God's Politics

Rose Marie BergerThursday is “Fast for Darfur” day. Millions around the world will join the Save Darfur Coalition and Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) in a one-day fast to demonstrate the breadth of support for stopping genocide in Darfur.

This marks intensified efforts internationally to 1) encourage President Bush to offer his personal leadership in support of sending a UN peacekeeping force into Sudan, 2) pressure the government in Khartoum to accept UN peacekeepers, and 3) move the United Nations and governments worldwide to level economic sanctions against the Khartoum government.

For Christians—with a mandate to “love our neighbor as ourself” (Luke 10:27)—there is no question about stepping in to assist and accompany the victims in Darfur. More than 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced. Many of the aid agencies working on the ground in Sudan have their roots in this Christian mandate.

But what about the “responsibility to protect” (as it’s described in the parlance of international law)? When, if ever, is it appropriate for states to take military action against another state for the purpose of protecting people at risk in that other state? And by what values do Christians determine appropriate actions to support and protect those who are threatened and

The “responsibility to protect” (according to a recent report by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty) can be examined in three parts: prevention, reaction, and reconstruction.

Prevention of violence can include support from the international community through development assistance, support for local initiatives to advance good governance, human rights, mediation, and other efforts that open up space for dialogue and reconciliation through independent initiatives. Prevention of violence includes addressing the roots of a conflict, not just the symptoms. International support for prevention may also take the form of applying tough, targeted, and sometimes punitive, measures such as economic sanctions.

Reacting to a situation of deteriorating governance and increased violence is part of the “responsibility to protect” when a state, such as the government in Khartoum, is unable or unwilling to respond to situations of compelling human need—like widespread famine, genocide, or massive civilian displacement—and thus intervention measures by other members of the broader community of states may be required. These measures may include political, economic, or judicial measures, and in extreme cases—but only in extreme cases—they may also include military action.

If military intervention or strong economic sanctions are undertaken because the state is nonfunctioning or will not carry out its responsibility to protect or react, there must be a widespread commitment by the international community to help build a durable peace, promoting good governance, sustainable development, and restoration of dignity and livelihood for the victims.

For Christians, who are drawing on a tradition of violence prevention rooted in just war and pacifist theology, we can support and promote the actions that prevent violence and actions that rebuild and reconstruct the social order in the wake of violence.

However, we are required by faith to tread extremely cautiously in the area of reacting—especially militarily. While churches agree on the essential role of prevention with the aim of heading off a crisis before it becomes a large-scale conflict, they differ on the use of military force for human protection purposes.

When it comes to military intervention, we run up against another Christian mandate: “Love your enemy and bless those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This is accompanied by a large body of evidence indicating that adding violence to violence only leads to more violence and makes securing a long-term peace more difficult.

In the case of the U.S. waging a unilateral war on Iraq, many churches were clear in opposing the use of military force. It is an unjust war by all theological and ethical criteria. There was no legitimate humanitarian rationale for military action.

In the case of Darfur, churches are calling for more effective protection of vulnerable civilian populations—some support a strong U.N. peacekeeping force with a mandate to defend with violence if necessary.

While Christians should always preference nonviolent strategies over violence, when a nonviolent strategy is not available, we might support strategies that will produce measurable and immediate violence reduction, which then can create space for nonviolent initiatives.

These decisions are not easy. They are not one-size-fits-all. Every time a crisis on the scale of Darfur arises we must come together as a community of faith and wrestle together about what is right. We draw on the traditional formula for the formation of Christian conscience: Look to God and scripture, look to the traditions of the church, and look interiorally in prayerful reflection. From this process, take action. And ask for God’s mercy.

There are many ways for Christians to act on behalf of the people of Darfur. By some estimates, eighty percent of the children under five years old are suffering severe malnutrition and, because of the violence, aid agencies have access to only 20 percent of those in need. There is no room for inaction. The Sudan Catholic Bishops Conference calls for world-wide pressure on Khartoum to accept U.N. peacekeepers. The United States leads the U.N. Security Council and yet in November 2005 it passed the Sudan resolution which withdrew the threat of economic sanctions against Khartoum. Targeted sanctions against top Sudanese officials for violating peace efforts in Darfur must be reinstated—despite how they may affect international profits on arms dealing and oil revenues or whether it undermines the support for the U.S. war in Iraq.

As Christians, we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). We wrestle with moral conscience and right action on the one hand while our other hand holds tight to a sister in Darfur who has been raped repeatedly—first by the Janjaweed, then by civilians or militia as she tried to flee the country, then again in the refugee camp and in a prison in Chad. She screams at night in her sleep.

Rose Marie Berger, a Sojourners associate editor, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.

Visit: Prayers for Darfur

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