Writings

CPT's growth and development has always been the result of action coupled with reflection. We offer a selection of key writings that have come to undergird CPT's theological and intellectual foundation.

The Challenge Continues (2009)

Address to Mennonite World Conference, Paraguay, July 2009
by Sandra Milena Rincón (translated by Carol Rose)


Twenty-five years ago at the Mennonite World Conference in France, the Anabaptist churches of the north were challenged by a call that history was issuing to the pacifist church, a call to intervene actively as a nonviolent Christian army in support of communities affected by violence and armed conflict around the world.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) grew from this call.  The formation process took several years of defining the most appropriate mission, vision, objectives, and methodologies of the work these Christian volunteers would undertake.  From these beginnings, CPT began an ongoing program of spiritual and political accompaniment of communities affected by violence and armed conflict in different parts of the world.  CPT also initiated its work of prophetic proclamation within and outside of the churches.  During these years, CPT has profoundly transformed and grown in ways no one could have predicted, and the loving hands of the Creator have constantly molded the organization using the communities with which it has worked closely.

Truly, we would not be were we are now if it were not for the local communities who have given us the opportunity to be present in their struggle and to support their nonviolent resistance to powers that will not allow them to live in their land with dignity. The families of shepherds and farmers and students in Palestine, the indigenous communities of the United States, Canada and Colombia, the displaced communities of Kurdistan and the families of detainees in Baghdad’s prison, the communities of miners, farmers and social organizations in Colombia, the women of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Mayan indigenous communities in Mexico, the community of Jeremie in Haiti, and many other communities and organizations, have opened their doors to us during these twenty-five years—sometimes with doubts or uneasiness about what we would do or what we wanted—but they opened the door to us so that we could actively participate in their projects for justice and peace, in their hopes and in the challenges they faced. They have offered us hospitality, warmth and the blessing of considering us their brothers and sisters in the midst of their struggles, companions on the road.

CPT has been a Christian organization that has traveled many paths, has made errors in judgment, has honored moments of grief, has worked through difficult situations, and has celebrated with joy events that arise from a deep commitment to Life. We have shared with visionary men and women whose accumulated life experiences challenge daily our faith and commitment to justice.  Yes, we approached them believing that as Christians we would be the ones to help them, but that was not the case.  The communities continually remind us that the commitment to justice and peace cannot be carried out by a small group of people with good intentions; rather it must happen in conjunction with the communities, the grassroots organizations and individuals who are convinced that nonviolence is a viable route to peace.

For CPT, this commitment involves a serious analysis of how structural expressions of violence like racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc. perpetuate capitalism, neoliberalism, and imperialism.  These forms of domination and control in turn perpetuate violence that takes the forms of hunger, poverty, discrimination, insecurity, displacement, and war. CPT cannot carry out this analysis alone; the process involves other organizations, communities, and churches going through similar processes.  More than anything, the analysis and the work require that CPT become vulnerable and humble so that it can transform itself.  Through this analysis, CPT has understood that we must start with a critique of ourselves, discerning the role that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, have in a changing and complex world.

The original vision has grown, deepened, and become more challenging.  While by accompanying these communities, CPT honors its call as a progressive organization, in doing so it is also fulfilling its commitment to become a more inclusive, ecumenical, and diverse community of love, a place where God’s grace and wisdom keep flowing.  CPT maintains its vision of educating and raising awareness within the church to encourage its active participation in the transformation of systems and structures that perpetuate the forms of violence that afflict these communities.

In the seven years, I have been in CPT, I have seen this organization become both more human and more humble.  Yes, we are a group of activists, passionate pacifists, followers of Christ, a bit stubborn and very committed.  We have been profoundly transformed by the communities we accompany, and they have given us a new vision of life, resistance, justice, peace, and the Reign of God.  Yes, we receive training and we each come into the work with our own experiences and history, but it is the interaction with diverse communities in each region and with their history that has given us a deep understanding of our work and of the call to continue accompanying them.  Yes, we have our origins in the Church and we depend on the Church and your support, but first, we depend on God.

Even so, CPT is far from being the organization that we hope and long for, far from the organization that I desire; but I feel hope because CPT understands that to collaborate in peacebuilding is a long-haul journey in which we need to recognize and join together with the strength and the voices of those who have taken on the challenge long before we did, to join them in solidarity and with respect.  Many communities continue to believe that we have a role to play in their efforts for justice and life, the role of accompanier, and we would like to honor their trust, recognizing our own responsibility for their situation and the opportunity they give us to join with them in the change to come.

After twenty-five years, CPT must face an even larger challenge, one that is no less rich.  It calls us to work in a global context where the struggle to keep hope alive continues to be at the root of bringing the Reign of God to life.  Being present in the way has not been, is not, and will not be easy; there is much work to do and our strength easily falters.  Nevertheless, as CPT, we continue to answer the call of God that we hear in the voices of the communities we accompany and that we feel through the support of our own faith communities.

To continue in this Way, we need many men and women, communities, organizations and churches ready to commit themselves deeply to the pacifist, anti-oppressive, loving, nonviolent message of Jesus —men and women working to transform or to break the chains of oppression that bind humanity, that bind our brothers and sisters; men and women who understand that the work of building the Reign of God starts with sincere transforming reflections from our own hearts, guided by the Spirit of God, which then become an ethical commitment to the communities with whom we work.  These are the words that, in the name of CPT, I wish to bring to you today.  Thank you for all of the support that we have received and continue to receive from you the global Anabaptist community.

God's People Reconciling

by Ronald J. Sider

The following is a speech presented by Ron Sider to those gathered at the Mennonite World Conference in Strasbourg, France in the summer of 1984. His call to active peacemaking sparked study groups in Anabaptist churches all over North America and ultimately gave rise to the formation of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in 1986.

 

God's People Reconciling

Over our past 450 years of martyrdom, migration and missionary proclamation, the God of shalom has been preparing us Anabaptists for a late twentieth-century rendezvous with history. The next twenty years will be the most dangerous -- and perhaps the most vicious and violent -- in human history. If we are ready to embrace the cross, God's reconciling people will profoundly impact the course of world history.

Violent economic structures annually maim and murder the poor by the millions. Idolatrous nationalism, religious bigotry, racial prejudice, and economic selfishness turn people against people in terrifying orgies of violence in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Southern Africa, and Latin America. The competing self-righteous ideologies of the United States and the Soviet Union trample arrogantly on the people's dreams for justice and freedom in Central America and Afghanistan, the Philippines and Poland. Always, behind every regional conflict which kills thousands or millions, lurks the growing possibility of a nuclear exchange between the superpowers which would kill hundreds of millions. We teeter on the brink of nuclear holocaust.

Our 450 years of commitment to Jesus' love for enemies finds its kairos in these two terrifying decades. This could be our finest hour. Never has the world needed our message more. Never has it been more open. Now is the time to risk everything for our belief that Jesus is the way to peace. If we still believe it, now is the time to live what we have spoken.

To rise to this challenge of history, we need to do three things: 1)we need to reject the ways we have misunderstood or weakened Jesus' call to be peacemakers; 2) we need to embrace the full biblical understanding of shalom; 3) and we need to prepare to die by the thousands.

Jesus' Call To Be Peacemakers

First, the misunderstandings. Too often we fall into an isolationist pacifism which silently ignores or perhaps profits from injustice and war as long as our boys don't have to fight. Provided conscientious objector status protects our purity and safety, our neighbors need not fear that we will raise troubling questions about the injustice their armies reinforce or the civilians they maim and kill. The most famous advocate of our time, Mahatma Gandhi, once said that if the only two choices are to kill or to stand quietly by doing nothing while the weak are oppressed and killed, then, of course, we must kill. I agree.

But there is always a third option. We can always prayerfully and nonviolently place ourselves between the weak and the oppressor. Do we have the courage to move from the back lines of isolationist pacifism to the front lines of nonviolent peacemaking?

Sometimes we justify our silence with the notion that pacifism is a special vocation for us peculiar Anabaptists. It is not for other Christians. But this approach will not work. In fact, it is probably the last stop before total abandonment of our historic peace witness. If pacifism is not God's will for all Christians, then it is not God's will for any. On the other hand, if the one who taught us to love our enemies is the eternal Son who became flesh in the carpenter who died and rose and now reigns as Lord of the universe, then the peaceful way of nonviolence is for all who believe and obey him. Do we have the courage to summon the entire church to forsake the way of violence?

Sometimes we weaken and confuse our peace witness with an Anabaptist version of Martin Luther's two- kingdom doctrine. Luther said that in the spiritual kingdom, God rules by love. Therefore in our private lives as Christians, we dare never act violently. But in the secular kingdom, God rules by the sword. Therefore, the same person in the role of executioner or soldier rightly kills. I was talking recently with one of our Anabaptist church leaders for whim I have the deepest respect. He said that he was a pacifist and believed it would be wrong for him to go to war. But he quickly added that the government is supposed to have armies. The United States, he added, had unfortunately fallen behind the Soviet Union and therefore President Reagan's nuclear build-up was necessary and correct. I suspect he and many other American Mennonites and Brethren in Christ have endorsed the current arms race at the ballot box.

If we want wars to be fought, then we ought to have the moral integrity to fight them ourselves. To vote for other people's sons and daughters to march off to death while ours safely register as conscientious objectors is the worst form of confused hypocrisy. If, on the other hand, we believe that Jesus' nonviolent cross is the way to peace, then we need to implore everyone to stop seeking security in ever more lethal weapons. Jesus wept over Jerusalem's coming destruction because it did not recognize his way of peace. Do we have the courage to warn the governments of the world that the ever upward spiral of violence will lead to annihilation?

Finally, the affluent are regularly tempted to separate peace from justice. We affluent Anabaptists, in North America and Western Europe, can do that by focusing all our energies on saving our own skins from nuclear holocaust and neglecting the fact that injustice now kills millions every year. We can also do it by denouncing revolutionary violence without condemning and correcting the injustice that causes that violence. In Central America today, fifty percent of the children die before the age of five because of starvation, malnutrition, and related diseases. At the same time, vast acres of the best land in Central America grow export crops for North Americans and Western Europeans. Unjust economic structures today murder millions of poor people. Our call to reject violence, whether it comes from affluent churches in industrialized countries or middle-class congregations in Third World nations, will have integrity only if we are willing to engage in costly action to correct injustice. Thank God for the courageous youth that MCC has sent to stand with the poor. But that is only a fraction of what we could have done. The majority of our people continue to slip slowly into numbing, unconcerned affluence. Do we have the courage as a united reconciling people to show the poor of the earth our peace witness is not a subtle support for an unjust status quo, but rather a commitment to risk danger and death so that justice and peace may embrace?

 

Embrace The Biblical Vision Of Shalom

Acknowledging past temptations and misunderstandings is essential. But we dare not remain mired in our failures. Instead we can allow the fullness of the biblical vision of shalom to transform us into a reconciling people ready to challenge the madness of the late twentieth century.

The richness of the biblical vision of peace is conveyed in the Hebrew word "shalom". Shalom means right relationships in every area -- with God, with neighbor, and with the earth. Leviticus 26:3-6 describes the comprehensive shalom which God will give to those who walk in obedient relationship to God. The earth will yield rich harvests, wild animals will not ravage the countryside, and the sword will rest. Shalom means not only the absence of war but also a land flowing with milk and honey. It also includes just economic relationships with the neighbor. It means the fair division of land so that all families can earn their own way. It means the Jubilee and sabbatical release of debts so that great extremes of wealth and poverty do not develop among God's people. The result of such justice, Isaiah says, is peace (32:16-17). And the psalmist reminds us that God desires that "justice and peace will kiss each other" (Psalm 85:10). If we try to separate justice and peace, we tear asunder what God has joined together.

