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  • Lorin Peters

Shanti Sena Stories: Should CPT Include Muslims?

2009 August 24

Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine have been approached by more than one Palestinian Muslim who has watched our work and is seriously interested in joining us, including our informal worship and prayer every morning. We are now engaged in a serious debate. Should CPT include Muslims?

I will begin with a long excerpt of a very thoughtful and helpful reflection by Kathleen Kern on this question. (Kathleen has been with CPT since it began in 1995, and has served as our chief editor for many years.) Then I will offer my own thoughts in a brief, perhaps understated, reflection.

Kathleen writes: "I've been trying to clarify what my dis-ease is with the conversation about having Muslims on the team, and have come to the conclusion it really doesn't have much to do with Muslims on the team. It has to do with past experiences. “I am a Christian who believes that Jesus actually rose from the dead, thus subverting the ultimate punishment of the Domination System (aka Satan, etc.) I made a decision to follow Jesus even if it results in pain, alienation or death. “I really admired the work of Peace Brigades [International], whom I first encountered in Haiti, and I remember feeling rueful that they were so much more disciplined than we--the first CPTers out of the first training in 1993--were. I even entertained the idea of leaving CPT and joining Peace Brigades instead. But one of the things that kept me in CPT was the fact that I was part of a worshipping community, both on team and with our wider church constituency, that was earnestly trying to live out the gospel and who used prayer to give us the strength for the work “Some of the most top-notch people I have ever worked with on team are secular. But here's the thing: in my experience, it has been much more common for people in CPT who are not that religiously grounded to scuttle the religious life of the team than it has been for religiously-grounded people to impose their spirituality on more secular team-mates.

“I think those of us who have sought deeply a relationship with Jesus are horrified by any thought of religious coercion. I think there is some small part of us that wants to be in CPT in order to make amends for millennia of Christian empire building, crusades, inquisitions and genocide. And I know in myself I am reacting against a church upbringing that dictated getting people to say the magical incantation-"I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior"--was the sum total of what it meant to be a Christian. “So what has happened in the past is that prayer and worship time get dropped, when key members of the team are not religious, and speaking personally, I had to enter the work from a less-centered place. “The best non-religious people I've worked with were respectful of the spiritual needs of the team, and even enjoyed the worship times to the extent that it helped them get to know their teammates better. But I have also worked with people who undercut and ridiculed the spiritual life of the team or even my personal spiritual life, and that led to an ugly experience... “I want to be able to expect when I work in Palestine that prayer, worship and Bible study are tools the teams I work on will use to resist the Powers (That Be, the domination system, the brokenness of the world). I want my religious convictions to be respected by my teammates, including those who do not share them, the way I respect the convictions of Muslims and Jews who draw on their faith to resist the occupation. “When I was reading about Gandhi, I was very enamoured of the way that Muslims and Hindus, before big campaigns against the British, had long periods of prayer. I've always wondered what Palestine/Israel negotiations would look like if the Muslims, Christians and Jews involved spent an hour in prayer or worship... before the nitty gritty negotiating started...

“I think it's possible for a team to have Muslim members, and still have deep Christian worship experiences. We had a Muslim ISMer on the team for a few weeks in 2001, who respected our faith and encouraged us to do what we needed to do spiritually during the time when cities were being bombed, people were getting slaughtered in refugee camps, and settlers were attacking our neighbors and us almost every day. Our Christian expressions of faith were closer to what he was feeling than the secular milieu of ISM. “Whether we have Muslims on the team or not is not as important to me as whether CPT is going to become less Christian. I know that I get annoyed with assimilated Mennonites trying to make the Mennonite Church more like the evangelical mainstream... I think, why can't they let those of us who are pacifists, who are seeking to follow the original tenets of Anabaptism, do so in peace?... Why can't there be an organization for religious Christians who follow Jesus by advocating for and supporting those children of God (of many or no faiths) who are claiming their human rights?" (end of Kathleen’s excerpt)

Kathleen, I have thought about your reflection for several days. It is well thought out and well written. I have come to agree with essentially all your comments, at least as I understand them. I agree that the issue is whether CPT is becoming less 'Christian' (ie, following Jesus less), not whether we have Muslims on team or not. I agree that, all other things being equal, a religious or spiritual practice makes peacemakers better able to return love for hatred.

Why not an organization for spiritually-practicing people of all faiths working together for peace and justice, for the kindom of heaven on earth? As far as I understand Gandhi, working separately, and worshipping separately, was not an option, probably because factionalism, ie, religious division, was the biggest problem of all in India. He saw that Hindus and Muslims would continue fighting and killing each other until they learned to work together. Is religious division not still the biggest problem in Israel and Palestine? Is not the most damaging division in the US that between religious groups who believe violence can make the world better, and those who believe it can not?

PS This CPT discussion raises, at least for me, the larger question of how Christians and Muslims, given recent events and tensions and differences, should relate. Are Muslims welcome, as Muslims, to pray and worship God in our churches?

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