My heart sank the other day when I read the headline that the U.S. had authorized airstrikes in Iraq. It was a personal blow. I was in the mountains all week, fairly unplugged from everything, and I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was like I was reading a ten-year-old paper. How could this be happening? I’ve written about Obama’s interest in Iraq before, but this really was a surprise. The Nobel Peace Prize president bombing Iraq. And he can justify because he isn’t using ground troops. I’m so frustrated that that makes sense to anyone. You can’t risk American lives to kill Iraqis? That’s so backward. And for me, who pretty much looks just like an Iraqi, the message is clear.
Why Iraq again? What’s so special about it? Why not Syria? Why not Israel? The Congo? Why is the humanitarian crisis always so important where the U.S. has the most oil interest? According to Forbes, “Exxon, Chevron, Total and many others have invested billions there to explore and drill virgin fields in concessions doled out by the Kurdish Regional Government.” It’s the same argument: genocide, atrocities, civil war, incompetent local leadership (like the U.S. has competent leadership?). We need to strike the country.
But what do you do? ISIS (or is it IS or ISIL?) is killing Kurds and killing Christians. The President calls it genocide. And that justifies more military action. I met a Kurd the other day who said peace just wasn’t an option! People are dying and God’s shalom seems so impractical. I really am dumbfounded sometimes and I have to turn to God, whose peace surpasses understanding.
I’m thankful that Christians can show another way. Donald Kraybill in his excellent 1978 book The Upside-Down Kingdom are thinking of new ways to apply the Gospel and actually have a real response to the war machine. Kraybill’s book is all about Jesus changing the whole world. Jesus came to level the playing field, to include new people into his Kingdom, to spread the nonviolent agape love, to redistribute wealth. For Kraybill, ISIS’ disdain for Kurds and Christians in the area is evil. The U.S.’s oil interest? A product of material worship. But peace is possible. Here’s what I wrote about Kraybill’s chapter on agape love in an essay I penned recently:
In his chapter devoted to nonviolence, Kraybill surrounds his ideas with the notion of agape love, a radical love that comes from God. His example of it is in the Good Samaritan story. The division between the Samaritans and the Jews was so significant that the Good Samaritan’s action of charity was revolutionary. Loving one’s neighbor as oneself is a crucial Christian principle rooted in agape love. Christians do not love for a transaction, it is not merely reciprocity; it is in fact generosity. It is excessive. It is so radical that it transforms people into followers of Jesus, it does not fulfill the sense of entitlement that they might feel if love was merely transactional. Similarly, it does not return violence with violence. Jesus’ famous dictum of “turning the other cheek,” profoundly and succinctly illustrates this concept of nonviolence. In Luke’s Gospel in particular, Jesus lists seven different ways the Kingdom response to an offender is the opposite of the world’s response. Forgiveness is at the heart of this love. Jesus demonstrates this on the cross. The ultimate action of nonviolent resistance, Jesus asks God from the cross to forgive his murderers. The U.S. is among the most violent empires in history, so it is not surprising that Kraybill notes detours and the myth of redemptive violence as he defends Jesus’ nonviolence. But more than just being a peacekeeper, Jesus is a peacemaker, shalom is an active and holistic peace. It is more about presence, than absence.
Kraybill’s idea are practical and helpful. For a radical Christian, his book is definitely recommended reading. But what does a Christian do in a time of war like this? I’m always encouraged by the work of the Mennonite Central Committee in times like this. I work with them and so does our whole Network and our two successful thrift stores. My partnership with them helps me feel active in the work that they are doing in the Middle East and the advocacy in Washington for peacemaking policy. They are not isolationists, but are deeply engaged in the work. Here’s one article about U.S. militarism in the Middle East, for example. Want to write your legislators about the egregious action in Iraq? The Washington office always has opportunities for such action.
I am thankful for how Jesus made me and the sensitivity I have toward the Middle East because of my heritage. Kraybill and the Anabaptist tradition is beautiful to me and has formed the way I’ve thought. And in moments where I need peace that surpasses understanding, I’m glad I have MCC and the church on the side of peace.