Daniel Buttry: Remembering our call in ‘Safeguarding the Stranger’

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Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Book Review by DANIEL BUTTRY

I was raised on the heroic stories of Christians in Europe who hid Jews from the Nazis. Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, first the book and then the movie, were big hits in my circles, relating how her family hid Jews in their home until the whole Ten Boom family was sent to concentration camps. Only Corrie survived their risky acts of hospitality. But time goes by and in recent conversations with some Christian young adults I found they didn’t know who Corrie Ten Boom was.

We need to revive her story and countless other stories of people who have provided protective hospitality in times of danger (many of these stories are told in my Interfaith Heroes books).

Our news has been full of stories of Syrian refugees, immigrants from Africa braving the Mediterranean’s waters, unaccompanied children from Central America sent north to avoid conscription into gangs, and the political railing against immigrants. Do we let political figures determine the agenda, or is there a transforming ethical word that comes from the faith community?

Jayme Reaves provides such a word in her recently published Safeguarding the Stranger: An Abrahamic Theology and Ethic of Protective Hospitality (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016). I met Jayme when I was teaching at a seminary in Croatia. She guided me around the region, showing me the devastation of Vukovar but also the efforts of healing and reconciliation. Then she moved to Northern Ireland where she worked in various reconciliation efforts. She earned her Ph.D. in Theology from Trinity College at the University of Dublin.

Jayme Reaves is what I call an academic/activist, a special breed of folks who can handle the highest intellectual pursuits but are driven to continually engage in real-world struggles and concerns. Reaves addresses this directly in her book as she writes about grounding all the discussion of hospitality in praxis. So she starts with the stories of hospitality for the at-risk “other,” specifically the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon protecting Jews during World War II and the Sanctuary Movement in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s when the wars in Central America sparked a movement of refugees seeking a safe haven from the violence and human rights abuses they were facing. At the end of the book Reaves returns to the practical challenges of protective hospitality, drawing upon her own direct experiences especially in Croatia and Bosnia.

Reaves surveys and interacts with the limited literature that addresses hospitality. She grapples with the issues of boundaries, hospitality as resistance, risk—both from the guest and from those seeking to harm the guest, and the “dangerous memories” that inspire and compel the risky action of protective hospitality.

The richest gift from this book for me was her deep exploration of the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She explores their commonalities related to hospitality, but also the unique perspectives that each religion brings that can shine light on the limitations of the others and spark growth in the practice of hospitality through interfaith dialog. For example, the rootedness of hospitality in Islam in the concept of justice pushes Christians to think more deeply than just compassion to some of the structural dynamics that threaten the “other.”

Safeguarding the Stranger has grown out of her academic work, and the book reads like a thesis. That is excellent for those who want deep intellectual engagement. She has copious footnotes and bibliography materials. As she notes, there is a paucity of material related to the practice and ethics of hospitality in general let alone protective hospitality. Reaves has filled an important space in this discussion, and done it not as a mere intellectual exercise but as a profound ethical challenge at this historic moment.

However, reading her book left me hungry for more, specifically a popular version of this discussion. With refugees and immigrants filling the news as well as the shrill voices of fear and inhospitableness, we need to increase the voices of the counter-narratives and ethical challenges for hospitable responses. I look forward to Reaves’ activist side to distill another book for the average folks in churches and communities facing decisions of what to do. I hope she keeps the rich interfaith dimension of her current work as I think that is a key to finding a way to transformation in the present crises. Keep writing, Jayme, as you have so much more to share for a time like this!

Care to read more?

Visit Daniel Buttry’s author page.

Next on the Vatican’s agenda? Rethinking “Just War” …

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VIEW FROM THE VATICAN.

HEADLINES around the world are reporting on Pope Francis’s call for Catholic leaders to rethink the way they try to explain and enforce the church’s teaching on relationships and families. This week, April 11-13, 2016, the Vatican is hosing a worldwide summit of theologians on “Just War Theory,” the church’s traditional set of rules for morally justifying conflict. The gathering is hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the global Catholic peace network Pax Christi International. Reporting by the National Catholic Reporter in the U.S. characterizes this event as “phenomenally important.”

It seems that way, as well, to the editors of ReadTheSpirit magazine. We invited Daniel Buttry, a veteran peace trainer on several continents and the author of books about famous peacemakers, to write about the significance of this event.

RETHINKING
‘JUST WAR’

By DANIEL BUTTRY

Amid much ground-breaking news from Pope Francis and the Vatican last week there is another vitally important story involving Christian ethics and tradition. This week, the Vatican is hosting a conference to re-examine the Church’s teachings about war, commonly known as “just war theory.” The conference may even come out with recommendations for revising the Catholic teaching related to violence and prompt a papal encyclical to address these concerns.

I wasn’t invited to attend the conference, but I certainly will be in prayer for these discussions.

