St. Valentine came from a long Jewish and Christian tradition of national resistance based on love. Following Jesus, it resists unjust and unloving national policies. But it’s also a love that refuses to demonize those who enact those policies. Rather, like Jesus teaches, it’s a love that embraces all people, including those we call our enemies.
LONG BEFORE Boko Haram emerged in 2002, my home country of Nigeria was polarized along religious and ethnic lines by politicians who sought to pit one group against another. Disputes about religious freedom, resource control, and citizenship led to violent conflicts at the local and state levels. Many religious sites were desecrated.
Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa and seventh most populous worldwide, is fondly referred to as “the giant of West Africa.” It has the largest economy on the continent and is incredibly diverse in ethnicity and religion. Half of Nigeria’s population is Christian, living mostly in the southern part of the country, and the other half is Muslim, living primarily in the north.
In 2009, while I was pastor of a Catholic parish in Kano State, in northern Nigeria, a bloody confrontation broke out between the Nigeria Police Force and Boko Haram about 300 miles away in the northeast part of the country. Two years later, I was caring for eight families who had fled to the city of Kaduna, seeking safety from Boko Haram attacks. As I listened to their stories, I could not help but think of my own family’s displacement after riots in 1980 and 2002. Our congregation and my own family had been directly impacted by violent ethno-religious conflicts.
But the norm in the part of northern Nigeria where I grew up was very different from that. Christians and Muslims lived together as neighbors and friends. Young people bonded as they played sports with one another. Muslims and Christians exchanged greetings and attended one another’s naming and marriage ceremonies. We rejoiced and grieved together.
This included Nasiru, Ahmad, and Abdul, three of my Muslim neighbors who joined Boko Haram in 2009. They were attracted to Boko Haram because of their frustration with overwhelming socioeconomic inequality that had left them impoverished and unemployed. From their perspective, the ostentatious lifestyle of the political class indicated corruption, poor governance, and improperly managed resources. Boko Haram seemed to promise justice.
“We feel hopeful when the preacher reminds us that those who rob us of our livelihood will be judged and damned,” I remember Nasiru saying to me.
AS WE ENTER this new Trumpish world, I’ve been thinking a lot about civil disobedience. I had the honor of delivering the first lecture in honor of the late Jonathan Schell two nights after the election, and used the occasion to reflect on his masterwork Unconquerable World, with its confident belief that the era of violence was passing and that nonviolent action was the right way for the “active many” to beat the “ruthless few.”
This jibes with my own experience of the last few years. Helping to organize big protests like the ones that launched the Keystone pipeline fight, or watching in admiration as friends galvanized the country around Standing Rock, has convinced me that these techniques continue to represent our best tools for change.
On the one hand, disobedience may be harder in the Trump era—it may come at a higher price, as the zealot officials he’s appointed crack down.
But civil disobedience may also be more important than ever, especially the civil part. Because what we are battling now is not just corporate power and shabby oligarchy. It’s also a galloping incivility, the verbal violence and crudity that marked Trump’s campaign and his days of preparing for the presidency. It’s the “alt-right” ugliness of Breitbart’s white nationalism; it’s the constant barrage of nasty tweets. None of it looks like anything we’ve seen before from a president, and all of it, whether by design or not, hacks at the bonds that hold us together as a nation.
If we respond to that in kind—with the same sort of anger and snarl—then we play into the hands of the Steve Bannons of the world. They’re always going to be better at it, just as they’re always going to have more weapons.
IN DECEMBER 2014, the United Nations approved a resolution put forth by Bangladesh and more than 100 other countries that included a reference to “unarmed civilian protection.” This was the first time the phrase had been referenced in an official U.N. General Assembly document.
The following year, a U.N. report noted that “unarmed civilian protection is a method for direct protection of civilians and violence reduction that has grown in practice and recognition. In the last few years, it has especially proven its effectiveness to protect women and girls.”
Last fall, Tiffany Easthom, executive director of Nonviolent Peaceforce, addressed a special U.N. session on unarmed civilian protection with a bold proposal: “The [U.N.] Security Council could ensure the centrality of unarmed strategies in protection of civilian mandates.”
Unarmed civilian protection, or UCP, is just what it sounds like: nonviolent action by civilians to protect other civilians from political violence. The peacekeeping practice is rooted in the call for a “peace army”—a Shanti Sena—by Mohandas Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, whom the pope referenced in his 2017 World Day of Peace message.
Peace Brigades International is generally credited with initiating the current practice in the 1980s in Guatemala. Peace Brigades International focused on specific strategies based on the principles and practices of nonviolence, the primacy of local actors, independence, and for many but not all organizations, nonpartisanship, in an organized, disciplined way.
