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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Close ‘gun show loophole’ | The General Board of Church and Society

Close ‘gun show loophole’ | The General Board of Church and Society

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction

This past week brought an important development in the quest for peace with the agreement at the Nuclear Security Summit. Led by President Obama, 47 governments agreed to safeguard nuclear material used in bombs, civilian nuclear reactors and power plants. This represents a major step towards the hopeful complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

I could not help but think back on when I was a child and how I was brought up to fear the Soviet Union because of their large stockpile of nuclear weapons and their designs to rule the world. The truth is that as a child I was indeed afraid of the end of the world. I watched the news and hoped for American victory over the Soviets and was scared out of my skin after watching The Day After on TV. I was afraid of the incredible destruction that could happen with the mere push of a button. There was also War Games, one of my favorite movies from the early 80s, that showed the fallibility of even the greatest machines humans could build. But yet, in looking back, while War Games pointed towards a peaceful world maintained by a steady balance of powers, it did not point towards peace through destroying those weapons of war entirely. The best way to win the game, according the movie is to not play the game, but it does not question the very essence of the game itself. But hey, it was the 80s and this was the best we could hope for then.

So, while we celebrate a step towards the better control and management of nuclear weapons, I cannot help but notice President Obama's lack of leadership on an issue concerning weapons that are far more deadly: the transfer of small arms and light weapons. Small arms and light weapons (SALW) range from sub-machine guns or light machine guns to portable antiaircraft or antitank guns. Basically, these are weapons that can be carried and fired by individuals, even at times, by children. In fact, their easy access and easy use make the presence of children in violent conflicts more likely.

SALW are weapons of mass destruction more deadly than nuclear weapons. According to Amnesty International, hundreds of thousands of people die each year from SALW and the majority of these are civilians. Moreover, oppressive governments and some rebel groups use SALW as a means to commit human atrocities such as rape, forced displacement and even genocide.

Again, according to Amnesty, "the proliferation of SALW has fueled close to 50 conflicts around the world since 1990. Human rights researchers, for example, have argued that the proliferation of SALW to the Hutu government and Tutsi exiles between 1990 and 1993 expanded the conflict and increased human rights abuses in Rwanda. More recently, a shipment of arms and ammunition to the abusive armed group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), encouraged them to initiate a final attack on Monrovia, Liberia in July 2003. During this attack more than 2,000 people were injured, most of them civilians."

Many times these transfers are legal, but totally irresponsible and entirely preventable. For example, in 2003, although the United States had an arms embargo placed against the Sudanese government, Saudi Arabia, China, and even Switzerland transferred SALW to Sudan, which then used these and other weapons against the people of Darfur. This has happened with U.S. transfers as well, including places such as Afghanistan.

It is clear that the transfer of small arms and light weapons is not on the agenda of the Obama administration. There is fear in Washington DC that focusing on this could somehow bring on the wrath of the most powerful lobby group in Washington DC – the NRA. While there is so much screaming and yelling about powerful outside interests mucking up necessary legislation and general good governance in Washington, I do not hear that same screaming and yelling about groups like the NRA – which have done more to co-opt the U.S. political system than almost any group I know of.

It is sickening that one group can bully so-called congressional leaders to the extent that a Member of Congress in a moderate state or district will not dare to vote for a bill that limits access to weaponry, or places common sense regulatory power over such weapons as assault weapons – even if in placing those limits can bring about the saving of lives and the increase in global security. And when those in leadership positions in the Church write or speak against the immense power of the NRA we get dozens of messages from congregants pledging that they will leave the church before they belong to something that speaks ill of their beloved NRA. The fact that they will choose to keep their membership in the NRA over their membership with their church never fails to draw me back to the prophets who continually accused Israel of misplacing their allegiances.

But our faithfulness to the prince of peace means that we must speak out and urge President Obama to go further than just a focus on securing nuclear weapons. I applaud this important move, but we now have weapons – which the United States has shipped legally – scattered throughout the world killing civilians and continuing to wreak havoc and chaos. We have weapons that have been used as a means of rape and brutality, that have been used by children and have now scarred those children for life. These weapons have prolonged civil wars and have done far more to prevent our world from attaining peace than any other weapon we have built.

We must urge the President to turn his focus to dramatically curbing the transfer of small arms and light weapons to any country involved directly or indirectly with war or violence. We should call him (202-456-1111) and ask him to sign the Arms Trade Treaty and urge Congress to support the treaty.

Peace is too important and the role of the United States in the world too important to allow the bullying tactics of narrow-minded groups like the NRA to steer us from taking necessary and humane steps and preventing the continued use and transfer of weapons of mass destruction.

Please call President Obama today (202-456-1111) and urge him to sign the treaty and do what he can to stop the legal transfer of small arms and light weapons to troubled spots in the world. The number to call is (202-456-1111). For more information go to http://www.amnestyusa.org/arms-trade/page.do?id=1011003.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Welcome to Jeremiah Weeping

It was in 1988, when I was a Junior in college, that I first voted and actively participated in a political campaign. While it sounds funny now to say in light of the charisma of President Obama, I found Michael Dukakis to be inspiring and someone I honestly believed in. I was committed. I was (am) an unabashed liberal and I thought Governor Dukakis was morally right in not backing down when he was demonized by George H.W. Bush for being a liberal, or apologizing when Bush and his campaign manager, Lee Atwater, used race to scare people of Dukakis through the Willie Horton ads. I believed that people would surely see through these political tricks, discuss the actual issues before the country and the world, and vote for who I believed was the next great President of the United States, Michael Dukakis.

