The Common Good

The Body of Christ in Lebanon

Sojomail - July 27, 2006

Quote of the Week : 'The Good Samaritan at a mega scale' in Lebanon
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: The body of Christ in Lebanon
Palestine Journal : Meanwhile, back in Gaza
Politically Connect : Stalling tactics fail in voting rights renewal
Soul Works : Blistering Hope: A stonemason's meditation on perseverance
Sojourners in the News : This week's media round-up
Boomerang : Readers write
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"Seven hundred thousand out of a total Lebanese population of 3.5 million, 20 percent of the population, mostly Shiites, are now being cared for and given refuge by mostly Christian schools, churches, and other humanitarian organizations. This is the story of the Good Samaritan at a mega scale! And to think that this is the outcome of a strategy that meant to rouse anti-Hezbollah feelings among the Lebanese population and government. Talk about a failed strategy! Of course, this has happened so many times before that any thoughtful tactician would have learned the lesson by now, but military muscle is always too hedonistic and narcissistic to listen to the voice of reason and history."

- Dr. Martin Accad, academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary of Lebanon.

Source: Christianity Today

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The body of Christ in Lebanon
by Jim Wallis

Like many of you, I have been glued to CNN and other cable news channels and feeling my heart broken by the vivid scenes of war's devastation and human suffering in the Middle East. We mourn this violence and, habitually, pray for peace. But what does that mean? What is the context and why is this happening?

Let me first say that I affirm Israel's existence and its right to live in peace and security. Let me also say that I believe Hezbollah has provoked this current crisis. Since the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah has built a stockpile of thousands of rockets, continued attacks on Israel, and then, recently, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.

So we start by condemning kidnapping and Hezbollah's attacks on Israeli civilians. Hezbollah is a militant organization and movement that uses terrorism, i.e., it deliberately carries out lethal violence against innocent civilians. And no matter what the grievances or injustices, deliberate violence against civilians must be universally and unequivocally condemned as what a group of Palestinian intellectuals after 9/11 called a "short path to hell." Killing innocent civilians (often families and children) is evil and must be steadfastly opposed, and in response to such ugly violence we must draw a clear line in the sand. Further, Hezbollah is an organization that does not recognize Israel's right to exist and has vowed to destroy it. So let's be clear, by kidnapping Israeli soldiers and attacking Israeli cities with rocket attacks aimed directly at civilians, Hezbollah provoked this latest war.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, who has been critical of Israel's "disproportionate" response, has also assailed Hezbollah's tactics: "Consistently, from the Hezbollah heartland, my message was that Hezbollah must stop this cowardly blending ... among women and children."

Hezbollah's rocket attacks into northern Israel have killed 19 civilians and injured hundreds more. But the disproportionate Israeli air strikes in Lebanon, with their horrible death toll among civilians with nothing to do with Hezbollah must also be condemned. The latest estimate is more than 400 Lebanese civilians killed, with the needless destruction of the country's infrastructure, which took 15 years to rebuild after the devastating civil war. Israel has gone after Hezbollah, but is destroying Lebanon and, don't forget, its fledgling democracy. And let there be no double standards when it comes to how we label "terrorist" acts. When a nation state, such as Israel, carries out military policies which it knows will kill many civilians, including the use of cluster bombs, and deliberately targets civilian infrastructures and areas, does not the label also apply?

This week, Ze'ev Maoz, an Israeli professor, wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "This war is not a just war. Israel is using excessive force without distinguishing between civilian population and enemy ..." Another Haaretz columnist, Gideon Levy, wrote, "This war must be stopped now and immediately. From the start it was unnecessary, even if its excuse was justified, and now is the time to end it. Every day raises its price for no reason, taking a toll in blood that gives Israel nothing tangible in return."

The U.S. has provided no real leadership thus far, being unwilling to embrace the international call for a ceasefire. It has rather been Israel's major supporter and has expedited the shipment of additional weapons. I also believe that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has, inadvertently, contributed to the ascendancy of Iran and radical Islam in the region. Robert Kuttner, of The American Prospect magazine, who has been a constant critic of the U.S. war in Iraq, recently wrote: "Bush did not create radical Islamism, but he certainly gave it a boost. The point is not that the rulers of Iran, the Baghdad suicide bombers, and the fanatics of Hamas and Hezbollah are misunderstood good folks who need only a naïve olive branch from the west. On the contrary, these forces menace everything modern and democratic. They must be stopped, not appeased. The issue is the most practical and effective way of containing them." And that is indeed the issue.

