OF BOMBS, TREATIES AND MORAL OBLIGATION: ADVOCACY IN THREE MOVEMENTS–PART 4

In a culture wired for instant results, we often forget that meaningful change may take persistent action over a long period. This is a 35-year story of education and advocacy arising from the bomb-laden fields of Laos. Titus Peachey who, with his wife Linda Gehman Peachey, went to Laos on a Mennonite Central Committee assignment in 1980, tells the story.

Read the previous installments here.

After 35 years of education and advocacy about cluster bombs and the development of significant new US aid to Laos for clearance and victim assistance, what have we learned, and what continuing questions do we have?

The role and meaning of “moral obligation” language  

For many years we framed our advocacy work on Laos in terms of moral responsibility and justice. Indeed the stories of pain and loss that still rise from the villages of Laos shine a penetrating light on questions of justice and morality that political obfuscation can’t hide. Yet, as noted earlier (Part 3), it took more than 40 years after the end of the bombing campaign for the language of moral obligation to be used publicly by U.S. government officials. Why are moral frameworks so easily used as a cudgel with which to beat our enemies, yet so difficult to apply to one’s own nation?

The ultimate goal of our advocacy was not a formal apology. Nor did we have illusions of achieving a moral foreign policy in the framework of Jesus’ teaching to “love your enemies.” Rather, our goal was a significant, long-term U.S. commitment to ordnance clearance and victim assistance in Laos. Given the content of President Obama’s speech in Laos, the moral obligation and healing language felt genuine. My Lao-American friends spent the week of Obama’s visit to Laos mesmerized by the drama and moved by the presence of the world’s most powerful leader paying attention to the pain of war in their homeland. The President’s language about the destruction of the U.S. air war was truthful. After years of denial, it was a welcome, perhaps even a healing acknowledgment.

Yet governments, like individuals, rarely act with purely altruistic motives. Most likely the sense of moral obligation was also mixed with a convergence of national interests on both sides, Lao and U.S., leading to a desire for improved relations. So we should be clear that what happened during the President’s speech about moral obligation and healing during his Laos visit was limited in scope.

The Imperial Narrative Remains

Our success with advocacy on cluster bombs did not dismantle the imperial narrative that created the political will for the air war in Laos. This narrative always ascribes noble intent to our nation’s interventions abroad, and grants us the right to use military force in defense of our nation’s economic and political interests. So while the specific weapons or tools have evolved, this imperial narrative, present from our nation’s founding, remains strong. It may be decades before we even think to acknowledge the physical and psychological suffering caused by our nation’s drone warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya.

So we must be modest about what our advocacy has accomplished. The words of the Lao villager in Muong Kham who had just lost his wife to a U.S. cluster bomb in 1981 still challenge us. “Please tell our story so that it won’t happen again,” he pleaded. Clearly we have not learned the necessary lessons from the clear logic in his plea. Our nation has continued to create more stories of suffering. How can the lessons of justice and moral responsibility that rise so clearly from the bomb-laden fields of Laos transform our nation’s policies going forward? When will the resources, resolve and creativity so critical for diplomacy and positive engagement with the world far exceed our impulse for military intervention?

America First

With the inauguration of President Trump, we now face a new reality–America First. With clear signals that foreign aid budgets will face significant reductions while U.S. military spending will gain dramatic increases, we find ourselves scrambling to ensure that our nation’s commitment to ordnance clearance is not abandoned. Ironically, in an effort to be heard we suddenly find ourselves framing ordnance clearance more in terms of long-term U.S. economic and political interests rather than moral obligation. Is this a good idea?

But even a shift in language from moral responsibility to long-term U.S. interests still results in the same imperative. We must clean up the deadly debris of war that our nation has left behind. Our nation’s reputation and the ability to build trust with other nations is only harmed if millions of lethal U.S. weapons are left in Lao soil. Creating community, acting justly and fostering fair exchange among nations builds a more stable security than imperial dominance. When we take the long view, surely justice, morality and legitimate U.S. interests converge.

For a passionate and fascinating work on the questions of war, apology and politics, see: An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics, by Donald Shriver, Oxford University Press, 1995.

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Moving Beyond Ableism: Stigmatizing and separating, a parent’s plea

by Jill Minter

Our beautiful daughter Laura has a developmental disability…or an intellectual disability, or a cognitive disability, or a language disability. She has received many labels. People like to put Laura in a category, separating the same from the different.

We, her parents, think Laura is pretty amazing. At school, her classes include algebra, language arts, life science, U.S. history, American Sign Language and art. She is a team manager for the freshmen girls’ volleyball team. And this winter, she was part of the Indoor Percussion Team. Like any teenager, she has hopes and dreams for her future – to graduate from high school, to go to college, to study and work in sports and recreation, and to share a house with her best friend.

