Duane Shank 04-18-2012

Each year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) publishes a study on the amount world governments spend on their militaries. The 2011 report was released this week, showing that all countries together spent $1.7 trillion. The Guardian has a helpful country-by-country data page and interactive map. The top 5 in the world last year, totaling $1.05 trillion, were:

U. S.  - $711 billion

China - $143 billion 

Russia - $72 billion

Britain - $63 billion

France - $62 billion

In contrast, the budget for UN Peacekeeping operations for fiscal year July 2011-30 June 2012 is about $7.84 billion. That’s 0.5 percent of what the world spends on its militaries.

It’s a stark example of the world’s misguided priorities.

Duane Shank 04-17-2012
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Taliban militants launched a series of coordinated attacks across an area in Kabul, Afghanistan. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

On November 21, 1967, General William Westmoreland, U.S. commander in Vietnam, delivered a speech at the National Press Club on war strategy. “We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view,” he said, and outlined a “new phase” in the war where the U.S. would:

  • Help the Vietnamese Armed Forces to continue improving their effectiveness.
  • Help the new Vietnamese government to respond to popular aspirations and to reduce and eliminate corruption.
  • Help the Vietnamese strengthen their policy forces to enhance law and order.

Then came what is now known as the Tet Offensive. On January 30, 1968, the National Liberation Front launched attacks against cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. It was the beginning of the end, the evidence that U.S. strategy had failed.

Fast forward 45 years. U.S. strategy in Afghanistan emphasizes assisting the Afghan army and police forces to improve their effectiveness along with working to reduce corruption in the government. We hear encouraging speeches from politicians and generals. We’re told the end is in sight.

Aaron Taylor 04-17-2012
Bible photo, Roberts/

Bible photo, Roberts/

When I was in my early 20’s, a Bible teacher by the name of Dianne Kannady posed a rhetorical question that continues to haunt me to this day: “If Jesus was your only source of information about what Christianity should look like, how would you live your life?”

That question has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years.  

Consider the three things that instantly come to mind.

1.    Jesus preached nonviolence.

2.    Jesus was a faith healer.

3.    Jesus challenged the religious fundamentalists of his day.

Elizabeth Palmberg 04-16-2012
Zab Palmberg/Sojourners

Protests to urge the end to drone attacks in Pakistan. Zab Palmberg/Sojourners

Last week, anonymous U.S. officials told the media that the U.S. military wouldn't stop the drone-launched missile attacks, which they have been carrying out for years within Pakistan.

Discouraging news, indeed. 

But we all need encouragement, so here's a little good news—images of a chance encounter of a peace-building kind.

Duane Shank 04-09-2012

George Masters, combat veteran and freelance writer, writes of driving behind a car with two 'Support Our Troops' ribbons. In his head, he responds:

I’m driving angry. I want to tell the guy in front of me: You want to support the troops? Get them the hell out of the line of fire. Or, if you think this war is so necessary, get over there yourself. If you’re too old, pull your kids or grandkids out of college and send them.

I’m driving sad. You want to support our troops? Give the man some space when he gets home. Give the woman a jo

After a vivid and harrowing description of his 1968 combat tour in Vietnam, he ends:

You want to do something for our troops? Bring them home.

Matt Southworth 03-13-2012
Demonstrators carry effigy of President Obama during a protest of a US soldier's

Demonstrators carry effigy of Obama during US soldier's killing 16 civilians. By Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty.

As is increasingly evidenced by developments in Afghanistan from gloomy intelligence reports to the Quran burning to the recent massacre of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, it is long past time for the U.S. military to leave that country.

After weeks of tumultuous upheaval, the slaying allegedly by a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant is just the most recent incident undermining U.S. objectives to win hearts and minds. Frankly, that mission has long been lost.

We are still learning about the Staff Sergeant, a married father of two. It appears he was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan a total of four times. On one of those tours, he suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but was declared “fit for duty” by the U.S. Army. Afghans would certainly beg to differ. This is also more evidence that the U.S. military cannot be allowed to deploy troops with diagnosed psychological issues—such as Post Traumatic Stress or TBIs, a messaged pushed by a project called Operation Recovery.

Michael Hidalgo 03-13-2012

If you were walking down the street and a stranger approached you and punched you in the face what would you want to do in that moment? Sure, this is an odd hypothetical situation, but really, answer the question.

