicity in the killing of almost 300 civilians is something that European leaders — who are worried about Russian influence in their economies — have yet to agree to do. Mounting serious collective sanctions with tough international diplomacy against Putin and his growing Russian ultra-nationalism is morally warranted; but the rhetoric by some American politicians suggesting that we risk war with Russia — still a nuclear power — is also indefensible.

ISIS, which has now established a new Islamic caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq, has reportedly told Christians in in the cities they now control that they must convert to Islam, pay a fine, or be executed. So after almost 2,000 years, Iraqi Christians are being forced to leave their country. The creation of more terrorist threats, which the new and terribly dangerous ISIS starkly represents, was one of the clear warnings by the Pontifical Council in Rome and church leaders all over the world when the United States was deciding to invade Iraq. The churches were ignored, and the American government has been proved terribly wrong.

And yet the rhetoric of repetitive hardliners continues to say that the president isn’t being tough enough in all these conflicts, apparently only offering their unrepentant solution of bombing more people every time an international crisis arises. These political leaders and pundits refuse to acknowledge our own hypocrisy, exemplified by the morally indefensible military interventions in our own backyard of Central America. They refuse to acknowledge our tragically missed opportunity of reducing Russian and American nuclear arsenals after the Cold War ended. By papering over our past with rosy sentiments and rewritten histories, we ignore both the roots of current crisis — and the plank in our own eye.

Instead of dealing with the complicated and conflicted causes of a crisis — instead of honestly assessing U.S. influences, liabilities, and responsibilities in trying to help resolve these conflicts — politicians quickly descend into the blame game. And any self-reflection about how their bombings and occupations have led to more crises, how their unbalanced support for the participants in the conflicts have prevented solutions, or how their self-righteous rhetoric fuels conflicts instead of resolving them — is completely absent.

As Christians, we know that there is a Prince of Peace who came to set right what humanity continues to destroy through oppression, injustice, and violence. We know that we are still in wait to see the “kingdom come” which is “already” and “not yet.” And until then, we work to bring about that kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven,” which we pray for each Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer. It begins with asking the tough, moral questions — with speaking truth to power.

It’s time for some truth telling.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God’s Side, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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