Thursday, March 31, 2011

Libya and the Peace Testimony

Rarely have I doubted my commitment to the Peace Testimony of Friends.  I’m clear that violence is not the answer to hurts within a family, misunderstandings between neighbors, discord in a community, or conflicts between nations.  Many times in my life I’ve called for an end to U.S. military involvement throughout the world—most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And now there is Libya.

Over dinner with friends recently, I was asked what I thought, as a pacifist, about the US decision to intervene. I admitted that in the first days of the rebellion, I had been persuaded that a military approach might be the best option following reports of Gaddafi’s escalation of violence when the US froze his regime’s assets and imposed an arms embargo. Memories of past genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia raised questions for me about a peaceful way to eliminate Gadaffi’s brutal tactics and protect innocent people from his military. Maybe the threat of this tyrant was so great for thousands of people in Libya that compassion mandated deadly intervention. Each morning I went online, hoping for news that the plan had succeeded, that Gadaffi had surrendered. Although I knew it was wrong, I was coming to believe that air strikes could bring a fast, decisive solution to a decades-old abuse of power. I couldn’t see an alternative.

In his address to the nation on March 28, President Obama spelled out why the U.S. felt compelled to join in military attacks after those first few days of diplomatic efforts. “In the face of the world's condemnation, Gaddafi chose to escalate his attacks, launching a military campaign against the Libyan people,” Obama said. “Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted, and killed. Supplies of food and fuel were choked off. The water for hundreds of thousands of people in Misratah was shut off. Cities and towns were shelled, mosques destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assault from the air.”

Who doesn’t want to end such violence and cruelty? And as quickly as possible?

This morning as I centered into worship, I uncovered my desire for a fast solution, recognizing the folly of such thinking­—we have only to look at our eight-year involvement in Iraq (and countless other places) to remember that military intervention does not yield a quick result. Nor is it this time. I realized I had accepted the common belief that anything other than military intervention is inaction. Seeking guidance for other ways to act, I went to the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) website. There I found the kind of grounded, Spirit-led response I believe we’re called to.

Reading their alternatives to violence, I regained my steadfast belief that war is not the answer. The tools they offer on their website spurred me to convey that conviction to my elected representative and to ask them to take these actions:

·        Urge a ceasefire.
·        Provide humanitarian aid.
·        Continue an arms embargo based in international law.
·        Follow up the already-enacted UN Security Council resolution that refers the Gaddafi government to the International Criminal Court to hold him accountable for actions he has taken against fellow citizens.

President Obama’s words and actions suggest to me that he also struggles with how to be an agent of peace in the world. While he has pushed for a military response, he continues to call for other ways to assist in the removal of Gaddafi. I see indications that he is aware of the illusion of quick solutions, military or otherwise.  At the end of his speech, the President urged us to not be afraid to act. “We recognize that … a diplomatic, humanitarian approach will take time and intense international engagement to be successful. We believe, however, it offers the best chance of limiting the loss of life and restoring a path toward peace and stability.”

I pray that our leaders will recognize that non-violence is action. This is what I think the Peace Testimony calls us to in Libya.

For more about why “War is Not the Answer,” visit:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Reconciling the Existence of Evil

My Quaker meeting’s continuing discussion of Marge Abbott’s To Be Broken and Tender focused recently on the book’s second section – Encountering the Seed.  There’s much to consider in this segment that reflects on “The Nature of God,” “The Light of Christ,” “That of God in Everyone,” and “Spiritual Maturity.” I continue to chew on one of the queries we considered:  How do you explain or reconcile within yourself the existence of evil in the world? (p. 202)

I was surprised—and relieved—to learn that several people in my Meeting who spoke during our discussion share my lack of belief in Evil. Contrary to the teachings of my Lutheran upbringing, I believe we all come into this world not as sinners, but as whole, loving beings, equipped to do and be love. And then we are broken­­—most by living in an imperfect world, some by the harmful effects of people who aren’t capable of care and love, many by circumstances such as poverty and oppression that challenge the Light within. Such brokenness separates us from the Divine, from the knowledge and experience of the mystery of being loved fully and irrevocably. That separation can lead to immoral, malevolent actions—the very definition of evil. As horrible as those acts can be, I don’t believe they are the work of an evil force or of evil people.  

I’ve been reluctant to share this view for fear of seeming na├»ve about some of life’s harsh realities or disrespectful of the suffering of so many around the world at the hands of people who commit atrocities. Yet, I’m not unaware of the evidence of cruelty, immorality, and harm. I’ve heard it in the stories of clients in my work in public health in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest—women and children abused by husbands and lovers, fathers and mothers; refugees and immigrants denied health care and education; families without adequate food and housing. I’ve seen it in my travels to Nicaragua meeting banana workers poisoned by pesticides; driving through the burning debris of the Managua dump to play with children who live there with their families; learning of the decades of corrupt governments that stole funds from international aid organizations in the aftermath of earthquakes and hurricanes; acknowledging my own country’s terrorist acts of military support. I’ve listened to the stories of women in Nicaragua and Mexico and have heard from Friends working in Burundi of the horrors of unemployment, poverty, HIV infection, and tribal violence. And this week, I’ve watched and listened in horror and grief as reports from Japan of the earthquake and tsunami and their aftermath have filled all the media outlets.

It’s through my own experience of encountering the inexplicable, steadfast love of God for me that I’m convinced of God’s love for everyone and view the wrongdoing as the result of our brokenness, our separation from the ever-present Spirit that loves all. As I weep over stories of greed, deception, abuse, prejudice, and violence, I envision the Divine Presence doing the same—crying for the pain and suffering brought on by souls that have been lost, people whose connection to the great force of Love has been severed.

I know we’re called to work for justice, but I wrestle with how humanity can right these injustices.  I’m certain that demonizing those who commit despicable acts does not heal the deep wounds they suffer and cause.  I have faith that, ultimately, God’s love restores us to wholeness. Marge Abbott’s powerful teaching reminds us that it is in our brokenness and tenderness that we receive such love.