a girl in my YRUU group asked. We were making brownies for a bake sale and the subject of the discussion was UUs in the military.
"Well," I said, bearing in mind that this girl goes to a quaker school, "A UU in the military could probably give you a more reasonable answer than I can, and I am trying to arrange it so one can come here and talk to the group. But as far as I know, most people are OK with the police having to kill people every now and again when those people are trying to kill them or trying to hurt somebody else. At this point, our soldiers in Iraq aren't fighting another army, they are trying to keep order and trying to keep Iraq from breaking out into a civil war. I really don't think they are killing anybody they don't strictly feel they have to. As far as I can tell, at this point they are more or less the cops. Like the cops, sometimes they don't behave as they should, but I don't doubt that any UUs over there are doing the best they can to be just and reasonable in a difficult situation."
My little soliloquy wasn't enough of an explanation, I know, but it seemed to satisfy her for the moment and the conversation moved on to other things, most notably the similarity between Quaker values and UU values. (Swoon! Why can't teaching RE ALWAYS be like that??)
I've been thinking a lot about the UUs and violence issue. There is a part of my brain that cries out for structure, and that part loves the idea of being able to say that violence is against my religion.
But in the end, I can't believe it.
TheCSO and I have had a lot of talks about the Christian Peacemaker Teams recently. He has strong objections to them, likening them to skiers who knowingly go onto a dangerous mountain then endanger rescuers when the inevitable avalanche occurs. Admittedly, the CPT was less than gracious upon being rescued, putting out a press release describing their members in glowing terms and not bothering to mention the soldiers who had rescued them. (Note that the press release says the prisoners were "released" Yeah, they were "released" when a bunch of British, American and Iraqi soldiers showed up on the doorstep of the place where they were being held. I think most of us would say they were "rescued" and I do agree with the CPT's critics that the CPT was quite uncharitable there.) After much, much negative media reaction, they did issue a statement thanking the soldiers.
What makes the issue even muddier is that these folks were only released when an insurgent who was being interrogated by the Americans gave up the address of the place where they were being held. And I think we all know what "interrogated by the Americans" means these days.
To have been saved by violence, or at least soldiers, puts these advocates of nonviolence in an almost impossible Public Relations position. Given that they had specifically requested not to be rescued, I'm not sure any statement could have remained true to their principles yet had the proper tone.
((FWIW, here's an interesting (and far more sympathetic) essay on the CPT folks from Canada. ))
I've been giving a lot of thought to the proposed study action issue.
I'm torn, and not the least by the fact that all that's being debated right now is whether we should study and discuss the thing. I'm usually a great fan of studying and discussing things, at least in the beginning. In junior high school, I played Stephen Hopkins in 1776 and greatly relished being able to say "Well, in all my years I ain't never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about. Hell yeah! I'm for debating anything. Rhode Island says yea!" every night.
My observation is that the UUA only puts out two kinds of statements, vague and intolerable. The proposed study action issue is of the first sort, asking the reader to examine the issue of violence from many perspectives*. It includes mildly annoying political ideas about identifying the forms of intervention we will support that if accepted I am certian will result in many long-winded, statements about what President Whoever believes on behalf of all the member congregations, as well as hasty assurances that we will listen to all points of view and more philosophical questions like "What are the hallmarks of peaceful cultures?" and "What role do human physiology and psychology play in the perpetuation of violence?"
But I'm pretty certian the meat of the question is "Should we become a peace church?," or as the tentative study action issue puts it, "Should we, the Unitarian Universalist Association and member congregations, reject violence in any form?"
I really think we overstate our case when we talk about becoming a peace church. Quite arguably, this war was unjust. But just wars do happen, and I don't think we should shrink from fighting them. The study action issue states "Our principles are models for peacemaking yet we act as if violence is more effective than nonviolence in certain situations." I don't see the contradiction in that. Maslow's statement that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail seems relevant here. If violence is our hammer, not every problem can be most effectively solved by violence, but some problems are nails. Sometimes, something is threatened that it is worth using violence to defend.
Besides, that "violence cannot solve problems" is a belief, and last I checked we weren't supposed to be in the business of telling our members what to believe. That's one reason why I so disliked the "tell the YRUUers how to come off as consciencious objectors" portion of the anti-recruitment YRUU class I attended. I love those guys and would be devestated if any of them died in a war, but "here's how to appear to be a consciencious objector so you can get out of getting drafted" is not the same lesson as asking them whether they have a fundamental objection to war in the first place.
I am especially suspicious of the statement that we will "Honor and support the challenges of military and law enforcement personnel and their families." I don't think I have to remind regular readers that we aren't doing so hot at that right now, and I assume things would only get worse as we got on a peace crusade. Conformity on this issue is leading to enough unpleasantness for military and veteran UUs already. As a peace church we would face many of the same problems the Christian Peacemakers are facing in trying to resolve these contradictions, except that our problems would be within our own churches as police officers and members of the armed forces found that their careers were now against their religion because a vote of GA said so.
We aren't the Quakers, the Witnesses or the Mennonites. This isn't our tradition. It could be our new tradition, but I worry that it wouldn't reflect who we are, but what we're fearing right now.
Pacifists will say that if every church were a peace church "The baptized Catholic leader of Nazi Germany, Adolph Hitler, would have been raised within a progressive peace church by a strong pacifist Catholic mother who would have nurtured and loved and protected little Adolph from the cruelty of his father and the cruelty of his society." That particular pacifist goes on to say that if only the churches were pacifist, the (as far as I know non-religious) Columbine shooters would have been well-adjusted, too.
This is an extreme, but I don't think completely unrealistic example of the sort of thinking that worries me. One who assumes that if US troops left Iraq today, then tomorrow the Iraqis would govern themselves in peaceful anarchy and everything in the region would be much improved without the police-type protection the troops are providing is also among the sweetly delusional.
Katy-the-Wise once preached that sentimentality was one of the seven deadly sins, defining it as "overvaluing something for reasons not of fact but of desire." She provided the quite UU-palatable example of parental notification laws for abortions. These laws are written with the idea that every set of parents will be warm and wise and understanding with only the good of their children at heart. The reality that some pregnant girls fear getting beaten or thrown out of the house is ignored for not fitting into the view of reality that the conservatives who write these laws have chosen.
It seems apposite to me to categorize our desire to be a peace church, along with my desire to have violence be against my religion, as falling within the sin of sentimentality.
* Though if we do accept it, one of the first suggested actions is "Advocate for peacemaking initiatives at all levels of government." That's what UUism needs. More lobbying. Because what we're doing has been such a terribly effective use of our time.