Peace

Nuclear Summer

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AS YOU READ this column, diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union are working with their Iranian counterparts to finalize a deal concerning Iran’s nuclear program. I strongly believe that Christians should support the framework for this deal, announced in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 2, as the best chance to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state and—equally important—the best chance for the United States to avoid armed conflict with Iran.

In the days following the announcement of this framework, Sojourners authored and published a statement of support, which was signed by more than 50 Christian leaders (see statement here). Part of that statement reads as follows: “It is the sacred responsibility of all those entrusted with political power to pursue, with patient perseverance, every option that makes the destruction of war less possible, in order to protect human life and dignity. This becomes an even more urgent moral and spiritual imperative when we have the chance to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons, with their terrifying potential of mass destruction ... a goal that reflects the binding commitments made by 191 U.N. member states, including the United States, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).”

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July 2015
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What Would Jesus Say To the NRA?

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A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner as the NRA's Wayne LaPierre delivers remarks. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

What does the birth of the baby Jesus 2,000 years ago have to offer the violent, troubled world we live in? Or what would Jesus say to the NRA?

I want to suggest — a lot.  A whole lot.

Jesus entered the world from a posture of absolute vulnerability — as an unarmed, innocent child during a time of tremendous violence. The Bible speaks of a terrible massacre as Jesus was born, an unspeakable act of violence as King Herod slaughters children throughout the land hoping to kill Jesus (which the church remembers annually as the massacre of the Holy Innocents).  

Perhaps the original Christmas was marked more with agony and grief like that in Connecticut than with the glitz and glamour of the shopping malls and Christmas parades. For just as Mary and Joseph celebrated their newborn baby, there were plenty of other moms and dads in utter agony because their kids had just been killed.    

From his birth in the manger as a homeless refugee until his brutal execution on the Roman cross, Jesus was very familiar with violence.  Emmanuel means “God with us.” Jesus’s coming to earth is all about a God who leaves the comfort of heaven to join the suffering on earth. The fact that Christians throughout the world regularly identify with a victim of violence — and a nonviolent, grace-filled, forgiving victim — is perhaps one of the most fundamentally life-altering and world-changing assumptions of the Christian faith. Or it should be. 

So what does that have to do with the NRA? Underneath the rhetoric of the gun-control debate this Christmas is a nagging question: are more guns the solution to our gun problem?  

Living and Learning Nonviolence

 Waging Peace
Waging Peace

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.

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Toward a New Theology of Peace

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thaikrit / Shutterstock

THIS SPRING, the Vatican hosted a historic convocation focused on what Pope Francis called “the active witness of nonviolence as a ‘weapon’ to achieve peace.”

Eighty participants from around the world told striking, at times heroic, stories of nonviolent peacemaking at the Rome gathering, convened by the Catholic peace movement Pax Christi International and the Vatican’s justice and peace office.

Many of them arrived directly from situations where they are mediating between violent factions using pragmatic nonviolence fueled by Christian faith—as in Uganda, Iraq, Colombia, and Mexico. Others are engaged in nonviolent peacebuilding in regions recovering from traumatic violence—as in Sri Lanka, Kenya, and the Philippines. Some are active in unarmed civilian accompaniment, shielding people under threat of violence—as in Palestine, Syria, and South Sudan. Theologians, ethicists, and international policy negotiators contributed broader context to the situational experiences.

The conversation focused on four key questions: 1) What can we learn from experiences of nonviolence as a spiritual commitment of faith and a practical strategy in violent situations across cultural contexts? 2) How do recent experiences of active nonviolence help illuminate Jesus’ way of nonviolence and engaging conflict? 3) What are the theological developments on just peace and how do they build on the scriptures and the trajectory of Catholic social thought? 4) What are key elements of an ethical framework for engaging acute conflict and addressing the “responsibility to protect” rooted in the theology and practices of nonviolent conflict transformation, nonviolent intervention, and just peace?

The convocation concluded with an astonishing document, presented to Pope Francis, titled “An appeal to the Catholic Church to recommit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence.” Recommendations included a request for a papal encyclical calling Christians to return to their fundamental vocation of nonviolent peacemaking. That means rejecting just war theory as the “settled teaching” of the church and replacing it with Jesus’ life and teaching as the foremost guide.

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A Social Justice Case for Investing in Police

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“We believe in the value, power, and potential of training to produce more effective, more capable, and better police officers,” the Ferguson Commission wrote. I believe in this, too. And I believe that investing in a better police force may yield a future where “liking the police” is no longer a privilege, but the norm.

Building Trust Takes Resources, Not Drones

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Glancing upward at one of the six U.S.-manufactured aerostat blimps performing constant surveillance over Kabul, I wonder if the expensive, high-tech, giant’s-eye view encourages a primitive notion that the best way to solve a problem here is to target a “bad guy” and then kill him. If the bad guys appear to be scurrying dots on the ground below, stomp them out. But crushing only the right dots has proven very difficult for a U.S. drone warfare program documented to have killed many civilians.

Observing Memorial Day, Down By the Riverside

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“Down by the Riverside” comes out of the same time in the history of our nation that the lingering divisions of Civil War did, and it’s a reminder to us that our hope and calling as children of God is to leave off studying war.

I believe that a Christian can nonetheless honor those who have fallen in war. They are casualties not only of the arms of a foe, but also of the failure of humanity to build a better peace. Those who hold arms take on not only the burden of risking their lives, but are also made to bear those first poisoned fruits whenever nations or radical groups turn to the sword instead of the plowshare.

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