Tragically, the people of Israel refused to walk in right relationship with God and neighbor. They ran after false gods, and they oppressed the poor. So God destroyed first Israel and then Judah. But the prophets looked beyond the tragedy of national destruction to a time when God's Messiah, the Prince of Peace, would come to restore right relationships with God and neighbor. (e.g., Isaiah 9:2ff; 11:1ff).

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4). Jesus, Christians believe, was the long-expected Messiah. And just as the prophets had promised, shalom was at the heart of his messianic work and message. But Jesus' approach to peacemaking was not to lapse into passive nonresistance; it was not to withdraw to isolated solitude; it was not to teach one ethic for the private sphere and another for public life. Jesus modeled an activist challenge to the status quo, summoning the entire Jewish people to accept his nonviolent messianic strategy instead of the Zealot's militaristic methods.

Jesus' approach was not one of passive nonresistance. If Jesus' call not to resist one who is evil in Matthew 5:39 was a summons to pure nonresistance and the rejection of all forms of pressure and coercion, then Jesus regularly contradicted his own teaching. He unleashed a blistering attack on the Pharisees, denouncing them as blind guides, fools, hypocrites, and snakes -- surely psychological coercion of a vigorous type as is even the most loving church discipline which Jesus prescribed (Matthew 18:15ff).

Nor was Jesus nonresistant when he cleansed the temple! He engaged in aggressive resistance against evil when he marched into the temple, drove the animals out with a whip, dumped the money tables upside down, and denounced the money changers as robbers. If Matthew 5:39 means that all forms of resistance to evil are forbidden, then Jesus disobeyed his own command. Jesus certainly did not kill the money changers. Indeed, I doubt that he even used his whip on them. But he certainly resisted their evil in a dramatic act of civil disobedience.

Or consider Jesus' response when a soldier unjustly struck him on the cheek at his trial (John 18:19-24). Instead of turning the other cheek and meekly submitting to this injustice, he protested! "If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" Apparently Jesus thought that protesting police brutality or engaging in civil disobedience in a nonviolent fashion was entirely consistent with his command not to resist the one who is evil.

Jesus would never have ended up on the cross if he had exemplified the isolationist pacifism of withdrawal. Nor would he have offended anyone if he had simply conformed to current values as we are often tempted to do when we abandon the pattern of isolation. Rejecting both isolation and accommodation, Jesus lived at the heart of his society challenging the status quo at every point where it was wrong.

Jesus upset men happy with the easy divorce laws that permitted them to dismiss their wives on almost any pretext. He defied the social patterns of his day that treated women as inferiors. Breaking social custom, he appeared publicly with women, taught them theology, and honored them with his first resurrection appearance.

Jesus angered political rulers, smugly satisfied with domination of their subjects with his call to servant leadership.

And he terrified the economic establishment, summoning materialists like the rich young ruler to give away their wealth, denouncing those who oppressed widows, and calling the rich to loan to the poor even if they had no hope of repayment (Luke 6:30ff). Indeed, he considered concern for the poor so important that he warned that those who do not feed the hungry and clothe the naked will go to hell.

Jesus disturbed the status quo -- but not for mere love of change. It was his commitment to shalom, to the right relationships promised in messianic prophecy, that make him a disturber of an unjust peace. He brought right relationships between men and women, between rich and poor by his radical challenge to the status quo.

Repeatedly in our history, the terror of persecution and the temptation of security have lured us to retreat to the safety of isolated solitude where our radical ideas threaten no one. But that was not Jesus' way. He challenged his society so vigorously and so forcefully that the authorities had only two choices. They had to accept his call to repentance and change or they had to get rid of him. Do we have the courage to follow in his steps?

Jesus approach was activist and vigorous, but it was not violent. A costly self-giving love, even for enemies, was central to his message. He called his followers to abandon retaliation, even the accepted "eye for an eye" of the Mosaic legal system. He said that his followers would persist in costly love even for enemies, even if those enemies never reciprocated.

It is hardly surprising that Christians have been tempted to weaken Jesus' call to costly self-sacrifice -- whether by postponing its application to the millennium, labeling it an impossible ideal, or restricting its relevance to some personal private sphere. The last is perhaps the most widespread and the most tempting. Did Jesus merely mean that although the individual Christian in his personal role should respond nonviolently to enemies, that same person as public official may kill them?

In his historical context, Jesus came as the Messiah of Israel with a plan and an ethic for the entire Jewish people. He advocated love toward political enemies as his specific political response to centuries of violence. His radical nonviolence was a conscious alternative to the contemporary Zealots' call for violent revolution to usher in the messianic kingdom. There is no hint that Jesus' reason for objecting to the Zealots was that they were unauthorized individuals whose violent sword would have been legitimate if the Sanhedrin had only given the order. On the contrary, his point was that the Zealots' whole approach to enemies, even unjust oppressive imperialists, was fundamentally wrong. The Zealots offered one political approach; Jesus offered another. But both appealed to the entire Jewish nation.

The many premonitions of national disaster in the Gospels indicate that Jesus realized that the only way to avoid destruction and attain messianic shalom was through a forthright rejection of the Zealots' call to arms. In fact, Luke places the moving passage about Jesus' weeping over Jerusalem immediately after the triumphal entry -- just after Jesus had disappointed popular hopes with his insistence on a peaceful messianic strategy. "And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, 'Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!'" (Luke 19:4ff).

Zealot violence, Jesus knew, would lead to national destruction. It was an illusion to look for peace through violence. The way of the Suffering Servant was the only way to messianic shalom. Jesus' invitation to the entire Jewish people was to believe that the messianic kingdom was already breaking into the present. Therefore, if they would accept God's forgiveness and follow his Messiah, they could begin now to live according to the peaceful values of the messianic age. Understood in this historical setting, Jesus' call to love enemies can hardly be limited to the personal sphere of private life.

Furthermore, the personal-public distinction also seems to go against the most natural, literal meaning of the text. There is no hint whatsoever in the text of such a distinction. In fact, Jesus' words are full of references to public life. "Resist not evil" applies, Jesus says, when people take you to court (Matthew 5:40) and when foreign rulers legally demand forced labor (v. 41). Indeed, the basic norm Jesus transcends (an eye for an eye) was a fundamental principle of the Mosaic legal system. We can safely assume that members of the Sanhedrin and other officials heard Jesus words. The most natural conclusion is that Jesus intended his words to be normative not just in private but also in public life.

We have examined the horizontal shalom with the neighbor which Jesus brought. But Jesus also announced and accomplished a new peace with God. Constantly he proclaimed God's astonishing forgiveness to all who repent. And then he obeyed the Father's command to die as the atonement for God's sinful enemies.

God's attitude toward sinful enemies revealed at the cross is the foundation of nonviolence. Let us never ground our pacifism in sentimental imitation of the gentle Nazarene or in romantic notions of heroic martyrdom. Our commitment to nonviolence is rooted in the heart of historic Christian faith. It is grounded in the incarnation of the eternal Son of God and in his substitutionary atonement at the cross.

Jesus said that God's way of dealing with enemies was to persist in loving them. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Why? "So that you may be sons and daughters of your Creator in heaven." In fact, Jesus went even further. Jesus said that God's way of dealing with enemies was to take their evil upon himself. The crucified criminal hanging limp on the middle cross is the eternal Word who in the beginning was with God and indeed was God, but for our sake became flesh and dwelt among us. Only when we grasp that that is who the crucified one was, do we begin to fathom the depth of Jesus' teaching that God's way of dealing with enemies is the way of suffering love. By powerful parable and dramatic demonstration, Jesus had taught that God forgives sinners again and again. Then he died on the cross to accomplish that reconciliation. The cross is the most powerful statement about God's way of dealing with enemies. Jesus made it very clear that he intended to die and that he understood that death as a ransom for others.

That the cross is the ultimate demonstration that God deals with enemies through suffering love receives its clearest theological expression in St. Paul. Listen to Romans 5:8-10: "God shows love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of God's Son." Jesus' vicarious death for sinners is the foundation of, and the deepest expression of, Jesus command to love our enemies. We are enemies of God in a double sense. For one thing because sinful persons are hostile to God and for another because the just, holy Creator cannot tolerate sin. For those who know the law, failure to obey it results in a divine curse. But Christ redeemed us from that curse by becoming a curse for us. Jesus' blood on the cross was an expiation for us sinful enemies of God. He who knew no sin was made sin for you and me.

Jesus vicarious death for sinful enemies of God is the foundation of our commitment to nonviolence. The incarnate one knew that God was loving and merciful even toward sinful enemies. That's why he associated with sinners, forgave their sins, and completed his mission by dying for them on the cross. And it was precisely the same understanding of God that prompted him to command his followers to love their enemies. We as God's children are to imitate the loving characteristics of our heavenly God who rains mercifully on the just and the unjust. That's why we should love our enemies. The vicarious cross of Christ is the fullest expression of the character of God. At the cross God suffered for sinners in the person of the incarnate Son. We will never understand all the mystery there. But it's precisely because the one hanging limp on the middle cross was the word who became flesh that we know two interrelated things. First, that a just God mercifully accepts us sinful enemies just as we are. And second, that God wants us to go and treat our enemies exactly the same way. What a fantastic fulfillment of the messianic promise of shalom. Jesus did bring right relationships -- both with God and with neighbor. In fact, he created a new community of shalom, a reconciled and reconciling people. As Ephesians 2 shows, peace with God through the cross demolishes hostile divisions among all those who stand together under God's unmerited forgiveness. Women and slaves became persons. Jews accepted Gentiles. Rich and poor shared their economic abundance. So visibly different was this new community of shalom that onlookers could only exclaim: "Behold how they love one another". Their common life validated their gospel of peace.

And so it must always be. Only if people see a reconciled people in our homes and our congregations will they be able to hear our invitation to forsake the way of retaliation and violence. If I am not allowing the Holy Spirit to heal the brokenness in my relationship with my spouse, I have little right to speak to my president about international reconciliation. If our Mennonite and Brethren in Christ congregations are not becoming truly reconciled communities, it is a tragic hypocrisy for us to try to tell secular governments how to overcome international hostility. It is a farce for the church to try to legislate what our congregations will not live.

On the other hand, living models impact history. Even small groups of people practicing what they preach, laying down their lives for what they believe, influence society all out of proportion to their numbers. I believe the Lord of history wants to use the small family of Anabaptists scattered across the globe to help shape history in the next two decades.

 

Die By The Thousands

But to do that, we must not only abandon mistaken ideas and embrace the full biblical conception of shalom. One more thing is needed. We must take up our cross and follow Jesus to Golgotha. We must be prepared to die by the thousands.

Those who have believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives. Again and again, they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time. For their loved ones, for justice, and for peace, they have laid down their lives by the millions.

Why do we pacifists think that our way -- Jesus' way -- to peace will be less costly? Unless we Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are ready to start to die by the thousands in dramatic vigorous new exploits for peace and justice, we should sadly confess that we really never meant what we said. We did, of course, in earlier times. In previous centuries, we died for our convictions. But today we have grown soft and comfortable. We cling to our affluence and our respectability.

Unless comfortable North American and European Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are prepared to risk injury and death in nonviolent opposition to the injustice our societies foster and assist in Central America, the Philippines, and South Africa, we dare never whisper another word about pacifism to our sisters and brothers in those desperate lands. Unless we are ready to die developing new nonviolent attempts to reduce international conflict, we should confess that we never really meant the cross was an alternative to the sword. Unless the majority of our people in nuclear nations are ready as congregations to risk social disapproval and government harassment in a clear ringing call to live without nuclear weapons, we should sadly acknowledge that we have betrayed our peacemaking heritage. Making peace is as costly as waging war. Unless we are prepared to pay the cost of peacemaking, we have no right to claim the label or preach the message.

