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Sunday, January 11, 2009

This is the kind of prayer we need to see more often. Hat tip to Monk in Training.

A Jew's Prayer for the children of Gaza

If there has ever been a time for prayer, this is that time.

If there has ever been a place forsaken, Gaza is that place.

Lord who is the creator of all children, hear our prayer this accursed day. God whom we call Blessed, turn your face to these, the children of Gaza, that they may know your blessings, and your shelter, that they may know light and warmth, where there is now only blackness and smoke, and a cold which cuts and clenches the skin.

Almighty who makes exceptions, which we call miracles, make an exception of the children of Gaza. Shield them from us and from their own. Spare them. Heal them. Let them stand in safety. Deliver them from hunger and horror and fury and grief. Deliver them from us, and from their own.

Restore to them their stolen childhoods, their birthright, which is a taste of heaven.

Remind us, O Lord, of the child Ishmael, who is the father of all the children of Gaza. How the child Ishmael was without water and left for dead in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba, so robbed of all hope, that his own mother could not bear to watch his life drain away.

Be that Lord, the God of our kinsman Ishmael, who heard his cry and sent His angel to comfort his mother Hagar.

Be that Lord, who was with Ishmael that day, and all the days after. Be that God, the All-Merciful, who opened Hagar's eyes that day, and showed her the well of water, that she could give the boy Ishmael to drink, and save his life.

Allah, whose name we call Elohim, who gives life, who knows the value and the fragility of every life, send these children your angels. Save them, the children of this place, Gaza the most beautiful, and Gaza the damned.

In this day, when the trepidation and rage and mourning that is called war, seizes our hearts and patches them in scars, we call to you, the Lord whose name is Peace:

Bless these children, and keep them from harm.

Turn Your face toward them, O Lord. Show them, as if for the first time, light and kindness, and overwhelming graciousness.

Look up at them, O Lord. Let them see your face.

And, as if for the first time, grant them peace.

With thanks to Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman of Kol HaNeshama, Jerusalem.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the religious left agenda

It's starting already: Rabbi Michael Lerner is expressing displeasure with Barack Obama's selection of Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff.

Lerner is concerned first of all that the selection of Emanuel is a signal that Obama is dropping his commitment to end the Iraq war. That's one possibility; another is that Obama sees Representative Emanuel as a possible obstruction to a peace agenda, and the appointment is Obama's way of removing him from Congress. Or maybe the selection is a pragmatic recognition that Emanuel's skills are a good fit for the position. In any case, the Chief of Staff is usually expected to support the President's agenda, not the other way around.

Lerner goes on to add:

It’s not just the pro-peace and reconciliation forces that are unlikely to be given a serious hearing in a White House in which Rahm Emanuel controls who gets to talk to the President. Emanuel will almost certainly be protecting Obama from all of us spiritual progressives and those of us who describe ourselves as the Religious Left—so that our commitment to single-payer universal health care, carbon taxes for environmental protection, a Homeland Security strategy based on generosity and implemented through a Global Marshall Plan, will be unlikely to get a serious hearing in the White House.

All I can respond is, I sincerely hope so. I don't see anything in Lerner's "religious left" agenda that is the least bit religious. Certainly we a religious duty to take care of sick people, but we can do that without a single-payer health care system. Environmental stewardship is also a religious duty, I believe, but I don't think carbon taxes are the way to do it. And I just can't find the entry for "Global Marshall Plan" in my Bible concordance.

The Religious Right has poisoned the U.S. political system and U.S. churches for three decades, but we are finally starting to purge that toxin from our system. Now is not the time to swallow the drug called "Religious Left". It's likely to have very unpleasant side effects.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

understanding what motivates terrorists

Security expert Bruce Schneier has an interesting article in Wired Magazine, titled The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists.

The seven habits, first detailed in a paper by Max Abrahms, are:

  1. attack civilians, a policy that has a lousy track record of convincing those civilians to give the terrorists what they want;
  2. treat terrorism as a first resort, not a last resort, failing to embrace nonviolent alternatives like elections;
  3. don't compromise with their target country, even when those compromises are in their best interest politically;
  4. have protean political platforms, which regularly, and sometimes radically, change;
  5. often engage in anonymous attacks, which precludes the target countries making political concessions to them;
  6. regularly attack other terrorist groups with the same political platform; and
  7. resist disbanding, even when they consistently fail to achieve their political objectives or when their stated political objectives have been achieved.