Sounds like a normal teenager, right?

Right.

And this is the point. Disability is normal — it is part of the human experience.

But the hard part is that the world that we must prepare Laura to enter is a world that does not see or treat her like a normal citizen. The world Laura faces looks like this:

  • Education: Our public schools believe that inclusive education means being in the same room as your classmates while they learn and you don’t. Parents feel they have to “sell their child with special needs” to the teachers in order to get the instruction and resources their child needs. Teachers feel that teaching your child “is someone else’s job.” Principals say your child has “plateaued,” not believing that something in the classroom could be changed.
  • Employment: The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is increasing. As of 2015, only 17.5% of people with disabilities are employed[1]. We want Laura to be one of them.
  • Healthcare: Many doctors are not trained in caring for people with disabilities and, as a result, many people with disabilities receive substandard care. For example, women with cerebral palsy are three times more likely to die of breast cancer than women without disabilities[2].
  • Housing: People with disabilities who want to live independently face a severe housing crisis. For many, their monthly income is below the average rent and many face housing discrimination.
  • Violence: Over half of the people killed by police over the past year were people with developmental disabilities or mental illness[3]. Students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than students without disabilities[4]

The statistics facing Laura are agonizing. And such marginalization, which infiltrates all areas of life including in the church, is fostered by enduring stigmas about disabilities. Today, the biggest barriers to meaningful inclusion are attitudes, not resources. Laura and our family have experienced numerous hurtful stigmas about disability. Many people believe that those with disabilities are either: objects of pity, a burden of charity, less than fully human and not deserving of all rights,  holy innocents (often viewed as “eternal children”), sick, or even a danger to society. Each of these stigmas or beliefs is dehumanizing and depicts lives, like Laura’s, as abnormal or wrong.

These stigmas foster discrimination and exclusion. The abuse experienced by people with disabilities is a really big social justice issue! And yet, I have found that the church remains largely silent. Statistics indicate that 1 in 5 people live with a disability[5], and although this means that 134,000 Mennonites in North America have disabilities, people in the church often hold those same erroneous beliefs and attitudes about people with disabilities. Embracing those negative stigmas a means that the church is not equipped to meet the spiritual, emotional, or physical needs of this large group of people. In fact, with regard to accessibility and accommodation, most church practices do not even meet the basic standards of accommodations that the public sphere must comply with under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The experience of marginalization in daily life and in church life has resulted in feelings of intense isolation for our family. Other parents don’t know how to relate, so they have excluded us from conversations and group activities. Despite the huge role that disability plays in our family, relatives and people from church feel uncomfortable speaking about or acknowledging Laura’s disability. Even though we need support, we often feel left with only superficial relationships.

Justice, belonging, and support for those with disabilities should begin in the church. I am convinced that the only way churches will become places of belonging for families like ours is by changing personal attitudes. To do this we must:

  • Think carefully about biases and stigmas and how they present in daily life. We all internalize stigmas and need to recognize them in order to check them at the door.
  • Persevere in learning to be comfortable with people who are different and to view differences as normal.
  • Initiate friendships with people with disabilities. Allow yourself to receive their gifts.

As parents, we want Laura to feel like she has friends at church, people who are happy to see her and miss her when she is not there. We want her to feel that she belongs to a loving church community. Laura needs more people in her life than just her parents.

My take away message is an appeal to you to work hard to eliminate your own stigmas about disability. Strive to create meaningful friendships with those who have developmental disabilities, especially within your church. It’s up to you to turn the church and the world into a more hospitable and hopeful place for people like our daughter Laura.

We must embrace our differences, even celebrate our diversity.

We must glory in the fact that God created each of us as unique human beings.

God created us different, but God did not create us for separation.

God created us different that we might recognize our need for one another.

–Desmond Tutu

[1] “17.5 Percent of People with a Disability Employed in 2015 : The Economics Daily: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Accessed April 17, 2017. https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/17-point-5-percent-of-people-with-a-disability-employed-in-2015.htm.

[2] “Women with Disabilities More at Risk of Breast Cancer – News and Events – University of Sydney.” Accessed April 17, 2017. http://sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newsstoryid=610.

[3] “Ruderman Family Foundation » Ruderman White Paper.” Accessed April 17, 2017. http://www.rudermanfoundation.org/news-and-events/ruderman-white-paper.

[4] “Bullying and Youth with Disabilities and Special Health Needs,” March 8, 2012. https://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/special-needs/index.html.

[5] Office, US Census Bureau Public Information. “Nearly 1 in 5 People Have a Disability in the U.S., Census Bureau Reports – Miscellaneous – Newsroom – U.S. Census Bureau.” Accessed April 17, 2017. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/miscellaneous/cb12-134.html.

Editor’s Note: Moving Beyond Ablesism is a quarterly column featuring the work of the Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADNet) www.adnetonline.org and offers reflections from different authors on the various issues facing persons with disabilities.