Many organizations around the world are currently practicing this method of intervention, including Peace Brigades International, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Christian Peacemaker Teams, SweFOR, Meta Peace Team, Operation Dove, Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and others.
We march on Jan. 17 because it is the 40th anniversary of the first "modern-era" execution, after our courts ruled in favor of the death penalty following a decade-long moratorium. On that day, Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad in Utah in revenge for his murders of Max Jenson and Ben Bushnell. Since then there have been 1,442 other executions. We will hold 40 signs, one for each year since 1977, with the names of those executed each year. We will also carry roses for the victims — both those who have been murdered and those who have been executed — declaring that violence is the disease … not the cure.
So much is at stake here at the dawn of the year 2017. The fate of the planet is in the balance as never before, as is the very integrity of our faith. We cannot waste our time hoping on a faraway unimaginable heaven where there is no war and baby Jesus sleeps safely in his manger.
What we desperately need is the disarmament that Christians and other seekers of peace throughout the world — from Dorothy Day to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — have prayed and struggled for.
In a time of anti-immigrant fervor, religious distrust, and high political polarization, the peace-building Mennonites in Harrisonburg provide one robust model of how to transcend nationalism and bridge divides. Though relatively modest in size, they are showing how even a small group can affect major, positive change, shaping the hearts and minds of the local ecosystem.
I FIRST HEARD Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., sometime around 1987. It was at the height of apartheid in South Africa, and the world was just waking up to its horrors and organizing global economic sanctions.
Tutu spoke of an elderly woman he had met a few days earlier in Soweto. She told him that every night she got up at 2 a.m. for an hour in order to beg God solemnly for an end to apartheid. “I know we will win now,” Tutu told us, “because God cannot resist the prayer of that poor old woman.” With that, he burst into tears. Those tears of peace converted the thousands of us who crowded in to hear him. We had never heard such a witness for peace.
Later, I came to know him as a friend. During my 2014 pilgrimage to South Africa, I spent a morning visiting the great man at his foundation headquarters in Cape Town. First, we had Mass together with his staff; then he catered a brunch for me and my friends. He and I helped ourselves to a plate of food and coffee, then sat together by ourselves for an hour.
“We do not have the right to give up this work,” he told me. “Our sisters and brothers are suffering around the world, so we have to keep working for peace and justice till the day we die.” I was amazed to hear that he planned to leave the next day for Iran. He was in his 80s, in bad health, and relentless.
He spoke of the millions of squatters living in total poverty around Cape Town and elsewhere. “We have the ultimate First World wealth and the worst Third World poverty, the biggest gap between rich and poor in the world,” he said. “One percent of the money for war and nuclear weapons could feed and house these poor people. Sometimes I say to God, ‘What the heck is going on? Why don’t you do something?’”
If I’m completely honest, I’ve been really discouraged as of late. A major source of my discouragement has been the way the American evangelical church (a tribe I have identified with for most of my life, so my critique and exhortation will be directed there) has chosen to engage the world in this season marked by division, violence, and trauma. Now, I admit I’m speaking in generalities, but rather than being the healing balm to society’s gaping wounds, we have often contributed to the bleeding by either withdrawing in fear or adding fuel to the violence.
WHAT LIVES THESE two authors have lived and what lessons they can teach us! Reading David Hartsough’s lively memoir immerses us in the great peace and justice events of the last several decades. Colman McCarthy’s fascinating interchanges with high school and university students propel us into a hopeful future as we see how young minds are stretched and carry lessons learned into the world.
Hartsough’s FBI file started when he organized his first anti-nuclear protest at age 15, and it may be growing still as he directs Peaceworkers, a nonviolent training and accompaniment NGO based in San Francisco. In between are 60 years of peace work in the U.S. and the flashpoints of the world, always bringing the message of the necessity and efficacy of nonviolent direct action. In Waging Peace he relives the adventurous life of a professional peaceworker as well as the silent efficacy of his family’s tax resistance and tradition of simple living.
Whether disarming with words a knife-wielding segregationist opponent at a Virginia lunch counter, blockading with a canoe a weapons ship bound for Vietnam, or traveling to war zones, Hartsough has faithfully carried forward his commitment to nonviolence. Sometimes visiting conflict sites before they reach the radar even of other peace people, he writes of going to Cuba, Russia, Yugoslavia, and the Berlin Wall while still a college student, to Central America during the ’80s, and later to Gaza and other war zones.
In 1999, after trying unsuccessfully to persuade the world to support nonviolently the beleaguered Kosovars and thus avert a Serbian bloodbath, Hartsough attended a peace conference in The Hague. There he met Mel Duncan, and together they founded the Nonviolent Peaceforce, now the largest of several worldwide movements of accompaniment for nonviolent activists.