Schneier argues that Abrahms' research throws into question the conventional wisdom that people become terrorists for political or ideological reasons.

Abrahms has an alternative model to explain all this: People turn to terrorism for social solidarity. He theorizes that people join terrorist organizations worldwide in order to be part of a community, much like the reason inner-city youths join gangs in the United States.

Schneier then cites evidence that many individual terrorists do not know the political agenda of the group they are fighting for; some even join multiple groups with incompatible agendas. Many of the 9/11 highjackers, for instance, had planned to fight in Chechnya, but couldn't get the paperwork to enter the country. Instead, they came to America and took flying lessons.

Schneier continues:

All of this explains the seven habits. It's not that they're ineffective; it's that they have a different goal. They might not be effective politically, but they are effective socially: They all help preserve the group's existence and cohesion.

People join terrorist groups for the same reason people join gangs or cults: The group provides a family-like environment. If this is true, then counter-terrorism measures need to be reevaluated. Schneier concludes:

We also need to pay more attention to the socially marginalized than to the politically downtrodden, like unassimilated communities in Western countries. We need to support vibrant, benign communities and organizations as alternative ways for potential terrorists to get the social cohesion they need. And finally, we need to minimize collateral damage in our counterterrorism operations, as well as clamping down on bigotry and hate crimes, which just creates more dislocation and social isolation, and the inevitable calls for revenge.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

agenda-driven or christ-driven?

Keith McIlWain has a good post on competing Christologies within the United Methodist Church.

He begins with a quote from Mark Tooley's book Taking Back the United Methodist Church. (See Keith's post for the details.)

Keith offers this insightful comment about the competing views of scripture:

I would take issue with Mr. Tooley's depiction of conservatives viewing Scripture as divine while liberals view it as a human document. We affirm that Jesus is both divine and human; surely, we can do the same for Scripture, without losing sight of the fact that it is our primary authority. Jesus, then, is both Savior and Liberator. For conservatives or liberals to forget this would be (and has been, at times) painful for the Church.

I agree. Christology has always been more a case of both/and rather than either/or. The paradoxical nature of Christian theology doesn't necessarily mesh well with modernist binary logic that would force us to choose one or the other, but we can't really expect any secular culture to be a perfect fit with Christianity.

Keith then adds:

That said, in all honesty, it is my opinion that in recent years it has more often than not been the theological Left which has forgotten these truths. Many on the theological Left (not all) seem to be more agenda-driven than mission-driven, doctrine-driven, Scripture-driven, or Christ-driven.

Here I disagree, not with Keith's assertion about those on the theological left who are agenda-driven, but with the implication that this is not equally true of some on the right.

In fact, in a post that begins with a quote from Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, it's highly ironic to accuse the theological left of being agenda-driven. Tooley is the poster boy for agenda-driven right-wing nationalism gilded with a thin layer of Christ-talk.

Mark Tooley supports torture and nationalist warmongering, against broad coalitions of conservative, moderate, and liberal Christians whose agreement on these matters is remarkable primarily because there are so few issues that unite Christians so strongly.

Confessing Christ in a World of Violence (CCWV) is a statement signed by many Christian leaders, both Protestants and Catholics, including liberals, moderates, and conservatives.

CCWV includes five confessions, of which the first two are:

1. Jesus Christ, as attested in Holy Scripture, knows no national boundaries. Those who confess his name are found throughout the earth. Our allegiance to Christ takes priority over national identity.
2. Christ commits Christians to a strong presumption against war. The wanton destructiveness of modern warfare strengthens this obligation. Standing in the shadow of the Cross, Christians have a responsibility to count the cost, speak out for the victims, and explore every alternative before a nation goes to war. We are committed to international cooperation rather than unilateral policies.

We've seen the benefits of international cooperation in the recent past: George Bush Sr. built a coalition of 80 nations, including 30 nations that supplied more than a quarter of a million troops, before the first Iraq war. George W. Bush, on the other hand, gave speeches dividing the world into "with us" and "against us," Donald Rumsfeld ridiculed any foreign leaders who voiced reservations, and we ended up with a much smaller force for a much larger task. The first Iraq war was finished in three months; the second has lasted longer than U.S. involvement in Word War II. International cooperation makes a difference.

