A Reflection on the World Situation

Prepared by the Scottish Episcopal Church Doctrine Committee at the request of the Primus

The New Year commenced, as it does each year, with the World Day of Peace which we could not remember this year without recalling the awful events of September 11th and their aftermath in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

As many innocents are now dead in Afghanistan as died in New York, Washington and Philadelphia on that fateful day, and our hearts long for a more peaceful world in which both terrorism, and the war against it, will be over. But sadly, as we write, bombs continue to maim and kill in Afghanistan, both bombs from the air and unexploded cluster bombs on the ground, and the threat of military action is mooted against other impoverished nations in the South which are identified as possible havens for terrorists.

The terrorist actions of September 11th clearly require a proper response from the United States and her allies and we strongly support legal actions by legitimate authority to close down financial and other sources of support for terrorist organisations such as al Qaida. We also believe it is right that international policing action, preferably under the auspices of the United Nations, is sustained to bring bin Laden and other organisers of the September 11th attacks to justice in the courts of the United States where these acts were committed. We seriously doubt however that continuing military campaigns, or economic sanctions, against impoverished nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq and others will assist in this legitimate quest to bring these wicked men to justice.

As Christians we know that God's sacrifice of God's self in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the divine response to all human hatred and wickedness. This does not remove responsibility from the church, or from civil authorities, for legitimate punishment of human wickedness. It does though show us that God's design for peace and goodwill towards all peoples which was announced by the angels to the shepherds at Christ's birth sees peace as arising from justice, and justice from reconciliation and forgiveness. If American military actions to bring terrorists to justice are not to be interpreted merely as revenge then America and its allies must find ways not only to punish bin Laden and his associates in a court of law, but also to redress grievances which Muslims and others in the Middle East have concerning American foreign policy in the region. The actions of September 11th have since been linked by the terrorists themselves, as well as by other observers, to the maintenance of US military bases in the Muslim Holy Land of Saudi Arabia, to US support for Arab governments who suppress the freedoms of their own peoples, and to US support for the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by the state of Israel. Both of the United States' current foes Sadam Hussein and Ossama bin Laden were formerly covertly financed and given military assistance by one or other arm of the United States foreign policy machine. No array of space-based missile defence systems can protect America from the consequences of its long-standing presumption that the enemy of America's enemy is America's friend, and that only military might, and the threat of it, can defend the American way of life from America's enemies.

We find in our sacred scriptures that true peace and security do not come through covert or overt military actions, or ungodly alliances with dictators or terrorists, but through sacrificial and costly acts of reconciliation and repentance which lead to forgiveness among enemies. The terrible events of September 11th are a tragic confirmation of the age-old scriptural truths that violence begets violence and that those who live by the sword will ultimately die by it. If the distrust of so many of the world's marginalized peoples at the world's only remaining superpower is to be allayed then efforts must be put in train to begin to redress the power imbalances, and imbalances in access to resources, between rich and poor nations, between Christian nations and Muslim nations, and between Israelis and Palestinians. We are heartened that the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Chancellor Gordon Brown have suggested moves towards a new international economic order in which urgent efforts are made by the rich nations to overcome poverty, illiteracy and powerlessness amongst the poor. Only through such means can hatred and mistrust between rich and poor nations be addressed. But we are also mindful of the pleas of Arab Christians and Muslims for a just peace in Palestine, and note the current and dreadful imbalance of wealth and military might between Israel and Palestine. To give just one example, 5,000 illegal settlers in Palestinian lands have control of four-fifths of all available water in the occupied territories, leaving one fifth of water resources for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. We believe that only when these injustices are resolved, and when Israel ceases its illegal occupation and settlement of Palestinian lands, can true peace be found in the Middle East.

In his farewell speech to his disciples Jesus invited them to lay down their lives for one another, as he did for them as he approached his own trial and death. It is hard for us in a consumer society, with unequal access to so many of the world's resources, to conceive of a situation in which it would be necessary for someone to lay down their life for another. But the world's marginalized and impoverished peoples live much closer to death. They also have much less to lose when they join in violent struggle with their perceived oppressors. Jesus died in order to free us from the threat of death. His death was the supreme display of divine forgiveness. And when we rightly remember his sacrifice, we find the grace not only to trust in this forgiveness, but also to forgive our enemies and pray for those who hate us. As Christians we are called above all to live as though we are forgiven people. Just as there can be no peace without justice, so there can be no right justice, no right punishment, which is not directed toward the ultimate end of forgiveness. And so let it be our prayer every day of this year that we may both know in our hearts that we are forgiven our transgressions, and that this plea for knowledge of forgiveness may even be uttered by those wicked men who brought us into these troubled times.

Received February, 2002

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