In California, Hartsough worked to launch the huge Abalone Alliance against the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and campaigned against the development of nuclear weapons at the University of California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In this century, Hartsough was one of the first to be arrested for protesting drone warfare at Creech Air Force Base.
I wish that the testimony of my friends who literally beat guns into garden tools could be part of the courtroom proceeding. They urge us to make guns and other weapons unnecessary, using raw tools of compassion and service to heal the conflicts in which weapons are used. I wish my young Afghan friends here in Kabul, who live under constant surveillance of Unmanned Aerial Systems, could testify about their desire to refine tools of peace making and constructive service.
The name Berrigan helped keep the possibility of coming back to my Christian aith alive. Just like the black churches that took me in, here were some Christians who were saying and doing what I thought the gospel said that nobody in my white evangelical world was. I believe the witness of the Berrigans literally helped keep my hope for faith from dying altogether.
IN DECEMBER 2007, Naomi Mwangi, a Christian, fled her home in Kisumu, Kenya, as men with machetes attacked towns across the region. For five weeks violence raged nationwide. When the bloodshed ended, more than 1,300 Kenyans were dead and another 650,000 had been displaced. Mwangi and her family ended up living in the Maai Mahiu refugee camp, south of Nairobi. She was 12 years old.
Mwangi is coming of age in a society with ethnic violence in the background, extremist violence in the foreground, and massive economic inequality. Africa has the highest concentration of young people in the world and more than half of them are unemployed. Mwangi wanted something different—she wanted to work for peace.
Now 21, Mwangi is a leader in grassroots peacemaking campaigns that seek to end conflicts between the 42 ethnic groups in this majority-Christian country. The 2007 election violence pitted Christian against Christian, as ethnic ties trumped religious affiliation. Even now, during elections, Mwangi told Sojourners, “Leaders motivate youth to join in the political crisis ... to fight against another tribe.”
A major obstacle to social and economic stability among youth in Kenya is unequal distribution of government-issued identification cards. Kenyans need ID cards for everything from voting and university enrollment to obtaining grants for entrepreneurship programs. But historically, the ruling government doled them out as political favors, and they’ve often been denied to members of minority groups.
“There are plenty of applications at election time,” Mwangi said, explaining that the ID process is slowed down or delayed when it seems one ethnic group could tip the chances of a politician who represents a different group.
Dan Berrigan published more than 50 books of poetry, essays, journals, and Scripture commentaries, as well as an award winning play, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, in his remarkable life, but he was most known for burning draft files with homemade napalm along with his brother Philip and eight others on May 17, 1968, in Catonsville, Md., igniting widespread national protest against the Vietnam War, including increased opposition from religious communities. He was the first U.S. priest ever arrested in protest of war, at the national mobilization against the Vietnam War at the Pentagon in October 1967. He was arrested hundreds of times since then in protests against war and nuclear weapons, spent two years of his life in prison, and was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
For over 1,500 years, the Catholic Church has promoted “just war theory” as a way to determine in what cases a war can be considered morally justifiable. But all of that may change.
In an interview, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana said that it is “plausible” that Pope Francis may write a new encyclical updating Catholic teaching on war and peace, an update that could include a retreat from just war theory. Francis’ last encyclical, “Laudato Si,” made waves for its condemnation of capitalism and call to address climate change.
The German pastor was executed by the Nazi regime at Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the United States liberated the camp. When he died he famously remarked to another prisoner, "This is the end — but for me, the beginning."
"Instead of preaching, perhaps what is more appropriate is, in fact, confession of how hard it is to actually love our enemies,” says Pastor Jarrod McKenna.
Though this video reflection for Common Grace’s Love Thy Neighbour campaign was filmed a few weeks ago, its pre-scheduled release today goes right to the heart of enemy love and offers a Christian response to terrorism in the days after shocking attacks in Brussels, Istanbul, and elsewhere.
“This teaching is the most often quoted teaching of the early church, because it is the teaching that sums up the cross the easiest,” he says.
Ted Cruz ended Monday night with a yuuuuge victory over Donald Trump in Iowa. (Sorry, had to do it!) Religion played a big role in Cruz’s victory. The New York Times reports that Cruz’s victory was “powered by a surge of support from evangelical Christians.”
For his part, Cruz reaffirmed his connection with his evangelical supporters by evoking divine favor upon his victory. “God bless the great state of Iowa! Let me first say, to God be the glory.”
But I can’t help but feel uneasy about the God proclaimed by the so-called "evangelical vote." That’s because, when it comes to their evangelical faith, they have an identity crisis.
If we see our interests and needs as more important than the interests and needs of others, then we’ll never have peace in our personal lives or in our world. Peace requires a recognition that we’re all equally beloved children of the same loving God.
It involves recognizing that we all matter equally — and then doing some introspection to see if we’re living up to it in our various relationships.