Jill lives with her husband Douglas and daughter Laura in Louisville, Colorado. She works for the EPA as an environmental scientist keeping drinking water clean and safe. She is also a passionate gardener, photographer, skier and traveler.

Speaking About War

by Berry Friesen

Berry f

The April 6 US attack on Syria brings to the surface a hardy perennial:  hand-wringing over what Jesus-followers should say about such military attacks.

The hand-wringing occurs because (a) Jesus taught us to love our enemies, a stance incompatible with deliberately killing them; and (b) Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, which surely includes protecting the innocent from terror and aggression.  Doing both at once is a steep challenge.

Those loyal to the power of the state are prone to ignore the first teaching and emphasize the second.  Thus, with regard to Syria, the mainstream media present us with innocent and defenseless women and children being victimized by President Bashar al-Assad, a brutal and violent oppressor who uses poison gas to kill and intimidate.  The presentation is designed to justify the use of violence to protect the innocent.

Jesus-followers can do better than that.

For example, on April 7, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)—the international NGO that represents US Mennonites, Amish and Brethren in Christ congregations—issued a public call urging its supporters to oppose US military action against Syria.  After noting the civilian deaths on April 4 from “a chemical weapons attack” and the US airstrikes on Syria April 6—“an act of war without debate or approval by the US Congress or UN Security Council”—MCC conveyed the opposition of its Syrian partners to

“the use of violence from all sides in the conflict, including chemical weapons, airstrikes and the bombardment of villages – events that have all taken place this week. Rather than fueling the flames of war, they urge support instead for a robust process of dialogue and diplomacy to address the root causes of the conflict.”

Notice how the short MCC statement implicitly honors both of Jesus’ teachings.  Notice also how it includes relevant facts, including a couple that reflect poorly on the US.

Yet the statement seems a bit perfunctory for a war that has entered its seventh year. Its call for an end to the violence and a negotiated settlement is rather conventional; I can’t imagine a US official or military officer being offended by such a call, nor any editor of a mainstream newspaper.

Evil is running amok in Syria; nearly 500,000 have been killed, six million people have become refugees, another six million have been internally displaced.  Why does this carnage continue?  People of faith must have something to say about this. How do we do this?

First, we must clarify what’s going on in Syria.

  • President Assad is defending his country against outside invaders led by al-Qaeda and ISIS. These terrorist groups have been supported in Syria by money, arms, training and intelligence from the US and its allies.  Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been especially important sources of support for these groups; the US provides technical expertise and also plays a coordinating role.
  • In Idlib province where the April 6th chemical incident occurred, al-Qaeda is in control. Most of the on-the-ground information reported in the Western media about the deaths on April 6 has been provided by individuals and groups working with al-Qaeda.
  • During the long Syria war, investigative teams of the United Nations have documented chemical weapons use by al-Qaeda, by ISIS and by the Syrian government. Responsibility for the largest such attack—the August, 2013 attack in Ghouta—remains unclear.
  • Russia is militarily present in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government; thus, its presence conforms to international law. The US has no legal basis for military involvement in Syria; its presence in Syria is a violation of international law.

Second, we must summon the courage to identify parties to the Syrian war that apparently want this horror to continue.  I refer to “courage” here because accurately describing the agony of Syria will be viewed by some as a breach of loyalty to our tribe.  This breach can bring consequences:  loss of reputation, marginalization, even exclusion.

Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat congresswoman and former US Army officer from Hawaii, is a vivid example.  For going to Syria late last year and visiting President Assad, expressing skepticism about al-Qaeda-sourced reports that are published by Western media, and calling for an independent investigation of the April 6th chemical event, Gabbard has been denounced by leading members of her party.  She is likely to face a challenge in the next Democratic primary.  Her constituents may decide to throw her out of office.

But Gabbard has refused to back down.  She even has introduced legislation (H.R. 608) prohibiting US support for al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria.  Think about it:  Gabbard says it is necessary to make it illegal for the US government to do what you and I would be thrown in jail for doing:  supporting the evil of terrorism.

Raised by a Christian father, Gabbard now practices the Hindu faith.  Yet she provides an example of what we Jesus-followers must find the courage to do as we speak in public settings about war:  grapple with the evil that explains the apparent intractability of war.

Yes, this means casting blame.  And of course, the standard response is that casting blame will get us nowhere.

Actually, however, that’s not true.  Blame has already been cast a million times through Western media reports stigmatizing President Assad and his administration’s attempts to defend their country against foreign mercenaries and terrorists. This pattern of media blame-casting is a powerful force that has indeed got us somewhere:  six-plus years of war, justified by a false moral imperative to remove President Assad from office.