Few would say, “I would want to give that person a hug.” Depending on the size of the attacker most would either fight back or run away. But let’s suppose you fought back, and even vanquished your assailant, pummeling him repeatedly for his dastardly deeds. What then?

Would he, through being beaten, come to understand his wrong in hitting you? No, he might start plotting his revenge, or his friends would think about getting you back for what you did. If they did, then you would have friends that would want to get them back. So it goes with the endless spiral of violence.

We have been fooled into believing that violence is a respectable solution for problems in our world. What we fail to see is the many problems that violence brings with it, beginning with more violence. Violence also brings hurt, fear, anger, a desire for revenge, death and enmity. 

Funeral for slain teacher and student, photo via Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Funeral for slain teacher and student, photo via Christian Peacemaker Teams.

The news spread through the city of Suleimaniya so quickly. Within an hour, Kurdish news outlets let the locals know that something bad had happened. From there, it moved even more quickly across the ocean.

By the evening of March 1, I was shocked to read it in my Manitoba prairie city’s newspaper: “Iraqi student kills American teacher in Christian school murder-suicide.“

Along with the bare facts, the questions and rumours arose. Why had the 18-year-old Kurdish boy carried a handgun to class in a Christian school in Suleimaniya and shot his teacher to death?

Was it the result of religious disagreement?

Was there some other kind of conflict between the two of them?

How could a handgun have entered the classroom?

Some our Kurdish partners called a meeting to see if some sort of action should take place. None of us had known either the teacher or the boy. Reports said that this type of shooting was not so unusual, that it happens in the United States all the time. But violence like this had never happened in a school in Kurdish Northern Iraq. Kurds were reeling and asking themselves what is it about their country that allows people to settle differences with a gun in a classroom?

Timothy King 03-12-2012

A mourner cries over the bodies of Afghan civilians, allegedly shot by a rogue US soldier, 3/11/12JANGIR/AFP/Getty Images

Another 16 lives were added to the body count of the war in Afghanistan over the weekend.

All of them civilians, nine were children, including one three year old girl.

The alleged perpetrator, a U.S. Sergeant, killed many of the victims with a single shot to the head before he piled together eleven of the bodies and set them on fire.

There is no way to measure the loss for the families of the victims, no way to understand the harm done to peace process in the country and no way to calculate the additional deaths of Americans, Afghans and others from across the world this will likely cause.

There is no way to know the full cost of war.

Jack Palmer 03-05-2012

In a speech to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, President Obama urged Israeli leaders to refrain from "loose talk of war" related to escalating tensions with Iran. Quoting his predecessor President Theodore Roosevelt, Obama said when it comes to the Iran situation, both the United States and Israel would do well to, "Speak softly... and carry a big stick."

Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu today at the White House.  Netanyahu, who is scheduled to speak to the AIPAC conference this evening, issued a short statement repsonding to Obama's speech Sunday, saying in part, "I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat."

Aaron Taylor 03-05-2012
 Photo by Randy OHC/Wylio

Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, Calif. Photo by Randy OHC/Wylio

As a person who (loosely) identifies with the evangelical tradition, allow me to make a clear, unambiguous, declaration: GOD IS PRO-PEACE!

You may be thinking, “Just how exactly does a guy who claims to believe in the inspiration of Scripture arrive at the conclusion that God is pro-peace? Has this guy even read the Bible? Maybe he’s one of those amnesia-type Christians, the ones who read through the Bible every year as part of their daily devotions, and every time they get to the slavery and genocide passages, their mind goes ______________.

Maybe it wasn't those exact words, but whatever you were thinking,  believe me, I get it!

Shane Claiborne 02-16-2012
The Rev. John Helmiere, who was beaten by police during a nonviolent protest in

The Rev. John Helmiere, who was beaten by police during a nonviolent protest in December. Via

Amidst the recent police violence in Oakland and the sure temptation of some protestors to resort to violence, I wrote this little reflection inviting all Occupiers to a renewed commitment to nonviolence.

There is a verse in the Bible that says, “Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers of this dark world.” It is a reminder that there are people behind oppressive structures — people who laugh and cry and bleed just like everyone else — and those people are not the enemies, but the systems are.

