Get your Rapture hats ready, kiddies! The sky is falling, and our wise gift of nuclear winter will propel us all into the loving arms of the all-knowing and all-everywhere G-d.


Just Peacemaking (not warkmaking) in the Middle East
Glen Stassen  Oct 29, 2006

by Dr. Glen Stassen

I am writing this on September 11, 2002, just after morning worship at International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague. We prayed for victims of the attack one year ago, and for many families who will never be able to bury  loved ones lost then. As we celebrated the Lord's Supper, I meditated on how God enters into the midst of our lives, and our suffering, in Christ, who sat in the midst of his disciples as a community as he explained that he would give his body and his blood. Our text was Romans 12:1-2, "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind."

As I received the bread and the wine, I meditated on Christ as the initiator and pattern for that transformation. Christians are called to respond to September 11th differently from the world's ways of responding, but in ways transformed by Christ.

A Nation of New Realities
The attack, and the U.S. official response, have led to real changes in our nation's spirituality. We see this in some obvious realities: The United States is still in what could be called a war spirituality. Forty-billion dollars has been shifted to military spending, not including $28 billion in special appropriations for the cost of the war on Afghanistan, and special appropriations for Homeland Security, and appropriations to the Department of Energy to develop new, usable nuclear weapons and to prepare to resume nuclear bomb testing in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Money has been shifted away from programs for education, colleges, the needy, health insurance for children, and other human needs. State budgets are in deficit, so states are making more severe cuts in education and healthcare. Worship, teaching, and discussion in many churches, synagogues, and mosques have been narrowed in their breadth of focus, influenced by the shift in the culture, except that some have reached out to Muslims, thus creating that specific broadening of focus.

A degree of fear is in the back of the minds of many. At the time of this writing, the administration is raising momentum toward war with Iraq. If Iraq is invaded, the cost will likely be much more than the proxy war in Afghanistan. The government has shifted its Mideast policy, siding more with Ariel Sharon's military actions to suppress Palestinians and less with Palestinians' demand for dignity, justice, and a viable state. Other nations express distress at U.S. go-it-alone actions and withdrawal from treaties.

Another reality is the unrivaled military power of the United States. The U.S. military budget is larger than the next eight nations combined. The combination of overwhelming military and economic power weakens the ability of other nations to provide checks and balances against U. S. actions that they consider to be unwise or erroneous.

Furthermore, the spirituality of nationalism that has resulted from the shocking attack of 9-11 polarizes the national spirit and disinclines many from questioning the drift, in a way analogous to the polarization in Israel after far more, repeated, terrorist attacks. 

Just War, Pacifism, or Just Peacemaking?
Just war theory or pacifism (understood simply as the restraint of war) are not likely to provide satisfactory answers. Is it time to begin discussing initiatives that can decrease the resentment and anger that drive people to turn to terrorism? Is it time to turn to just peacemaking theory for help in suggesting preventive initiatives?

Just peacemaking theory is a third ethic that is now getting increasing support in Christian ethics. It is based first on Jesus' teachings of peacemaking, and second on practical political science research that shows these just peacemaking practices are working effectively and realistically to prevent many wars and much terrorism. It does not claim that everyone will agree with all of its implications, but it does claim that these practices work and can lead us in more constructive and effective directions. What alternatives does just peacemaking theory raise for discussion, and for Christians to be transformed by?

Nonviolent Direct Action
In Matt. 5:38ff, Jesus taught that instead of violent and revengeful resistance, we are to take nonviolent direct action. Turning the left cheek, giving your cloak, going the second mile, and giving to the one who begs are not passive compliance but nonviolent transforming initiatives that seek to restore a relationship of justice and peace, as I have explained in Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (Westminster/John Knox Press), chapter 3.

Arab and Muslim anger over injustice toward Palestinians, perceived as supported by the U.S. government, is the greatest source of widespread resentment, and a major factor in causing terrorism. More Palestinian leaders could call for a switch to nonviolent direct action instead of terrorism, like Sami Awad of Bethlehem, who spoke recently in a forum at Fuller Seminary.

