Christ is in captivity this holiday season, for as Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." But neglected are the peacemakers, even in their moment of anguish, for theirs are not the highest ratings. They're dismissed by most of those who call themselves Christians and overlooked by the media, who even now are giving them a fraction of the coverage they give those missing white women. The Left has rightfully taken back the flag and patriotism from the Right -- shouldn't it do the same for faith?
No wonder Christianity has a bad rap on the Left. To the media, Christians are those right-wing extremists who are trying to hijack our government. There are plenty of those, but what about the ones I've called "American's Secret Christians," who speak out and fight for progressive and enlightened causes?
They don't get the coverage that believers on the extreme right get. The National Council of Churches got almost no publicity when it condemned the invasion of Iraq in forceful terms, even though it represents tens of millions of Christians in denominations that include George W. Bush's and Bill Frist's.
Now American Christians walking in the footsteps of Gandhi and King are prisoners in Iraq. They are committed to peace, and forceful in their opposition to this war and all wars. That's a position that makes many people, including most Democrats, uncomfortable. But it's certainly doesn't fit the media stereotype of an activist Christian, does it?
These guys aren't wimps, either. It takes a brave soul to walk unprotected among Iraqis. Our military doesn't do it, our journalists don't do it - and our leaders certainly don't do it. And while these Christians stand up for the rights of ordinary Iraqis, they're not apologists. As Tom Fox, one of the four captives, said: "“I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the soldier." (That quote, excerpted by the Washington Post, is from Tom's blog, Waiting in the Light.)
No, Christians aren't all cowards and bullies like Robertson and Falwell, or cranks like Randall Terry. Many are brave, and more than a few are squarely on the left. Some, like Alabama civil rights pioneer Rev. Claude Williams, even joined forces with the most radical leftist groups - when only those groups were publicly speaking out against racism. In the 1930's, a time when socializing between the races could result in violent murder, Rev. Williams refused to close his blinds at night when entertaining his black and white friends. "Let the passing heathen see how the followers of the Son of Man behave," he would thunder.
Tom Fox is willing to die for his beliefs. Writes the Post:
Don't pay ransom for his return, he wrote in an October 2004 e-mail, and reject the use of violence in trying to win his freedom. Don't 'vilify' the abductors, he said, but instead 'try to understand the motives of their actions.'
In some quarters, "trying to understand the motives of their actions" is tantamount to treason. Do they have Tom Fox's courage, or his conviction?
Fox's pacifism is muscular, not faint. As he writes in his blog:
It seems as if there is a tendency to see war as a very active force and peace as a very passive one. We refer to peace in the negative - nonviolence or non-aggression. As if peace is a vacuum created when the force of war is absent … Is it possible that (the force of war) is in reality a negative, mirror image of the force of peace?
"He's a Christian, but it's an inclusive kind of Christianity," said a friend. Fox's daily rituals included Buddhist meditation, and he's a devoted follower of Gandhi. He sees the three monotheistic religions not as enemies, but as brothers and sisters. Fox writes of a visit to the Dome of the Rock:
As I walked the plaza it was if I was walking into the epicenter of three faiths. Before me was the Dome of the Rock where I felt the children of Ishmael looking for solace as they mourned the loss of their homeland. To my right I felt the energy of the Wailing Wall as the children of Isaac mourned the passing of their Temple. To my left I felt the pain of the Via Dolorosa as the other children of Isaac mourned the suffering of Jesus on his final journey in this world.
“Whose city is it?” adds Tom. “It’s God’s city, and not the sole possession of any of God’s children. It belongs to all and it needs to be open to all.” He reflected on the human tendency to combat in an essay called "Fight or Flight": "When I allow myself to become angry, I disconnect from God and connect with the evil force that empowers fighting. When I allow myself to become fearful, I disconnect from God and connect with the evil force that encourages flight."
Tom Fox reflected on a Quaker writer:
"One passage jumped out at me when he said, “ Those who love their country in the light of their love of God, express that love of country by endeavoring to make it respected rather than feared, loved rather than hated. But those who love only their country express that love by trying to make it feared and succeed all too often in making it hated.”
These are words Bush and the other self-professing Christians on the Right should consider, but never will. And it raises the question each of them should be asked: "Do you love your country - thT right-wing, jingoistic vision you see as 'your country' - more than you love God?"
For twenty years Tom Fox was a musician - ironically, in the Marine Corps Band. He was doing what he loved, which few are able to do in this economy, and abandoned it to follow his conscience. While I don't believe everything Tom and his colleagues believe about God, or about pacifism, they're true heroes to me. I admire their model of spirituality, sacrifice, and courage more than words can say.
Some on the Left would close the door to religion. That would have deprived the world of Gandhi, of Martin Luther King, of Malcolm X. Why turn an ally away from the door, even if he looks like a stranger? "Too many are willing to die for war and too few are willing to die for peace," said Tom Fox. He's willing, because his faith calls him. But if you're the praying kind, pray for Tom and his companions. If not, a kind thought will do, because heroes are rare these days. Let's hope that Christians don't have a new sacrifice to contemplate this December 25th.