Our world is at an impasse. The way of violence has led us to the brink of global annihilation. Desperately, our contemporaries look for alternatives. But they will never find Jesus' way to peace credible unless those of us who have proudly preached it are willing to die for it.

Last spring I attended a large evangelical conference on the nuclear question. I shared my Anabaptist convictions and called for Christian nonviolent peacekeeping forces to move into areas of conflict such as the Nicaragua-Honduras border. A former chief of the U.S. Air Force who was there told me that he was ready to join in that kind of alternative. As we talked I realized he was so terrified by the current impasse of nuclear terror that he was ready to explore every nonviolent alternative for resolving international conflict.

A number of us Mennonites are part of the Witness for Peace which now has a small nonviolent task force permanently located on the Nicaragua-Honduras border. To be sure, those few dozen Christians can offer only symbolic opposition to the weapons of war that flow both ways across that border. But think of what a few thousand could do! What would happen if the

Christian church stationed as many praying Christians as the U.S. government has sent armed guerrillas across that troubled border?

What would happen if we in the Christian church developed a new nonviolent peacekeeping force of 100,000 persons ready to move into violent conflicts and stand peacefully between warring parties in Central America, Northern Ireland, Poland, Southern Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan? Frequently we would get killed by the thousands. But everyone assumes that for the sake of peace it is moral and just for soldiers to get killed by the hundreds of thousands, even millions. Do we not have as much courage and faith as soldiers?

Again and again, I believe, praying, Spirit-filled, nonviolent peacekeeping forces would by God's special grace, be able to end the violence and nurture justice. Again and again, we would discover that love for enemies is not utopian madness or destructive masochism but rather God's alternative to the centuries of escalating violence that now threatens the entire planet. But the cross -- death by the thousands by those who believe Jesus -- is the only way to convince our violent world of the truth of Christ's alternative.

I want to plead with the Mennonites. Brethren in Christ, and others in the Historic Peace Churches to take the lead in the search for new nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution. We could decide to spend 25 million dollars in the next three years developing a sophisticated, highly trained nonviolent peacekeeping force. The most sophisticated expertise in

diplomacy, history, international politics, and logistics would be essential. So would a radical dependence on the Holy Spirit. Such a peacekeeping task force of committed Christians would immerse every action in intercessory prayer. There would be prayer chains in all our congregations as a few thousand of our best youth walked into the face of death, inviting all parties to end the violence and work together for justice.

If as a body we started such a program, we could invite the rest of the Christian church to join us. In fact, as the Witness for Peace shows, other have already begun. If we are not careful, God will raise up others to live out the heritage we have feared to apply to the problems of our day. Together the Christian church could afford to train and deploy 100,000 persons in a new nonviolent peacekeeping force. The result would not be utopia, or even the abolition of war. But it might tug our trembling planet back from the abyss.

I have one final plea. I know we live in a vicious, violent world. I know it takes more than winning smiles and moral advice to enable sinners to love their enemies. Sinners will never be able to fully follow Jesus' ethic. But they ought to. That they do not is the measure of their sinful rebellion. But regenerated Spirit-filled Christians can follow Jesus. Our only hope is a mighty peace revival that converts sinners and revives the church.

In the next decades, I believe we will see disaster and devastation on a scale never before realized in human history, unless God surprises our unbelieving world with a mighty worldwide peace revival. Therefore, my final plea is that we fall on our knees in intercessory prayer pleading with God for a global peace revival. At the worst of times in the past, God has broken into human history in mighty revivals that led to social movements that changed history. The Wesleyan revival in the eighteenth century resulted in Wilberforce's great crusade against slavery that changed the British Empire. The same could happen in the next few decades. Pray that God revives millions of lukewarm Christians. Pray that God draws millions of non-Christians into a personal living relationship with the risen Lord. Pray that millions and millions of people in all the continents of our small planet come to see that Jesus is the way to peace and peace is the way of Jesus. Pray that with our eyes fixed on the crucified one, the church will dare to pay the cost of being God's reconciling people in a broken world.

Today is the hour of decision. The long upward spiral of violence and counter violence today approaches its catastrophic culmination. Either the world repents and changes or it self-destructs.

For centuries we Anabaptists have believed there is a different way, a better way. Our world needs that alternative. Now. But the world will be able to listen to our words only if large numbers of us live out the words we speak. Our best sons and daughters, our leaders, and all our people must be ready to die. The cross comes before the resurrection.

There is finally only one question: Do we believe Jesus enough to pay the price of following him? Do you? Do I?

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Interventions of Truth

by John Stoner

INTRODUCTION


Does the church have an alternative to the world's destructive military responses to troubled regions like Kuwait, Somalia and Bosnia? Is there another power to confront evil, a power which grows out of moral and spiritual commitments?

Somewhere the thought must be introduced that violence and war are not the answer. Christians must ask, "If it is believed that war is the answer to the raging of evil, then what is the answer to the raging of war?"

Some people believe that World War II was the "good war", but in its wake came the world arms race, which has ruined economies, raped the earth, starved tens of millions, and threatens nuclear holocaust. Purportedly to end one dreadful holocaust, the advocates of war set in motion the engines of another immeasurably greater holocaust. As John Dear has said, "In a sense, World War II never ended; it became the nuclear arms race" (Our God is Nonviolent, p.2). If that was a good war, what would a bad one look like?

To its credit, the church does show signs of becoming increasingly uncomfortable with war. As Christians fight Christians (or Muslims, or Serbs, or Croats) in one place after another, the church is not pleased with the behavior of its members. So it preaches a few sermons, convenes a conference or two and wrings its hands, yet generally ends up siding with those who justify violent intervention. Destructive institutions, when deeply entrenched, are not easily discredited, and war is no exception.

There is, however, another possibility for the church. It is called Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). Its outlines are still dim, its size unimpressive, but its origins are in a soil so fertile that predictions of growth cannot be dismissed as flights of fantasy. Indeed, its roots are found in the pivotal event of history. CPT is based on the implications of faith, initiatives of love and interventions of truth which have come down from Jesus of Nazareth. Serious observers of the human drama do not take this kind of parentage lightly.

IMPLICATIONS OF FAITH

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an implication of Christian faith as understood in the Anabaptist and historic peace church traditions. CPT is rooted in the life of Jesus, who is the guiding example and energizing gift of faith to those who follow him. Prayer, politics and pacifism are implications of the faith practiced by Jesus and his followers.

Prayer

Before his public ministry began, Jesus lived in solitary prayer for 40 days in the wilderness. In his desert experience he sought the will of God for his life. Filled with the Spirit of God at his baptism and guided by the words of the prophets, Jesus probed the shape and method of his vocation before he set out to live it.


Prayer precedes mission and action. For CPT this means that both the corporate and individual mission must find their direction and energy in prayer. "Nonviolence is rooted in prayer," says John Dear in his book Disarming the Heart (Herald Press, 1993). "As a way of life that resists evil, speaks the truth, risks suffering and death and enters into the process of global transformation, nonviolence relies entirely on God. It begins with prayer, with a heart open to the God of peace."

Prayer for CPT began ten years ago when Ron Sider proposed to the Mennonite World Conference that followers of the nonviolent Jesus should launch a nonviolent army over the years. Prayer has been a central part of every CPT training, conference and public action. Today scores of individuals wrestle in prayer with their call to volunteer for a CPT team, or for a three year term with the Christian Peacemaker Corps. CPTers pray for direction, for courage, and for strength to avoid hatred and bitterness.

Life and death questions are involved in the CPT movement. The peace churches face a crisis of spirit and vocation. God is calling them to a task and commitment in the 90's which outstrips the conscientious objection and alternative service program of the '40's. It is indeed time for wilderness and Gethsemane sized prayer.

Jesus' prayer in the desert continued through his public ministry and culminated in the crisis of Gethsemane, where the temptation to abandon his commitment to love his enemies shook him to the very core. It is clear from the life of Jesus that the nonviolent struggle for justice is not easy, but also evident that his "hunger and thirst to see right prevail" (Matt. 5:6) led to resurrection. The disciples who slept through the prayer in the garden proceeded later to rely on the sword. The church is called to stay awake in prayer, to watch with heart alert. Nothing less can disarm human hearts of violence and arm them with the greater power of love.

Politics

Jesus' faith took him straight into the world of politics. CPT, if it is a movement of faith, will likewise engage political powers in the struggle over love and truth.

"The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news," said Jesus (Mark 1). When Jesus put the word "kingdom" at the center of his message, he made politics unavoidable. Kingdoms and kings were the centers of power and objects of loyalty and allegiance in that day. Power, loyalty and allegiance are what politics is about. When Jesus announced an alternate kingdom of God, he issued a challenge to every reigning king who claimed the allegiance of the people.

An influential book written in 1972 (revised 1994), The Politics of Jesus, by John Howard Yoder, profoundly challenged Christendom's myth of the nonpolitical Jesus. With a careful exposition of texts in the gospels, Yoder demonstrates that Jesus intended to establish a community of people who would love their enemies rather than kill them. In this Jesus performed a highly political act. The establishment of his alternate community meant that kings lost the loyalty of their subjects, because the highest duty of subjects was to defend the kingdom from its enemies with the sword. A nonviolent community subverted the very heart of a community based on violence. That subversion upset the kings and priests in Jesus' time, and 2000 years later it still challenges presidents and their religious allies.

People of faith who have declared their allegiance to God have thereby made every allegiance to presidents and premiers of lesser importance. This is a crucial political implication of Christian faith, and its practice in the real world creates tension and conflict. Christian Peacemaker Teams have experienced those tensions when they have practiced "civil disobedience" -- which in their view is the lesser side of "divine obedience." Such is the worship of God according to Jesus.

Pacifism

The prayer of Jesus led him to a politics of pacifism. The nonviolence, or pacifism of Jesus, was his means of struggle for justice. Filled with compassion for the oppressed, the poor, the sick and the hungry, Jesus actively confronted the oppressors, spoke the painful truth, and stirred up trouble, but always nonviolently.

Let's note one such intervention. Jesus was in the synagogue on the Sabbath (Mark 3). It was the sacred space and holy day of those who defended the law and controlled the synagogue. Eagerly they watched to see whether Jesus would break their law by healing a man with a withered hand.

"Come forward," Jesus said to the man. Then he asked, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent.

Then he looked at them with anger, and was grieved at their hardness of heart. He healed the man, and the Pharisees went out and conspired with the Herodians how to destroy him (Mark 3). His intervention of truth got him into trouble.

Susan Mark Landis returned from a CPT trip to Haiti and wrote this about the team's public walk to the Haitian slave freedom statue across from the presidential palace: "...we saw no groups of military on the watch, and I felt safe taking part. The Haitians who walked by were overjoyed to hear the songs and feel our presence supporting them during a difficult time. Never would I have dreamed that these simple acts would have meant anything. Yet, one man stopped and told a member of our group, 'Seeing you here gives me hope.' To this man, knowing that some North Americans were aware of the turmoil of life in Haiti, and caring, gave strength to continue."

The active nonviolence of Jesus generated the opposition which ultimately executed him on the cross. CPT is committed to the practice of active nonviolence. It can be expected that this will generate strong, even violent, opposition. Some of that opposition is likely to come from Christians who reject the pacifist implication of faith. It may be necessary to ask whether these people are Christians or "Crestians." (The author apologizes in advance to Christians who might take offense at the following paragraph. He assumes that no apology would be necessary to those who have suffered and died by the hand of "Crestians" if they were here to speak.)

Crestians are Christians without the nonviolence of Jesus. The word is a linguistic mutation which expresses the church's mutation of the meaning of Christ (Messiah). The historical Jesus permitted himself to be identified as the expected Messiah (Christ) only after he had painstakingly removed himself from the military images of the Davidic kingship. In view of this it is astounding that people who now bear the name of Christ should consider it reasonable to don the warrior's helmet. The crest of that helmet, rather than the Christ of the donkey and the cross, is surely a more apt symbol of the spirit of modern Christians who reject the pacifism of Christ. Hence the name Crestians.

