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Colin Gibson:

Black Hawk Down


An address to acknowledge
the World Council of Churches
Decade to Overcome Violence


          Gentle God,  when we are driven
          past the limits of our love,
          when our hurt would have a weapon
          and the hawk destroy the dove,
          at the cost of seeming weak
          help us turn the other cheek.

          In the mirror of earth's madness
          let us see our ravaged face;
          in the turmoil of all people
          let compassion find a place.
          Touch our hearts to make amends,
          see our enemies as friends.

These verses from Shirley Murray's hymn sit well with the words of the prophet Micah:   "What does the Lord require of you,  but to do justice,  and to love kindness,  and to walk humbly with your God."

In fact,  it is easy for us to project ourselves as a peace-loving,  peace-making people,  worshipping and serving a God whose nature is love.   Naturally we are horrified by the violence and the hatred that is all too obvious in the world around us.   We take what modest actions we can,  and we certainly do a lot of praying to bring about peace.

Life in our own community seems to flow on quietly enough,  and there are always the police and the courts to deal with occasional outbreaks of injury and social disorder  —  a gang stand-off,  drunken behaviour at a cricket match,  domestic violence,  an outbreak of road rage,  the brutal invasion of an elderly person's home.   So far as we are concerned such things usually happen elsewhere,  and among other people than those in our circle of family and friends.

But it is not so for millions of people in the world,  and not all the three–minute film–clips on the television news will ever convey how truly awful it is to be in a community wracked by constant violence.      Listen.


Quetta is a city of one and a half million people.   I doubt if any of us could place it on a map.   Actually it's in Pakistan right on the border between that country and Afghanistan.   Today armed soldiers stand behind barricades of sandbags at the intersections of all the major streets.   Police patrols are everywhere,  stopping and checking members of the public.   In Quetta the government is putting on a show of strength,  to try to stop further outbreaks of the kind of violence seen in recent pro–Taliban demonstrations.

Drought has afflicted Quetta for four years,  in what is an agricultural region,  and because of it there is almost no work.   There is widespread drug trafficking.   More than 70 per cent of the population is illiterate.   Thousands of refugees have crossed the border,  fleeing the troubles in Afghanistan,  to settle in or near the city.   Women suffer daily discrimination because of their sex,  and are frequently the victims of oppression and violence.   Quetta has been described as a flashpoint of conflict.

Refugees have been living there for years;  their camps have become part of the city.   They are victims of the many conflicts that have torn Afghan society apart.   One woman,  Marium Gul,  reached Quetta with her eight children,  by trekking through the mountains on paths used by smugglers then crossing the border on foot.   She left her country because the Taliban killed her husband and set fire to their family home.   After that they lived in a tent,  before deciding to flee to Pakistan.   She is a Hazara;  she belongs to an ethnic group living mainly in central Afghanistan.   They make up about 30 per cent of the total Afghanistan population of 25 million.   The Hazara speak Persian and belong to the Muslim Shi–ite minority. They were systematically persecuted by the Taliban who mostly belong to the Pashtun clan,  and are Sunni Muslims.

Marium and her children now share a room,  with no running water or electricity,  with 40 other people.

In the refugee camps the children are the ones who suffer most from the harsh poverty that is a fact of life in Quetta.   Ajma, a fourteen–year old boy,  like many of his friends,  works twelve hours a day knotting carpets.   Everybody knows that the carpets are made by children;  it's what happens when families are forced into poverty.   Ajma's sister,  twelve–year old Thabiba,  started making carpets when she was three,  and has never gone to school.   She probably never will.

Members of more tribes than the Hazara have joined the flood of refugees,  and the authorities in Quetta now have to deal with outbreaks of violence between rival tribal groups.   There is conflict between Muslims and Christians in Quetta,  too.   As elsewhere in Pakistan,  members of the minority Christian churches  (a mere 4 million among an Islamic population of 140 million)  live under the shadow of violence.   Whenever there is a demonstration,  they have good reason to fear that the protest will suddenly turn against them,  as representatives of the culture of the West.


Here then,  in one city,  are the victims of violence between ethnic groups,  tribal clans,  religious faiths and countries at war.   Not to speak of ordinary domestic violence,  violent crime and social hostility.

How terrible,  we sigh,  and turn away from distant Pakistan to pray to our God of peace and goodwill.   But is that how everyone sees the Christian God?

Here is a poem by a New Zealand woman now living in Nelson.   She calls it,

                     God:  the Facts

            Let's get things straight here —
            According to literature
            some say He himself dictated,
           God is bad–tempered
                          and a bully.

            There is also documentary proof of
            mass-murder  (The Flood being,
            perhaps,  His most serious offence);
            gambling  (with Lucifer,  no less,
            and His most faithful servant a luckless pawn);
            hypocrisy  (He not only hardened the heart
            of that poor Pharaoh to make him do nasty things,
            but punished him for doing them!);
            rape  (did he ask Mary first?);
            child abuse  (ask the courts
            what they'd make of His treatment of His Son).
            And he is so vain that He requires us all
            to sing His praises  ...  and
            He damns everyone who won't.

            Now,  come!
            Is this someone from whom
            you'd buy a second–hand car?

Is that a complete travesty of the image of the God we meet in the Bible?   Or do we have to admit there is some truth in it?

Could it be that the authority of the Bible can be used (and has been used)  to justify acts of violence,  throughout history and in our own times?   That in the scriptures God sometimes appears to be as violent and aggressive as any of his so-called enemies?   That some who claim to be Christian model their own fanatical morality and persecuting righteousness on ancient pre–Christian images of God found in the Bible?

What about scripture quoted right here in New Zealand to justify physical violence done to children — "he who spares the rod hates his son,  but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him"  (Proverbs 13:24)

What about scripture quoted to justify hysterical mob–violence against Jews;  to encourage genocidal warfare against Islam;  to licence every kind of abuse and persecution directed against those identified as the enemy of God?

What about dissent over the interpretation of scripture leading to communal violence against members of a different denomination or branch of Christianity?   Catholics against Protestants,  Protestants against Catholics;  orthodox set against the unorthodox;  true believers set against heretics.

What about the use of scripture to justify extreme hatred of gay and lesbian people,  particularly in the context of the worldwide spread of the AIDS epidemic?   An African Bishop has recently said,  "It is now common knowledge that in HIV/AIDS cases it is not the condition itself that hurts most  (because many other diseases and conditions lead to serious suffering and death)  but the stigma,  rejection,  discrimination and loss of trust that HIV–positive people have to deal with".   There are those who in this country as well as overseas have used scriptural texts to whip up hatred and fear of sufferers of this modern plague,  to the point where the World Council of Churches has declared,  "addressing the issue of violence against people living with HIV/AIDS is now a priority".


Last year,  the United Nations announced the start of a Decade to Overcome Violence  (DOV for short).   Maybe we,  as Christians,  have to look seriously and thoughtfully at the roots of our own faith,  and in particular at our understanding,  our interpretation and presentation of that central document,  the Bible.   If we find there the deadly seeds of of persecution and violence,  we need to do what any good gardener would do:  eradicate or render them harmless.

A recent patriotic American film,  Black Hawk Down,  turns a murderous episode in the wars that have wracked the African continent into the heroic story of good,  brave American marines fighting an evil horde of barbarous Somali tribesmen.   In that film,  'Black Hawk'  is the codename for military helicopter gunships.   Let us take that name to stand for every evil associated with murderous hatred and violence  (whether it is physical or psychological)  and let us work to 'down' all such black Hawks for ever.   To clear the skies and make them safe for doves to fly there.



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