EDITOR’S NOTE: Scratching the Pacifistic Itch

Keith 1By Keith M. Lyndaker

Pacifism is like that itch on your back in the place that you can’t reach no matter how hard you try.

I have found only three ways to scratch the itch.

1) I can rub my back against the nearest wall.

Pacifism begins with me. It is important that I take initiative and develop a conviction that peace is the way. But if all I do is rub my back against the nearest wall, then invariably the itch will return.

2) I can extend my reach with a backscratcher.

My conviction must lead me to discover the tools I need to be a better pacifist. Training and education in the ways of peace can extend my capacity to scratch the pacifistic itch.

3) Even better is having someone scratch that place for me. I can point them to the exact spot and they can tell me what is causing the itch.

My personal conviction and a full toolbox are not enough. Pacifism is best practiced within a community. I need to be in relationship with others with this same itch. Together we can help each other discover the places that need our attention and in so doing become better pacifists.

Then we can give our full attention to this war-weary world and place our healing hands on its big broken back.

Chasing After the Wind

by Berry Friesen

Berry fAt a July 24th gathering of seventy Mennonite World Conference attendees in the rotunda of the Pennsylvania capitol, participants read these lamentations about weaponized drones.

It has been said drones are very precise, that compared to other weapons they kill few people and cause little damage.  It has been said they are inexpensive to deploy and pose little risk to our own personnel.   It has been said that weaponized drones are a more moral way to conduct warfare, a less violent instrument of foreign policy.

But we say terror cannot be defeated by terror.  We raise our voices to lament the false morality of weaponized drones, this “chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:1-4).

  1. We lament the innocent lives snuffed out by drones—the wedding guests, the men assembled to solve local disputes, the families gathered for food and fellowship.
  • It has been said few innocent civilians are killed, but this is a lie, a lie facilitated by assuming all men of military age are militants, even though there is no evidence they are militants.
  • The great majority of those killed are not on a kill list and the governments that kill them do not know their names. A study of drone strikes in Yemen found that in an effort to kill 41 identified individuals, 1,147 unidentified individuals were killed. That’s 28 unintended killings for each intended killing.
  1. We lament the massive disruption to family life, work, education and daily activities caused by the constant presence of weaponized drones. Communities are traumatized by anxiety. Children stay in-doors, imagining it is safer there. Neighbors avoid attending to those injured by a drone attack, knowing that a second attack often follows the first. Families avoid the funerals of loved ones, afraid that a drone will attack the mourners.
  1. We lament how weaponized drones have radicalized targeted communities, driving more men and women into violent resistance. An enemy of 1,000 may suffer 5,000 deaths from drones, but 10,000 will stand ready to take their places.
  1. We lament how the deployment of weaponized drones erodes the rule of law. A nation may not violate the sovereignty of another nation by crossing its borders and killing its citizens, yet this is exactly what weaponized drones routinely do.
  • This is justified by the “imminent threat of terrorism,” but this is only playing with words. In today’s world, the word “terrorist” has been politicized and simply means “enemy,” nothing more and nothing less. The phrase “imminent threat” simply means “armed and angry,” which is the natural consequence of living under the constant threat of drone attacks.
  • Predictably, nearly all governments are rushing to acquire this new killing capacity. Nearly two dozen nations already have it, and within a few more years, most will have it.
  1. We lament how weaponized drones are making violence and killing easy, thus subverting more peaceful and enduring forms of foreign policy. The difficult work of building a stable international order brick by brick, of moderating national goals in the pursuit of international peace, is swept aside by the quick-fix of targeted killing.
  1. We lament the moral injuries to those conducting drone attacks. They work in an environment where innocent men, women and children are “bug splat,” body tissue rent asunder and strewn across the landscape. We lament that this terror-producing activity is coming to Pennsylvania via a kill command center at Horsham, and that, as we speak, young men and women are being trained at Fort Indiantown Gap to carry out these atrocities.
  1. We lament the callousness of our own consciences, our reluctance to pay attention to the suffering caused by weaponized drones.
  • Against the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, we have valued the lives of our own countrymen more than the lives of those living in far-off places. We have regarded their lives as cheap and our lives as precious, their terrorism as evil and our terrorism as good.
  • Against the witness of history and the skepticism of our own traditions, we have swallowed hook-line-and-sinker the deceptions of governments and the distortions of the media. We have failed to remember that those who want war always manufacture our consent by twisting the facts into a righteous cause.

These are our lamentations. As God is our help, may we find courage and strength to resist these sorrows, this chasing after the wind.

Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city. He blogs at www.bible-and-empire.net.