In summary, CPT is rooted first in the implications of faith: prayer, politics and pacifism. In addition, CPT aspires to the initiatives of love which Jesus also incarnated: healing, hospitality and honesty. We turn now to these.

INITIATIVES OF LOVE

Compassionate action is CPT's method of pursuing justice for the oppressed. By acts of healing, hospitality and honesty toward people who are suffering police brutality, who are denied the right to speak, whose land and homes have been confiscated by oppressive powers or who are denied access to adequate diet, health care and education, CPT penetrates boundaries of isolation and despair. CPTers weave bonds of human caring and invite divine intervention. Such compassionate action is rooted in the life of Jesus, who when he was confronted with oppressive and violent behavior responded with "transforming initiatives" of love, to use the language of Glen Stassen in his book Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace.

Healing

Transforming initiatives are surprising responses to aggressive or oppressive behavior. Jesus entered a world of pain and suffering, much of which was caused by the misuse of power by oppressive rulers (rather than by the victims' sin, as popularly believed). Many voices were calling for the violent overthrow of the oppressors. Instead, Jesus launched a program of healing and teaching. His weapons were compassion and truth rather than coercion and force. His entire way of life and teaching constituted a transforming initiative.

In the life of Jesus healing was a striking alternative to coercive threats as a form of political power. Jesus enacted his message of a new political sovereignty (with its implied threat to all currently recognized sovereignties) by healing Simon's mother-in-law, a leper and a paralytic, as well as many who were sick and possessed with demons (Mark 1 & 2). Healing was an exercise of the power of this new kingdom. When Jesus commissioned the 70 missionaries he said to them: "heal the sick and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you'" (Luke 10). It is clear that the disciples were to take the message of Jesus into the world by practicing the politics of healing.

In his book Engaging The Powers, Walter Wink says, "Compassion is the hallmark of Jesus' God. Consequently, Jesus' healings and exorcisms, which play such a major role in his ministry, are not simply patches on a body destined for death regardless; they are manifestations of God's Reign on earth now, an inbreaking of eternity into time, a revelation of God's merciful nature, a promise of the restitution of all things in the heart of the loving Author of the universe" (p. 135).

CPT bears witness to this understanding of God when it practices healing initiatives of love.

Hospitality

Hospitality toward outsiders and enemies is another initiative of love rooted in the life of Jesus. Hospitality opens the door, the table, and the heart to those who are excluded by popular opinion. Hospitality is the expression of love toward those on the other side.

In November 1990 CPT sent a team to Baghdad, Iraq in an effort to bridge the gulf between George Bush and Saddham Hussein. It was the trip to the city of the enemy which Jonah refused to take, and one which Jesus apparently saw the ruling authorities in his day refusing to take. Jesus said that those self-righteous authorities would receive no sign except the sign of Jonah. They could see themselves in Jonah's story (Luke 11).

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an institutional expression of hospitality toward the enemy, an initiative of love. CPT moves beyond individual acts of charity by giving institutional support to teams which act in concert.

At the Krome Detention Center near Miami a CPT team vigiled in support of Haitian refugees being held inside. Security people set off smoke bombs to warn the vigilers. Confronted by threatening guards, some in gas masks, CPTers softly blew bubbles into the evening air. A CPTer writes: "As the bubbles wafted among the guards, they turned their backs to us, we saw their shoulders relax, laughter and embarrassed smiles replace hostility and fear, and they turned to us and asked, 'What are these bubbles,?' Gene Stoltzfus answered, 'Those bubbles are blessed, brother.'"

CPT is an expression of people who choose to believe and act on the command of Jesus, "Love your enemies." Healing and hospitality are initiatives of love.

Honesty

Honesty was a third initiative of love expressed by Jesus. Truth was his greatest power and main "weapon."

Hospitality is the practice of love toward outsiders, and honesty is the practice of love toward insiders. Honesty is the practice of truth in all circumstances, especially ones where silence or falsehood would appear less controversial or more effective.

Christian Peacemaker Teams can be expected to tell the truth to well positioned insiders from time to time, to people in power who would prefer the cover of silence to the disclosure of speech. CPTers learn this practice from Jesus, who time and again spoke truth in situations where silence or acquiescence would have been easier and safer.

The bold synagogue initiative of love by Jesus (Mark 3) contrasts sharply with the cautious works of charity which mark the church in our time. Being careful not to offend political powers, the church too often suppresses truth to avoid trouble. Christian Peacemaker Teams will risk offending those who abuse their power to maintain their position when loving them demands telling painful truth.

In summary, initiatives of love lift the struggle for justice above the downward spiral of violence against violence. Healing, hospitality and honesty introduce new dynamics into deadlocked situations of conflict, creating space for new responses and unexpected results.

INTERVENTIONS OF TRUTH

Perhaps the most characteristic mode of CPT action can be described as interventions of truth. Communicating and making space for truth where deceit prevails is the work of peacemaking. Where lies prevail, death is present. In places of death, interventions of truth are anticipations of resurrection. For Jesus and for CPT, typical interventions of truth involve travel, talk and trouble.

Travel

Truth comes and goes unfettered. Like the wind, it does not stand still, but moves where it wills (John 3). Efforts to contain, border and limit the truth betray lurking untruth. Messengers of truth, therefore, must often travel. One thinks of the disciples in Acts, traveling far and wide on their mission to share the liberating word of the gospel.

Jesus traveled into the world bringing a dimension from beyond. Even though his life in Galilee and Judea had its fixed points, he did not remain in one place. Following God's direction to go where truth was lacking, he often entered space where others claimed dominion and he was not really welcome. For example, in the holy space of Israel's religious authorities, the synagogue, a man with an unclean spirit asked him, "Have you come to destroy us?" (Mark 1). Again, after crossing the sea into the Gentile region of the Gerasenes, he cast out Legion, the demon of Roman militarism, only to be urged by the people to leave their neighborhood (Mark 5).

In the climactic journey of his life, as the power structure of priests and Pharisees in Jerusalem plotted to kill him, Jesus led a nonviolent procession into the city where they lived. He met their threats of officially sanctioned homicide with a simple act of truthtelling. The harmless donkey which he rode made a clear statement that God's power is not in the beat of the war stallion's hooves. The sight of the donkey placed the option of nonviolence squarely before the expectant populace. It clarified their choice between the nonviolent Jesus and the established religious and political leaders with their sanctions of homicide, reminding the people of Jesus' earlier words, "Beware the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod" (Mark 8). A new leader with a new type of power had arrived in the capitol city. It was their hour of decision.

Christian Peacemaker Teams is committed to travel as necessary, to hear the stories of the oppressed and to bring these stories back. Telling the stories can reduce human rights violations by shining the light of international attention on the behavior of persons who abuse their position and power. The stories also link people, prayer and resources across dividing boundaries and distance.

Truth carried by CPT has a decent respect for national boundaries, but as with the wind, the birds, and Jesus, it is not awed or imprisoned by them. At times the travel will be to the halls of power, in Jerusalem, Rome, Washington and Wall Street, where oppression is plotted and guards forbid entrance. The troubled globe cries out for interventions of truth through travel.

Talk

Truth is expressed in communication. Indeed, it is often discovered in communication, emerging in the midst of talk among seeking people. So when Jesus arrived, he talked, listened and responded.

Christian Peacemaker Teams also deal in words and conversation, language and communication. Freedom of speech is one of the main freedoms curtailed when travel is obstructed and human contact restricted. This is why laws of trespass seldom serve the human cause, and why disciples from St. Peter to Liz McAlister and the Berrigans have crossed forbidden lines to speak where they were ordered to remain silent.

After Jesus traveled into Jerusalem he talked in the temple, the center of power, religion and commerce. There he condemned economic exploitation, called for faith in God, taught the practice of forgiveness, challenged the leaders to rule justly, declared the love of God and of neighbor to be the greatest commandment and warned of coming judgment. He concluded the talk by drawing attention to a poor widow putting her two small copper coins into the treasury, which, he said, was "everything she had, all she had to live on" (Mark 12). "This poor woman," said Jesus, "has given more than the wealthy who deposited great sums." His words revealed how she was a victim of the great temple establishment which sucked up the very substance of her life to maintain its extravagance.

Jesus traveled to the centers of power and there he spoke about the sins of those who abused power in his society. For Christian Peacemaker Teams this is specific and decisive guidance. The prophets of Israel, and Jesus in his role as the greatest of them, consistently identified the central manifestation of sin as the abuse of concentrated religious, political and military power. In contrast, when the church becomes Christendom and allies itself with coercive power rather than with truth and love, it shifts the definition of sin away from concentrations of personal and corporate power which challenge the sovereign rulership of God, and focuses talk about sin on the failings of the weak and outcast on the margins of society. This is a subtle shift, but one which commits the church to preserving the surface tranquility of the oppressive status quo by passing over the sins of the oppressors.

Trouble

It is clear that Jesus' interventions of truth led him through travel and talk into trouble. It was not a process of merely stirring up trouble, but of exposing oppression. Jesus' ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and the events which immediately followed brought the pattern to its climax. We may object and say that that process was unique and unrepeatable or that we have found a better process, but we cannot easily discount the dynamics of that movement from travel to talk to trouble.

Martin Luther King, Jr., the courageous African American civil rights leader who was shot and killed in 1968, believed that redemption comes through interventions of truth, painful though they may be. John Dear writes in Our God is Nonviolent:

"On August 5, 1966, King led six hundred blacks and whites into the all-white Marquette Park section outside of Chicago, where they were met with shouts, rocks, bottles, and bricks. With every green lawn and white house the marchers passed, the violence got worse. A few minutes later, a knife was thrown at King, just missing him and striking a white onlooker instead. When critics charged him with provoking violence, King responded as he had throughout the South. 'We do not seek to precipitate violence. However, we are aware that the existence of injustice in society is the existence of violence, latent violence. We feel we must constantly expose this evil, even if it brings violence upon us.' If violence is brought out into the open, King maintained, 'then the community will be forced to deal with it'."

"Direct nonviolent action may appear only to provoke, or even alienate, opponents and observers. But if it is truly rooted in nonviolent love, it will lead to a revelation: the truth about society and its violence and oppression, and the silence that often accompanies them. And then the necessary reconciliation will follow. First hearts and minds will be changed, then the policies and systems that perpetuate the injustice will be altered." (pp. 19-20).

A faith which claims that God is redeeming the world through the execution of its leader would hardly be expected to make the avoidance of trouble a key tenet of its teaching. Neither would it expect large things to be accomplished without prayer and sacrifice, including church-wide financial sacrifice. Such a vision has an address, rent to pay, training to finance and mouths to feed.

IN CONCLUSION

CPT's FAITH (prayer, politics and pacifism), its LOVE (healing, hospitality and honesty), and its TRUTH (travel, talk and trouble) are anticipations of resurrection. We are responsible for the implications of faith, initiatives of love and interventions of truth. God does the resurrections.

John Stoner is a member of the Steering Committee of Christian Peacemaker Teams and works with Every Church a Peace Church.

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Making Yaweh's Rule Visible

by J. Denny Weaver

Connecting his experiences on a CPT delegation to Haiti with the old testament prophets and the gospels, Weaver argues that symbolic prophetic public witness can embody and point to the reality God intends for us.

This material originally appeared as "Making Yahweh's Rule Visible," in
Peace and Justice Shall Embrace: Power and Theopolitics in the Bible, a compilation of essays honoring Biblical scholar Millard Lind., edited by Ted Grimsrud and Loren L. Johns (Telford, Pa: Pandora Press U.S., 2000), pp. 34-48; copyright 1999 by Pandora Press U.S., used by permission, all rights reserved. For information regarding Peace and Justice Shall Embrace, see www.netreach.net/~pandoraus/ or contact the publisher at pandoraus@netreach.net; 215-723-9125; 126 Klingerman Rd.; Telford, PA 18969.


