The hearts of peaceniks and terrorists

peaceWhat to say about the shocking lack of coverage of the kidnapping of the four members from the Christian Peacemakers Teams? It’s shaping up to be a deeply compelling story that carries serious ironies that are just begging to be explored. Mollie here at GetReligion first tackled this subject on Saturday and little has been written in the mainstream press since then

Morning Edition covered the group on Dec. 1 along with this BBC report on the group, and today the Canada Free Press ran a strongly opinionated piece titled “The truth about the Christian Peacemakers Teams.” Here’s what it says (and it mirrors what Mollie said):

Since CPT vaulted into the headlines of the major media throughout the world, very little has been written or portrayed about the group in the mainstream media. The media seems to be content just to mention the group’s name and refer to those that were kidnapped as “peace activists”. From exposure to the mainstream media alone, people are not likely to know any more about CPT than they do about the Swords of Righteous Brigade, a group than no one knew existed until the late November kidnappings.

Even when it seemed that every major terrorist group in the world, from Hamas to al Qaeda, appealed for the hostages’ release, the media did not think it important to look into the group that was garnering so much sympathy from organizations that take so much delight in blowing up civilians.

Mollie called for reporters to dig into the hostages’ motivations and CPT’s “Quaker-infused theology” and I would second her in that. Like we’ve said in the past, understanding the root motivations of groups like CPT or these terrorists goes a long way in breaking through the mist that is Middle East violence.

Kirk Wattles commented on Mollie’s post that “Quakers and Mennonites have generally been a distinct minority with a radically different take on what it means to be Christian.” And here’s more:

Christian Peacemaker Teams’ activities in Iraq are labeled absurd and foolish by many in the mainstream, but they draw from a long tradition (three to four centuries, anyway). And in other instances, for example in the movement to abolish slavery, such activities were often heaped with scorn (and sometimes violence) by other people calling themselves Christian.

You ask why coverage of this countercurrent is so weak. I think there’s a divide in the conception of what Christianity is about, the media tacitly recognize this and tend to avoid it because the secular outlook has no easy way to deal with such a deep conflict over issues. …

But elements to be considered include the Constantinian shift in the 4th century, the emergence of dissident sects during the Protestant reformation, the post-enlightment Church-State detente, and the industrial (and post-industrial) organization of warfare in the last century.

Is this the case? I say more digging is necessary to know for sure, but a solid grounding in history and Christian philosophy is is a good place to start.

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  • Brad

    This story (motivations, history, etc.) would probably be an extremely difficult, daunting story for the MSM to cover well, especially given the amount of space and knowledge it would require.

    It may be that they’ve decided not to even bother. After all, I’ve rarely seen articles go into why these different factions in Iraq are ok with blowing each other up (besides the superficial argument that one side accomodates us easier than the other).


  • DK

    It’s an accurate piece, except the problem is more complex than “a divide” over what Christianity is about. It’s that plus what individuals, what quality of “personal belief,” and what church groups (by dint of their theological stance) are/aren’t Christian and what criteria allow you to make those judgments. The usual descriptors of conservative and liberal get really messed up when it comes to anabaptists as well. So I’d say a solid grounding in history and theology doesn’t make things easier!

    Anabaptists were and to a good extent still are roundly rejected as heretics by Catholics and most Protestants, although free-church Evangelicalism and much of Protestantism in general increasingly thinks and acts Anabaptistically in different ways. Another complication with covering these two groups together is that Mennonites are more likley to be perceived as true-believing, evangelical-like Christians on some basic level, while Quakers are liable to be associated with unitarianisn and liberal mainliners who have some kind of skeptical-rationalist-aesthetic form of “spirituality” despite belonging to churches that technically confess a much more seemingly orthodox trinitarian Christianity than is the case with anabaptists.

  • DK

    Actually the MSM could cover this kind of story very well by restricting the focus to the historical experiences and theology behind anabaptist views of violence.

  • Michael Rew

    I have more sympathy for Christian pacifists who do not interfere with government policy than for those who think it necessary to stand in the way of allied (or axis) soldiers. But visit the CPT Web site. It is clear they went to interfere with coalition battle plans, not to interfere with the terrorists’ plans. One way CPT could “foster nonviolent and just alternatives for a free and independent Iraq” would be to call on terrorists to throw down their weapons, go home peacefully (even if they do not turn themselves in), and vote in the elections. I doubt you would find any such call on their Web site.

