Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Call to Conversion

Mark LeVine's article in the new Mother Jones is an interesting read. In it he criticizes the left for its casual approach to peace. He wonders what would have happened in Iraq if, instead of protests, peaceable people would have gone over to Iraq and placed their bodies in front of American (and Terrorist) violence.

He uses as his model for this kind of embodied peace the Christian Peacemaker Teams. These people "got in the way" (a particularly good wordplay considering John 14.6) of the violence, and have been doing it virtually alone--without the support of the peace movement in America or anywhere in the West. But LeVine argues it didn't have to be that way; rather,

"There was a moment after the invasion, before the insurgency took root, when the peace movement could have made a difference in Iraq. Instead of writing off Iraq as lost to Cheney and Rumsfeld, expending energy in tirades against American empire—when is the last time an anti-imperialist movement ever succeeded in the West?—or worse, actively supporting violent insurgency at the very moment other peace activists have been held hostage (as have some of the most senior members of the movement), the movement could have marshaled its resources and helped Iraqis build a non-violent movement of resistance against both occupation and the violence and hatred it breeds."

He says that the peace movement on the left has settled for a "cheap activism" and that this has been its failure to be a political force. I think what he fails to see though is that on the other side of the cheap activism coin is "costly grace." In other words, the call to discipleship is necessarily prior to the peace witness put forward by the CPTers. It is not something that anyone can just go over and do. What LeVine is arguing for--unwittingly, probably--is a call to conversion. The ethic of peace displayed by the CPT is not something that can be picked up and discarded when its effectiveness wears off. It is a way of life; it is its essence. They witness to peace because of who they are called to be, not because it suits their politics.

LeVine begins his article with this thought "IMAGINE IF SUNNI INSURGENTS decided to face down the greatest power on earth with a human chain of non-violent resistance. Or if Hamas threw human shields rather than human bombs at Israel." This is precisely unimaginable because it requires an ethic of peace that goes beyond a simple peace movement--it requires a peace witness, the witness of the peace of Christ specifically. To throw one's body in front of violence is an unintelligible and absurd act unless one believes one is following Christ in his death and resurrection. The peace witness he calls for does not happen without the specific politics of the "kingdom on earth as in heaven." I once had a vision that was quite similar to what LeVine imagines: I was sitting in Church on a Sunday morning listening to a sermon on Sodom and Gamorrah. This was during the violence happening in Haiti in February 2004. Suddenly, it was as if I saw the entire church body (some 500 people) get out of our seats, file out of church, board airplanes and fly to Haiti. Once there, we put our bodies in the way of the violence; in this way we witnessed toward the peace of Christ.

Of course, the CPTers are witnesses to our comfortability as well. They (you too Paco) are our constant reminders of the radical call of the gospel on all our lives. So, even if LeVine doesn't call for conversion, the acts of the CPT certainly do, and more prior than that, the life and death of Jesus call for metanoia.

On a completely different note, how on earth did Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs get left off of Pitchfork's Top 50 albums of 2005?!?


At 12/23/2005 3:11 PM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...


Do you think LeVine would disagree with you based on historical examples of non-Christian non-violence? I want to agree with you that "To throw one's body in front of violence is an unintelligible and absurd act unless one believes one is following Christ in his death and resurrection." I think, however, that LeVine has a vision of a consistently idealistic liberal movement. I would put LeVine's article alongside so many others who are trying to reclaim "liberalism" (, air america, michael moore etc.), hoping to re-establish an all encomposing liberal narrative that would, in this case, make this sort of action rational. What is interesting about the article to me is to see secular political activists turning to the ministry of the church that is bearing witness to everything you describe. thanks for pointing it out.

also, lets use ryan's post as another reminder that the CPTers are still captive in Iraq and there has been no word from anyone for quite a while.


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