It took several moments before the labored English words from the quiet, elderly voice began to sink in. He said only, “When I hear you praying, I have hope.” But as the words penetrated my consciousness, I sensed the presence of God. I have never felt closer to God than at moment.

An important element of preparation for that moment was the study of the Old Testament, in particular the study of the Prophets that I did some thirty years ago with Millard Lind. In this essay, I will sketch the relationship between my experience with the elderly gentleman and the understanding of the Bible and what it means to be one of God’s people that I began to develop in those courses.

The weighty moment came at the culmination of my first trip to Haiti with Christian Peacemaker Teams (1) (CPT) in December 1992. When the elderly gentleman addressed us, our team was in the heart of Port-au-Prince. We had formed an uneven circle around a statue that served as a symbol of Haitian freedom. Two or three hundred meters away stood the two buildings that housed the government powers of Haiti -- the capitol building and the army headquarters.

Haiti was experiencing government by the military junta that had deposed the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a coup. Army rule was repressive. Haitians were forbidden to meet in groups of more than four persons without an army permit. It was government policy to obliterate Lavalas, the movement that had brought Aristide to the office of President. People who mentioned the name of Lavalas or of Aristide in public were subject to arrest. Sometimes they just disappeared in the night. More than once our little group of North Americans was cautioned not to mention those names when walking in the street, lest we bring suspicion on the Haitians walking with us.

Of Haiti's total population of six million, an estimated 250,000 Aristide supporters were living in the underground rather than risk death at the hands of the army. Many had left their homes precipitously, slipping out a back way when friends or family came to warn them of army personnel approaching their houses. Most of those forced underground were on the army’s list either because they had worked publicly for Lavalas or had worked in social programs organized by Lavalas to address such needs as literacy or the fair sale of crops.

Prior to our action at the statue, our CPT delegation spent time talking with people in the underground, attempting to hear their stories and to give them a voice. A part of our public gathering around the statue in the heart of Port-au- Prince was to speak for these suppressed and oppressed people. As foreigners, we could say things Haitian nationals could not. Thus, protected by our status with Haitian TV cameras rolling, a member of our team read an eloquent and poetic statement from the underground calling for Haitians and foreigners alike to continue to struggle nonviolently for justice in Haiti. I took great satisfaction from participating in a group that enabled public expression of these suppressed Haitian voice.

Standing around the statue our group recited a liturgy, sang songs, and prayed together. But it was the elderly gentleman’s expression of hope in our worship that revealed to me in a new way the significance of our action. Of course it was important to witness against injustice and oppression and to give voice to oppressed Haitians! But we were doing it as Christians, as God’s people. At that moment I realized that both symbolically and actually we were the shalom community of God’s people, making visible and present God’s peace, in contrast to the oppressive powers resident in the capitol building and army headquarters in full view across the avenues. The elderly man had felt that peace, and in his words I experienced it too.

Those of us gathered in that circle were there because we were Christians committed to nonviolence. Our gathered CPT circle expressed our solidarity with suffering people. Our gathering witnessed to another way -- to the peaceable kingdom of God. Though the vision is not yet fully realized, we acted out the peaceable kingdom of Isaiah 11 for a brief moment as we stood in that circle. We protested the violence and injustice on the doorsteps of those who perpetrated violence and injustice. Although the cleansing was not complete, it seemed a bit like Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. For a few minutes, our circle was more than a symbol -- in the hope expressed by the elderly Haitian man, the reign of God was present.

This gathering was what the church should be -- a witness to the reign of God in the world, an institution to point out injustice and to speak on behalf of justice, and a community where peace, justice, and reconciliation are visible and real. Haitians as Haitians are not the church, nor is their oppression necessarily suffering for the cause of Christ. But their oppression is real, and the church is the church when it exposes that injustice and gives a visible witness to peace and justice as experienced under the rule of God.

Clearly our actions around that statue were symbolic. A mere thirty people, we did not bring obvious change to Haiti on that Wednesday morning. But we did make a visible, symbolic enactment of peace and justice, … and for a brief moment the reign of God was present. Around that statue in downtown Portau- Prince, with the elderly gentleman murmuring in my ear, I was living in the Old Testament narrative I first learned from Millard Lind, in particular the story of Jeremiah’s battle of the yokes with Hananiah.

A prophet of the Southern Kingdom, Jeremiah’s public career covered the forty years of that kingdom just before its fall in 587 (627–587 bce). In 597, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had invaded Jerusalem. Judah’s King Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah and Coniah), who had reigned only three months, was carried into Exile, along with the royal family, their retinue, other leading citizens, and a significant portion of the temple vessels. Nebuchadnezzar installed an uncle of Jehoiachin on the throne as a vassal. He reigned under the name of Zedekiah. (2)

Opinions varied concerning the exiles and whether Nebuchadnezzar’s rule should be accepted. The majority no doubt considered the deportation a brief interlude that would soon be reversed. After all, it did not seem possible that Jerusalem, Yahweh’s city, would come under foreign domination. Those who interpreted Zion theology to proclaim the invincibility of the city (Ps. 46, 48, 76) believed that Yahweh would soon act again to save the city, as he had done previously. (3) Those who held this view considered Jehoiachin the real king of Judah, and they expected his return in the near future, along with the temple vessels and treasure. One faction of those who retained faith in the near return of King Jehoiachin maintained hope that assistance against Babylon would come from Egypt or through an alliance with Egypt.

Jeremiah supported none of these views. He considered Jehoiachin unfit to rule (Jer. 22:24-30). He opposed any alliance with Egypt. He expected a long Exile, and he advocated full submission to the rule of Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah 27 and 28 narrate the prophet’s public, symbolic, and confrontational means to convey that message. Using wood and straps, he constructed the kind of yoke oxen might use to pull a load. Apparently Jeremiah wore the yoke daily to symbolize the message that he had from Yahweh, that Israel should submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon and abandon thoughts of a near return of the exiles.

Jeremiah propagated his message widely. Jeremiah 27:3-11 recounts delivery of the message to the various kings who sent emissaries to negotiate with Zedekiah. The kings were to know that it was Yahweh who appointed rulers, and that Yahweh had given the lands into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Jeremiah’s message implied that their alliances, whether with each other or with King Zedekiah, were useless. Yahweh’s word, as symbolized by the yoke Jeremiah wore, is that the nations should put their necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him.

For those who refuse to submit, said Yahweh, “I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence … until I have completed its destruction” (27:8). Prophets, diviners, and any advisers who say differently “are prophesying a lie,” and the king who listens to such a lie will be “removed far from [his] land” (27:10). On the other hand, those who submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon, “I will leave on [the] land, says the Lord, to till it and live there” (27:11).

Jeremiah took that same message to King Zedekiah. Zedekiah seemed beholden to the people around him. A series of court prophets had visions of independence from Babylon and pushed Zedekiah to resist Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah counseled the contrary. “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon,” Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “and serve him and his people, and live. Why should you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the Lord has spoken concerning any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?” The prophets who say otherwise “are prophesying falsely” in the name of Yahweh (27:12-15).

Finally, Jeremiah proclaimed the same message to the priests and the citizens of Judah generally. “They are prophesying a lie” who say that the vessels will soon be brought back from Babylon. “Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon and live. Why should this city become a desolation?” (27:16-
17).

Chapter 27 shows Jeremiah engaged in a symbolic action that likely witnessed against the majority opinion. He spoke a word of Lord to the reigning powers that opposed what they wanted to hear. Our action around the statue in Port-au-Prince could claim Jeremiah’s act as something of a model. We spoke and acted out a word that we believed came from Yahweh. Without identifying Haitians as the church, Christians were speaking out to name an oppressive situation and to call for the liberation of suffering and oppressed people. The powers we addressed resided in the army headquarters and the capitol building in plain sight across the boulevard.

Jeremiah’s act pointed to a reality different from that of his hearers. They saw a near return. Jeremiah believed that seeking a near return would lead to devastation, while submission to the conqueror would preserve the city and lead eventually to the return of the exiles and the temple treasure.

Our action around the statue also pointed to a different reality. By joining hands and uniting our hearts and voices in prayer and song, we became the new reality of the people of God. We made visible the reign of God as an alternative to the oppressive powers that faced us. Like Jeremiah, we called people to forsake the current path and to experience the rule of Yahweh. The elderly gentleman murmuring in my ear sensed that and made me sense it.

Jeremiah’s symbolic action did not go unchallenged. The response was both public and symbolic. The prophet Hananiah accosted Jeremiah in the temple in the presence of the priests and the general populace. Like Jeremiah, Hananiah also claimed to speak the word of Yahweh. But he contradicted Jeremiah. Rather than counseling submission to Nebuchadnezzar, Hananiah said,

"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the LORD, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. (28:2-4)"

Like Jeremiah, Hananiah also engaged in symbolic action. He grabbed Jeremiah’s yoke and broke it, saying, “Thus says the Lord: This is how I will break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years” (28:11). And with that demonstration, Jeremiah left the scene (28:11).

Like Jeremiah’s dramatic act, our act around the statue also met a kind of challenge. Our group had planned how to respond to a direct confrontation from the military, but we left the statue before any materialized. However, we did receive a direct challenge of another kind.

On our first night in Port-au- Prince, the men in our group stayed in a guesthouse run by evangelical missionaries from the United States. Around the dinner table that evening, we discussed the activities we were planning for the week, including our public demonstration, which was still in the planning stage. The next morning at breakfast, our hosts informed us that their guest rooms were no longer available for us to sleep in. They wanted nothing to do with people who would engage in “political” action against the government.

These missionaries opposed in the name of God what we planned to do in the name of God. To our team, this seemed parallel to the opposition to Yahweh’s word that Jeremiah experienced from Hananiah and the other court prophets.

Jeremiah’s account also reveals a great deal of ambiguity concerning the understanding or the conclusions his audience might draw from his action. Jeremiah and Hananiah used identical words to introduce their message: “Thus says the Lord.” In terms of empowered claims or appeals to authority, they were equal. Each engaged in a symbolic act that made his message visible -- Jeremiah constructed and wore a yoke; Hananiah seized it and broke it. And the first round of acts ended there. After Hananiah had snatched and broken the yoke, Jeremiah withdrew, silently acknowledging the problem of whom to believe when prophet contradicted prophet and each claimed to speak for Yahweh. (4)

Jeremiah did suggest one criterion for identifying the true prophet. Preceding prophets had prophesied war, famine, and pestilence, Jeremiah said. The greater burden of proof would now reside on the one who prophesied peace. “When the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet” (28:9). In the final analysis, however, how the events turned out would be the final arbiter of which prophet -- Jeremiah or Hananiah -- truly spoke for Yahweh.

Like Jeremiah’s action and response, our action in Port-au- Prince lacked an obvious outcome that would validate our action as Yahweh’s word. Jeremiah counseled submission to Nebuchadnezzar in expectation of a return from Exile some seventy years in the future (25:11), a person’s normal life span. This was hardly more attractive than Hananiah’s promise of return within two years! We had no expectations that our witness to the word of Yahweh would bring a change of government anytime soon in Port-au-Prince.

Sometime after the initial faceoff with Hananiah, Jeremiah returned to the fray, now apparently wearing an iron yoke. Jeremiah told Hananiah:

"You have broken wooden bars only to forge iron bars in place of them! For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put an iron yoke on the neck of all these nations so that they may serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and they shall indeed serve him; I have even given him the wild animals. (28:13-14)"

This word from Yahweh also included a personal message for Hananiah, with an ironic twist. Because he had not previously been sent by Yahweh, now Yahweh would send him right off the face of the earth.