I was reminded of this when I went into Bank of America on Move Your Money Day, and transferred my money to the non-profit credit union here in Philadelphia. As I went into the bank, I saw the smiling faces of Bank of America tellers who have become friends over the past decade. When I told them I was closing my account, one of the women asked jokingly, “You don’t like us anymore?” At first my heart sunk, but then I said, “No way, I love the heck out of all of you. I just don’t like the values of the bank you work for.” To my surprise, they all smiled. In fact they may not like the values of the bank they work for either. Even though I’ll be leaving Bank of America, I’m hoping to stay in touch with my friends there. I may even take them some coffees next week, which I’ll charge on my new credit union debit card.

It is always tempting to demonize people and humanize corporations. It’s easy to forget that we are up against something bigger than flesh and blood people. And it’s particularly easy to forget that people are not the enemy when people are shooting pepper spray in your face. 

Dorothee Soelle 02-01-2012

Is it possible to live without violence and without weapons?

the Web Editors 01-25-2012

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Shane Claiborne 01-04-2012
Love your neighbor as yourself.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

12.  Do something really nice – that no one knows about.

11. Spend more money on other people than I spend on myself. Love my neighbor as I love myself. And love myself as I love my neighbor.

10. Laugh often… especially at advertisements that try to convince me that I must buy more stuff in order to be happy.

Christopher Smith 01-01-2012

War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity, by Stanley Hauerwas.

Tom Getman 12-23-2011
Graffiti on the "security wall" that runs through Bethlehem. Via http://commons.

Graffiti on the "security wall" that runs through Bethlehem. Via

A hegemonic power that separates and excludes is not of Jesus. I came away from the deep darkness settling on the land of the Holy One to declare along with my fellow Kairos delegates that, to paraphrase Bishop Marianne, “the fate of the free world depends on a civil society committed to Christ and a persistent, all-encompassing faithful non-violent tenacity pursuing creative and compassionate resistance.“

We must respond to those faithful ones behind both sides of the walls who are saying to us, “Come and See and Be with the people.” We must feel what Jesus felt as he witnessed tyranny and empire – the principalities and powers that oppress and dispossess and kill the poor for whom He had a heart. Please listen to the cries of the oppressed and act today in doing at least one small thing to bring a just peace…make a personal and if possible corporate choice in this critical moment of God’s Kairos.  

If all who hear the “Bethlehem Call” respond then momentum will build for the liberation of all God’s children in the Holy Land.

Cathleen Falsani 12-19-2011
Rob Bell via

Rob Bell via

Editor's Note: Rob Bell, 41, the founding pastor of Mars Hill church in western Michigan, bid adieu to his congregation in a 5,000-word epistle about grace and peace, which he preached on Dec. 18 to thousands in the converted strip mall that has housed the "Jesus community" for a decade. He said, in part:

"this church, this place, this community, was once simply a

hunch. a dream. a vision. a picture in the mind of a new kind of church for the new world we find ourselves in. a church that was fearless in confronting the injustices and systems of oppression that lurk around every corner and at the very same time deeply committed to the personal, intimate experience of following Jesus, of experiencing the joy and peace that transcends space and time. a church that found the stale, old categories of liberal and conservative boring and irrelevant because we'd experienced resurrection, which includes and affirms anything and everything that brings liberating, new life wherever it's found irrespective of whatever labels and categories it's been given because of an abiding conviction that the

tomb is,

after all,


a church where the main thing was actually the main thing."

Duane Shank 12-15-2011

President Obama spoke Wednesday afternoon in Fort Bragg, N.C., to a crowd of returning veterans from Iraq.

To loud applause, the president declared: "We’re here to mark a historic moment in the life of our country and our military. For nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq. … So as your commander in chief, on behalf of a grateful nation, I'm proud to finally say these two words – and I know your families agree: Welcome home.”

It’s a sentiment we all can share.

Obama acknowledged the huge human cost of the war. “We know too well the heavy cost of this war. More than 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq. Over 30,000 Americans have been wounded and those are only the wounds that show," the president said. "Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice … so today, we pause to say a prayer for all those families who have lost their loved ones, for they are part of our broader American family. We grieve with them.”

Duane Shank 12-13-2011
"Iraq War - Eyes Wide Open" image via Wylio

"Iraq War - Eyes Wide Open" image via Wylio

It does no dishonor to those who served to learn from the mistake that was made in starting an unnecessary war in Iraq. And, to realize that it is a mistake the U.S. continues to make. Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University professor who is also a West Point graduate, Vietnam combat veteran and retired Army colonel; and whose son was an Army officer killed in Iraq put it best. "The final tragedy of a tragic enterprise is that the U.S. has learned next to nothing," he says. "The belief that war works remains strangely intact."