What is the more powerful force in our world: violence, or peace?
Our President ordered the killing of more Pakistani civilians this week. This happens so frequently, and receives so little attention in the corporate media I find I need reminding of its outrage. Obama has already ordered more drone and missile attacks into Pakistan in his brief Nobel-winning Presidency than George Bush ordered in his entire second term in office. The fight with our “enemies” is said to be moving more into Pakistani territory, thus justifying these incursions. DemocracyNow news anchor Amy Goodman reported on October 28th that between 326-538 civilians have been killed since Obama took office, saying, “there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official US policy.” All appearances point to an increase in drone attacks over the coming months, and thus to an increase in civilian casualites. To be clear, these drone attacks do not pass international law standards, the Christian theory of the Just War, let alone a nonviolent standard. These increased drone attacks come at the same time Obama is considering increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. War seems to be playing an ever bigger role in the toolbox of change for our President. But is it change we can believe in? Or is it just more of the culture of death we have come to be all too familiar with? Obama, like Bush before him, has bought too deeply into the myth of redemptive violence.
In this, he is not alone.
Closer to home, on Tuesday Texas put to death its 19th death row inmate this year (pushing Governor Rick Perry well over the 200 mark for his career!). Reginald Blanton declared his innocence, even while being strapped to the table. His last second appeal to the US Supreme court was denied, though questions remained regarding evidence tying him to the crime, and whether or not Blanton (a black man) received a fair trial from his all-white jury. Is it possible Texas murdered an innocent? It is, though this is certainly not the first time it’s been argued! Tuesday’s execution was in the wake of increased pressure on Perry for the possible execution of another innocent man in 2009, Cameron Todd Willingham. In the Willingham case, Perry has thrown up many a red herring, repeatedly pointing to Willingham’s “monstrous” personality and behavior, instead of looking at the evidence of the case. More than half a dozen top arson experts have declared the fire he was charged with starting was not even arson. The myth of redemptive violence is so pervasive that even during an election campaign Perry could not be convinced of a moratorium on the death penalty.
These two illustrations that purport violence can redeem are precisely why I do not consider myself a pacifist. The term is too passive, and suggests a reactive ethic. Because neither story affects me or my church, I could theoretically be pacifist and do nothing about either. Instead, I much prefer the term peacemaker. Along with being an actual biblical word, peace making is an active concept, suggesting an engaged ethic that pushes me to act regardless if these stories “affect” me or not. Being a peacemaker means I can’t just disagree with these state-sponsored actions, I need to actually work to change them.
Where are the voices for peace? Who will stand up to this culture of death and speak words of sanity and peace? Will the Mennonites, a peace church for over 500 years say anything?
Perhaps we need to listen again and by inspired to action by the words of our founder, Menno Simons, “The Prince of Peace is Jesus Christ. We who were formerly no people at all, and who knew of no peace, are now called to be a church of peace. True Christians do not know vengeance. They are the children of peace. Their hearts overflow with peace. Their mouths speak peace, and they walk in the way of peace (from Menno Simons, Reply to False Accusations, 1552).
These words are more than just good poetry. They frame responsible action in the face of the myth of redemptive violence. Our President, governor, Mayor, and even friends and family that we know and love have bought in to the myth of violence that redeems. These are times and issues that call us not to be passive, or even to celebrate our pacifist heritage. No, these are times and issues that call us to make peace, to work for peace. May we come to be known as people who envisioned a better way for our world, and who worked to make it so.