May the poor have peace

By Cara EdigerCara Ediger

 

May the poor have peace

May the hearts of the rich be filled

May our land be healed

and God’s freedom reign

 

May the world see our witness

May we be the church

We want to see in the world

 

May the poor have peace

May the hearts of the rich be filled

May we all turn to each other

with God’s love

And not our own power

 

May we listen with our hearts

And hear the stories of our neighbors

May we be the church

We want to see in the world

God is here with us,

God is among us

 

God saves those who call on his name

Everyone in the world the same

May our land be healed

And God’s freedom reign

 

May our land be healed

And God’s freedom reign

May we be your earthly sanctuary

We offer you the burden that we carry

A pain offering we give to you

 

Of this world that is hurting

This hurting world that groans

For your healing touch

Heal our land Lord,

Lord heal our land.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Pacifism Enough? – Nonviolent Protest and the Naval Base on Jeju Island

by SeongHan KimSeong_Han_Kim_2

There is a small village call Gangjeong on South Korea’s Jeju Island. Jeju Island is the largest island of Korea. The location of the island is in the middle of China and Japan. Every year more than ten million tourists visit this beautiful island. Gangjeong Village and the surrounding area once protected a nature reserve comprising 10% of Jeju Island. In other words, this village and the surrounding area were the most beautiful part of Jeju Island.

However, over the past seven years, this small fishing and farming village has been struggling against the construction of a naval base. It is a stunning fact that there has been over 3,000 days of concurrent nonviolent protests in this small village.

If you visit Gangjeong Village today, you will see the monstrous construction site beyond a huge fence. However, you will also find ‘hundred times bow of life and peace’ every morning, human chains, and a daily ‘street mass’ by Catholic priests and nuns. Although many farmers have lost their inherited land, and many fishers and divers have lost their fishing ground, the strong will for peace in this small village has never faltered.

From the very beginning of the Jeju naval base construction, there were many deceptions by the navy and the government. Although 94% of Gangjeong villagers voted against the construction of the naval base on July 2007, the government and the large companies of Samsung and Daelin bidding to build the base ignored their vote.

The cost of the protest against the naval base construction has been significant. Over 700 villagers and activists have been hauled to jail by the police. Of those, 589 have been prosecuted and many remain in jail. The total amount of fines for everyone is close to 400 million US dollars.

The naval base is not only destroying a beautiful part of nature, but it is also destroying the villagers’ life as well. The whole community has been suffering and is being torn apart by the disruption to community living, harsh policing, and the daily destruction of their land.

One issue is that building the base makes no strategic sense militarily and may increase the tension between North and South Korea. From the South Korean perspective, there is no sound reason to a build naval base on the southern tip of Jeju Island which is the most distant location from North Korea. Besides, there are already five naval bases on the mainland of South Korea.

The Korean military and government have continued to claim that this naval base will serve the Korean navy. However, under the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) between South Korea and U.S., the vessels and aircraft of U.S. military could freely access to Korean ports without any charge. Thus, there has been great concern regard this naval base, because the strategic location of Jeju Island is crucial in the geopolitics. For instance, during World War II, Imperial Japan described Jeju Island as the “unsinkable aircraft carrier.”

On August 5th , four days after the ‘Gangjeong Life and Peace Grand March’ (a yearly peace march around Jeju Island), and just two days after Gangjeong villagers’ 3,000 days of nonviolent protest, an interesting article appeared in the local press.

“SEOUL, Aug. 5 (Yonhap) – The United States Navy wants to send its ships to South Korea’s naval base on the southern resort island of Jeju once constructed for navigation and training purposes, the outgoing head of the U.S. naval forces stationed here said Wednesday.”

Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti said, “The U.S. Navy 7th Fleet really likes to send ships to port visit here in South Korea” and “Any port that we are able to bring our ships to, we will take advantage of that for great (navigation) liberty and great training” in a group interview following a change of command ceremony. This is the first public speech by high ranking U.S. officer who has expressed genuine interest regarding building a naval base in Jeju Island. The Jeju naval base will be capable of accommodating 20 combat ships including aircraft carriers and atomic submarines. So who really wants to this naval base? When the naval base is completed, it will serve not only the Korean navy, but the US navy as well.

The story of Gangjeong village is not a single story. It is a part of larger narrative that we have not paid attention to before. The story of Gangjeong is identical to the story of Okinawa. The destruction of Gangjeong Village and Gurumbi (a huge piece of volcanic lava rock almost 1,000 meters long and 500 meters wide) is similar to the Chagossians’ experience with Diego Garcia. The United States of America runs over 1,000 military bases outside U.S. territory. The destruction of Gangjeong is part of this globalized militarization.

The story of Gangjeong also challenges our conviction to peace in this complex global context. Gangjeong is small village, but their witness for peace will never cease. What can we learn from their nonviolent protest? How can we join in the struggle with our sisters and brothers on Jeju Island?

