Monday, November 26, 2007

Canterbury Speaks Out Against Violence

There are some dramatic headlines attached to news stories about comments made by the Archbishop of Canterbury in an interview that appears in Emel. Let's look at part of what he actually said. Then I'll offer some commentary, from the perspective of a veteran who enlisted during Viet Nam and a priest who believes it is the Church's duty to protect the innocent:

I ask him if America has lost the moral high ground since September 11th, and his answer is simple: “Yes.” There is no mitigation. He has obviously thought through what he feels the US should do now to recover, “A generous and intelligent programme of aid directed to the societies that have been ravaged; a check on the economic exploitation of defeated territories; a demilitarisation of their presence. All these things would help.”

He describes violence as “a quick discharge of frustration. It serves you. It does not serve the situation. Whenever people turn to violence what they do is temporarily release themselves from some sort of problem but they help no one else.” A long term critic of the war on Iraq, he feels that this perspective on violence also applies to Britain’s presence there. “A lot of the pressure around the invasion of Iraq was ‘We’ve got to do something! Then we’ll feel better.’ That’s very dangerous.”

In a country where faith and politics are essentially divided, in Alastair Campbell’s infamous words, “we don’t do God”, the Archbishop does feel he has a role to play within the political arena. On the Iraq war he wants to “keep before government and others the great question of how you can actually contribute to a responsible civil society in a context where you’ve undermined most of the foundations on which that society can be built”...

...Christian Zionists support the return of Jews to Israel because they believe the second coming of Jesus will not occur until all Jews are in Israel. The Archbishop is scathing, accusing them of being connected to “the chosen nation myth of America, meaning that what happens in America is very much at the heart of God’s purpose for humanity.”

In today’s world it is easy to see why people would believe such an idea; America seems so intrinsically involved in everything. The Archbishop recognises that: “We have only one global hegemonic power at the moment.” But, he propounds, “It is not accumulating territory; it is trying to accumulate influence and control. That’s not working.” Far from seeing this positively, he describes it as “the worst of all worlds,” saying, “it is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalising it. Rightly or wrongly that’s what the British Empire did – in India for example. It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put things back together –Iraq for example”...
Has America lost the moral high ground? The Bush administration pushed us into an invasion of Iraq four years ago based on false intelligence. Since then, over 70,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. The killing continues, even though we have yet to be given an honest answer as to why we are even there. Here is a brief glimpse of what is going on in Iraq right now:

The American military has expressed regret “that civilians are hurt or killed while coalition forces search to rid Iraq of terrorism,” after the 11 October killing of 15 women (one pregnant) and children in an air raid near lake Thar Thar. The civilian death toll by US fire was 96 in October, with 23 children among them, while in September US forces and contractors killed 108 Iraqi civilians, including 7 children. In August US troops killed 103 civilians, 16 of them children, and in July they killed 196. In fact, during the last five months US forces in Iraq have killed over 600 Iraqi civilians. Regrettably, as always...
There is little question that this invasion will be remembered as one of the ugliest chapters of American history. Of course we have lost the moral high ground. And the only way I can see to regain it is to stop the killing, condemn the actions of this President, and hold him accountable for what could be defined as war crimes.

The arrogance of this administration is quite evident in the invasion of Iraq. George Bush has claimed that he believes himself to be called by God to launch this bloody adventure. He personifies the "chosen nation myth" quite well. We ignore global voices, convinced that it is our destiny to be God's agents to those we judge to deserve death. We appoint leaders of our troops who encourage them to kill in the name of Jesus. And then we act indignant when the "collateral damage" count of civilian deaths rises to over 70,000, and our morality is questioned. It is difficult to believe that anyone could consider such consequences of this invasion to be "God's purpose for humanity."

The Archbishop said that this is "the worst of all worlds," as in the worst case scenario. He is absolutely right. As far as suggesting that the way the British Empire "administered and normalized" India is a better example, I'd personally have to disagree. There was plenty of bloodshed involved in that adventure as well. The comparison is not terribly helpful. The British Empire has plenty of its own ugly chapters.

As Christians, it is most definitely our place to speak out against such violence. This has nothing to do with politics. It is about killing innocent people. If Christians cannot stand against this horrible waste of human lives, I fail to see the point of continuing to claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.

I disagree with Dr. Williams on many things. But in this case, I must applaud his willingness to speak out against this unnecessary bloodshed.


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