  • Brad

    I would guess they probably realize the West 1) holds itself to a higher standard, or at least historically has, than “eye for an eye” and 2) is more likely to listen to reason than the terrorists.

    Can you imagine the reaction of terrorist organizations when some peace group asked them to stop fighting? The reaction of people in our own country to such calls is derisive enough…I would guess the reaction of terrorist organizations would be extremely so.


  • Martin Kelley

    Anyone who wanted to do any digging could start on my Quaker Blog Watch site. I’ve been collating many dozens of links about the situation on the Blog Watch’s special CPT section but also on my main website,

    One of the ironies for me about the hostage situation has been how it’s blurred the line between my peace website and my personal Quaker website. I started ten years ago and it’s been primarily generic/secular all this time. My Quaker stuff goes on my personal site and into the Quaker Blog Watch. With the CPT hostage situation, I’ve realized that it’s important for to not just to report the news (link to mainstream news sources) but to explain the motivations of Quaker/Mennonite peace activists. I’ve been linking to the blogs of personal friends/Friends (including Kirk Wattles!)

    Over the past two years I’ve been trying to consciously encourage a deep-thinking Quaker blogging community. It’s seemed odd at times to spend more time on that than on the secular, which gets twenty times the traffic. But in hindsight I see I was helping to lay the groundwork for coverage that has an explicitly-religious angle.

    The most intriguing article in all this has come from the Guardian, Hostage: how the Muslim world battled for the life of Norman Kember. It hints at the possibility that this unusual and surprising coalition of Muslims calling for the CPT hostages’ release might be part of a larger shift in Western/Muslim relations and that only a Western group that’s earned the kind of respect that CPT has in the Muslim world could move this shift forward.

  • Micah Weedman

    Again, I think the issue here has to do with the lenses used by folks surrounding Western media regarding religion–in a different way than is usually talked about. Liberals don’t know what to do with peace activists who actually take Jesus seriously, and conservatives don’t know what to do with people who take Jesus seriously who actually are peace activists. These guys, wherever they are doctrinally or socially or politically simply don’t map on the scale of conservative-liberal that culture wars theology and politics provides for us. As result, the best anyone can do is try to explain why they’re really not Christian, or why its not important (often by ignoring the fact itself).

  • Kirk Wattles

    DK (Dan Knauss at the New Pentagruel) writes that “Anabaptists were and to a good extent still are roundly rejected as heretics by Catholics and most Protestants.”

    That’s a good place to start. I mean, what’s “heresy” if there’s no way to punish heretics? An “established” Church had the backing of police and court systems to enforce its authority, and the Church in turn supported the regime in power — including the use of violence. Disestablished churches (you can see I’m building up to antidisestablishmentarianism, right?) lost that backing, so where does that leave the so-called “heretics”?

    The Anabaptist “heretics” opened the door to a lot of changes in the 16th century — Baptists and Quakers in England went through that door a century later, for example, and Methodists and just about everyone else after the Church-State alliance had been broken. As DK says, “free-church Evangelicalism and much of Protestantism in general increasingly thinks and acts Anabaptistically.” Why? Because the general framework has changed.

    So what happens to the support that the established Church used to give to organized State-sponsored violence? Especially when scriptures are, at best, ambivalent about it. (“At best” in the view of those who “live by the Sword,” of course.)

    For a discussion of this problem, and of some of the darker aspects that develop when regimes get into no-holds-barred types of warfare, see Gene Stoltzfus (founder of CPT)’s recent post.

  • Dan Berger

    Kirk, I teach at an Anabaptist institution and have great respect for Anabaptist theology. I also know something about Quakers, but probably not enough.

    I want to remind you of something that bears on your tradition (Quaker) as well as on mine (Anglican):

    In former days the heretic was proud of not being a heretic. It was the kingdoms of the world and the police and the judges who were heretics. … The man was proud of being orthodox, was proud of being right [even] if he stood alone in a howling wilderness.

    G.K. Chesterton, in his introduction to Heretics, reminds us in his inimitable fashion that “truth is just truth. You can’t have opinions about truth” (as Professor Peter Schickele ironically tells us). Or, to quote Chesterton again,

    Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. (Orthodoxy, Ch. 3)

    What I’m long-windedly trying to remind you of is that “heresy” is not a power construct. “Heresy” is a label that claims that some idea is wrong, wrong in a way that endangers the souls of those who hold the wrong opinion. For the first Quakers, the idea that one should defer to others in matters of faith was heresy in that sense (I hope I am not misrepresenting them). For modern Quakers (though perhaps not for those who started the Quaker movement) the very notion of heresy seems to be itself a heresy; the “inner light” of personal revelation is perhaps all-sufficient and not to be questioned, though I think that y’all would strongly question, even condemn (as heretics?), those whose inner light led them to support, say, the use of force.

