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Issue Date:  March 24, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

Taking the Gospel into the fray

In an eerie coincidence, the story of Christian Peacemaker Teams member Tom Fox reached my e-mail box the same time as a notice from a colleague that March 12 is the feast day of St. Maximillian, who was martyred in Theveste, in what is modern Algeria, for refusing to serve in the Roman army. According to popular versions of the saint’s life, he refused enlistment with the words, “I cannot serve. I cannot do evil. I am a Christian.”

The 21-year-old Maximillian was given the choice to enlist or be killed and chose the latter.

It would be easy to leave that story in the mists of history were it not for people like Tom Fox, who not only did not engage in the fighting, but actively engaged in peacemaking. His body was found in Baghdad March 10. (See story)

The martyrdom of Maximillian in 295 might be ascribed by those of us in a more sophisticated age to the fervors and lack of long perspective of early Christianity. After all, they had no idea that we would drag Christianity’s banner through bloody century after increasingly bloody century, convinced always that God was blessing the cause no matter the side on which Christians found themselves.

I am not an absolute pacifist. I don’t know that I could ever make that leap. I know I could not have argued against military intervention to stop the genocide in Rwanda, for instance, and I know I would not be able to convince myself that military intervention would not be in the best interest of the vulnerable being slaughtered in Darfur. Quite the contrary.

That said, I also believe deeply that those cases are extremes, ethically worlds different from the United States’ preemptive war-making in Iraq. And that’s where Fox (no relation to Tom Fox, the former editor and publisher of NCR) chose to place his life, right smack in the middle of the absolute insecurity, amid extreme and unpredictable violence, because, he wrote, “If Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life and, if I lose it, to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan. I struggle to stand firm but I’m willing to keep working at it.”

For all of the bluster and patriotic jingoism and God bless Americas and all the rest that has been uttered in defense of the bloodshed in Iraq, Fox’s words -- and read more of them on Page 9 -- are the most profoundly Christian I’ve heard from anyone, popes and bishops included.

There is a certain impracticality to him, as there was to Maximillian. Their response to violence just doesn’t match the markers with which a powerful culture measures the practical need to make war against others. They are way outside the mainstream. But are they way outside a proper reading of the Gospel?

Is it courage or insanity? Do they represent unreasonable extremism or the contradiction that all of us who claim to believe are called to become?

Who really is extreme? Those who would take their Gospel and their convictions into the fray to bring peace? Or those who would commission tens of thousands of our young men and women to commit mayhem in order to project U.S. power into the world and assure our continued access to the resources that feed, as even our president recently characterized it, our addiction to oil?

Through the complexity of each of the decisions Fox made, one thing, it seems, remained perfectly clear: He did what compassion of the highest sort demanded of him. And so he confronts each of us with our own beliefs, with the limits of our faith. That first Communion he was inspired to perform two nights before he was abducted rings with an authenticity that is almost chilling to contemplate.

Condolences can be sent to “Family of Tom Fox,” c/o Christian Peacemaker Teams, P.O. Box 6508, Chicago IL 60680-6508.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2006

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