Thomas Merton: ‘Turning an Adversary to a Collaborator’

“…for non-violence seeks to ‘win’ not by destroying or even by humiliating the adversary, but by convincing him that there is a higher and more certain common good than can be attained by bombs and blood. Non-violence, ideally speaking, does not try to overcome the adversary by winning over him, but to turn him from an adversary into a collaborator by winning him over.”–Thomas Merton, Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice (1968)

Andrew Wilkes: Evangelicals, Race, and GLBT Issues

LaTona Gunn holds a 2001 photo of her daughter, Sakia Gunn, at her home in Newark. Sakia, 15, was stabbed to death while waiting for the bus in Newark after she and her friends told her attacker they were lesbians.
LaTona Gunn holds a 2001 photo of her daughter, Sakia, 15, who was stabbed to death while waiting for the bus after she and her friends told her attacker they were lesbians.

I really appreciated Andrew Wilkes excellent post today on Sojourners blog on the evil of indifference when it comes to how dominant sexuality Christians relate to gays and lesbians (Ignoble Indifference: Evangelicals, Race, and GLBT Issues).

Andrew worked with Sojourners as a policy and organizing fellow and added his depth and richness to our ministry life. Now he’s back at Princeton Theological Seminary and getting ready to graduate this spring. Andrew is a noble son of the Black church tradition and it gives me hope that our future is carried by him and his compatriots. Here’s an excerpt:

While progressive evangelicals consider color within and beyond the Emergent Church, let us not ignore the stories of our gay and lesbian brethren as if the two issues are completely separate. The two issues ought not be conflated, and yet they are inextricably intertwined.

Far too often, black and brown youth who are gay and lesbian suffer from an unceasing stream of epithets, threats, and violence in the formative years of life. From the ghastly murder of Sakia Gunn, a fifteen-year-old lesbian, to the skull-fracturing beating of Gregory Love at Morehouse, visceral responses to homosexuality have provoked not only dehumanizing discourse but also destructive deeds. Violence against our gay and lesbian brethren — again, many of whom are black and brown — is immoral, illegal, and incompatible with those who follow the Prince of Peace.

Another sin of civil rights storytelling is that many who invoke Martin King ignore Bayard Rustin. And yet, the emergence of Martin King as a nonviolent prophet is unintelligible without brother Rustin — a brilliant organizer, orator, nonviolent strategist, and also a gay man.

Or when Tonex, perhaps the most gifted gospel artist of the past quarter-century, came out, many of his peers publicly threw him under the pews. The not-so-subtle message was twofold: one cannot be explicitly gay and publicly offer praise to God; and secondly — since everyone and their grandmama knows that there are gay gospel artists — one must suffer in silence before God and Church. This message is unhelpful, tacitly encouraging a culture of shame and clandestine sexuality.

Instead, let progressive evangelicals acknowledge that there are Christian arguments for gay marriage, civil unions, and so forth. One may or may not be convinced, but let us be charitable enough to acknowledge that there are Jesus-loving and justice-seeking believers who have theological reasons to account for their sexuality, an open and affirming church, and so forth.

The stone-cold truth, I suspect, is that more than a few progressive evangelicals are indifferent about GLBT issues. By God’s grace, I ashamedly — and yet gratefully — admit that I am slowly being delivered from this apathy.

“There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial, and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself … The prophets’ great contribution to humanity was the discovery of the evil of indifference. One may be decent and sinister, pious and sinful.”–Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom, pgs. 110-1

Gracious Triune God of love and justice, deliver us from this ignoble indifference.

Read more on this discussion here. To watch the amazing documentary on the life of Bayard Rustin, see Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. And for more on Sakia Gunn, read here.

NOW AVAILABLE! “Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood”

I’m happy to say that my book Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood is finally back from the printer! For those of you who know the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., I think you’ll enjoy reading about our neighborhood’s history–not to mention Washington, D.C., during the Bush era.

For those who are interested in urban ministry, urban mission, and the Judeo-Christian understanding of cities from the Bible’s Abraham and Sarah to the contemporary era, you’ll definitely find something of interest in Who Killed Donte Manning?

Here’s a snippet from the book’s foreword:

Rose Marie Berger has written a biblical essay on the neighborhood where she lives. I know the neighborhood well, because I live there too. Her provocative discourse is a theological reflection on “place,” which is a long-standing tradition in the Christian faith—a faith that is all about incarnation, the Word becoming flesh in place and time.

