On Scripture: 10 Years of War and Hopes for Peace

Soldier with assault weapon, Sunshine Pics/

Soldier with assault weapon, Sunshine Pics/

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons [and daughters] of God.” 

Matthew 5: 9 from the Beatitudes

I grew up watching casualty reports from the Vietnam War on TV. My Uncle Bill, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, was serving there. My family watched the news every evening to learn about the latest casualty reports. I was too young to understand the anxiety of my parents, but I felt the tension while Uncle Bill was deployed.

As an adult, it’s been a different story. I understand and experience things more fully and have an emotional connection to what I see and hear. That has been true for the last decade. Ten years ago, the Iraq War began. Ten years marked by conflict, violence, and loss. Ten years of debate about why we went to war and why we remained. Ten years dealing with death and injury – 4,488 U.S. deaths and 32,321 soldiers coming home with significant injuries. Suicide rates of soldiers are so high it is impossible to ignore – some while in Iraq and others after returning home. Traumatic brain injuries, grieving families, moral injury, and multiple limb loss are just a few of the constant reminders of the tremendous costs of war. The toll on the nation’s economy has been long lasting as well. The jobless rate among veterans is staggeringly high. 

The human toll has been significant. But military personnel aren’t the only causalities of this war. Numbers vary, but statistics tell us more than 100,000 Iraqi citizens also have been killed and nearly 3 million have been displaced.

These figures cannot be ignored. And they are the results of war.


Faith Leaders Speak Out to Reduce Gun Violence

Driven by our moral call to protect each member of our society, people of faith have been outspoken about the need to craft meaningful legislation to reduce gun violence.  This week, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released an ad featuring a diverse group of religious leaders, including Sojourners CEO and President Jim Wallis, leaders to demand that Congress make common-sense reforms to our nation’s legislation that is failing to keep us safe.

The faith community continues to speak loudly and clearly about the moral urgency to address this issue. The only question is whether Congress will listen and finally address the epidemic of violence that plagues our nation.

Why the Next Pope Matters

Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Cardinal Angelo Scola attends the Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice Mass on Tuesday. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

As the College of Cardinals begins its conclave today in Rome to select the next Pope, I find myself intensely interested in the outcome. Since I am an Anabaptist, a child of the “radical” Reformation, I’ve spent some time reflecting on why that is so.

First, the Roman Catholic Church is an unbroken link to the first century Roman church for all Christians, no matter our denomination. Before the so-called “Great Schism” between the eastern and western church in 1054, the Christian church led from Rome was THE primary Christian church. No matter if we are Eastern or Western Christians, no matter how Protestant or Anabaptist some of us are, the Church of Rome is still in some way our Mother church.

Second, it remains the largest Christian tradition in the world.

Two Children Killed in Afghanistan by NATO Forces

THIS JUST IN — horrific news from our friends in Kabul. Over the weekend two kids, age 7 and 8, were killed by NATO forces while herding cattle in the Uruzgan Province in Afghanistan. 

The Afghan Peace Volunteers, with whom Shane visited a few weeks ago, took to the streets in nonviolent protest.

They were accompanied by a couple of cows, as a reminder of the innocence of these children who were killed alongside their livestock. 

They carried signs that read: “We are those 2 children.”  Here is a video they sent us:

'Change the World of Some:' Thoughts from The 2013 Justice Conference

Photo courtesy of The Justice Conference.

This year's Justice Conference was in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of The Justice Conference.

While everyone was blowing up the Twittersphere decrying the injustices of the Oscars, as movies like Argo walked away with Best Picture honors, I was sitting in a Philadelphia hotel lobby trying to chew on everything I’d heard and seen at this year’s Justice Conference.

The two-day event brought together more than 5,000 people to promote dialogue around justice-related issues, like poverty and human trafficking; featured internationally acclaimed speakers such as Gary Haugen, Shane Claiborne, and Eugene Cho; and exhibited hundreds of humanitarian organizations.

While there is certainly more thinking and processing to be done, here are four things that stood out.

And the Truth Shall Set You Free

catwalker /

catwalker /

Recent news, including the Oscar nomination of The Invisible War and the looming sequester, which threatens drastic cuts in defense spending, doesn’t sound good for military recruiters. But recruiters are still active at my local high school, offering freebies and making promises. For six years I’ve been visiting the high school to encourage students to stop and think about their choices.

I’m not a biblical literalist, but I take the commandments to love your enemies, not to kill and not to overcome evil with evil seriously. I don’t make this argument at the school;  it would violate their rules about religious expression, and I think it might alienate our neighbors who believe simultaneously in Jesus, the right to bear arms, and the need to fight ‘terrorists.'