    But (and follow me closely here) Quakers like yourself (as you’ve shown in your post) believe that they are right and the orthodox (who subscribe to such heresies as the authority of tradition and Just War and the like) are wrong, wrong so as to endanger our immortal souls. We are the heretics, to you.

  • Kirk Wattles

    Dan, thanks for your comment. We may differ but I’m not sure to what extent. When discussion gets to this level of precision, I generally turn to the dictionary, and in this case for the word “heresy.” It derives from the Greek hairein, to choose — and as best as I can tell, it came to mean those who willfully “choose” to stand apart from the Orthodox church.

    Obviously, there are ambiguities. I recently read the book *When Jesus Became God*, about the Arian “heresy,” which points out that prior to the 4th century AD, the idea that Jesus *was* God would have been the heresy, except that there really wasn’t any way to enforce that view. My church history is a little hazy, but I do see a connection between so-called “heresy” and violence-backed powers of enforcement.

    This point of view comes out quite plainly in a work I recommend for anyone wondering about the early Friends. Edward Burrough’s wrote an epistle in 1658, just 6-8 years after the start-up of the Quaker movement, in which he denounces the violence used to suppress the Quakers and calls for open debate, grounded in scripture, so that everyone could see who was correct.

    “Come forth in fair dispute, to contend in the spirit of meekness …” Burroughs urges. The entire epistle is worth reading, as it is also one of the earliest contemporary histories of the Quaker movement, written at a moment when it was just taking shape, by someone who would have been a strong leader except for the fact that he died in prison not long after.

    Ah, well, what would have happened if the Quakers had managed to seize the reins of power? Wouldn’t they have used force to rid themselves of those who disagreed? Fortunately, we’ll never really know, because the world was changing around them. I document one instance of where this came close to happening in Pennsylvania, but the will of Quaker authorities was thwarted, in large part because they had instituted trial by jury.

    So I guess I disagree with the suggestion that “‘heresy’ is not a power construct,” that it is instead “a label that claims that some idea is wrong, wrong in a way that endangers the souls of those who hold the wrong opinion.” Show me the source of that definition, please, or explain why such a definition is useful for more than just twisting what I said earlier into an arbitrary “he-said, she-said” difference. (“Ah, well, we’re all heretics in someone else’s mind, so why bother talking about how State-violence can be used to enforce such distinctions?”)

    I think you are misrepresenting the early Quakers, by the way, although the difference may seem subtle. They felt they were led to a correct understanding by “one, even Christ Jesus,” and that others who looked to the Bible or the established Church for the Truth were missing the point. It was not the opinions or doctines you held that endangered your soul, but the life you led if you did not acknowlege, accept and follow the divine guide.

    William Penn, in his work Primitive Christianity Revived, expresses it as follows:

    > That which the people called Quakers lay down as a main fundamental in religion is this — That God, through Christ, hath placed a principle in every man, to inform him of his duty, and to enable him to do it; and that those that live up to this principle are the people of God, and those that live in disobedience to it, are not God’s people, whatever name they may bear, or profession they may make of religion. This is their ancient, first, and standing testimony: with this they began, and this they bore, and do bear to the world.

  • Brandon


    And yet, I think Michael has the right of it. Surely the West holds itself to a higher standard, but that is not excuse for letting the terrorists off the hook. CPT (with which I have considerable sympathy) would have more credibility in the west if they would criticize the actions of the kidnappers as clearly as they have criticized the actions of the Coalition.

    Someone on a mailing list I subscribe to (unfortunately, I can’t recall which one or who said it) remarked a week or so ago that when Jesus was on the cross, he didn’t plea, “Forgive them, for they are the product of Roman imperialism.” He preached love and forgiveness for EVERYONE.

  • Bene Diction
  • Bene Diction

    Spero News
    Not quite what some would call MSM but in the Google News aggregator

  • Kirk Wattles

    Brandon writes that the “CPT … would have more credibility in the west if they would criticize the actions of the kidnappers as clearly as they have criticized the actions of the Coalition.”

    True enough. If you consider the present moment, however, you might realize why they’re not heaping up criticism on the kidnappers.