Israel could choose one city where nonviolent direct action is being organized such as Bethlehem and reward it by giving the self-rule that the Oslo Accords promised. And then expand self-rule, step by step, wherever nonviolent action has some advocates. (Since I wrote this, Israel and Palestine have begun doing taking exactly these initiatives; either my e-mail is being bugged, or just peacemaking theory's initiatives strike others as realistic and much needed also. But it is crucial to keep the process going; presently it is blocked by hawks in the Israeli government. The U.S. needs to push firmly.)

The Strategy of Independent Initiatives or Trust-Building Measures
The strategy of independent initiatives or confidence-building measures is like Paul's teaching in Romans 12:20. If you have distrust with your enemy, take an initiative to decrease the distrust, like giving some food if your enemy is hungry, some drink if thirsty. One side takes an action (not mere words or promises) designed to decrease distrust or anger, like bringing home some roses when you want to build a better relationship.

The initiative should be visible, and must be on time. You announce in advance what and when it will happen, and you know realistically that hawks on one or the other side are likely to take an insulting action in advance in order to disrupt it, but you perform exactly as promised, because trust and de-escalation are the key. The initiative should not leave your side weak, but should decrease the perception of threat.

One initiative is not enough, because the trust is too embedded; a series of initiatives is needed. You invite reciprocation, and if it comes, you take more significant initiatives. If no reciprocation comes, you take small initiatives to keep the door open for reciprocation.

This strategy worked to rid the world of many of the nuclear weapons, to get the peace process in place in Northern Ireland, and to start the peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine at Oslo--negotiations they had refused to enter into prior to the independent initiatives. 

-- What independent initiative could be taken now? Arafat did call effectively for a halt to terrorist attacks in December 15, 2001, and violence dropped to 20 percent of the previous level, for almost two months. Sharon, however, did not reciprocate, but instead attacked in retaliation against the remaining terrorism. The U.S. could press Arafat to take this initiative again, and this time the U.S. could act swiftly to ask firmly for Israeli reciprocation.

-- Palestinians say that more and more Palestinian land keeps being occupied by settlers, more and more Palestinian orchards and homes keep being bulldozed, more and more bypass roads that Palestinians cannot use, enforced by Israeli military, carve up their land so that they can hardly travel in their own land and the map of their land looks like a case of the measles. These settlements are lavishly subsidized by the Israeli government, so that land and utilities are free, etc.

Realism says peace will not come until these settlements are reversed. Polls show most Israelis know that and would support it. But realism also says that Ariel Sharon is not going to agree to give up the settlements: his nickname is "bulldozer," he himself is responsible for the settlement policy, and his political power depends on some parties of the right that are committed to the settlement policy. This is a classic vicious cycle of distrust.

-- The U.S. gives Israel several billion dollars each year. It should earmark a portion of the aid for buying settlers' homes at something like twice their value, thus reversing the financial incentives, contingent on the settlers returning to Israel and investing the money in housing there, so Israel does benefit from the investment. Not all settlers would sell, but polls indicate most would. Palestinians would finally see the momentum shifting toward reducing settlements rather than continuously proliferating them. With such a process progressing, why push terrorism?

-- Politicians need political support before they take initiatives. Here is a role for faith-based groups who want to push for specific and realistically possible peacemaking initiatives.

Conflict Resolution
The public expression of Jesus' instruction to go make peace with your adversary, to talk together, perhaps with the help of a third party (Matt. 5::24-25; 18:15ff.), is the practice of conflict resolution. Conflict resolution is instructive for relations with Iraq -- another major source of anger against the U.S. The right and reasonable U.S. and U.N. demand has been unhindered inspections and destruction of weapons of mass destruction, and ongoing monitoring thereafter.

But achieving that requires allowing inspections to be in the interest of the Iraqi government. That requires affirmation of the interest of the Iraqi government in its own survival. The Clinton administration, however, stated that even if inspections were successfully carried out, it would still seek to topple Hussein. And the U.S. blocked talks about easing the economic sanctions if the inspections go forward, declaring that even if Iraq allowed the inspections, the sanctions would still not be lifted. That removed the incentive for Saddam Hussein to allow inspections in hopes of a happier future.