“Listen, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD: I am going to send you off the face of the earth. Within this year you will be dead.
(28:15-16)“

And he died that same year (28:17).

Alongside his work with the yokes, Jeremiah engaged in a number of other symbolic acts. While they may have lacked the confrontational style demonstrated in the yoke, these acts proclaimed the same message. He buried and ruined a new loincloth as the basis for prophecy about the Exile (13:1-11). He slammed wine jars together, breaking them (13:12-14) as a sign of coming destruction. He remained single and childless to dramatize the coming desolation of the land of Judah (16:1-13), and he smashed a pot as a symbol of what Yahweh would do to Jerusalem (19:1-15).

The Babylonian army besieged Jerusalem. As Jeremiah was facing imprisonment in the court of the palace guard, he bought a plot of ground (Jer. 32). Enacted in the face of the imminent fall of the city, the purchase expressed faith in the promise of Yahweh that at a future time, the people would return and normal life would resume in the land.

Other prophets also engaged in symbolic activity. Isaiah, a prophet active in the Southern Kingdom whose career (742–701 BCE) spanned the fall of Samaria in 722, gave his son a name that foreshadowed the fall of Samaria (Isa. 8:1-4). When Judah had an opportunity to join an alliance with Egypt and Ethiopia in a revolt against Assyria, Isaiah strongly opposed such a coalition. For three years he walked around Jerusalem “naked and barefoot,” to illustrate the shame of Egyptians and Ethiopians and as a symbol of their future Exile and of Israel’s folly in trusting foreign powers (Isa. 20).

Ezekiel was among those deported to Babylon in 597. (5) Some of Ezekiel’s actions do not appear completely normal. In some sort of ecstatic state, he remained speechless until given an oracle by God (Ezek. 3:27). (6) He drew the city of Jerusalem on a brick, then ate siege rations and lay bound on his side for 430 days, the traditional number of years Israel was in Egypt. (7) In doing so, Ezekiel was acting out the siege of the city and the captivity of Northern and Southern Kingdoms. In his body he bore the punishment Yahweh was laying upon the people (Ezek. 4). In another pantomime, Ezekiel shaved his head and burned portions of the hair, with only a small portion saved, to picture the coming destruction of Judah (Ez. 5).

Such actions in the prophetic traditions of Israel show that Jesus’ own acts stood fully within that prophetic tradition. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, the action had a deliberately confrontational element. Before he revived the withered hand, he called the man to come and stand with him in a prominent location, so that those who objected to such Sabbath activity would be sure to notice. Then Jesus looked “around at all of them,” made eye contact with them, and told the man with the crippled arm, “Stretch our your hand.” (Luke 6:6-11). Other reports of healing on the Sabbath make equally clear that these acts of Jesus were not only controversial, but also intentionally confrontational (Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6). These acts had elements of both symbol and actualization. By healing on the Sabbath, Jesus engaged in an act demonstrating that the regulations propagated by the religious leadership were subverting and distorting the purpose of the Sabbath under the reign of God. But it was also more than a symbol. In the act of healing, the reign of God was made present and visible.

In his encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-38), Jesus confronted prevailing standards in another way. He had already violated the strict purity expectations by traveling through Samaria, rather than around it. Then he surprised the woman at the well by his willingness, as a Jew, to accept a drink from her, a Samaritan. The purity code forbade his contact with a menstruating woman. Since one could never be certain that a woman was not in the unclean state, the practice was to assume that she was unclean, a condition also extending to any vessel she touched. (8)

At their return, the disciples were surprised that he was speaking to a woman (John 4:27). Recent literature has frequently pointed out that Jesus’ interactions with women raised their standing and broke the conventions of a patriarchal society. For example, Walter Wink states, "We can see that in every single encounter with women in the four Gospels, Jesus violated the mores of his time." (9)

Jesus' cleansing of the temple constitutes a third vignette that both symbolizes and effects a new reality. Jesus found the temple desecrated. The debate about the exact nature of that desecration need not concern us here. Of import is that Jesus engaged in a “cleansing” action to reclaim the temple for the rule of God (Luke 19:45-48; Matt. 21:12-13). Since it confronted the prevailing structures of the social order, this action, along with the Sabbath-day healings, is akin to modern acts of civil disobedience.

As we stood around the statue and the elderly Haitian gentlemen finally made his words clear to me, I came to believe we were engaging in activities that stood in the tradition of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Jesus. Like them, we used symbols and gestures to make God's rule visible. Stationed in front of the oppressive structures of government and the military, I could even believe that our little circle resembled a temple cleansing. In the space within our circle, into which the elderly gentlemen stepped, the oppressive forces were momentarily expelled and God’s peace reigned.

However, the relationship between the actions around the statue in Port-au-Prince and what I learned from Millard Lind goes beyond the acquisition of biblical models of symbolic or activist behavior. If models of activity are the only gain, then the models and their modern counterparts would have little meaning in and of themselves. One can develop symbolic acts in support of any cause. As isolated moments, the acts of Jeremiah walking around with an ox yoke or Ezekiel curling around his brick or Isaiah strolling naked around Jerusalem or CPT folks singing in a circle -- none of these actions points to a significant truth or carries significant meaning when isolated from the believing community. Only the wider context or frame of reference endows such acts with their meaning. The foundation for symbolic activity or acts of civil disobedience appears in the call of Yahweh to Abraham:

"Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen. 12:1-3)"

Yahweh's people have a mission in the world: to live as Yahweh's people. When they fulfill that mission, when they live up to the calling of Yahweh, then that people will be visible in the world. And when Yahweh’s people live up to their calling, other peoples are blessed.

The foundational activity of confronting the world happens when Yahweh’s people live in the world as God’s people in response to the call to Abraham. When God’s people fulfill their mission, they may confront -- and pose a clear alternative to -- the segments of the world that do not profess loyalty to Yahweh or acknowledge the rule of Yahweh. The symbolic acts that have ultimate significance are those that reflect God’s people and make visible God’s people in the world.

When Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel spoke or acted, it was in response to the effective word of God: "Thus says the Lord." Their proclamations and their acts witnessed to the rule of Yahweh and to what was expected of God’s people. Thus identity with God’s rule (or God’s will) gives meaning to the symbolic actions of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

In the long perspective, the people of God claim their identity from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ symbolic actions, such as healing on the Sabbath, accepting service from a woman and a Samaritan, and cleansing the temple, have meaning as actions that make visible the rule of God. These actions demonstrate what the reign of God looks like for those who live it and live within it.
As the one whose person and whose life is most fully identified with the rule of God, Jesus’ actions make the preeminent statement of what the rule of God looks like in the world. This larger framework of the reign of God, made visible and present in the prophetic acts and in the life and teaching of Jesus, provides the meaning of CPT actions in Haiti.

Our action around the statue had meaning if and when it was shaped by or reflected the reign of God. And the presence of the reign of God was initiated with the call to Abraham. It was continued through the children of Israel and in the prophets who critiqued them, and revealed most fully in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Actions around a statue in Port-au-Prince by CPT ultimately are valid not merely because they point out injustice or protest Haitian government actions, or because they are staged in front of Haitian power structures. These actions acquire validity when they show what it means to be the people of God in continuity with the biblical people of God, who began with Abraham, continued in the tradition of Israel and her prophets, and then in Jesus.

Locating symbolic actions within the framework of the people of God also makes a significant negative point, making clear what symbolic action is not. In the case of Port-au-Prince, we were tempted to identify the victims of oppression as God’s people and to include in the reign of God all those entities that served to alleviate oppression. In September 1994 the United States launched an invasion of Haiti with the stated purpose of restoring President Aristide to power. Even some peace-church folks supported those acts by the military because the military seemed for a time to lessen oppression and secure greater freedom in Haiti.

My experience on another trip to Haiti posed the temptation strongly to include the military within God’s rule. Our delegation had a meeting with the Directrice Générale of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Her office was located in the former army headquarters, on whose balcony we had seen soldiers standing when we had the vigil at the statue on my first trip. During a tour of the building, I stood in what was once the office of the coup leader who had deposed President Aristide. Now this building was being remodeled and the Ministry for Women’s Affairs had taken over a segment of it. It seemed like the temple had been cleansed.

That Jesus' actions in the prophetic tradition provided a ready context for our actions made the demonstration feel like a temple cleansing -- but that it could not be. While we could rejoice in the conversion of the building to more wholesome purposes, the governmental agencies that produced the change -- whether the United States army or the Haitian government -- are not representatives of the people of God, even though God may use them for God’s purposes. After all, Jeremiah himself had said that Yahweh was using Nebuchadnezzar to punish rebellious Israel.

God's people are a faith community, not a political entity defined by geographical space. They represent the reign of God. Theologically, the actions of armies and governments do not represent the reign of God, even when they produce a momentary lessening of oppression.

If being the people of God as a witness to the world provides the wider framework for our actions, then we are living within the biblical story. In the Bible we find the story of God’s people -- a story that began with Abraham and continued through Israel to Jesus. The story that identifies us as God’s children and as followers of Jesus comes from the Bible. When we act in ways that make visible the people of God, we are living within a story shaped by the Bible. Our actions around that statue in the heart of Port-au-Prince were an incarnation and continuation of the Bible’s story. I know now that these actions of CPT in Port-au-Prince were a continuation of what it means to be the people of God and to live within the story of the Bible.

NOTES

1. Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative of the historic peace churches and other peace groups who support violence-reductive efforts and nonviolent peace activism around the world;

2. J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986) 408;

3. Miller and Hayes, History, 409. Ben Ollenburger has demonstrated that the security of Zion provided by Yahweh "is made conditional on the posture of the community," which is expressed in terms of "faith and trust" in Yahweh. See "Zion, the City of the Great King: A Theological Symbol of the Jerusalem Cult", Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, no. 41 (Sheffield, England: JSOT, 1987) 148;

4. John Bright, Jeremiah, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965) 202–3;

5. Ezekiel’s career is often dated 593–570 bce;

6. Millard C. Lind, Ezekiel, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1996) 44;

7. Lind, Ezekiel, 54;

8. C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text (New York: Macmillan, 1962)
194;

9. Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992) 129.

To Wake the Nation

Nonviolent Direct Action for Personal & Social Transformation

by Tom Cordaro

Introduction

“When I bring the sword against a country, and the people of this country select one of their number to be their watcher, and the watcher seeing the sword coming against the country, blows the trumpet to warn the people. Anyone hearing but not heeding the warning of the trumpet and therefore slain by the sword that comes against them, shall be responsible for their own death... But if the watcher sees the sword coming and fails to blow the warning trumpet, so that the sword comes and takes anyone, I will hold the watcher responsible for that person's death, even though that person is taken because of their own sin..“ Ezekiel 33:1-4, 6

As a people of faith, being formed by the Word of God, we have a special responsibility to read the signs of the times in order to discern what God is doing in the world today. We also have an equally important responsibility to proclaim that discerned word to the nations.

The leaders of our nation seem intent on solving the problems of our world through violence. The vision they offer is that “might makes right.” The violence that the people of our nation experienced on September 11 we in turn inflicted on the people of Afghanistan. Our leaders promise us that peace and security are only achieved through military power.

Millions in our nation go without adequate shelter and healthcare. Children go hungry and our schools are deteriorating. The ranks of the unemployed grow. At the same time, corruption among the leaders of our largest corporations is rampant and the CEOs responsible get richer while the working class loses their pensions, their life savings and their jobs. The Bush administration ignores the social and economic ills of our country while at the same time funneling obscene amounts of money into weapons manufacturing for programs like a missile defense shield and mini-nukes. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr., still ring true: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

What is the call of the church in such a situation? How do we keep watch and sound the alarm? How shall we wake the nation and ourselves to the encroachment of death?