So yes, we must do more than oppose war and the re-arming of the combatants.  We must do more than call for a negotiated settlement.  We also must identify the presence of evil pushing war ever onward.  And we must oppose this evil, even if it gets us in trouble with our tribe.

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Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, PA and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city.  A version of this essay was previously published at his blog,  www.bible-and-empire.net

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry as Prayer – Worship as Rest

By Cara EdigerCara Ediger

If I know something about lent,
I know that sometimes we are slow
to understand what God has done for us.

If I know something about being
purposefully slow, I know it brings
Us together rather than apart.

If I know something, or anything
about God, it’s that knowing him is
to love, and in loving him, we love
Others,

With no power of our own but the
Spirit coming down on us like a dove,
A bird of peace that
Surpasses all understanding,

A bird of comfort when we search
Far and wide for knowledge and
Wisdom as if we search for land
From the sea.

That we would send a dove out
during travel,
And to find the stranger a fellow Christian spirit,
A spirit of love, joy, peace,many the
rest of God’s gifts we know so well.

That we would always show the
other, a spirit of thanksgiving for
Their presence,may spirit of
Generosity for their perspective,
And a spirit that knows the God we
Serve truly is mysterious, and yet
Comes down to meet us in our
Worry and weary world.

Lord, let us not be slow to
Understand you,nut bring our
hearts in worship to you,
so that you may give the weary world rest
As we worship, and rest is what we
Seek to give even when others do
Not understand.

 

 

 

 

 

Millennial Voice – Godly Peacemaking

By Joanna Lois Albesa

My town’s busy for the manifestation of the Holy week in this month of April and I am quite burdened about certain personal things that we should all contemplate about, at least momentarily.

I am hopefully writing this for the purpose of bringing you and me into Godly peacemaking – just to water that tree of faith that God planted in our hearts and prune its withering branches so that we can grow more.

I admit that I am experiencing a lot of spiritual shakings and I believe you’re also on the same boat. There are times that I put first into priority my bursting emotions and I end up making disappointing decisions that could also affect the people around me.

So in my devotion, the Lord gave me an impression of His word in Matthew 6:19-34 (KJV) saying:

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Haven’t you noticed that day after day, all the negatives we consider as such that are said to unfold, as they are indicated in the Bible to happen, are becoming much more literal? The Lord works in a seemingly unpleasant way for us but He means it for the good of many lives including yours and mine. The questions are to whom or what are we hoping for and to whom or to what should we give our trust? Manly government or God’s – an everlasting kingdom of prosperity and abundance?

On a short notice, young ones like me are squeezed on the issue of choosing career or simply, choosing our path to make a living. Putting God first and setting aside the ambition to be successful for the moment are on the top list that pass on us. Facing this kind of pressure is really challenging and my position on the context of social standing, as a young woman, it would be very hard to overcome it if I will not know my purpose and wholeheartedly acknowledge it, including the essence of divine love that surpasses all impossible things a man cannot do. Even with my own strength, I feel a foreboding failure at the very end of the day. But with all these happenings, we know that our love for God is being tested with His fire and nothing is worth more knowing and rewarding than loving God and His creation as the ultimate purpose of our life.

Putting into topic our attitude in responding to His call, one of the most dangerous character that unknowingly can be a part of us is pride. It locks the door in our heart when accepting rebukes. It leads us away from communicating to the Lord through prayer and it distracts us in worshiping Him. We would also feel very far from His Holy presence and protection when we feel like we have to give up a stronghold or habit that we cannot let go of when in fact, if you really do love Him, it is not even considered as giving up. The problem is complicated. There’s this diffusion of knowledge that is very widespread that we would think we don’t need any revelation from Him anymore. When we know a lot of His word, but we are not aware of the richness of His truth because of our lacking discernment and good sense of judgement, our way of living becomes more tragic and despondent. One must know how to handle their will and to whom should it be submitted for direction. In our case, we should already know that we are subject to God. When you receive Him as your Lord and Savior, automatically you are accepting His authority over your life now. Unless it is not explained well to you or you are not convicted, then you are walking on the right way. If you think you don’t, you might be walking down the aisle of rebellion – maybe not physically behaving in a violent way but spiritually you do.

So in pursuing the establishment of His kingdom, we as His children and warriors are also called to prepare His way (Mark 1:3). But we have to be vigilant as Peter (Jesus’ disciple) reminded us to be according to 1 Peter 5:8:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:

If you’ve got personal issues like me, don’t settle by just sitting there and doing nothing. First humble yourself then cry all your pains to the Lord. Read His empowering word, worship Him in spirit and in truth and He will surely heal you abundantly.

God bless and Shalom!

Joanna Lois Albesa is a working Filipina student in Italy who aspires to be a businesswoman. She is a Christian – Born Again and enjoys writing about her life experiences to inspire the young people of her generation. She blogs at tornoutpage.com.