The Bush administration has intensified the counter-productive demand, insisting on regime change and vetoing talks regardless of Iraq's request to talk about resuming inspections. Vice President Cheney said the U.S. should not seek inspections but instead seek war. This would be strong pressure on Iraq to allow inspections, if and only if Iraq believed inspections could lead to peace and economic growth.

Conflict resolution says the U.S. should offer peace if Iraq allows unhindered inspections and ongoing monitoring afterwards.

Justice: Support Sustainable Economic Development, Human Rights, and Democracy
Jesus teaches many times about justice for the poor and powerless. He often confronts the greedy and the dominating. Poverty with little hope for improvement, and dictatorial governments with little hope for peaceful change, are major causes of resentment , anger, and terrorist recruitment in the countries that terrorists come from.

President Bush has advocated a $5 billion increase in economic aid worldwide. That increase is a step in the right direction. It needs to be implemented in Afghanistan yesterday. The U.S. is presently the lowest per capita of the 20 richest nations in giving economic aid.

The U.S. should encourage the pro-democracy forces in Indonesia, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt rather than the pro-military and pro-authoritarianism forces. But seeing terrorism as a permanent war entices the U.S. government into alliances with the military forces in those countries, and the military forces are the main threat to democracy and human rights there.

Recall how the Indonesian military was guilty in the massacres of the people in the movements for democracy in East Timor until the United Nations forces led by Australia intervened to stop them. Recall how the military led the coup that overthrew democracy in Pakistan. Recall how it was the U.S. Army's occupation of Saudi Arabia--the land of Mecca--in order to make war against an Islamic nation, Iraq, that converted Osama Bin Laden to terrorism, and its continuing occupation there to this day as support for the present dictatorial government that enrages Saudis who want change.

Seeing the military as the main way to prevent terrorism undermines democratic movements in the very countries where democracy is most needed in order to prevent terrorism effectively.

Instead, just peacemaking theory, and the worldwide evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of just peacemaking practices in preventing war and terrorism, suggest that the U.S government should gently prod those governments toward democracy, not toward militarily supported authoritarianism.

Work With Cooperative Forces in the International System, Including the United Nations and Regional Organizations
Jesus interprets Leviticus 19:18 to include the enemy in the community of neighbors whom we are to love (Matt 5:43ff.). Many cooperative forces have been building networks between nations so that enemies as well as friends are being included in the international community in which they interact each day and develop interests in dealing with each other respectfully.

Examples are world missions, the richly international student body at Fuller, e-mail and the internet, world travel (I am writing this from the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, international trade, the spread of human rights and democracy, the United Nations and regional organizations in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe, and the network of international treaties that provide order in the international system.

This is the public institutionalization of what Jesus taught: include your enemies in your community of neighbors. Newspapers are full of accounts of opposition by almost all other nations against unilateral initiation of war by the United States against Iraq, and full of the results of polls and interviews of people in other nations that are angry at the United States for renouncing numerous treaties and for announcing unilateral plans to attack Iraq. Most all of the national security advisors of the President Bush the father have urged President Bush the son not to make war without international approval.

President George W. Bush campaigned for the presidency by arguing that the U.S. needs a more humble foreign policy. Would not a humble foreign policy mean listening to the cooperative forces in the international system? Would not making war in the face of all the international opposition, after having rejected the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty, the Biological Weapons Treaty, the International Criminal Court, and the Kyoto Accords, while bypassing the United Nations, be the opposite of humility and a way to tear up the international networks that are preventing many wars?

Other nations are already using the word "arrogant" to describe U.S. policies, and it is fueling the rage behind recruitment to terrorism. Just peacemaking theory argues that the U.S. should respect the wisdom of the other nations.

Instead of choosing war, it should pay attention to the widespread international consensus that it should support reinstitution of inspections by stating clearly that successful inspections can result in peace for Iraq.

Effective combating of terrorism requires deeper thinking than only pushing military repression of terrorism. The practices of just-peacemaking theory, all of which have in fact prevented wars, suggest a turn to include preventive initiatives in the repertoire. Police action, yes; preventive action, definitely yes.

Glen Stassen is Lewis Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, and author/editor of Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War (Pilgrim Press: 1998).

Blog Archive