Sunday, March 26, 2006


The Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings, a former member of the Archbishop’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas (which produced the famous 1985 Faith in the City report), launched an extraordinarily personal and vitriolic attack on Christian Peacemaker Teams on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday Programme this morning. The UK Sunday newspapers are also full of accusations of ‘ingratitude’ and ‘irresponsibility’. Others – like former hostage Terry Waite (the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy, who was himself a captive in Lebanon in the 1980s) and Canon Andrew White (an Anglican vicar and diplomat who has worked for reconciliation but also backed the Gulf wars) – have been wielded out by the media to have a go at CPT too, though usually in rather more moderate terms. Attempts have also been made over the past 24-hours to get leading Muslim spokespeople to join the condemnation.

By contrast, little if anything has been said about the legitimate peace tradition within mainstream Christianity, and many of those being encouraged to condemn CPT appear to know little or nothing of its operations. Dr Billings (who has been a vocal supporter of Tony Blair's war in Iraq) betrayed his ignorance by characterising Christian peacemakers (who he called ‘un-Christian’) as people who parachute in and out of situations of conflict. Nothing could be further from the truth. CPT was in Iraq before the invasion, and prepares, locates and supports its workers with care.

It is extremely sad that people should be so readily co-opted to a press-stoked furore with little attempt to look at the facts or to engage in thoughtful debate. But it is not surprising. By seeking to use non-violent methods and by being prepared to operate without the usual military safeguards (a point which their critics keep overlooking in their rush to say that they ‘endangered the lives of troops’), CPT and similar organisations are calling into question the whole basis of militarism as a policy strategy, and the collusion of much mainstream Christianity in an order which not only perpetuates violence but remains blind to other ways of being (what I'd call 'alternate realisms').

There will be more on this on Ekklesia later today. Hopefully, rather than simply joining a bitter verbal exchange, those who believe that strategic non-violence can play an important and considered role in situations of conflict will over the coming weeks and months seek to join Dr Billings and those like him to a more considered conversation about options and ethics. But we should not be naive to the fact that some who oppose peace-making have little interest in thoughtful discussion, and every motive for waging and ideological battle.

The other issues that need examination are the rush in public life to deny us moral choices (in this case the refusal of violence) and the curious subordination of facts to engineered values in news reporting - something I have commented on in terms of the 'script' of this story in Contending the logic of violence.

See also: Kember receives ire of newspapers (BBC News, UK); The return of Norman Kember: A bitter homecoming (Independent, UK).

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