The escalating conflict in Gaza this past fortnight frays all well-intended political and faith-based efforts at peacemaking in the Middle East. There is plenty of blame to pass around.
Not least is the pressing issue of religion and politics - or rather, the way in which religion can be co-opted by all sides to justify violence in the name of 'right'.
All of which poses the question for believers: Where is God to be found in the midst of violence and suffering?
Despite the goodwill of policy makers and peacemakers, revenge and bloodshed continue to define the century-old Israeli-Palestine relationship.
What bearing do disputed biblical texts have on this? Is peace possible in the Middle East? What are the non-military options and resources needed to achieve long term peace?
This month I will be accompanying Gene Stoltzfus, founder and Director Emeritus of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (www.cpt.org), as he embarks on a busy tour (17 January - 1 February 2009) in the United Kingdom.
The purpose is to provide a perspective on these issues and to share Gene's considerable field experience in global peacemaking.
Since 1988, Gene and CPT successfully placed violence-reduction teams in crisis situations and militarized areas around the world — including Hebron, Iraq, and Colombia — at the invitation of local peace and human rights workers.
Additionally, Christian Peacemaker Teams has trained hundreds of committed peacemakers ready to risk injury and death in bold attempts to transform lethal conflict through creative acts of nonviolence.
Their work in Iraq, which goes far beyond the often simplistic picture generated by the media around the hostage crisis in 2005-6, has recently been cited for its significance by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker.
In light of the most violent century in our modern history, Gene Stoltzfus will be coming over from North America to meet with twenty or more faith-based and community groups across the UK, to share success stories of active global peacemaking, and to discuss nonviolence as a practical Christian option.
Stoltzfus grew up in Aurora, then a rural town in Northeast Ohio, where his parents gave leadership in a Mennonite Church and his father was the pastor. He graduated in Sociology from Goshen College in Indiana and holds an M.A. in South and Southeast Asian Studies from American University and a Master of Divinity from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana.
Christian Peacemaker Teams are galvanised around a challenging question posed in 1984 by Mennonite theologian and just=peace activist Ron Sider: "What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?"
Aiming to enlist the whole church in an organized, nonviolent alternative to war, today CPT is involved in bridge-building and standing against violence in some of the world's most demanding hotspots. This is very far from armchair pacifism. It is about taking responsibility - without arms.
CPT embraces the vision of unarmed intervention waged by committed peacemakers ready to embrace the personal and shared risk of transforming lethal conflict through the nonviolent power of God’s truth and love.
Initiated by Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers with broad ecumenical participation, CPT’s ministry of Biblically-based and spiritually-centered peacemaking emphasizes creative public witness, nonviolent direct action and protection of human rights.
A strategy developed thoughtfully over the years has taught Christian Peacemaker Teams that:
* trained, skilled, international teams can work effectively to support local efforts toward nonviolent peacemaking;
* “getting in the way” of injustice through direct nonviolent intervention, public witness and reporting to the larger world community can make a difference;
* peace team work engages congregations, meetings and support groups at home to play a key advocacy role with policy makers.
CPT understands violence to be rooted in systemic structures of oppression. It is committed to undoing oppressions as part of our violence reduction work, starting within its own organization.
Details of the January 2009 tour can be found here: http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/8278
(c) Wilson Tan lives in Singapore and has studied in the USA. He is a specialist in digital media relations.