I also have a concern for the truth. Many young people enlist in the armed forces without understanding what they’re getting into. My county is rural and poor; jobs are scarce. Many students who lack money or grades to make college a viable option are attracted by the promise of steady work, sign-up bonuses, travel opportunities, money for education — and sometimes, it seems, by clearly false promises.

Drones Are Corroding Our Nation's Soul

Drone aircraft, Paul Fleet /

Drone aircraft, Paul Fleet /

The drone operators sit at consoles on military bases around the U.S. They track their targets and when the moment is right, they send the command to fire. And then people die.

Drones have been in the news a lot over the past month as Congress has considered the nomination of John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Brennan has been the chief architect of the drone policies of the Obama administration.

The constitutional questions have gotten quite a public airing, but drones raise deeper moral questions about what constraints there are on weapons of war.

Yes, drones are efficient, effective, and economical. But what do they do to the soul of this nation, to the psyches of those who push the buttons from half a world away? If they are moral for the U.S. to use at will in any nation of the world, are they moral for other nations to use against us?

Namibia-Angola War Retrospectives

 Photo by Tom Getman

View across the Okavango River from Namibia into still minefield-strewn Angola. Photo by Tom Getman

For those who are students of Africa, the Caprivi Strip of Northern Namibia brings memories of the awful border wars and independence struggles of the 1970s and 80s. Perhaps the lessons apply to Israel and Palestine.

Ironically, one of the last and longest, most peaceful and unpolluted rivers in the world is the Okavango. It is the border between Namibia and Angola where still today a long stretch of the north bank Angolan farmland is mine infested. Large breem and tiger fish jump, and magnificent fish eagles take flight from trees on the Namibian bank and wing to large dead trees in Angola where hippo provide background music with loud braying. The behemoths make their way back and forth and often spend the early evening hours lounging on the beach in front of the main buildings of the River Dance Lodge near Divindu on the southern shore.

This gently lapping, wide, drinkable stream — that creates in nearby Botswana the amazing Okavango Delta — is bordered by Angola, Namibia, and Botswana. The crystal clear ribbon of nearly 500 miles of uninterrupted resource runs just a few yards under my feet a quarter of a mile across from where the Angolan fields and forests were the hiding place for Jonas Savembi before he was killed in 2002. His South African- and American-supported troops were routed by Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, the socialist leader of UNITA and president since 1979. We can see homes there that have been vacant since the war because local farmers fled the fighting. Kavanaga tribal tradition requires people to not dwell in places where violent deaths have occurred. Ethnic tribal relations are still tense between the Portuguese-speaking Angolans and the English/German-speaking Namibians, even though they are from the same ethnic group. The horrific memories of vicious cross-river raids and shelling persist.

John McCain’s Theology of War is Wrong

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

McCain waits to speak during a campaign visit to support former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

John McCain angrily insisted on “right” and “wrong” answers to his questions of Chuck Hagel yesterday. As a theologian and a religious leader, I want to say that John McCain is “wrong.”

I watched the hostile questions that Sen. McCain asked Hagel in the hearings on his nomination for Secretary of Defense. The angry attacks from McCain were about the Iraq War, for which McCain was one of America’s leading advocates. Hagel had previously called the war in Iraq the biggest American foreign policy mistake since Vietnam. Obviously furious, McCain tried to force Hagel to say the last “surge” in Iraq, which McCain had made his cause, was right after all. Despite the aggressive and disrespectful questioning from his former “friend,” Hagel wouldn’t submit to McCain’s demands and said these questions would be subject to history — and to theological morality, to which John McCain has never submitted his views. In fact, his repeated desire to invade other people’s countries is offensive moral hubris.

The Courage to Reject our Culture of Violence

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Participants with One Million Moms for Gun Control march across the Brooklyn Bridge on January 21. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Much has been said, since the massacre at Newtown, Conn., about our American culture of violence. It is no exaggeration. In 2012, the United States had three mass shootings within six months. According to a study published in the Washington Post, our nation’s gun murder rate is roughly 20 times the average of all other developed countries.

We should not be surprised. Not only have we created a culture of violence, we glorify violence in our movies, television shows, and video games. Even in pro sports, players increasingly settle disagreements on the court or field with physical altercations, reinforced by the cheers of raved fans.  

The huge surge in gun sales, after President Barack Obama announced his intent to have Vice President Joe Biden make recommendations to curb gun violence, attests to the misguided fears of many Americans. 

We have a paranoid citizenry who, like Sen. Rand Paul (R – Ky.), mistakenly falls into the delusion that arming more people with guns is the answer.  

So here America is, coping with this assault on our sensibility, at a time during the year when we celebrate the teaching of the great civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was King who successfully applied the force of nonviolent resistance to end segregation in America, and it is his voice we must listen to in this time of increasing violence in our culture.