A few days ago, six Afghan children were killed by a NATO missile that missed its target– or did it? Actually, the official NATO command response to the “unfortunate” incident was not that the missile had missed its target, but that the children were essentially collateral damage in an insurgent operation.
According to the local Afghan governor’s office, a NATO aircraft was hunting down Taliban insurgents who were reportedly planting roadside bombs. Two of them were killed, but the other three escaped and hid themselves in civilian homes. That’s when the missiles hit, killing six children (ages 4 to 12) belonging to two families. Afghans on the ground, however, tell a different story: the two families were working with their children in the fields, they said, when they were attacked from the air without provocation. They saw no evidence of any insurgent activity in the area.
Who is telling the truth? Does it matter? Six more children have been blown apart as a result of either a bungled operation, or, far worse, an air-strike policy that has been consistently callous, even wanton, when it comes to civilian casualties. I suppose our government expects us to say, in utilitarian fashion, “Well, war is dirty. At least a couple of the bad guys were killed. That’s worth the dismemberment of six kids.”
A Christian friend recently said to me that “good people” can find themselves on opposite sides when it comes to these issues. Really? Take slavery, for example. There were so-called “good folks” on both sides of that one, weren’t there? Or how about civil rights? I recall, growing up in the 1960s, my parents complaining when their pastor took time off to attend a civil rights march in Alabama. They did not think it was the church’s place to get involved in such issues.
Let’s be honest and say that all of us live, to some extent, in ignorance. Ignorance does not exonerate us from responsibility, but it is a human frailty that we all can plead guilty to. Maybe we grow up in a slave-owning society, or in a racist culture that denies basic human rights to certain individuals based on the color of their skin. It’s like living in a house with a dog. You don’t notice the smell. But when people begin to point out the stink, you have two choices: to acknowledge it, or to deny it. At that point, you are making a conscious moral decision; you take sides.
The time is now overdue for those who claim to follow Christ to take sides on many issues, from the wars in the Middle East and the so-called War against Terror, to issues closer to home, such as government corruption, unbridled corporate greed, and the economic injustice that is eating away at the foundations of our society. It is time for Christians to make their voices heard. It is time for us to occupy.
How can we claim to be disciples of the Prince of peace and yet condone the kind of senseless carnage that is happening in our name? How can we read our scriptures and gloss over God’s call for us to be advocates for the poor, to raise our voices on behalf of the oppressed, and to work for a more just society.
The Occupy movement has shown the world what kind of society we can be. No, I’m not talking about the media stereotype of the typical occupier. What you may not see in the media is that many of these occupiers have constructed alternative communities that are working, where everyone has enough food, where the homeless and sick are cared for. Some of these encampments are even sustaining themselves using alternative forms of energy. “That’s socialism,” you cry? Is it? Is caring for the poor, the sick, and our creation just an -ism? Are these not biblical mandates?
By saying it is time for us to “occupy,” I am not advocating that all of us leave our jobs and camp in some public square. But each of us needs to find a way to take a stand and contribute. C’mon folks, it’s time. We can speak out, write or call an elected official, support our local occupiers with food, supplies and encouragement, participate in a protest, pray on our knees for change, teach our children about injustice.
The clock is ticking. Peace and justice are on the march across the globe. Whether they succeed or not in the short term may largely depend on what the people of God do, or do not do. Our voices are needed. So are our bodies. We have a strong biblical mandate to pursue both justice and non-violence. Our participation may just make the difference between a bloody revolution or a peaceful one.
But one thing is certain: that decision will determine where we stand, whether we are truly followers of the King of heaven, or just groupies.