It’s already hard to believe this, but just back in July IS (Islamic State) was not big news. Gaza was … IS wasn’t. I posted various articles, etc, onto Facebook calling for action as Christians, and other religious minorities, were forced to flee their homes, abused and killed. (Not that I believe that me calling for anything will change anything, but because I believe we all have a duty to stand up for what is right, even if it makes no difference!)
Now, however, IS dominates the news. This morning’s headline news tells us that David Cameron promises that the UK will ‘play its part’ in the fight against IS, and that the cabinet will discuss plans for ‘air strikes against IS in Iraq’. (see here)
With my own little voice I spoke about IS before most other people were aware of it and called for action – so I should be pleased, right? Well no, I’m not.
Let’s be clear, this is a war. The, so-called civilised, West talks about “operations”, “campaigns” and when desperate, “military action”, but the truth is we’re at war – a war that truly is turning global (in an age before the word ‘war’ became taboo, we’d call it a world war!)
This morning’s news came after I wrote a sermon, yesterday, in which I quote from a book by Shane Claiborne called “Jesus for President” (I know it’s a terrible title, and very American – but trust me, it’s a fantastic book and he is a wonderful, Godly, radical for Jesus – go and read the book! And his book “The Irresistible Revolution”). I’d like to quote it here:
“Do you remember how the Amish responded to the act of terror in their school, when a gunman killed five Amish children in 2006? Our friend Diana Butler Bass wrote an article pontificating what the world would look like if the Amish had led us after September 11. Consider their response to the murders, a response that fascinated the world. Within the first week after the shootings, the Amish families who had suffered such terror responded in four ways that captured the world’s attention. First, some elders visited Marie Roberts, the wife of the murderer, to offer forgiveness. Then, the families of the slain girls invited the widow to their own children’s funerals. Next, they requested that all relief money intended for the Amish families be shared with Ms. Roberts and her children. And finally, in an astonishing act of reconciliation, dozens of Amish families attended the funeral of the killer.
Diana goes on to share that she talked with her husband about the spiritual power of these actions, commenting, “It is an amazing witness to the peace tradition.” And her husband looked at her and said passionately, “Witness? I don’t think so. This went well past witnessing. They weren’t witnessing to anything. They were actively making peace.” Her article ends with these words, as she reflected on that truth:
“Their actions not only witness that the Christian God is a God of forgiveness, but they actively created the conditions in which forgiveness could happen. In the most straightforward way, they embarked on imitating Christ: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” In acting as Christ, they did not speculate on forgiveness. They forgave. And forgiveness is, as Christianity teaches, the prerequisite to peace. We forgive because God forgave us; in forgiving, we participate in God’s dream of reconciliation and shalom.
Then an odd thought occurred to me: What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror? What if, on the evening of September 12, 2001, we had gone to Osama bin Laden’s house (metaphorically, of course, since we didn’t know where he lived!) and offered him forgiveness? What if we had invited the families of the hijackers to the funerals of the victims of 9/11? What if a portion of the September 11th Fund had been dedicated to relieving poverty in a Muslim country? What if we dignified the burial of their dead by our respectful grief? What if, instead of seeking vengeance, we had stood together in human pain, looking honestly at the shared sin and sadness we suffered? What if we had tried to make peace? So, here’s my modest proposal. We’re five years too late for an Amish response to 9/11. But maybe we should ask them to take over the Department of Homeland Security. After all, actively practicing forgiveness and making peace are the only real alternatives to perpetual fear and a multi-generational global religious war. I can’t imagine any other path to true security. And nobody else can figure out what to do to end this insane war. Why not try the Christian practice of forgiveness? If it worked in Lancaster, maybe it will work in Baghdad, too.””
Many will read that and think it fanciful – like a fairy tale. But stop and consider it, what would have happened if America, and indeed the UK after 7/7, had acted in this way. Would IS even exist? Why do these Muslims turn radical? What part have we played? It’s too late to turn back the clock, but IS is happening now, and the response I call for is not war – let’s learn from the Amish.
I still believe and trust in the one who told me “All who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26:52), “Turn the other cheek” (Matt 5:39) and “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt 5:9). The one who told me to “love my enemies” (Matt 5:43) – I’m not always sure what that entails, but I’m pretty certain it doesn’t mean kill your enemies! I still follow the one who defeated evil, not with force but through the cross (Col 2:15), and who calls me to take up my cross too (Matt 16:24). The Christian faith tells us that “love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18)
Some church leaders have already called for this way forward and I (with my own little voice) support them and their calls for a different way – a harder and braver way – the way of peace. (see here for their full letter).
They suggest 8 alternative approaches:
• “Stop U.S. bombing in Iraq to prevent bloodshed, instability and the accumulation of grievances that contribute to the global justification for the Islamic State’s existence among its supporters.”
• “Provide robust humanitarian assistance to those who are fleeing the violence.”
• “Engage with the UN, all Iraqi political and religious leaders, and others in the international community on diplomatic efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq,” and “work for a political settlement to the crisis in Syria.”
• “Support community-based nonviolent resistance strategies to transform the conflict and meet the deeper need and grievances of all parties.”
• “Strengthen financial sanctions against armed actors in the region by working through the UN Security Council.”
• “Bring in and significantly invest in professionally trained unarmed civilian protection organizations to assist and offer some buffer for displaced persons and refugees, both for this conflict in collaboration with Iraqi’s and for future conflicts.”
• “Call for and uphold an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict.”
• “Support Iraqi civil society efforts to build peace, reconciliation, and accountability at the community level.”
As they put it:
“We understand and deeply share the desire to protect people, especially civilians … However, even when tactics of violent force yield a short term displacement of the adversary’s violence, such violence toward armed actors is often self-perpetuating, as the retributive violence that flares up in response will only propitiate more armed intervention in a tit-for-tat escalation without addressing the root causes of the conflict. We see this over and over again. It is not “necessary” to continue down this road of self-destruction, as Pope Francis called the hostilities of war the “suicide of humanity.”
I still call for action in Iraq, but, despite the fact many will not like me for it, I refuse to call for war. Despite everything I will continue to trust my King and walk the way of the cross. I ask you all to consider doing the same. Many small voices may just become a shout that can change the world!