This Week's Comment from Network 7 News 

Edition 389 – December 11, 2004.  

 This weeks  was written by AWR's English Language Service Director, Victor Hulbert.  The full programme can be heard in Real Audio on our web-site.

Thinking through Peace

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Two stories catch my eye this week.  Both to do with terror.  One of hope.  One of warning.  Hope, because there is the strong possibility that the peace process may make some real progress in Northern Ireland once again.  Warning, because a man on the front line of the so called “war against terror” says the World is now less safe because we have not dealt with the core problems  underlying terrorism.  

I grew up with the threat of terrorism.  My family lived in Northern Ireland in the late 60’s as tensions gradually built up.  I clearly knew the difference between Protestant and Catholic – and being an Adventist found myself somewhat out on a limb from both.  You see, the issue was politics, not religion – and yet you were forced to live with a label.  

While I left Ireland age 9, it is something people there have had to contend with ever since.  Labels and strong opinions do not help towards a peace process.  A process that has gone through bombings, shootings and atrocious behaviour to a world in Ireland that is much better, but still has a long way to go before the word “unity” can be used.  

But, in a week when the American Embassy has been attacked in Jeddah, when Iraq is challenged with the possibility of elections in the midst of violence, when Afghans celebrate their presidents inauguration but War Lords still control much of the country, when their neighbour, General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan warns that the world is more dangerous now – I’m glad to get some good news and find that Nationalists and Unionists in Ireland are speaking in more conciliatory tones to each other and that the chances of disarmament are growing.  

Looking back to 1999 I came across a comment from our reporter in Ireland at the time, Billy Leonard.  Theologian, historian and political commentator, he had some comments about Ireland that I think apply to other places and cultures.  

First the importance of history. In Ireland mutilated history forged on the anvil of bias often passes for informed history. History is important in theology and thus the formation and mediation of faith. As one tries to speak as a Christian on difficult issues one is really speaking with a worldview: if it is not historically informed you could let yourself down.

Think of Jesus. He knew his Jewish history.  

Secondly, be politically aware. In N Ireland we are consumed by politics, mostly of a merely divided approach. Often one hears Christians simply relaying the latest media spin or partisan approach. Is God not interested in all people in both or all communities? To impose upon God our human biases and conditioned limitations is to do a great disservice to the Almighty.

Think of Jesus. Was he not very aware of the politics of the day with his render on to Caesar and foxes have their holes sayings?  

Next, look at the deep human propensity to divide people up into groups and think of them in malign terms. Vague and negative generalisations of the other group pass for informed comment. Selection of the worst example of the ‘other’ is phrased as to imply that it is the average for that group. This occurs when we speak of nationalities, religions, political outlooks and many more types of groups. Dare I say it that, sometimes it happens in the church foyer?  Think of Jesus. Did he not know that amongst the Pharisees and the Romans that there was the good, the bad and the indifferent?  

So how we think of the other will be informed and influenced by history, politics and reflection on how we simplistically divide the world into groups. Approaching all this with breadth and the help of Bible study, prayer, discussion and reflection is actually composing theology and faith. It demands the Christian mind to be stretched; to catch glimpses of God’s will in drastically difficult situations and to transcend human vision. We should not convince ourselves it happens automatically.

Now put that in the context of Musharraf’s comment that we need to resolve the political disputes “but also the issue of illiteracy and poverty. [These] combined are the breeding grounds of extremism and terrorism.”  

Then add it to the local context in developed countries.  Most crime happens in poorer communities, and generally it is the poor that suffer most from crime.  To deal with these issues does mean looking beyond ourselves, our comfort zones, and stretching our minds beyond our normal horizons.  

Where that leaves you as an individual I can’t say, but it does remind me of the words of Jesus – challenging those who thought they were righteous:  

Matthew 25:45 (NIV)  

'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'  

That applies to world leaders – but also, challengingly, to me, my community, and my view of the world.

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