I grew up in a Protestant military family—my father was a U.S. Air Force Chaplain. While in ROTC in college I was challenged by a female student in a Bible study group about my views about war. She asked, “What did Jesus say?”

As I poured through the gospels in my dorm room I became a conscientious objector. Later I began to understood more about the injustices in the world and realized that pacifism as passivity was not helpful. Instead peacemaking needed to be a positive engagement in the struggles of the world to deal with the problems and issues of injustice at the root of conflicts. Eventually I became a full-time peacemaker, but that story is told in full in Peace Warrior: A Memoir from the Front.

For the first three centuries of Christianity the primary stance of Christians was pacifism, based on teachings of Jesus about loving one’s enemies—that those who live by the sword will die by the sword, and his example of dying on the cross out of love. As Tertullian wrote in the late Second Century, “When Christ disarmed Peter he disarmed every soldier.”

Then the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, changing everything for the once marginalized and persecuted Church. Now the Church was tied to power and the greatest army in the world.

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AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO

Augustine, a bishop from North Africa, developed just war theory as a way for Christians to bring an ethical reasoning to questions of war by examining issues of limiting the violence and assuring that the authority calling for violence is legitimate. Augustine’s criteria for certifying that participation in war was ethically acceptable were refined by various thinkers over the centuries, including most notably Thomas Aquinas, the 12th Century theologian whose teachings have been pillars in Catholic theology. Basically the just war theory has been usually boiled down to these criteria: Just cause, comparative justice (for what is gained or protected by the cost of the war), legitimate authority, right intention, just means, probability of success, proportionality, and last resort.

2 PROBLEMS and 1 IDEA

Two major problems and one relatively new ethical idea have spurred the call for the teaching of just war theory to be reconsidered. One problem is that with current conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction the criteria about means and proportionality have become antiquated. The staggering human suffering we’ve seen in contemporary wars, in which civilians usually account for about 90% of casualties, makes a mockery of most of the refined ethical discussions.

Furthermore, every war is justified and claimed as “just” by those who engage in it. In practice just war theory has not served to restrict warfare so much as to give shape to the self-justifications employed by political and religious leaders.

Then, toward the end of the 20th Century a number of discussions as well as the development of nonviolent movements began to coalesce into what many thinkers now call “Just Peace.”

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GLEN STASSEN

“Just War” focuses on the negative, letting war stand as the assumption and looking at how to legitimize the violence or minimize the damage. “Just Peace” focuses on the positive, on how peace can actually be built among the political, economic, and social realities of our world today. “Just Peace” leads us to a positive ethic, one in which both pacifists and just war theorists can find common ground as well as a substantive agenda for action.

Glen Stassen, the late Christian social ethics professor at Fuller Seminary in California, was one of the key shapers of Just Peace thinking. His book Just Peacemaking: Transforming initiatives for Justice and Peace introduced the concept. Then Stassen worked with 23 ethicists and scholars to identify 10 specific practices that are being undertaken in our world today that actually prevent, end, or limit war. He edited another book by the same lead title to examine these practices: Just Peacemaking: A New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War.

10 Practices for Just Peacemaking

Contrasted to the criteria for just war theory, these are the practices of just peacemaking:

  1. Support nonviolent direct action.
  2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat.
  3. Use cooperative conflict resolution.
  4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and justice and seek repentance and forgiveness.
  5. Advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty.
  6. Foster just and sustainable economic development.
  7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system.
  8. Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights.
  9. Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.
  10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.

After Stassen published the first collaborative effort on Just Peacemaking, he coordinated an interfaith effort with scholars and ethicists of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths. These practices have the proven track record of actual events and projects that have made a positive impact in actual conflict situations, whereas just war theory has remained an academic idealistic exercise.

Now is a propitious time for a re-evaluation of the ethical mainstream view about war, not just within the Catholic Church but in many parts of the human community.

Albert Einstein once said, “With the splitting of the atom everything has changed except our way of thinking.” Maybe now we are seeing our ethical way of thinking catch up to our technological capacity at war-making.

Daniel L. Buttry is the Global Consultant for Peace and Justice for International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches. He is an author of 9 books including Blessed Are the Peacemakers and We Are The Socks by Read The Spirit, which includes discussion of Glen Stassen’s just peacemaking practices.

Daniel Buttry explains the story behind ‘We Are the Socks’

FIRST, you may want to check out our ReadTheSpirit Cover Story about the release of Daniel Buttry’s newest book We Are the Socks. That Cover Story includes an interview with Dan and perspectives from a couple of other global peacemakers on the importance of this book.

AND, you’ll also enjoy this 8-minute YouTube video in which Dan tells the story behind his new title: We Are the Socks. If you care to use this video in your small group—or to repost it in your website or newsletter, here’s the direct link to the YouTube page.