Ultimately, the U.S. must take an active role in helping to negotiate a ceasefire and prisoner release, in the creation and deployment of an international force on the Israel-Lebanon border, and in aiding in the enormous humanitarian crisis that has resulted (the World Health Organization estimates 860,000 people have been displaced.) And, if the situation is not to spiral out of control in a wider regional war, the U.S. must also talk to Iran and Syria. The whole idea of diplomacy is trying to talk to your enemies and not just your friends.

For Christians there are also deeper issues involved regarding faith and the body of Christ. It's time for American Christians to start listening to Christians and churches in the Middle East, and Lebanon would be a good place to start. How many American Christians even know that Lebanon has had, for much of its history, a sizable number of Christians? Current estimates are 1.5 million Christians, or 40% of the population - which means there are fellow Christians potentially affected as casualties and refugees by the U.S. backed Israeli military attacks. It's time to challenge the theology of Christian Zionism advanced by many of the American Religious Right who are completely uncritical of Israel's behavior and totally oblivious to the sufferings (or even the existence) of Arab Christians in the Middle East. These Arab Christians may not be sympathetic to the tactics of Hezbollah, but they are certainly not supportive of the highly disproportionate military responses of Israel which now target their own families and fellow Arab Christians. Where is the American church's solidarity with them? In the Middle East battles between Islamic terrorism and Israeli military attacks, the perspective of Middle Eastern churches might indeed provide a much needed third perspective. I recommend an important dialogue in the online version of Christianity Today with Christian Arabs from the region. It's time to listen to some new voices.

The people of Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine have suffered enough. It's time for immediate action by the U.S. and the world community to achieve a situation in which Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine are secure and viable states living side-by-side in peace.

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Our Wolves Need Your Help - Stop the Slaughter from the Skies

Alaska's majestic gray wolves are in grave danger. Marksmen use low-flying planes to chase the wolves, shooting them from the skies or running them to exhaustion and killing them at point-blank range. Like all living creatures, these wolves deserve a fair chance at survival. But instead of fulfilling our moral obligation to protect them as a legacy for future generations, the Bush administration has watched silently as hundreds have been massacred. Join us in urging President Bush to put an end to this brutal practice: Sign the petition to Save America's Wolves!


Meanwhile, back in Gaza
by Philip Rizk

I sat in the courtyard of Jamal's parent's house. We had just finished a cup of Arabic coffee. Jamal was sharing his heart: "If someone digs a 400-meter tunnel to carry out an attack, we need to think about what would cause them to do that."

The attack Jamal was referring to was the capture of 19-year-old Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on June 25 at an army outpost at the Gaza-Israel border. At press time he was still believed to be held by Palestinian militants. His captors demanded the release of children and women from Israeli prisons.

In a recent meeting I had with a White House confidant I was informed that the case of Shalit is of utmost priority in Washington. When I asked how the situation on the ground would change if the soldier were released, he asserted that Israel would be willing to negotiate. I didn't believe him; I will tell you why.

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Stalling tactics fail in voting rights renewal
by Meg E. Cox

A measure to extend expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed handily in the House of Representatives in July. But several weeks earlier passage was by no means assured. Though the bill had cleared a nearly unanimous Judiciary Committee, in June a group of mostly southern Republicans prevented it from coming to the floor for a vote.

Of greatest concern to these legislators was the preclearance provision in Section 5, which requires jurisdictions with an established history of voting discrimination - including the whole of eight southern states - to submit changes in voting procedures to the Justice Department or a federal court before the changes take effect.

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Holding our Health Hostage

The president has claimed that his stem cell research veto is about values. You know these are far from real American values. The president's veto was a momentary victory for the Religious Right, but incredible work on this issue showed that they have a serious fight ahead. During the Senate's overwhelming passage of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, with thousands of e-mails sent to the president prior to his veto, DefCon led the fight for health and hope.

Now, you can count on DefCon to continue this critical fight. But we need your help. Become a DefCon Defender today.


Blistering Hope: A stonemason's meditation on perseverance
by Ken Sehested

When cutting capstone, carefully
measured, from a larger block with
nothing but hammer and chisel you
come to know the necessity of blister-raising
toil to achieve envisioned result.

No guarantees are to be had, of course. Sometimes,
despite calculated scoring, tracing a careful contour
across one edge, 'round to another, and another, and yet another,
with metered strokes and measured aim (fingers
are no match against the carom of sledge)
the rock stubbornly declares it own gnarly cleft.