Somehow, though, Mark Tooley manages to twist cooperation to mean idolatrous faith in the United Nations. He writes:

CCWV places great hope on "international" processes. "A policy that rejects the wisdom of international consultation should not be baptized by religiosity," it declares near the beginning, and "We are committed to international cooperation rather than unilateral policies" near the end. While warning that "no nation-state may usurp the place of God" it did not likewise insist that neither the United Nations nor any other international force can usurp the heavenly throne.

That reliance on international groups might be just as idolatrous as nation-state patriotism, it did not admit. Nor did it explain why international consensus must be a prerequisite for virtuous action in a world that is, according to Christian teaching, perpetually fallen and in rebellion against the divine order—and in which those the United States would consult and cooperate with have their own self-interests, which may include collaboration with oppressive regimes.

Note how Tooley deftly changes "cooperation" to "consensus" in the second paragraph. That's a much easier target to attack, but the word consensus does not appear in CCWV. Nor does the document mention the United Nations. But Tooley is more focused on his political agenda than on the actual contents of the CCWV document.

Another of CCWV's confessions is this:

4. Christ shows us that enemy-love is the heart of the gospel. While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, 10). We are to show love to our enemies even as we believe God in Christ has shown love to us and the whole world. Enemy-love does not mean capitulating to hostile agendas or domination. It does mean refusing to demonize any human being created in God's image.

To which Tooley replies:

CCWV was also very concerned about America’s “demonization” of “perceived enemies.” One wonders if the signers acknowledge the possibility that America has enemies, or that any of those enemies may be demonic in their behavior. Is criticism of the Iranian theocracy, or of North Korea’s Stalinist regime, an act of “demonization”? Or is it simply describing the reality of those regimes?

Surely Mark Tooley is intelligent enough to know the difference between criticism and demonization. It's one thing to criticize someone's actions; it's quite another to degrade the person and treat them as less than human. But Tooley is clever enough not to directly criticize the language of the CCWV. Instead he leads with a hypothetical, "One wonders if..." and follows up with insinuating rhetorical questions, leaving the reader to consider possible answers. Again, Tooley is concerned with advancing his political agenda rather than actually considering the text of the CCWV confessions. Belittling the signers of the CCWV is only a side effect.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a faith-based organization trying to press our government to take the high road in matters of human dignity. Because the U.S. is global economic leader, we have a responsibility to set a good moral example as well.

I've written previously about Mark Tooley's issues with the NRCAT. Essentially, he complains that the NRCAT is not foucsed on torture by other nations.

The torture committed by nations like Syria, China, Iran, North Korea, and other nations is reprehensible, to be sure. But we have no moral authority to speak against it if we remain silent when our own government commits acts of torture. Because the United States is a democracy, its citizens have the power to affect our nation's policies. It is our responsibility to speak up when those policies violate human dignity. That's why the National Religious Campaign Against Torture focuses on abuses by the U.S. government.

Mark Tooley's agenda, on the other hand, is to neuter the church in its role as an independent voice. In Tooley's vision, the church should be a lap dog that passively accepts anything decreed by the powers of this age.

This is not the sort of renewal the United Methodist Church needs.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

free burma

Free Burma!

Free Burma

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Friday, August 31, 2007

international blog day

Today is the 3rd International Blog Day (hat tip: Richard at connexions), the purpose of which is to encourage bloggers to "post recommendations of 5 new Blogs, preferably Blogs that are different from their own culture, point of view and attitude."

As was the case with the "thinking blogger" meme, I had a hard time limiting myself to five blogs. I enjoy reading different points of view, and I read more blogs than I should. In keeping with the spirit of the event, I've excluded all bloggers living in my home country.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

on spiritual warfare

Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

- 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

What struck me as I was reading this passage was not the "spritual warfare" language; after all, this is not the only NT passage that uses that metaphor. What struck me is the explicit contrast between physical warfare ("war according to human standards") and spiritual warfare.