SeongHan Kim is working on a PhD in Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois. His research interests lie at the intersection of missiology and peace studies.

Conscientious Objection in the Korean Context: A Presentation at Mennonite World Conference 2015

by SeongHan KimSeong_Han_Kim_2

According to a report released by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in July 2013, (http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/refdaily?pass=52fc6fbd5&id=51e386005), of the 723 conscientious objectors being imprisoned worldwide, 9 out of 10, or 92.5 percent, are South Korean nationals. Since 1950, 17,445 Jehovah’s Witnesses in South Korea have been imprisoned for refusing military service because of their religious beliefs.

Although the Korean government now allows various forms of alternative service for selected groups of people (e.g. science-engineering-medical students, those in public service, etc.), there is no available option for conscientious objectors at this time.

According to the PEW Research Center’s report “Global Religious Landscape,” 29% of South Koreans stated that they were Christian in 2010. This included members of the world’s largest Pentecostal church, Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul. Here are some interesting facts about Christianity in South Korea: (1) there are more Presbyterians in South Korea than the U.S. (2) the largest Methodist Church in the world is located in Seoul and (3) Until recently, South Korea was the second largest missionary sending country in the world.

So Christianity definitely holds a substantial place in South Korean society. The right question then to ask from the Peace Church tradition is: Although there is a strong Christian presence in South Korea, why are conscientious objection, Christian Pacifism, and other peace-related issues not on the agenda for the Church in Korea? Perhaps a discussion of Ethnic Nationalism, Anti-Communism, and Militarism in Korean society and (even) in the Church will help answer this question.

The Korean word for ‘nation’ minjok (minzoku in Japanese, minzu in Chinese), was a neologism adopted from the contemporary nationalist discourse in Japan. The English word ‘nation’ translates into Japanese as both kokumin (people of state or belong to the state, Volk) and minzoku (ethnic group of people). Since the Yi dynasty lost state sovereignty to Japan in 1910, minjok (ethnic nation) was the only identity left for many Koreans. During the Japanese occupation, minjok functioned as a resistive identity and subversive discourse against the Japanese occupation. Many of Korean national leaders were Christian as well. In fact, Christianity and Western civilization were considered as powerful solutions for overcoming Japanese occupation. These expectations formed a unique relationship between minjok identity and Christianity in Korea.

The Korean church has had a great zeal for mission and evangelism from the very beginning. The mass evangelization campaigns and outreaches in the Korean church have a long history. However, in the middle of 1960’s, which is post-colonial context, and under the Park’s dictatorship, the mass evangelization campaign was re-introduced into Korean society.

The series of this mass evangelization campaign largely operated under the minjok bokumhwa (evangelization of nation) discourse from the mid-60s to early 90s. During this period of the time, ethnic nationalism was also the ruling ideology for the dictatorship. In general, Korean nationalism was considered an advantage point for the rapid church growth.

Korea was a victim of Imperial Japan, and even though Korea did not cause World War II, the world powers decided on the separation of Korea instead of Japan. They drew the line on 38th parallel with the USSR and US Army controlling the North and South sides of Korean peninsula. Up to this point, there were actually more Christians on the North Korean side. Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea, was once called the ‘New Jerusalem in Asia.’ However, under the Communist regime in North, many Christian fled from North to South before the Korean War began  June 25, 1950.

The Korean War was a relatively short but exceptionally bloody war. Nearly 5 million people died during the three years of the war. More than half were civilians. The war caused a lot of trauma for many Christians, especially those who fled from the North. (There is an exceptional story of forgiveness by Rev. Sohn Yangwon whose two sons were killed by the communists). But for many Christians, forgiveness and reconciliation with the communists and North Korea are unthinkable options.

On July 27, 1953, the Korean Armistice Agreement ended the Korean War. Technically, because this is an armistice, Korea is still at war. The Cold War is not over on the Korean peninsula. The politicians of both Koreas continue to use the Korean War and its aftermath as a mechanism to make policy and for personal and religious interests. Church historian Timothy S. Lee argues that the most crucial reason for the success of evangelicalism in South Korea is that “South Korean evangelicalism coalesced with the collective interests of the larger society: first with Korean nationalism and then with South Korean anticommunism.”

In this context, the Korean Church became more patriotic and lost its prophetic witness. Mandatory military service was not only protecting the nation, but was defined as the fight against communism, or a “Spiritual battle.” Even further, the Korean Church sees the military service as a good opportunity for mission/evangelization. Over the last 50 years, the Korean Church has operated huge joint efforts among denominations as part of the Military Evangelization Campaign. Many of the young man in South Korea have the opportunity to receive baptism while they receive basic military training at boot camp. These mass baptisms at boot camp are regularly practiced today.