The particular “place” where this story begins is in Northwest Washington, D.C., on 13th Street between Euclid and Fairmont, on the sidewalk in front of the notorious Warner Apartments where a third grade boy named Donte Manning was caught in a crossfire of bullets and killed.

In 1993, the new First Lady had come to Washington. Hillary Rodham Clinton had invited a small group of people to her office at the White House to talk about the growing tragedy of youth violence in our cities, a situation of great concern to her. It was the first time I met Hillary Clinton. The meeting had an assortment of civil rights and religious leaders, urban and community activists, and heads of national organizations that cared about children at risk. I was impressed with Clinton’s understanding of the issues, her thoughtfulness and probing questions, and her clear desire to do something that would begin to address the problem.

When the meeting was finished, I came home to my house on 13th Street NW in Columbia Heights … to lots of yellow tape. Of course, I knew what yellow tape meant: Another crime had been committed here and the scene had been cordoned off by police. I learned that during the very hour we were meeting at the White House to discuss the problems of youth homicide, a young kid had been killed across the street from my house—on the sidewalk in front of the Warner Apartments.

I recall wondering at the time how many of the other participants in that meeting came home to yellow tape. It’s not that you know all the answers more easily just because you live there. It’s just that place yields perspective.

It is that biblical insight Rose illustrates in the story Who Killed Donte Manning?, a story that begins with yet another youth homicide on the 2600 block of 13th Street NW in Washington, D.C. Her biblical reflections on her place, and mine, stretch from Genesis to Revelation, and from Washington, D.C., to the coca fields of Colombia in South America. They describe what happens at the center of “empire” and the consequences at empire’s margins, which, in our city and neighborhood, is a journey of only about 2 miles.–Jim Wallis, Foreword, Who Killed Donte Manning? by Rose Marie Berger

Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict

Palestinian nonviolence campaign
Palestinian nonviolence campaign

I was in a “webinar” (live online presentation thingy) recently with Erica Chenoweth from Wesleyan University. She was discussing her statistical work tracking contemporary nonviolent campaigns. Her data backs up what nonviolent strategists already know: it’s better than violence and more effective.

One factoid I found particularly interesting: “Foreign states are more likely to support violent campaigns against their common enemies than nonviolent campaigns. This can increase violent campaigns success to 41%, but is still less successful than nonviolent campaigns. But nonviolent campaigns seem to be better off without foreign support.”

I recommend checking out her slide show presentation and (if you are deep into this stuff) reading her excellent study. Watch for more of her work to come. Here’s an excerpt below:

Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth

From 2000 to 2006 organized civilian populations successfully employed nonviolent methods including boycotts, strikes, protests, and organized noncooperation to challenge entrenched power and exact political concessions in Serbia (2000), Madagascar (2002), Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004–05), Lebanon (2005), and Nepal (2006). The success of these nonviolent campaigns—especially in light of the enduring violent insurgencies occurring in some of the same countries—begs systematic investigation.

Our findings show that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns. There are two reasons for this success. First, a campaign’s commitment to nonviolent methods enhances its domestic and international legitimacy and encourages more broad-based participation in the resistance, which translates into increased pressure being brought to bear on the target. Recognition of the challenge group’s grievances can translate into greater internal and external support for that group and alienation of the target regime, undermining the regime’s main sources of political, economic, and even military power.

Second, whereas governments easily justify violent counterattacks against armed insurgents, regime violence against nonviolent movements is more likely to back fire against the regime. Potentially sympathetic publics perceive violent militants as having maximalist or extremist goals beyond accommodation, but they perceive nonviolent resistance groups as less extreme, thereby enhancing their appeal and facilitating the extraction of concessions through bargaining.

Our findings challenge the conventional wisdom that violent resistance against conventionally superior adversaries is the most effective way for resistance groups to achieve policy goals. Instead, we assert that nonviolent resistance is a forceful alternative to political violence that can pose effective challenges to democratic and nondemocratic opponents, and at times can do so more effectively than violent resistance.

Read the whole article here.

The Repair Project: A Gandhian Approach to Ending Domestic Violence

Gandhi--Iofferyoupeace11mn5Male violence is not a new thing – but treating men for it (rather than only bandaging up the victims) is taking on a new look. The U.K. and Australia have launched a number of male-oriented violence-reduction programs that use Gandhian theories of nonviolence (ahimsa) to address issues of domestic abuse.

