catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 23 :: 2005.12.16 — 2005.12.29


Have you heard the news?

I first read the news about the kidnapping of four Christians Peacemaker Teams associates in Iraq in, of all places, our local small town newspaper. My insides tightened. I was familiar with CPT as an organization; indeed, I had just been researching the possibility of signing on with them a couple of months ago. In college, I had heard one of their representatives from the Middle East speak about their work, alongside a Palestinian man whose home had been demolished several times. I knew that they routinely stand in solidarity with victims of injustice, guided by the peace ethic of the Gospel and willing to risk their lives.

My fairly private reaction of horror, however, was much different from that of the very public Rush Limbaugh. Like Pat Robertson?s apparent recent mis-speak affirming the assassination of Hugo Chavez, mainstream and alternative media alike picked up on Limbaugh?s appalling statements about the CPT kidnapping. On his November 29 radio show, he said that there?s

?part of me that likes this. And some of you might say, “Rush, that’s horrible. Peace activists taken hostage.” Well, here’s why I like it. I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality.

Limbaugh goes on later in the segment to clarify that his giddiness is not over the fact that the hostages? lives are threatened, but that their ideological foundations are, from his perspective, crumbling. While it?s easy to attack him individually for this statement, the fact is that he?s merely ballsy enough to admit what many people probably thought when they heard about the kidnappings or think when they hear any other bit of news that is bad for their ideological opponents (?left? or ?right?).

I realize that Limbaugh?s extreme statements are rating magnets?heck, even I visited his web site in search of the transcript. But I do think such extremes are worth noting as symptoms of interpretation wars that lead us back to Christianity?s very own Holy Book.

The diversity of responses to the CPT kidnapping news parallels the diversity of responses to Scripture. While some read Jesus? words about loving our enemies through more interpersonal glasses, others take those words to places like Iraq where they use their own bodies as shields against violence. The community of believers, for better or worse, will always display such differences of opinion, but I believe we can work to discern which responses are better than others, asking questions such as: how can our lives reflect the reality of the resurrection? This question is an important one, one that I think the CPTers were asking themselves when they signed up for the team.

Interpretation of the Bible offers some parallel, but the content of the Bible offers some insight into the situation as well. Ryan Beiler, the web editor for Sojourner?s Magazine, writes of the CPT hostages,

Their survival would be a miracle. And yet, statements of support from the likes of Hamas and cleric Abu Qatada, a suspected al Qaeda terrorist imprisoned in the U.K., are already miraculous. Our enemies?by any conventional definition?have appealed for the release of our friends. The cynic will say that support from such quarters merely confirms that CPT must be as anti-American as the terrorists. But hints of parable permeate: The Samaritan, a despised foreigner and outcast to Jesus’ audience, disregards religious and ethnic division to aid one in need, while countrymen preoccupied with their own purity pass by?.. I stand astonished as other Muslims?militants, politicians, and religious leaders?defend these captive Christians, and Jesus’ upside-down kingdom glimmers.

With Beiler, I believe this event reflects the situation that Jesus knew would occur for such committed followers of the Word and tried to convey both indirectly in story and directly in plain language. The twenty-first chapter of Luke?s Gospel records the words,

They will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name?. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.

Like the ?I did not come to bring peace, but a sword? statement in Matthew, Jesus is not expressing what is desirable, but what is real, but he also assures us that our suffering has implications on levels other than the physical. Again from Luke 21:

This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict?. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.

Like the body of believers, Jesus himself was both divisive and unifying, slicing through the heart of the Jewish world and coalescing a band of ragtag followers who were diverse in gender, ethnicity, and status. We should not expect anything else from Christ the Revolutionary, who tells us, ?Remember the words I spoke to you: ’No servant is greater than his master.? If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also? (John 15:20a).

All of this is to say that I find both sorrow and hope in the kidnapping of the four CPT representatives and in the harsh words of conservative America?s poster-pundit. We are hearing a part of the story about which we were warned ahead of time and we must approach all characters with a predictable commitment to love?even our enemies. But our commitment must also be one of hearing, of listening. May we desire and cultivate an ability to perceive God?s truth wherever it may be found, regardless of the risk.

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