In the tradition of the great biblical prophets we can offer word, symbol and action to convey to the nations the emotions of a God who knows what time it is, a God who desires that we choose life over death. In our history as church, this ministry of word, symbol and action often takes the form of nonviolent direct action. What follows is a primer for those who want to explore the ministry of nonviolent direct action for personal and social transformation.

 

What is Direct Action?

For the purpose of our discussion we will define direct action as any public act done for the purpose of influencing public policy and/or articulating or challenging social, religious and political values. Some examples of direct action include passing out leaflets, participating in a public prayer vigil, holding signs on a picket line, collecting signatures on a petition, marching in a demonstration or risking arrest by breaking a civil law.

When thinking about direct action, different emotions may begin to surface. We are all familiar with newspaper stories and television scenes of public demonstrations. What seems to characterize these events is their tendency to cause conflict and tension. This is because those who engage in direct action want to change the way things are, and many of us do not like to be challenged to change . even if we agree with the aims of the group doing direct action.

In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community... is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored.”

As we contemplate our possible participation in direct action, we need to deal with many issues. One of the most important questions is: “How can we ensure that the conflict we cause by our action is creative and not destructive?”

 

The Importance of Nonviolence

Nonviolence properly understood is more than a tactic or strategy for political change. It is a way of life that draws the individuals committed to it and the people and institutions it is aimed at into a process whereby personal and social transformation can take place.

Peggy Scherer, a former member of the New York Catholic Worker, states, “The many manifestations of violence stem from the powerful judging who is to live and under what circumstances. If we oppose what is violent, we must also reject the greed, deceit, injustice and judgment on which it is based. Self sacrifice, honesty, justice and respect for all people, even if we disagree with them, even if we challenge their actions, must mark our efforts. I think about these things because it is all too clear that the roots, if not the fruits, of violence are not only in the Pentagon . . . but are also in all of us.”

Nonviolent direct action is not a strategy for winning. It is an invitation to search for the truth. There is an old Chinese proverb which states that there are three truths: my truth, your truth and the truth. Those engaged in nonviolent direct action attempt to speak their truth with conviction while at the same time being open to the truth of the other. The goal of nonviolent direct action is not to win over the other person but to win the other person over.

This desire for the other’s good is so strong in nonviolent activists that they are willing to suffer the abuse of others without the desire to strike back. The Pax Christi “Vow of Nonviolence” puts it this way:

“I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus… by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it; by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence; by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart; by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live; by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.”

The power of this type of nonviolent action was best articulated by Martin Luther King, Jr., when he addressed his racist opponents saying, “We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force... We will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer. And, in winning our freedom, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process.” There is still much to be learned about the power of nonviolent direct action. In the mid-1980’s, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle said, “Today (W)e know as little of the power and methods of nonviolence as we knew of the power of the atom a century ago. I believe the power of nonviolence is in its depths an infinite power because it is based on love, the love of an infinite God.”


The Role of Nonviolent Direct Action in US History

Another stumbling block in discerning the call to nonviolent direct action is the popular notion that it is the tactic of fringe groups who do not believe in the democratic process or American values. Part of our problem in understanding the role of nonviolent direct action, and in particular nonviolent civil disobedience, is that we have an inadequate understanding of our own history in the United States.

Far from being the tactics of unpatriotic fringe groups who have no regard for the democratic process or American values, nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience have played an important role in shaping our American values and expanding our democratic process to include all people.

One need look no further than the birth of our nation to see how the tactics of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience have played an integral part in shaping our nation. The signing and publishing of the Declaration of Independence was an illegal act of treason. Probably one of the most celebrated acts of civil disobedience of that time was the willful destruction of private property in the Boston Harbor. We know it as the Boston Tea Party. There were many other forms of direct action which helped the colonies break away from the British Empire, including boycotts, demonstrations, leaf-letting and noncooperation with government officials.

Other significant events that helped shape our understanding of justice, freedom and democracy in this country include the underground railroad for runaway slaves in the 1850.s; the union movement of the 1890’s – 1950’s; the free speech movement and the women’s suffrage movement of the early 1900’s; the civil rights movement of the 1930’s – 1960’s; the antiwar movement of the 1960’s-1970’s, and the environmental and anti-nuclear movements of the 1980’s and 1990’s. In fact, a strong argument could be made that every significant advance in our evolution as a democracy has come about through social movements employing the tactics of nonviolent direct action. The Supreme Court once ruled that blacks were only 3/5th human. The Abolitionist Movement challenged that assumption. The law once asserted that women could not handle the responsibility of voting. The Suffrage Movement challenged that assumption. The law once asserted that workers had no rights in the work place. The Labor Movement challenged that assumption. The law once demanded that blacks sit at the back of buses. The Civil Rights Movement challenged that assumption. In recent history, the Environmental Movement has worked to pass laws to assure that we have clean water and air. Movements today around issues of globalization and nuclear weapons are raising important questions about the direction of our nation and the practice of democracy.

In each case, campaigns of direct action--some involving civil disobedience--challenged the values and laws of the land by appealing to a higher sense of justice. These campaigns had the effect of moving the whole society to a clearer understanding of justice, freedom and democracy.

As we can see, nonviolent direct action does have its place in our society. In fact, nonviolent direct action is as American as apple pie. It is a part of our heritage that we should celebrate and remember.


The Biblical Roots of Nonviolent Direct Action

Because of the cultural influences we bring to our reading of scripture, we seldom recognize the political nature of God’s saving action in the Bible. In our culture there is an attempt to make clear distinctions between the sacred and the secular. We have been taught that economic and political issues are part of the secular world and spirituality and personal behavior are part of the sacred world. And because of our tradition of separation of church and state, we believe that the secular and the sacred should not mix.

On the other hand, the authors of our scriptures did not hold such sharp distinctions. For most of them, the political was spiritual. Their faith had political, social and economic consequences. In this light, we can see emerging from the scriptures a long and illustrious tradition of nonviolent direct action and civil/religious disobedience.

The first act of civil disobedience recorded in scripture was the refusal of the Hebrew midwives to kill the male offspring of Hebrew mothers. It was out of this act of resistance that the model of all faith-based nonviolent direct action was born.

Moses is the prototype of the faith-based resister in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament). His early flirtation with violent revolution (the killing of the Egyptian [Ex. 2:11-14]) gave way to nonviolent direct action as he and Aaron made their way to the court of Pharaoh to demand the liberation of the Hebrews. The exodus march out of Egypt represents nonviolent direct action on a large scale.

Following in the tradition of Moses, many of the Old Testament prophets used nonviolent direct action – including street theater – to call the nation to repentance. One of the most colorful prophets and a master at using symbols and street theater was Ezekiel. In Ezekiel, chapter 4, God instructs him to build a model of Jerusalem and lay siege to it. God also instructs him to lie on his left side and then his right side for 390 days. These symbolic acts prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and the number of years that Israel had sinned. At another time Ezekiel packs his bags and walks through the streets of the city as if going into exile; then he digs a hole through the city wall to symbolize the exile of his people

(Ez. 12). The next time you feel silly or uncomfortable with using symbols at a demonstration, meditate and pray over the book of Ezekiel.

The Christian scriptures (New Testament) are also filled with examples of nonviolent direct action. One of the reasons we don.t see Jesus as a nonviolent resister is because we sometimes concentrate so much on what he said that we forget to look at what he did.

Jesus told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to confront the religious and political rulers (Mk. 10:32-34). He entered into the Holy City in an unauthorized provocative public demonstration which directly challenged the legitimacy of Rome and the Sanhedrin (Lk. 19:32-39). He later returned to the Temple and engaged in civil/religious disobedience by destroying private property and challenging the religious and economic power of the leaders (Lk. 19:45-48). It was at that time that they decided to do away with him. He was later arrested, tried for treason and was executed as a subversive.

It was God who then intervened decisively by raising Jesus from the dead, thus becoming an outlaw. Resurrection was illegal! The state had Jesus put to death and the burial vault was closed with the Roman seal. When the state puts you to death, you are supposed to stay dead. With the breaking of that seal, God became an accomplice in the greatest escape of all time.

The history of the early church is filled with stories of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience. The apostles themselves often came into conflict with the authorities (Acts 4:1-31; 5:17-42, 16:19-20; 17:6-9, Thes. 2:17-18), showed ambivalence toward the secular court system (I Cor. 6:1-11) and were quick to clarify their ultimate allegiance when the governing powers were encroaching: “We must obey God rather than humans” (Acts 5:29).

For those who point to Peter and Paul’s teaching regarding submission to all authority, it is important to remember that both of them were imprisoned and executed by the state.

In early church history, the very act of celebrating the Eucharist was considered treasonous, and the public declaration of faith, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” was considered a capital offense.


The Role of Community

Nonviolent direct action is most effective when it is the expression of a community and not just the sentiments of like-minded individuals. It is through discernment in community that we can separate the wheat from the chaff of our personal motivations for taking part in nonviolent direct action. It is through the discipline of community that we come to understand the lies of the dominant culture – whether it be its addiction to military violence, its acceptance of widespread poverty and homelessness as normative, or its worship of unrestrained free trade – and articulate an alternative vision for the human family.

The most powerful acts of nonviolent direct action are those that are the expression of people living in community seeking to do justice. As Peggy Scherer writes, “Through embracing a life where people are more important than things, my personal perspective has changed. Living at the Catholic Worker House in New York, I come into daily contact with victims of rampant injustice. This shows me a human face of the injustice I oppose. My need to act comes from the heart; the urgency of the situation is no longer academic, and silence is more clearly a luxury. Civil disobedience and other efforts signify a continuation of my work rather than a break in my routine.”

Community also becomes an indispensable source of support for those engaged in nonviolent direct action. Peace and justice lone-rangers don’t last long. The prophetic tasks of word, symbol and action are the realm of a faith community, not an individual.


The Power to Transform: A Ministry of Healing and Hope

The prophetic community tells it the way it is, and they tell it the way it can be. The goal of nonviolent direct action, as employed by people of faith, is first to help people see what is really happening and secondly to offer an alternative vision for the future that gives people hope.

The institutions of the dominant culture preach that the way things are is the way things have always been and the way things will always be. Their message is that the institutions and the status quo are forever. While they may tolerate some reform, they close the door on anything genuinely new. As institutions they manage reality in order to keep expectations in check and keep genuine hope under lock and key.

When they use the language of hope, it is in order to deny the reality of their own demise. Even in the face of obvious decay and disintegration, the institutions of the dominant culture cling to the belief that they will last forever. These institutions demand total allegiance and tribute from the people. Rewards are given to some; the others are kept in line through a combination of fear and cultivated ignorance.

It is in this false reality that the prophetic community of nonviolent direct action acts to break the spell. The community’s actions expose the decay of the institutions and the lies that keep the people from seeing the truth. Just as in the process of death and dying, described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the prophetic community uses word, symbol and action to break through the numbness and denial of the people. As they become more successful, they will be confronted with the anger, bargaining and despair that are part of the process.

It is important to realize that the community not only invites others into this process, but it too moves through denial, anger, bargaining and despair. Although this process is painful and is often a source of conflict, it is absolutely necessary in order to confront the lie of “forever.”

It is at this point that the prophetic community of nonviolent direct action can offer its alternative vision as a source of hope. Again using word, symbol and action, the community shares its vision for a future freed from the “forever” of the dying institutions. As Walter Brueggemann states in his book The Prophetic Imagination, “The task of prophetic imagination and ministry is to bring to public expression those hopes and yearnings that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there.” As before, the community not only invites others into this process, it also enters into it.

In order for the hope to be real, it must be grounded in the original vision and values that were once entrusted to the decaying institutions but have now become tools of control. At its core, the struggle between the dominant institutions and the prophetic community is over the language and symbols of this original vision.