In one sense, this contrast is nothing special: the same physical/spiritual contrast is used in other contexts, e.g. "letters of recommendation" vs. "letters written on our hearts" in 2 Corinthians 3:1-2, or physical circumcision vs. circumcision "of the heart" in Romans 2:26-29. In each case, Paul uses scenes from everyday life to draw analogies about spiritual life.

But underlying Paul's arguments is the (sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit) acknowledgement: Spritual life is not quite like that. In this example, Paul makes it explicit: "We do not wage war according to human standards." [emphasis mine]

The book of Revelation provides a striking image of this contrast:

and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.

- Revelation 1:13-16

"From his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword" -- the language is reminiscent of Hebrews 4:12, "Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." In both places, the two-edged sword is associated not with physical might but with spoken words.

And yet so many Christians throughout the ages have gotten it wrong. From Constantine, through the Crusades, to George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, Christians have for centuries tried to justify military aggression in the name of God.

Will Christians ever learn to be peacemakers and earn the title, "children of God" (Matthew 5:9)? Or don't we have any good news to offer a violent world?

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

a violent species

On May 1, 2003, President Bush swaggered onto an aircraft carrier and announced that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.

Four years and more than 60,000 civilian deaths later, combat operations continue. The U.S. has been involved in this war longer than it was in World War II, and no end is in sight.

What's more, this is just one of many ongoing wars around the world. Other wars may not get the publicity of the Iraq War, but to their victims these wars are no less devastating.

We are a violent species. Is there any hope for the human race?

God of justness and mercy, we pray for an end to terrorism in any form. We pray for wisdom that will bring greater peace in our world. We pray for understanding and compassion that will safeguard the innocent and feed and find home for all refugees and all who suffer. We pray for companionship and strength for all who mourn. We pray in Jesus' love. Amen.

(Prayer source: Prayers for Justice and Peace)

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

on war and peace in iraq

Last weekend, to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war, peace groups held vigils in many cities throughout the United States. In Kansas City the vigil was cosponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and the KC Iraq Task Force.

There were several gifted speakers, but the one who made the biggest impression on me was Tomas Young, who fought in this war before being paralyzed from the chest down due to injuries sustained in combat. He was rolled onto the stage in his wheelchair and started to speak. After only a few sentences he looked down at what appeared to be notes, then said something that was completely unrelated to what he had been saying. He looked down at the notes again, then looked up and apologized. Because of the side effects of his pain medication, he said, he couldn't continue. He rolled off the stage.

This is what war does to young, idealistic people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for a cause. Before we ask them to make these sacrifices, we'd better be sure the cause is worth the cost. George W. Bush's failure to count the cost has destroyed far more lives than the 9/11 attacks did.

I've been attending peace vigils since before the war began, but at this one there seemed to be a general sense of hopefulness that I haven't perceived in previous years. Perhaps one factor is that I've moved from Wichita to Kansas City, where people seem to be a little more positive about life in general, but the biggest factor has to be the 2006 Congressional elections and the troop withdrawal bill now going through Congress.

Nonetheless, I can't bring myself to feel any more hopeful about the prospects for peace than I did four years ago. In fact, I'm probably less hopeful, for two reasons.

First, I really believed, prior to the war, that something might possibly be done to prevent the invasion. If our leaders -- and other world leaders -- could see the level of opposition, they might be persuaded to change their strategy. The very fact of this war has left me jaded about the prospects of ever turning leaders' opinion through protest.

Second, I don't see a possibility for a successful Iraqi nation. Many factors are contributing to the ongoing difficulties there, and numerous pundits have given a far more thorough analysis than I ever could, but the underlying reality is that the Iraqi people are not prepared to run their own government -- especially while facing insurgents intent on ripping the nation to shreds.

The United States could certainly cut its own losses by withdrawing its troops, just as most of its coalition partners already have. But at what cost to Iraq? Already more than 60,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of this war (and that's the most conservative estimate -- some have suggested that the true number is more than ten times that). If the U.S. were to pull out, do we have any reason to think the insurgents would lay their weapons down? Or would a U.S. withdrawal simply abandon Iraq to chaos?

I don't have any answers, just questions.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

love your enemies

A church in Australia has attracted attention by putting up a sign that says, Jesus Loves Osama. John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia, is none too pleased. "The prayer priority of the church on this occasion could have been elsewhere," Howard said.