I also spent time in prayer and was sure that voting for Dukakis was not just a decision made in reason and sound thought, but was something I was spiritually certain of. I was not sure who God wanted for President (I never am), but I was sure who I prayerfully felt would be the best President. Dukasis' concern for the poor and those on the margins seemed to match up with what I saw as a prominent concern of Jesus and a pervasive theme in Scripture. I was certain that my Christian friends would see the same things I saw and many would join me in campaigning for Dukakis for President.

I could not have been more wrong.

In short, the campaign was a brutal one between me and many of my friends. In fact, none of my evangelical friends joined me at all. Moreover, they were incredulous that I could vote for someone like Dukakis. Their feelings were reciprocated. What followed was retrenchment on both sides and for several of my friends, the retrenchment led to a mean-spirited campaign and lasting bitterness. We were college students and we let our feelings override our friendships, but even in my most passionate moments of defending Dukakis, I could not understand the disdain that so many held for Dukakis and the values I held and for which I tried (poorly at times) to articulate.

In the end, when Dukakis lost the election, I remember that being one of the loneliest and saddest days in my life up to that point. I remember walking out of the women's dorm as it was apparent that Bush would win and hearing "friends" calling out of the windows and mocking me for the time and effort I had spent on Dukakis' campaign the last few months. I had given it everything I had and while losing was bitter enough, hearing the mocking calls from my friends that night (and for several more days from some), made me feel I was alone on an island.

I can honestly say it was a scarring moment in my life, but one that served as a wake-up call in many ways.

I learned that night and from that period in my life, that passionate commitment to a cause can bring great vitality to my life, but it - by itself - does not necessarily transform others to share in that same level of passion or commitment. I learned that that same passion, when unrestrained, can be destructive - great passion needs great love. But even more, I learned that just because Scripture talks about God's love of the poor, and there are those who proclaim long and loud their love of Scripture, that does NOT mean that Christians who love Scripture also love the poor. Love of Scripture, in other words, often does not trump love of security, love of comfort, love of self. And I learned that championing the causes of poverty and justice can and does lead to heartache - heartache because of the existence of poverty and injustice, and heartache for the lack of awareness and even more, concern for poverty and injustice.

I learned so much, but it hurt deeply. I remember crying that night and just laying in my bed still for hours. It felt almost incapacitating.

Since then, there have been similar times to this one - far too many unfortunately. Times when I was so filled with a mixture of anger and sadness that was so overwhelming. I wanted to give up, to no longer care about these things because it just hurt so damn much. Ad so, I feel like I resonate with the words of Jeremiah, in 20:8-9:

"Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; The word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it."

Jeremiah's rebuke of the religious leaders of his day is well known. These were religious leaders who were clearly more interested in maintaining the power of the state than in proclaiming the word of the Lord to his people. Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, is one of the most depressing figures in all of Scripture. It is hard for me to read him sometimes. He constantly wants out. He does not want to see what he sees, think what he thinks, say what he has to say. But he has to - it is in his bones and he cannot help but let it out.

And I debated calling this blog Jeremiah Weeping - just too depressing.

But I look at the world today and I see two endless wars that should have never been started, a societal hegemony of mindlessly supporting war-making industries that cost billions to maintain while screaming insanely about attempting to provide health care for 30 million people, the continuance of the death penalty in spite of its ineffectiveness to deter crime and it's lack of moral support, the preoccupation with national security as opposed to the welfare of immigrants and their families, genocide which has been unchecked, the recruitment of children as soldiers in wars that rage on for decades without barely a hint of acknowledgement, the ballooning of the prison population while "tough on crime" policies continue unabated, and so many more issues that they are hard to keep track of.

And, in an age when information is so easy to obtain, I see a Church more committed to building new facilities and developing new ministries to feed their own flock rater than sacrificially utilizing our resources to gain access to those resources for those whose access has been restricted or denied. I see a Church focused almost solely on verbal proclamation rather than living incarnationally among the poor and vulnerable. I see a Church anesthetized by constant messages about Jesus only being our personal Savior and wanting to soothe and love us - wanting to make you a "better you" - rather than focused on bringing all of us into greater intimacy with himself through loving the most vulnerable in society and by changing the world by advocating on their behalf.

And I so think there is much to be sad about. There is much to be angry about. But, more than anything, there is so much to do.

And so I hope this can be a place to challenge values perpetuated by the Church that have become so accepted by Christians, but yet, which are often biblically suspect. I hope this can be a place where we see both the larger picture of structural injustice as well as the more personal picture of how such injustices affect real people. I hope, more than anything, that we can move together - wherever you may be - towards holy action that changes the world and brings glory to God.

I hope we will weep with Jeremiah, but I hope we will also walk with Jesus and bring change and transformation to a hurting world.

I'm ready to go!