By: Peter Laarman
Peter Laarman is executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting, a network of activist individuals and congregations headquartered in Los Angeles. He served as the senior minister of New York’s Judson Memorial Church from 1994 to 2004. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Peter spent 15 years as a labor movement strategist and communications specialist prior to training for the ministry.
Here then is a matter of conscience that never leaves the minds and hearts of liberal Christian leaders like me and that positively torments us when, as now, the heat is on in the Middle East: What, if anything, to say about the application of Israel’s immense military might in what are manifestly inhumane ways?
During the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006 I made the mistake of sticking my neck out just a tiny bit on the question of proportionality. I did not say that the recovery of the captured Israeli soldiers (Israel’s stated casus belli) was a ruse; what I said was that the IDF’s devastating attack in Lebanon could not be justified as self-defense. And in my organization’s weekly e-blast to our constituents we advertised a protest rally that one of the American Muslim organizations was about to sponsor.
In short order I was stunned to see one of my rabbi friends quoted in The Los Angeles Times to the effect that I and my organization were out of line for issuing a statement on Lebanon without first consulting him; that the essence of interfaith work is that we should always speak and act in concert, and that I had violated his trust by violating this principle. A bit later I took a call from another colleague, also a rabbi, who was distraught and in tears over the idea that someone she trusted and with whom she had worked in the cause of workplace justice would be joining with Israel’s enemies at such a time.
So here we are again, only this time the IDF-wrought carnage is greater by far than in 2006. And this time I have not said a word about it, except to participate in drafting one of those very broad “Stop the Violence—Let’s Be Friends!” interfaith declarations. Better than nothing, I suppose. But my colleagues in the Muslim community were legitimately grieved by the joint statement’s lack of specificity and by my declining to sign a Muslim-drafted open letter to the new American president that names some difficult but necessary truths he will need to confront in relation to Israel’s behavior...
This is still the path forward for tongue-tied progressive Christians in relation to the Middle East: do not lecture Israel, and do not presume to say what is good for the Jews—but don’t be immobilized by guilty knowledge, either. Simply insist on a new policy and a new vision for the United States in relation to this traumatized region...
Progressive Christians should take the same point of departure now, with Gaza in agony. It is hardly necessary for us to recount the sufferings of the Gazans, even despite the extent to which the worst of those sufferings are filtered out by the American media. As deplorable as the effects of the corporate media bubble can be in times like this—and I do not minimize this crucial problem—Americans don’t even need access to independent media to have a pretty good idea that a lot of people on a tiny strip of land—the most densely crowded place on earth—are today experiencing a living hell...
Just two questions should be lifted up in the pulpits and prayers of concerned American Christians in relation to the catastrophe in Gaza: first, is it within our power to stop those horrific weapons from being used? And, second, how does it affect our wish to limit worldwide terrorism—and anti-American terrorism in particular—if we do not stop massively arming and protecting the State of Israel in the way that we have been doing for so long?
On the question of the weapons, it will not be difficult to document where the F-16 fighters, the tanks, and all that ordnance—including the truly satanic new DIME weapon (Dense Inert Metal Explosive) came from. The moral question, for American Christians whose taxes help pay for this, is whether it shall continue. In view of the firepower that was just displayed so vividly, is it not reasonable to say that Israel already has more than enough capacity to defend itself—and that re-supplying the IDF continuously with the latest and most lethal weaponry is thus unjust and immoral?
Here the progressive Christians who wish to be more courageous could well take their cue from the many courageous truthtellers within Israel itself: the activists associated with groups like B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, ICAHD, etc. They see at close range the devastation rendered by U.S.- supplied arms. They understand how much more difficult the challenge of achieving a long-term peace becomes after so many children have been burned and/or buried.
As to the question of the national security of our own nation—defending ourselves by limiting terrorism—here Christians really do need to step out of the media bubble for long enough to recognize the incalculable damage done to our long-term security by our uncritical alliance with the State of Israel...
As long as we turn a blind eye to our direct complicity in what is happening now in the Middle East—and what will surely happen again, if we do not stop enabling it—our conversation as Americans will remain corrupted, and surely our conversation as American Christians who claim to speak for peace and justice will be but sounding brass or tinkling cymbal...
Our deep and dangerous involvement in supporting brutality around the world must also be reformed, even transformed. No better place to start than in the blood-soaked Middle East, and no better time for progressive Christians to find their voices and start speaking.
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- Hussam Ayloush
- Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html