To be sure, it would be much easier to focus our prayers elsewhere. But for Christians, if we want to take seriously Jesus's own command, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," then Osama bin Laden needs our prayers. More importantly, we need to pray for Osama.

Will prayer really make a difference?

Once there was a man named Saul. Saul hated Christianity and everything it stood for. But while he was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus one day, he saw a blinding light and heard Jesus speak to him. His entire life was transformed. After being an enemy of Christianity, Saul -- renamed Paul -- became one of its greatest advocates. Did the early Christians pray for Saul before his conversion experience? We can't know. If they did, their prayers weren't recorded.

What we do know is that for centuries the early Christians prayed for the salvation of the Roman Emperor. Then, some time after the year 300, Constantine saw a vision of the cross the day before a major battle, and later made Christianity the official religion of Rome. (Whether that was a good thing or bad, I think, is up for debate.)

If Osama bin Laden ever sees a vision and becomes a follower of Christ, the world would be a better place. But I can't imaginge it ever happening, and I doubt I am alone in that skepticism.

But why is that? Is it because we no longer believe in the power of God to change lives? Do we think some people are beyond redemption? Is hatred a stronger force in our world than love?

What if we really made an effort to love our enemies, and to pray for those who would harm us? What if we lived as if love were stronger than hate? Could we change the world?


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

because you have shed so much blood

King David was a "man after God's own heart." Granted, he wasn't perfect: He had an affair with the wife of one of his soldiers, then had the soldier murdered to cover up his sin. And there was the little indiscretion of the naked public dancing, which didn't make his wife too happy. And he served more than a year in the army of the Philistines, Israel's enemies. And when his son Absalom conspired to sieze the throne by force, David fled to the wilderness, leaving his concubines to deal with the usurper.

But David, unlike most kings of Israel and Judah, worshipped one God. And he worshipped with a fervency not seen again in the history of either kingdom. The stories of his trust in God in extreme circumstances are legendary. David's name appears on more than 70 psalms. Even his naked dancing was an offering to God. Because of his faithfulness, God promised to give David an everlasting kingdom.

David was also a warrior king. He conquered the Jebusite city of Jerusalem and made it his home. He planned to build a house there for his God. But God declined.

David said to Solomon, "My son, I had intended to build a house to the name of the LORD my God. "But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 'You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth before Me. 'Behold, a son will be born to you, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. 'He shall build a house for My name, and he shall be My son and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.'

1 Chronicles 22:7-10

It wasn't David's adultery, or his callous treatment of Bathsheba's husband Uriah the Hittite. It wasn't David's naked dancing, or his defection to the Philistines, or his abandonment of the throne that offended God's holiness such that God didn't want David to build the temple. It was his military success. David was not a man of peace, therefore he could not build a house for God.

Instead, the temple would be built by the brutal and idolatrous Solomon, who as a young man had earned a reputation for wisdom but later abandoned both his wisdom and his love for God. He conscripted 30,000 men -- non-citizens living within Israel -- into forced labor to build his palace and the temple, then kept them in slavery to build other projects for him. Then he married their sisters and daughters, and worshipped their gods. His foolishness split the kingdom in two.

For all his faults, Solomon was not unworthy to build the temple of God. But David -- the faithful one -- was, because David was not a man of peace.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

christian peace bloggers

Michael Westmoreland-White has created a new blog-ring: Christian Peace Bloggers.

I've reluctantly joined. Reluctantly, not because I don't believe in peace, and not because I don't think peace is essential to the Christian faith. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. When he was born, angels proclaimed peace on earth. Jesus himself said, "Blessed are the peacemakers," and when he sent his first disciples, he told them to give blessings of peace to any who accepted them (Matthew 10:5-15 | Luke 10:1-16). Clearly, peace is a central element of the gospel message. I don't have a problem with that.

No, the reason I'm reluctant to join this blog-ring is that I simply don't know what I can do or say about peace that will make a difference. Last summer, when the conflict in Lebanon was in full heat, I faced this same dilemma. What do I know? What difference can I make?

But, as one of the requirements of joining the Christian Peace Bloggers, I've committed to blogging about peace on a regular basis, and that means I'll have to become more informed. I'll have to grow. Deep down inside, I'm not sure if I really want to grow. And, to be honest, that's the real reason for my reluctance about this.

