While most voices from the four corners of the world cried out for the release of the four Christian Peacemaker Team members taken captive in Iraq, a few criticized CPT’s work as “unwise and untimely.” These were also the words liberal religious leaders used to describe the activities of Martin Luther King Jr. that landed him in a Birmingham jail in 1963. It is indeed “unwise” to place oneself in the middle of a war zone, unarmed, as the Christian Peacemakers have. It is “untimely” to stay in Baghdad—beyond the precarious safety of the Green Zone—when all other foreign organizations have left.
And yet, this manner of unwise and untimely witness is precisely the peculiar life to which Christians are called. I use the word peculiar in the manner Dietrich Bonhoeffer used it when he said, “What makes the Christian different from others is the ‘peculiar,’ the ‘perissos,’ the ‘extraordinary,’ the ‘unusual,’ that which is not ‘a matter of course.’” It is our calling, wrote Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship, to exceed the pedestrian, the normal. Christians are called to go beyond what is wise and timely.
It was in the course of responding to this peculiar call that James Loney, Tom Fox, Harmeet Sooden, and Norman Kember became involuntary guests of the Swords of Righteousness Brigade in Baghdad. I use the startling language of “guest” specifically because CPT strives in all situations not to dehumanize the other. “If you start using words like ‘kidnap’ or ‘holding for ransom’ or ‘abducting,’ then it begins to depersonalize human beings,” CPT member Cliff Kindy said in an interview.