Friday 24 March 2006

"Free At Last" (The CPT3)

I suppose that many, like me, have been following the story of the CPT4 hostages in Iraq. Not only Christians, but countless Muslims the world over have been watching and agonizing over this saga. This, of course, has highlighted the significant kidnaping problem in Iraq, but also raises questions about who would do such a thing because of a major difference in who was kidnaped this time - since Christian Peacemaker Teams is well-known in hot spots around the world for its risky advocacy work, especially, in that particular environment, among Iraqi detainees.

However, the news today is really BIG with the release of the remaining three as a result of some applied intelligence and a crew of rescuing troops who did not have to fire a shot because the captors had fled. Many are rejoicing around the world today, with gratitude, though it is significantly tempered because everyone is now fully released to grieve the recent death of Tom Fox, the American who died for peace. Some of hardly dared to hope for such an outcome, as they are in very good health it seems, judging from a plethora of news reports later today.

This trauma, and the subsequent freeing of these captives, raises theological as well as emotional/spiritual issues -- and of course, some unavoidable but interesting political discussion.

I am not surprised that some are wondering just how we -- those of us who hold to a firm theologically-grounded position of peaceful non-violent intervention as the best tactical strategy for resistance to evil -- are now going to respond to these developments and outcomes. Comments like "So...NOW you're grateful for the role of the military, those who had to rescue these foolish people..." and so on...

Certainly, some very important questions remain to be addressed, especially regarding what has been learned and what the next steps should be. (I'm personally engaged in all that as a friend and former colleague of one of the visionaries who helped start the CPT organization, with whom I maintain contact. I also have two friends among those currently active "on the front lines" of CPT, one of whom was on hand to help receive Tom Fox's body at Dover Air Force Base, and was able to confirm that, contrary to previous news reports, there was no evidence of torture - he did NOT have his throat slashed - before he was shot. CPT has asked Newsweek and other press to retract that false report.) I won't go further into my personal thoughts on "who did this and what motivated them" in this column -- I have addressed that previously. Much discussion is already underway within the world-wide Christian "peace and justice movement" on all these questions.

Meanwhile, what I want to offer right now, for readers to ponder, is a carefully nuanced reflection by a kindred spirit who really "says it all" for me on this subject - from a theological/faith perspective. The writer is not someone from my own Anabaptist theological background, as one might first suspect (check the byline at the end):

'Free at Last'
by Rose Marie Berger

I woke at 5:30 a.m. to the news on the BBC that the remaining three Christian Peacemakers held captive in Iraq and finally been released. I knelt by the side of my bed and wept - with the joy of liberation and the grief of the suffering these brothers have endured for the sake of the cross.

For nearly four months, as a global community, we have prayed our way down this via dolorosa. We have prayed for Jim Loney, Norman Kember, Harmeet Sooden, and Tom Fox's safety and protection. We have prayed for the state of the soul of their captors. We have mourned and cried out to God when Tom's broken body was found on the airport road in Baghdad. We have prayed and labored for the thousands of detained, disappeared, kidnapped, abused and tortured Iraqis. And now, we break our Lenten fast from the resurrection word, and say "Alleluia! Alleluia! Our brothers are free at last!"

As the news of their experience unfolds it will no doubt be controversial that the release of these pacifists was catalyzed by a multi-national military force. No doubt, some will use it as proof that Christian nonviolence and unarmed peacemaking are a fool's errand. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Christian Peacemaker Teams have done more to advance "liberty and justice for all" without ever wielding a weapon than all our "shock and awe" campaigns.
Every Christian is charged with resisting evil, but none are given the right to kill. Jesus did not kill anyone, nor threaten to kill anyone if they didn't follow his command. His strength and persuasion were in his spiritual authority, not in the weapon.

The "peace" that comes through military action is a weak creature that develops through submission and fear, not the deep peace of Christ rooted in righteousness and justice. Conversely, "sword of righteousness" wielded by the Christian peacemaker is a metaphor for the Word of God that cuts through the gauze of worldly custom; a sword to prick the conscience; a choice that must be made to take up the cross of Christ.

We pray for the soldiers who risked their lives to free Jim, Norman, and Harmeet. We give thanks to God that, through excellent intelligence work and skilled operations, they manifested an unprecedented respect for CPT's commitment to nonviolence by rescuing them without a shot being fired and without injury to any parties. Like the soldier in Matthew 8: 5-13, they too were able to participate in the moment of God's liberation. We pray that they will be convicted by the spiritual authority of these brave Christian peacemakers and with the wisdom and knowledge of Christ who said "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
It would be easy to pit the peacemaker against the soldier - but it would be wrong to do so. There are soldiers who serve "the least of these" in Iraq. It was an unknown American soldier who decided to drape Tom Fox's casket with a flag to honor his sacrifice. And there are peacemakers who thrive more on their own anger, self-righteousness, and personal purity, than on authentic deeply rooted sacrificial love.

"In the Exodus-Sinai tradition," writes black liberation theologian James Cone, "Yahweh is disclosed as the God of history, whose revelation is identical with [God's] power to liberate the oppressed. There is no knowledge of Yahweh except through [God's] political activity on behalf of the weak and the helpless of the land."

We rejoice that our brothers have been "brought out" of and liberated from their captivity by the God of history - working through our human capacities. We celebrate with their families, loved ones, and colleagues around the world. We give thanks for all those who risked their lives to speak out on behalf of the Christian peacemakers - especially those in the Muslim world. Now, also, we are free to grieve completely for Tom Fox, who laid down his life for his friends.
We revel in our knowledge of a God who "acts on behalf of the weak and the helpless of the land" - a living God of history. It is this living God that gives us the strength and commitment to continue advocating for the the estimated 14,000 Iraqis held in prison by Coalition, Multi-National and Iraqi forces, of whom, according to Coalition intelligence officers, "between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake."

Jim, Harmeet, and Norman: Welcome home.

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor of Sojourners, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.

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