That’s my boy!

jimmy carter

I don’t know if you had caught this developing story today or not, but Jimmy Carter (a man I look up to very very much) is working hard for progress in the Palestinian/Israeli peace process.  Today, he met with senior Hamas officials in Cairo in the hopes that some common bond could be built.  What made me say, “Attaboy Jimmy!” was the first couple lines from the article,

Former President Carter met with senior Hamas officials in the Egyptian capital today, rankling the Israeli and US governments, which say it runs counter to their policies of not negotiating with terrorists.

Later in the article, the same thing stuck out to me.

During his stop in Israel, most officials- including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert- refused to meet with Carter, angry over his insistence that Israel should talk to Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union.

I hope you don’t misinterpret my “Attaboy!” for a blank check endorsement of Hamas as a legitimate governing authority, because that’s not my intent at all. In fact, Hamas has done a tremendous amount of violence and evil on its part over the years that have burned bridges with Israeli people and deeply set back the Israel/Palestine peace process.

My attaboy really has two main dimensions;
1) Jimmy Carter’s got some serious stones to do what he’s doing now

Bigger ones than Ehud Olmert, Khalid Meshaal, or George Bush, at least. Either these “leaders” are so completely blinded to the complex issues that surround seeking peace in this area or are continuing to willfully play off others’ fears, because there’s been plenty of black/white simplistic answers coming from these parties.Jimmy’s in pursuit of solutions and healing, and he’s willing to ask hard questions and meet with the unmeetable because he knows peoples’ lives (both Palestinian and Israeli) hang in the balance. And peoples’ lives are always, ALWAYS more important than the wounded pride and ego of choosing to embrace those you have hated so long you almost don’t remember why.

2) Jimmy Carter’s smart enough to know “terrorist” is just a label that all kinds of organizations throw around, usually to demonize the opposing party in the hopes that your folks will come off smelling like roses, all righteous and stuff. Terrorism is in the eyes of the beholder.

I wrote a few posts awhile back highlighting this fact.

1) One post focused on the reports early in March of a Tomahawk cruise missile attack on an al-Qaeda operative in Somalia.

The Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. military struck a target against a known al-Qaeda terrorist, and I’m sure this was the point at which your average story-reader (especially American) stopped reading. But buried at the bottom of the article, we’re told that the strike destroyed two houses, killed three women, three children, and wounded another twenty people. Now in the bigger scheme of things (beyond the Pentagon thinking they rode in on their white horse, accomplished justice, and rode back out again), how much do you think that missile strike affected that town of Dhoobley? The families of the killed? The injured? The memories that will remain for generations in that small town? The (justified) hatred that Tomahawk will inspire in them? Who comes off as a terrorist organization for the people in Dhoobley? I’ll let you handle that one yourself.

2) Another post focused on a story that emerged April 1 also related to the American government. The story, reporting on a Justice Department memo to Bush, stated

The president’s wartime power as commander in chief would not be limited by the U.N. treaties against torture. Legal counsel John Yoo wrote, “Our previous opinions make clear that customary international law is not federal law and that the president is free to override it at his discretion.”

What would be the definition of a terrorist organization? Maybe one that openly flaunts international law and does what it decides is right, with the good of all over-ridden by their own interests? The U.S. fits the description in this case.

3) And the third post had to do with the very Israeli/Palestinian relationship Carter is addressing right now.

It seems Hamas got a sweet whiff of what might bring lasting positive change in the shattered relationship by choosing not to suicide bomb a marketplace, but instead mobilize the people of Palestine in non-violent protest against the unjust security wall Israel has been building. Israel caught a whiff of this plan, and here was their response;

The army intends to prevent the marchers from advancing on the fence when they are still inside the Strip, using various means for crowd dispersal according to a ring system: The closer the marchers get to the fence, the harsher the response.The army plans to fire at open areas near the demonstrators with artillery that the Artillery Corps has been moving to the area over the past couple of days. If the marchers continue and cross into the next ring, they will face tear gas. If they persist, snipers could be ordered to aim for the marchers’ legs as they approach the fence.

It’s not an un-related point that Israel has been building the security walls inside the borders of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while acquiring land for settlements by driving Palestinian farmers off the land, refusing to let them back on, and squatting on the land until they declare it “unoccupied” and thus free for illegal settlers to move on.

It is Israel’s handling of this situation that led to Desmond Tutu calling the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians “apartheid.” I think Desmond Tutu would know. It also led to Jimmy Carter writing a book entitled “Peace not Apartheid.” Both men have been charged with anti-Semitism, a challenge that carries baggage since the Holocaust happened only 70 years ago. In this situation though (with both men being followers of Jesus) Jimmy and Desmond weren’t spitting hatred but speaking truth to power, and thinking of the long-term good of both Israelis and Palestinians.

A good example of what not to do, of simplistic and close-minded thinking came from Condolezza Rice (who could’ve been working on this relationship for three and a half years already), who said she found it “hard to understand what is going to be gained by having discussions with Hamas about peace when Hamas is in fact the impediment to peace.” Well, Condi, Hamas plays a role in the problem, yes. But so does Israel in their state terror on the Palestinian people. And so does the United States in giving a blank check to Israel of support. You’re the Secretary of State of the United States of America, and that’s all you can come up with?

*UPDATE TO ADD* Carter made a speech today (4/21/08 ) as a result of his talks in the region that (surprise surprise) includes concessions Hamas would be willing to make as a result of direct talks. Here’s a quote

Carter urged Israel to engage in direct negotiations with Hamas, saying failure to do so was hampering peace efforts.

“We do not believe that peace is likely and certainly that peace is not sustainable unless a way is found to bring Hamas into the discussions in some way,” he said. “The present strategy of excluding Hamas and excluding Syria is just not working.”

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God’s People Reconciling (Part 3 of 4)

Here’s Ron Sider again, in his wonderfully stylish clothes. Must be time for Part Three. Yes, yes it is.

Just as a preface, this one’s the longest. I urge you to overcome your internet-driven impulse to click away after the second paragraph and instead compel yourself to see what this guy’s got to say. 🙂 It’s powerful.

2. 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.

p.s. Of all the points Sider attempts to make here, I think his ihighlighting of Jesus non-violence as NOT passivity and standing by in the face of evil is the most striking. Many people when confronted with a tough situation think they can react only either/or…Jesus refused to buy into this false dichotomy and instead showed a tremendous capability to respond to various situations with various responses. All, it should be noted, revealed his overarching commitment to non-violence as an example to his followers.

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” -john 18:36