The news this morning that the three CPT captives in Iraq, Norman Kember, Harmeet Singh Sooden and Jim Loney have been freed gives us all a tiny space to celebrate especially after the death of fourth colleague Tom Fox. I hope you join me for a few moments of relaxation and celebration before addressing three questions that remain from this experience that affects not just the four captives but also the world wide Muslim community, the world wide Christian community and the world wide movement for nonviolence. I will close this missive with a small proposal.
People working for peace around the world, and there are millions of us, are seeking answers to the following three questions. Who carries out operations like this? Why do people do such things? What does this experience mean for the future of a nonviolent answer to terrorism?
There may be more than one answer to these interrelated questions, answers that will stretch our imaginations. I worked with the first question several months ago where I tried to place this incident in the world wide culture of war and terrorism. But that was just a start. Even if we did have incontrovertible evidence of who did this specific captive taking we still need an action plan for the whole peacemaking family, a real plan that ends captivity and releases all detainees. Our hearts tell us we need a comprehensive answer to war and terrorism that has integrity not only to respond to this incident but long into the future for our human family. Finding answers to these questions may help us complete our cautious celebration for the release of the Baghdad peacemakers. Said Simon Barrow of the UK religious think tank Ekklesia, which is associated with Christian Peacemaker Teams UK: “The release of Norman, Jim and Harmeet is the wonderful news that many had been working and praying for, but perhaps did not quite dare to believe.
“He went on: “Christian peace makers have great respect for those who carried out the operation to free the captives, but they nevertheless remain firmly committed to nonviolence as the only effective, long-term way to break the cycles of hatred, revenge, terror and killing which are destroying Iraq and threatening the world.”
Said Barrow: “Many people will continue to question the propriety of unarmed interventions in places of great danger and conflict. But Christian Peacemaker Teams have made it clear that they will not be deterred by threats or opposition. They are tough-minded people who know the situation and know what they were doing. When Jesus called on his followers to make peace, he never said it was going to be anything other than risky – and he paid with his life.”
The answer that our Christian community gives to these questions has implications for all of our future and it requires our best thinking and action. In the face of overwhelming danger should peacemakers leave Iraq? Do peacemakers belong in such confusing conditions?
Now here is my proposal. I would like to invite congregations and parishes to take one or more Christian Education hours to discuss the following scripture, Matt. 5: 9-15 in the backdrop of this experience of captivity and the ongoing crisis of detainees and captives.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt, has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Can we work to answer the question, how should Christian peacemakers place themselves into difficult situations where terrorism is rampant? Is there a more disciplined way in which peacemaker work might function more effectively in our congregation to overcome terrorism and war? These are the two questions I bring to these words from Matthew. You are invited to ask your own questions from your situation remembering that our answers have everything to do with the future of our children, our youth and students, our family life and retired people.