The Ahimsa Project in Plymouth, England, is a new breed of domestic violence projects (others include A Man’s Place in New Zealand and the Men’s Resource Centre in Lismore, Australia) that offer transformational programs in nonviolence rather than “correctional” programs for perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse. The REPAIR (Resolved to Ending Power and Abuse in Relationships) Project in the north of England grew out of the AHIMSA Project.

The current issue of Resurgence magazine has an excellent interview with Peter Rosser on his work with the REPAIR Project and his training in Gandhian nonviolence. Here’s an excerpt:

Why are we in denial about domestic violence which, in the UK, is on the rise? I’m talking with Peter Rosser. He turned his back on the Probation Service, fed up with, (old story), the paperwork, but also the absence of informed supervision, and the apparent inability of the Service to enable change in the violent men who were his clients – even those who wanted desperately to escape their propensity for violence. “So are we living in a violent society?” I ask him. He shakes his head and smiles dryly.

“The Press,” he says, “focuses on President Karzai’s legislation in Afghanistan, which it sees as tantamount to legalising rape in the home, when in Britain, according to The Independent, 300,000 children live with serious domestic violence. We are in denial – and the chief denial is that almost all violence starts at home.”

Ultimately, of course, what is billed as domestic violence is simply another aspect of the violence epidemic in the air that our human society breathes. “And the cause?” I ask. “Back to Cain and Abel?” Peter shrugs. “You tell me. What my experience tells me is that the effect is the cause: violence always furthers and fathers violence, unless some form of ‘repair’ intervenes.”

To look for the source is to become entangled in a loop of cause and effect: fear, alienation from our true nature, absence of belief, values, possible fulfillment. It is a climate of violence which humans currently are born into, and it constitutes in itself an abuse of the human child – abused by the first breath he or she breathes. And the poison of that abuse the child seemingly has no option but to take in, and then no option but to visit it on his or her own children.

Peter left probation to become the manager, facilitator and group worker of an alternative approach to domestic violence and abuse called the Repair Project. The programme is grounded in the work of Paul Wolf-Light [read Wolf-Light’s The Shadow of Iron John] and his Ahimsa project in Plymouth. Peter trained with Wolf-Light for two years, working primarily on himself. Ahimsa is a Gandhian practice, Jain in origin, and is based on four principles of nonviolence.  … —by John Moat

Read the rest of the article here.

Pope Bummed About Failure at Copenhagen

PopecropThe Pope gave a talk on 11 January 2010 to the Vatican diplomatic corps in which he expressed how bummed out he was about the failure of the Copenhagen climate conference.

Of course, being the Pope, he says it all in a much more elevated language and puts it all in its broader moral framework. Below are some of the more significant pull quotes:

In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, I invited everyone to look to the deeper causes of this situation: in the last analysis, they are to be found in a current self-centred and materialistic way of thinking which fails to acknowledge the limitations inherent in every creature. Today I would like to stress that the same way of thinking also endangers creation. …

The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation. It follows that the protection of creation is not principally a response to an aesthetic need, but much more to a moral need, in as much as nature expresses a plan of love and truth which is prior to us and which comes from God. …

If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate, or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn? It is in man’s respect for himself that his sense of responsibility for creation is shown. As Saint Thomas Aquinas has taught, man represents all that is most noble in the universe (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 29, a. 3). Furthermore, as I noted during the recent FAO World Summit on Food Security, “the world has enough food for all its inhabitants” (Address of 16 November 2009, No. 2) provided that selfishness does not lead some to hoard the goods which are intended for all. …

How can we forget, for that matter, that the struggle for access to natural resources is one of the causes of a number of conflicts, not least in Africa, as well as a continuing threat elsewhere? For this reason too, I forcefully repeat that to cultivate peace, one must protect creation! Furthermore, there are still large areas, for example in Afghanistan or in some countries of Latin America, where agriculture is unfortunately still linked to the production of narcotics, and is a not insignificant source of employment and income. If we want peace, we need to preserve creation by rechanneling these activities; I once more urge the international community not to become resigned to the drug trade and the grave moral and social problems which it creates. …

Among the many challenges which it presents, one of the most serious is increased military spending and the cost of maintaining and developing nuclear arsenals. Enormous resources are being consumed for these purposes, when they could be spent on the development of peoples, especially those who are poorest. …

On this solemn occasion, I would like to renew the appeal which I made during the Angelus prayer of 1 January last to all those belonging to armed groups, of whatever kind, to abandon the path of violence and to open their hearts to the joy of peace. …