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Our political system is broken. The officials we elect to represent us instead spend their time chasing big campaign checks and using their votes to do political favors for big-money special interests and lobbyists.

It's time to do something about it - and we can.

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This week's media round-up

Political voices of religious left: Counterbalance to right's agenda gathering in U.S. South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Religious leaders advocate for immigration reform at Faith and Migration conference Episcopal News Service

Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil The Christian Post

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.

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Readers write

Chris de Lastic writes from New York, New York:

I just wanted to drop a note and let you know that was a great article ["The new war in the Middle East," SojoMail 7/20/2006]. By far, it's the best response I've read (and I've read a lot). A fair look at the war; very refreshing. Sometimes Sojo is a little to liberal for my more conservative tastes, but your article strikes a balance I've not heard anywhere else. And it helps me formulate my prayers for that region. Thanks!


Linda Hansen writes from Pageland, South Carolina:

Bravo, Jim Rice! In clear, concise language, you have said it all. The only thing left unsaid was the Bush administration's "hands-off" approach to the Israeli/Palestinian issue, which gives birth to so many other crises in the Middle East. Until the Palestinians' right to a homeland is answered - and answered with parity - there will be no end to a jihadist threat from the Arab world. Like Clinton or not, he kept a hand in, refused to take the position that Israel is "always in the right" and kept America involved enough to forestall the kind of debacle we are seeing today. Bush? After a headlong plunge into Iraq without legitimate grounds, he waits until the G8 to get "hands-on" - and then he does it physically ... with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and makes us cringe with embarrassment. We ought to be ashamed - and shamed onto positive action for change.


Matthias Bringolf writes from Basel, Switzerland:

You try to be very balanced. Too balanced, in my opinion, when taking in account that the full military campaign the Israeli government is doing, is happening with full support of the U.S. Thus more, the U.S. has approved new delivery of heavy weapons to Israel (e.g. 100 GBU-28 bunker busters bombs). The U.S. is once more showing that is not capable to bring a real ceasefire nor freedom agreements rather than it is putting his whole effort in his complete partisanship with the unjust government of Israel. Therefore I can't be that "balanced" and would rather consider a clear dismantling and condemnation of the policies of this actors of war, the U.S. and Israel, which I personally consider to be the most cruel and brutal nations at this time.


Greg Turner writes from Denver, Colorado:

Jim Rice toes the usual Sojourners line with his idealistic dream of praying for more understanding leadership in the Middle East war. Jim - do you not understand that the fundamentalist Shiite Muslims seek to destroy Christian culture? We can pray until Armageddon and these people are NOT going to change. Benjamin Netanyahu noted that Shiite fundamentalists do not want money nor territory, but the total destruction of the West. Israel is indeed surrounded by many who seek to destroy them, and are thus justified in doing whatever necessary to keep the enemies at bay.

I believe in the Sojourners view on many social issues regarding poverty, immigration, etc. But this endless turn-the-other-cheek stance regarding the proper response to military and terrorist threats is completely self-defeating. Read your Old Testament, Mr. Rice. There is much there to illustrate the proper way to deal with unrepentant enemies.


Dr. Kerry Dearborn writes from Seattle, Washington:

I appreciate your insight and the balanced perspective you offer, Jim. Having just returned from Israel and Palestine I would add that Israel's ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people and their continuing expansion of Jewish settlements into the West Bank foments extremist reactions to them. When Israel pulled 8,000 settlers out of Gaza (compensating each family $400,000), they put 12,000 more settlers into the West Bank. Israel confiscates Palestinian homes and land without giving them any compensation. Israel's 30-foot wall under construction surrounds key Palestinian towns, and is turning them into prisons. Palestinians have lost access to their farm lands, to jobs outside of their towns (their movements are so heavily restricted), and in many cases to relatives who live in other parts of the West Bank. The contrast is striking between the walled-in Palestinian towns and the many Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The former look like two-thirds world countries (often dry, shops closed down, unemployment, rubble from Israeli demolished buildings to make way for the wall), and the latter looking like American developments with beautiful gardens, trees, swimming pools, shopping centers and state of the art schools. Water is rationed so that the Israelis are given access to 80% of the water and the Palestinians, though their population is larger, are rationed only 20% of the water. The U.S. gives enormous sums to Israel but now blocks aid to the Palestinians. It's time for American Christians to rework their theology of the land and views on U.S. foreign policy.


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