In speaking of this ministry of healing and hope, A.J. Muste, a founding member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, once wrote, “Precisely on that day when the individual appears to be utterly hopeless, to have no choice, when the aim of the system is to convince them that they are helpless as individuals and that the only way to meet regimentation is by regimentation, there is absolutely no hope save in going back to the beginning. Human beings, the children of God, must assert their humanity and son/daughter-ship again. They must exercise the choice which no longer is accorded them by society... they must create again. They must understand that these naked human beings are the one real thing in the face of the machines and the mechanized institutions of our age. They, by the grace of God, are the seed of all the human life there will be on the earth, though they may have to die to make that harvest possible.”


Word, Symbol and Action

As stated before, the prophetic community ministers to the people through word, symbol and action. How does this relate to nonviolent direct action?

For Catholics and other Christians who have a sacramental and liturgical tradition, word, symbol and action have a special meaning. In our sacramental life we understand that word, symbol and action have the power to transform. It is word spoken over bread and wine, which is then shared and eaten, that makes Eucharist a source of grace. It is word and water which is poured that makes baptism sacramental.

Nonviolent direct actions that have the power to transform are those that choose word, symbol and action carefully. In this sense, nonviolent direct action becomes a form of liturgy where people are called together to share a word and to participate in a symbolic action which points to a truth greater than the act itself.

The word may be from scripture or a contemporary source. It might even be gesture or dance. The symbol might be light, water, soil, plants, blood, or bread and wine. The actions are chosen to point to the power of the symbol. It is light held aloft, water poured forth, soil turned over, plants uprooted or put in the ground; it is blood spilled or bread and wine shared.

The most powerful acts are ones that say only what is necessary for people to understand the symbol and the action. Multiplying words only detracts from the power of symbolic action. A well planned nonviolent direct action is like a well planned liturgy. It creates a space for conversion to take place.


To Break the Law

Nonviolent civil disobedience, the intentional breaking of a civil law, is one of the most dramatic forms of direct action. Its power comes from the willingness of the practitioner to endure suffering and directly confront the institutions of law that give legitimacy to injustice. Often, in these actions, the activists themselves become word, symbol and action.

The law is a very powerful symbol in our culture. It is not only a means of keeping the peace, it is also our way of enshrining commonly held values. When the law confers legitimacy on an activity by making it legal or by giving it protection under the law, it also confers moral legitimacy on it – even if this is unintended.

When nonviolent civil resisters break a law that protects an unjust activity or institution, they are making an appeal to law in this broader sense. In his statement to a jury in 1975 after committing civil disobedience at a Trident Submarine base, scripture scholar and activist Ched Myers said, “Civil disobedience, far from being irrespective of the law, is by definition an appeal to law; in its most profound sense, an appeal to law to question itself. It is an attempt to demand a dialogue about the legal, lawful and moral context of law.... The law is not purely a mechanical entity.... To consider defendants’ actions merely according to narrow legal definitions is to trivialize these proceedings, to trivialize law and the true meaning of rule by law.”

Civil disobedience, while a powerful tool for personal and social transformation, should not be done lightly. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote from his cell in the Birmingham jail, “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law their conscience tells them is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”


Effectiveness and Faithfulness

There is a saying within the faith-based peacemaking community that we are called to be faithful, not effective. What this means is that people involved in direct action need to be careful not to measure their success in the world’s terms. A faith-based peacemaker is more concerned with being faithful to the gospel than with being politically successful.

In our all-consuming desire to rid the world of injustice there is a great temptation to use unjust or violent methods to try to bring about change.

It is easy to forget that our coworkers and even our opponents are humans who are capable of being hurt and resent being manipulated or humiliated. It is also very easy to get trapped into thinking that our media image is more important than our message. We can fall into the trap of the numbers game – thinking that the more people we can get to participate, the better our action.

Being number one is important in our culture. Americans love a winner, whether it be in war, football or peacemaking. But as long as our goal is to “win,” we cannot create the space – physically, emotionally, spiritually or psychologically – for conversion to take place.

While it is true that we are called to be faithful, not effective, it is also important to realize that this issue is often used as an excuse for not dealing with the very real concerns about how our actions are perceived by others. We cannot hide behind the cloak of faithfulness in order to escape the very tough issue of effectiveness.

In dealing with effectiveness it is important that we have a common understanding of what we mean. The best biblical definition can be found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

“If I speak with human tongues, angelic as well, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and, with full knowledge, comprehend all mysteries; if I have faith great enough to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs; it is not snobbish. Love is never rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries.”

As we can see, the issue of effectiveness is intimately connected to the issue of love. When faith-based peacemakers speak of effectiveness, they ask: “How can I best love God, myself and my neighbor?” The goal of biblical effectiveness is conversion.

When we fail to consider the effect that our actions may have on others, we risk the possibility that our actions will be nothing more than moral posturing and personal catharsis – a clanging cymbal.

At the same time, we must not let our concern with how we are perceived paralyze us into inaction. Many times it is not what we do but the attitudes that we carry with us that destroy the effectiveness of our actions. We cannot always be sure that the people we direct our nonviolent action to will like or respect us. We can, however, be sure that the way we act will show that we love and respect them.

This is a question of effectiveness. We love and respect others not because we are certain of our own righteousness. We love them because, with the grace of God, it may lead to conversion – for them and for us. At the bedrock of every nonviolent direct action is the belief in the capacity of people – even our opponents – to respond to the love of God at work in us. If we do not believe in our hearts in this capacity for conversion, our nonviolent actions will be a mockery and a sham.


An Examination of Conscience

When considering taking part in a nonviolent direct action, it is wise to start out with prayerful reflection. An examination of conscience is a useful way to sort out our various motivations and cultivate nonviolent attitudes.

1. In taking part in this action am I showing respect and love for those to whom my action is directed? Do I see this action as a contest in which I hope to win or an opportunity for mutual conversion? Do I see a need for change in myself as well as in those to whom this action is directed? Is this action being planned in such a way that people will be invited to rethink their position, or will it harden their hearts?

2. Do I use suffering, rather than love, to prove the righteousness of my cause? As Thomas Merton reminds us, “What matters then is not precisely what the sacrifice costs us, but what it will contribute to the good of others and the church. The norm of sacrifice is not the amount of pain it inflicts, but its power to break down walls of division, to heal wounds, to restore order and unity.”

3. Have I set up a hierarchy of deeds that makes nonviolent direct action the test of gospel faithfulness? Do I hold others and myself to a moral code which measures faithfulness in terms of arrest records and time served? Am I more interested in building an impressive resistance resume than with seeking personal and social transformation?

4. Do I seek to punish or humiliate when I act, or do my attitudes and actions speak of the need for mutual repentance? Am I prepared to hear the truth of those who disagree with me or am I more concerned with being heard?

5. God calls us to take on responsibilities. However, do I fail to act because of responsibilities and duties that are more my creation than God’s call? In his Book of Uncommon Prayer, Dan Berrigan, SJ, writes, “...because ‘law’ is a cover for my lawlessness / not the freedom you offer / and ‘duty’ gets along with my deviousness / and ‘obligation’ is hand in glove with my laxity / and ‘responsibility’ is a cover for childishness. / So I carry about these heavy absurd words, a beast’s burden / because in fact I wish to be burdened, / dread to be free / which is to say, I dread to be your friend and brother/sister.”

6. Do I use the excuse “that’s just not my thing” to avoid dealing with my fears and anxieties regarding nonviolent direct action?


Counting the Cost

There are personal costs involved with nonviolent direct action, just as there are costs with being faithful to the gospel. Jesus talked about counting the cost when he reminded us,

“If anyone comes to me without turning their back on father and mother, spouse and children, brother and sister, indeed their very selves, they cannot be my follower. Anyone who does not take up their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. If one of you decides to build a tower, will you not first sit down and calculate the outlay to see if you have enough money to complete the project? You will do that for fear of laying the foundation and then not being able to complete the work; for all who saw it would jeer saying, .That one began to build what they could not finish. (Luke 14:26-30).”

The power of nonviolent direct action comes from the fact that our very personal yet public action affects others in such a way that they cannot avoid dealing with the issues we raise. Every community we belong to will be touched by our witness. This source of power is also part of the cost. We may appear to be acting on our own, but we bring with us a number of communities when we take part in nonviolent direct action: some come willingly, others unwillingly. Some will be moved by our courage; others will react in horror at our brash irresponsible behavior.

It is very natural for all sorts of emotional reactions to take place. Whenever you act publicly on your strongly held beliefs, you may become a lightning rod in the communities you belong to. Close friends and family may shun you or feel uncomfortable around you. Casual acquaintances may be drawn into deep friendship with you. Although conflicts may be inevitable, they need not be destructive. Conflict can be creative and can lead to further conversion.

The way we handle the various reactions to our action may determine the amount of good fruit it will bear. Whenever possible, try to speak with loved ones and friends about your action beforehand so you can explain what you are trying to do. Take special care to spend time with children. They will often be the most confused and frightened.

Recognize that friends and family may need time in order to accept the change that you are bringing into their lives – sometimes uninvited. It is important to allow loved ones to be where they are and lovingly accept their denial, anger, bargaining and despair. Always be ready to talk about your activism, yet respect their silence and let them know that no matter what, your love for them will not change.

For those contemplating nonviolent civil disobedience, there is the added cost of possible trial, sentencing and jail time. Dealing with the judicial system can be very threatening. There are many issues that need to be considered which we cannot get into at this time, the most important being jail time. Jim Forest writes regarding the threat of prison, “Nor is there anything all that special about jail. It isn’t a nobler place to be than all sorts of other places. Whatever others may think, you aren’t really a hero for being there. It is another place where people live, a special kind of ghetto. But it is profoundly valuable to be there if that is where God wants you and if going there is a consequence of being faithful.”


Freedom

When we are honest with ourselves we realize that we know much more of the truth than we are willing to act upon. There are many things that keep us from doing all that we feel God calls us to. There are a million very good reasons for not engaging in nonviolent direct action and only one good reason for doing so. That one reason is because it needs to be done. We do it because we are convinced that it is the right thing to do.

Whatever you decide about your participation in nonviolent direct action, let it be done in freedom – not fear. The scriptures tell us that freedom is the ability to do what we know is right, regardless of the consequences. Everything else is just one of many forms of slavery which masquerades as freedom. If we know in our heart the right thing to do, and for whatever reason we fail to do it, to that extent we are slaves. And every time we lie to our heart, a part of what makes us human dies. Freedom means being able to choose nonviolent direct action and being able not to choose it.

There is nothing wrong with being afraid. It is a normal and healthy response to danger. It is what we do with our fears that determines whether or not we act as free people. It is through prayer and honest discernment in community that we can act in freedom. Whatever we do, let it be in God’s name. Remember, joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.

Tom Cordaro, a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace, has been an author, speaker and organizer in the peace and justice movement for over 20 years. He has served on the Pax Christi USA national council and on the Pax Christi USA national staff. He is a member of the Pax Christi USA anti-racism team and is a parish pastoral minister in Illinois.

 

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More Writings...

Christian Peacemaker Teams as an Alternative to "Redemptive Violence"

[Paid subscription required by publisher to view essay]
by CPTer James Satterwhite
Appears in Peace & Change, Volume 31 Issue 2 Page 222-243, April 2006

Abstract
This article examines the theoretical assumptions underlying the creation and activity of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). It compares CPT with other, similar initiatives, then explores the way in which CPT developed out of an evolving Mennonite peace theology to represent a significant new embodiment of that theology. The article further examines the way in which CPT is meant to embody a nonviolent way of intervention in conflict situations that undercuts the assumption that violence is the only approach that "works" (the "myth of redemptive violence"). Finally, the question is raised as to what sustains CPT persons engaged in non-violent intervention when often by its very nature such intervention does not bring about immediate, measurable "results."  [MORE]