    If you read between the lines, even in the current situation, you can see that they’re not so one-dimensional. For instance the blog-post by Gene Stoltzfus, which looks at both sides. You just have to read a little more carefully to see what he thinks of the terrorists on the opposite side from “ours.”

  • Simon Barrow

    I agree that coverage in the mainstream secular and church media has been slight, but there is a growing interest in Anabaptist and peace-theology related ideas. Here at Ekklesia we (a couple of Anglicans, as it happens) run an ecumenical think tank and news service strongly associated with that tradition – and partnered to CPT in the UK. And we get a significant amount of traffic. More page views than the Church of England of late, according to Alexa. Naturally we’ve been giving substantial coverage to CPT in Iraq. Of course, the issue of how to get the media (and the churches) to consider Christian faith from a post-Christendom perspective is a demanding one. But it’s beginning to happen.

  • Brad

    Brandon, I agree that we (and CPT) shouldn’t let the terrorists off the hook. I just think bothering to tell them (or ask them) to stop what they’re doing would be a severe act of futility and CPT probably knows that. It would be a great idea, should it ever work(!), but not one that would be at all effective, given the nature of the terrorists. It’s like the EU telling Iran to quit its nuclear program…what’s the likelihood Ahmadinejad will stop and say “ya know, I didn’t realize you felt that way. Let me just reverse course and dismantle my nuclear program.” ? :) (for a scary look at Ahmadinejad and Iran’s program in the W. Post, by Charles Krauthammer, go here:

    Simon, I’ve seen Ekklesia before, very good site (especially for those of us in the US – from a news perspective it serves as a supplement to Christianity Today’s Weblog here in the US).


  • Dan Berger

    I recently read the book *When Jesus Became God*, about the Arian “heresy,” which points out that prior to the 4th century AD, the idea that Jesus *was* God would have been the heresy, except that there really wasn’t any way to enforce that view. My church history is a little hazy, but I do see a connection between so-called “heresy” and violence-backed powers of enforcement.

    Kirk, I don’t think we should have this discussion here since it’s way off-topic, but I couldn’t find an E-mail at your blog site.

    If you want to pursue this feel free to contact me (my e-mail can be found on my home page). My comment: while I will certainly defer to you on Friendly history, if you are taking the claim I cited above seriously you know little about the early Christian Church.

    All you have to do to refute the claim that “prior to the 4th century AD, the idea that Jesus *was* God would have been the heresy” is to read the New Testament. Not even the Church Fathers. Just the New Testament. I’ve been teaching a class on this in my parish the past couple of weeks…

    But again, please don’t reply to me here. If you want to continue the discussion, let’s take it offline.

  • Brandon


    I agree it would be almost certainly futile (and agree equally that it would be wonderful if it worked). But I think it’s important to remember that there is more than one audience out there, listening. CPT seems to be directing all of its efforts at reaching only one of those audiences — the kidnappers and their sympathizers.

    The cost of this is that now, when CPT is actually getting some ink in the western press, CPT is coming across to a lot of people as being pro-terrorist and anti-Coalition, rather than being true peacemakers.

    There’s an additional, spiritual harm, too, I think: by refraining from criticism of an act of violence, CPT is essentially betraying its own values. The peace churches have a long tradition of “speaking truth to power”; George Fox and others were persecuted and accepted prison (and worse) as a consequence of firmly stating their views. I don’t understand why CPT appears to be shying away from that standard.

  • Brad


    Yes, I was giving more my expectation of their reasoning, rather than arguing it’s best not to criticize terrorists. :)

    It’s interesting that in the Bible and early church, there was rarely any argument to Rome, directly against Rome. It was always to those who were already the believers. Maybe this is meant to be on that model.

    The obvious problem with that, of course, is that the writing is on a very public website, not in a letter or other writing directly to those in the US they’d like to persuade.


  • NBR

    Scott Appleby’s The Ambivalence of the Sacred has an excellent discussion of the history and activities of the CPT. Appleby’s assessment is that by and large they have been a highly effective and generally nonpartisan force for peace. Appleby, who heads the Kroc Center at Notre Dame (or at least he did until recently) is arguably the leading expert in the area of contemporary religious violence and religious peacebuilding efforts. It’s a real shame to treat the CPT so superficially as to dismiss them for not giving equal time to criticizing apparently lunatic terrorists as they do to criticizing, and attempting to influence, the activities of their own elected representatives. They have never been particularly interested in the mainstream press or in P.R., and I believe they are concentrating their efforts where it seems they will do the most good.