In July 23, 2013, five high school students of Kongju High School drowned at a private boot camp on the west coast of South Korea. The five students died during a three-day Marine’s boot camp. Among twenty-three students caught by a strong current, five went missing and their bodies were discovered the next day. Although the military drill education was terminated from the high school curriculum in 2012, it is worth noting that many schools, even some elementary schools, retain military education in various forms. One way the schools do this is by sending students to private boot camps for a field trip as part of the Military Field Experience, which is a joint program between the education office and the armed forces. These activities are considered a part of physical and mental education as well. Therefore, the tragedy with the five high school students is not a single incident. Rather, it is part of a larger narrative of the militarization of the whole Korean society which sadly reflects the long history of the militarization of the educational system in South Korea.

The background I have provided about evangelicalism and militarization in South Korean society provides a context for a more personal story, about SangMin Lee, a member of the Grace and Peace Mennonite Church in Seoul, South Korea.  As a young Christian, SangMin chose to become a conscientious objector to make a public commitment to the gospel of peace. As a result, on April 30, 2014, SangMin was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He is considered the first Mennonite conscientious objector in Korea. He will be released on parole on July 30, 2015, three days after Korean Armistice Agreement Day (July 27), which is quite symbolic. However, his decision to take a stand for the Prince of Peace and his criminal record will continue to have a lasting impact on his life.

It is important that we see SangMin’s story in the broader context. Often, this context requires us to listen to history. North and South Korea are two of the most militarized countries in the world. Militarization has deep roots in both societies, resulting from past conflicts, with the involvement of many Christians from other parts of the world. Therefore, the question is: how do we as the Global Church, the body of Christ, engage and support each other in this complicated global reality?

SeongHan Kim is working on a PhD in Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois. His research interests lie at the intersection of missiology and peace studies.

Peace on the Hill: Life after prison

headshotBy Joshua Russell

The United States currently incarcerates an estimated 2.4 million people, a staggering amount given the total global prison population. While the U.S. has only 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated prison population.

This disparity has attracted interest in recent years. However, too often another aspect of our criminal justice system is overlooked: most people currently in prison in the U.S. will one day be released.

Some prisoners receive life sentences without parole. However, most people that are currently incarcerated will not spend their entire lives in prison. They will return to society, and be expected to assimilate back into their communities. This is an incredibly difficult process that has been exacerbated by current policies.

People who are convicted of felonies in the United States face a myriad of less visible punishments after they leave prison. In many states felons are not allowed to vote. Many public and private employers require job applicants to indicate if they have ever been convicted of a felony, or in some cases any crime at all.

In addition, those convicted of drug-related felonies are banned in many states from ever receiving benefits such as SNAP (food stamps) and TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). All of these policies make it more difficult for former prisoners to reintegrate into society.

The ban on public assistance affects a huge number of formerly incarcerated people the moment they leave prison. Many come from poverty, and few have assets or a job waiting on them upon their release. The denial of temporary social safety nets in the U.S. makes it even more difficult to build a new life after prison.

The combination of this ban with the difficulties of finding a job are significant contributors to the recidivism rate in the United States, which is among the highest in the world. Within three years of being released, roughly two-thirds of former inmates are back in prison.

Last month Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington Office joined with dozens of other organizations to ask Congress to lift the federal ban on SNAP and TANF. Some states have already ended this policy, but it is still far too pervasive in the U.S.

Other ways to help former prisoners reintegrate include better hiring practices. Eighteen states have “banned the box” (removed the indicator for a felony conviction) from public employment applications, and seven have banned it on both public and private applications. The federal government, however, has not.

While these changes will reduce recidivism and crime, that should not be our only motivation. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31), and not just the ones next door. We are called to love those that our society has labelled outcasts (Matthew 25:40), particularly given the struggles that they face. Jesus does not call us to condemn those that have been in prison, but to welcome them, and to build a society that does the same.

Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.

Joshua Russell is Legislative Assistant and Communications Coordinator for MCC’s Washington Office

Love is watching, waiting

By Cara EdigerCara Ediger

 

We are praying, the earth and the spirit together.

The world is shaking and trembling,

the working out of faith is coming-

Lord hear our prayers

 

We’re watching, we’re waiting

Jesus is coming soon, but when?

The world is still confused,

so we pray, we pray

for borrowed time

that one day later,

they will see the light too

 

Love is waiting, love is watching

Love is listening to our cry.

Love, hear our prayers, Lord!

 

The bride is ready,

but she does not want to leave

without her bridesmaids

the bridegroom listens to her with love

and waits with her.

 

Jesus is coming soon,

the kingdom of God is near,

and we are praising in heaven,

that all will be saved who are called,

if not now, then later,

and we will all be together again.

 

Thank you Lord, for hearing our prayers

and the groans of the earth in labor.