Still, too many things in my life are converging around peace for me to ignore. Is God trying to tell me something? I'll blog more about this when I know more.


Friday, October 13, 2006

muhammad yunus wins nobel peace prize!

Long-time readers of It Seems to Me... (both of you) know I'm a big advocate of microlending. So I'm very pleased to see that the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to microlending pioneer Muhammad Yunus. Yunus started the Grameen Bank in the 1970s, after trying unsuccessfully to obtain bank loans on behalf of impoverished entrepreneurs in his home country of Bangladesh. Other organizations, such as FINCA and Opportunity International, have joined the efforts in what has become a global phenomenon. Newcomer Kiva has taken microlending a step further, allowing individuals to loan directly to developing world entrepreneurs. If you're not familiar with microlending, check it out. It's an easy way to make a significant, lasting difference in someone's life.

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Friday, August 11, 2006


Joel at the Connexions blog has challenged other Methodist bloggers to write about the war in Lebanon.

Honestly, the reason I haven't said anything about the conflict is that I don't have any answers. Who is wrong? Who is right? Or are both sides wrong? I don't know. But I do know this: God doesn't like to see any of his children hurting each other.

Thousands of years ago, the prophet Micah foresaw a time when:

In days to come
   the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
   and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
   and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
   to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
   and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
   and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
   and no one shall make them afraid;
   for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

- Micah 4:1-4

Those days, obviously, have not arrived. Is there anything we can do to bring this vision to reality? Is there any way we can make a difference in God's timetable?

As I said above, I have no answers. I simply ask that you join me in prayer over this and other conflicts in the Middle East.

Jehovah Shalom, God of peace,
  of mercy and compassion, of grace and reconciliation,
  pour your power upon all your children in the Middle East:
    Jews, Muslims and Christians,
    Lebanese, Israelis, Palestinians, Iraqis.
  Let hatred be turned into love,
  fear to trust,
  despair to hope,
  oppression to freedom,
  occupation to liberation,
that violent encounters may be replaced by loving embraces,
and peace and justice could be experienced by all. Amen

(Adapted from The Reverend Said Ailabouni's prayer in Prayers for Peace for the Middle East, 2003)

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

why christians should support torture

In a recent article Mark Tooley, head of the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), questions Christian support for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT).

Tooley's main beef seems to be that the NRCAT is not focusing on torture in other countries, but is pushing the United States government to promise not to use torture. But what does Tooley expect of a national campaign? Any U.S. organization is going to have a better chance persuading its own government than persuading despotic thugs half a world away.

And if we want to have any moral authority to speak out against torturers elsewhere, we need to make it clear that we don't condone the use of it by our own nation. After the revelations from Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and secret CIA prisons around the world, the United States has lost that moral authority. Earlier this year Congress overwhelmingly approved the McCain Amendment, banning the use of torture. George W. Bush had threatened to veto the bill, but he backed down after it was approved by a wide enough margin to override the veto. Instead, Bush issued a signing statement explaining that the ban does not apply in all cases.

Because of Bush's moral ambiguity about torture, American Christians need to speak up, to make it clear that we do not blindly support all our government's policies. That's why the NRCAT was formed.

So why does Mark Tooley have a problem with the NRCAT? The answer, it seems to me, is in the nature of Tooley's organization, the IRD. The IRD claims to be a church renewal group. However, in this and other public statements, the IRD appears to be actively attempting to squelch the voice of the church whenever it speaks out against U.S. policy. The IRD wants a lap dog church that lacks a prophetic voice.

For the church to adopt Tooley's agenda, it would have to abandon Christ's agenda.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

With those words, Jesus inaugurated a challenge, not just to the rulers of his day, but to all those who would try to maintain power by keeping others down. The kingdom of God does not work that way. The kingdom of God turns all our expectations upside down. To be great, one must become a servant, a child.

As Mary sang while Jesus was still in the womb:

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

Jesus didn't come to earth to teach his followers to be jingoistic supporters of their government's morally dubious policies. The Mark Tooleys of the world can complain all they want, but the church must remain true to its prophetic mission. And that means never to align itself with any earthly kingdom, but to stand with the Prince of Peace in calling political leaders to account.

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