The grave acts of violence to which I have just alluded, combined with the scourges of poverty, hunger, natural disasters and the destruction of the environment, have helped to swell the ranks of those who migrate from their native land. Given the extent of this exodus, I wish to exhort the various civil authorities to carry on their work with justice, solidarity and foresight. …

It is clear that if relativism is considered an essential element of democracy, one risks viewing secularity solely in the sense of excluding or, more precisely, denying the social importance of religion. But such an approach creates confrontation and division, disturbs peace, harms human ecology and, by rejecting in principle approaches other than its own, finishes in a dead end. There is thus an urgent need to delineate a positive and open secularity which, grounded in the just autonomy of the temporal order and the spiritual order, can foster healthy cooperation and a spirit of shared responsibility. …

Read the whole thing here.

St. Paul the Pacifist: A Christian Response to Torture

nguyenV. Henry T. Nguyen is an Angeleno and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who has “pretty much become a pacifist,” he says. He’s got his doctorate in New Testament and is an adjunct prof at several schools in Southern California. (He blogs at Punctuated Life.)

He’s written a great piece in response to the Pew study on Christians and torture (See Does Wearing a Cross Make You a Torture Supporter?). It was originally posted at Religion Dispatches.

I’m printing the whole thing here because I think it’s an important read.

St. Paul the Pacifist: A Christian Response to Torture
By V. Henry T. Nguyen

The recent Pew findings—that churchgoers, especially white evangelical Protestants, are more likely to believe that torture can be justified—have caused many commentators to wonder whether particular forms of Christian theology engender an acceptance of the use of torture.

In a recent article on Religion Dispatches, Sarah Sentilles suggests that Christian theologies and images of Christ’s crucifixion (essentially is an act of torture) have influenced some Christian communities’ understanding of torture as salvific, necessary, and justified. This view of torture is especially fueled by what is known as atonement theology: the view that Jesus’ death provided reparation for humanity’s sins against God.

So what would a Christian theological response against torture look like?

Most Christian theologies are rooted in the writings of Paul, who is particularly celebrated this year by the Catholic church on the bimillenial anniversary of the apostle’s birth; Paul provides the earliest interpretation of the meaning of the crucified Christ. People often forget, or are not aware, that nowhere in the gospels does Jesus himself explain the meaning of his own suffering on the cross. But Paul does.

And I believe that if we were to bring Paul into our current dialogue about whether Christians should support the use of torture, his response would be a resolute “No!”

Continue reading “St. Paul the Pacifist: A Christian Response to Torture”

Pirates vs. International Armada

pirateweb

The Somali news outlet WardeerNews is telling a very different story about the “pirates” in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia than what we are hearing in the U.S. news.

There’s no easy answer to dealing with a failed state such as Somalia. The “Somali pirates,” as they are lumped together, are a mix of jihadis, drug dealing gangs, and poor people driven to desperate measures to feed their families. But escalating violence by the international armada is not the right direction, nor will it lead to a lasting solution.

Listening carefully to the complicated factors “on the ground” (or the high seas) and valuing the legitimate grievances present by those on the bottom IS a good direction.

An April 12 op-ed by Muuse Yuusuf writing from Somalia gives context for what’s going on. Here’s an excerpt:

The dumping of toxic and industrial waste in Somalia’s waters is another issue that has not been fully investigated or taken up by the media. However, UN reports indicate that as early as 1990s European companies had been dumping hazardous industrial waste in Somali waters, as this was the cheapest option for them. This is what a UN official has to say about this sensitive issue; “Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting about the early 1990s and continuing through the civil war there,” he noted.

“European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of waste there, costing as little as $2.50 a ton where disposal costs in Europe are something like $250 a ton.  And the waste is many different kinds.  There is lead.  There is heavy metal like cadmium and mercury.  There is industrial waste and there is hospital waste, chemical wastes. You name it,” said Mr. Nuttal, a spokes person for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Somali news outlet WardeerNews ran an op-ed piece last December titled Piracy in Somalia: An Act of Terrorism or a Territorial Defense Mechanism?.

Their editorial conclusion:

WardheerNews believes that the real solution lays on-shore. Short of reinstating the Somali nation state would successfully solve either the piracy problem at hand or larger terrorist activities which lately became a main stay in Somalia. The world community must articulate a comprehensive strategy to stop the piracy in Somalia without further violating the territorial integrity of Somalia.