Gene Stoltzfus

Obama and a fresh dynamic in world affairs

By Gene Stoltzfus
January 20, 2009

“You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that caused the problem.” - Albert Einstein

Dear President Obama,

In the United States and in the Middle East there is plenty of evidence that our traditional terms for analysis are stuck. But as we have tragically seen in Gaza, the thinking of the past has not brought peace to the Middle East. From your community organizing work you already know that without fresh thinking there is no hope for renewal. Einstein was right, the solutions to old problems require something different.

For 25 years I lived in Chicago’s neighbourhoods and I know a little bit about the problems of neighbourhood violence. I realise you do too. Even handedness, honest words, respect and confidence building actions that reach across divides help create the way to conflict resolution. Eventually all episodes of human violence do end, either by burnt out buildings and abandoned civilizations or by way of the mystery of a new vision.

I have encouraged people of faith to pray for a breakthrough to arise from the 2008-9 war in Gaza. Activists do not often call for prayer, although there is a tiny secret that I know about activists. In fact we pray a lot more than people think we do! Sometime I hope you can tell me if that is your experience too.

I know ethical conviction and balance is part of your character that was fashioned over a lifetime of trying to do what is right. Unlike you, I don’t need to worry about getting elected or preserving my electoral covenant. However, I do worry about my spiritual covenant to think new thoughts and to follow through on them with practical action. Acting differently, and with hope, is what Christian Peacemaker Teams is all about.

I believe you made a positive start by acknowledging your concern for the civilian casualties in both Gaza and Israel. You will need such humanity and courage to survive the people with iron-clad ideas from the past who are already grumbling that your statement of sympathy for civilian casualties favoured one side over another.

But these won’t be your last words and millions of people in the USA, in the Middle East and around the world are waiting for what you will say and hoping for a new approach that can create an environment where rigid enemies are invited to become mutual winners.

All the firepower of the United States or any other nation cannot make this happen. However, less heavy-handedness will help. Authentic respect for all the people of the Middle East will also help. Setting aside the violence of bombs, tanks, military supplies and the bribery of misplaced aid programmes is another part of the new era.

The world is waiting for fresh, practical and realistic signals from our nation. By such fairer gestures in your first months in office you will help create the path for a journey towards respect, confidence and peace. You will be generating the space for development of all peoples, particularly the nations of the Middle East.

Mr President, there may be no single matter in the world where your nudge towards new thinking could do more to rebuild confidence in the future than in this region. There are millions of us, Christians, Muslims and Jews, who are praying, protesting and hoping that our hands might touch into the strengths of one another in ways that are long overdue.

We want to believe in the future. And we will continue to pray that the great hopes of all peoples might be awakened with a new paradigm that wants to become visible in you and your co-workers in these coming months.


(c) Gene Stoltzfus is founder and director emeritus of Christian Peacemaker Teams. He is currently touring Britain and Ireland - details here:

This article is adapted from Gene's blog:

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