Sometimes people of faith get caught between allegiances. That is, their commitment to following God, however they understand God, can at times conflict with their commitment to be good and obedient citizens of a nation.
Many Germans wrestled with just such a conflict in the early Hitler years leading up to World War II and the Holocaust. In fact, some Germans elected to take what they considered to be a patriotic action by criticizing the Nazi regime in 1934 in what's called the Theological Declaration of Barmen, a brave and powerful assertion that Hitler is not Lord, with a capital L. Rather, Jesus is.
(The link I've just given you will take you to Wikipedia's entry describing that confessional statement. If you want to read the whole declaration (it's not terribly long), you can find it here in the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church [USA]. It's number nine of 12, so scroll down.)
The Barmen statement is an example of people concluding that the most patriotic thing they could do for their country in a moment of crisis is to criticize something that very country is doing or saying.
In some ways, that is what several organizations have done by sending this new statement to the United National Human Rights Committee: Download HR&S Coalition Submission to UN Human Rights Committee Review of USA
One of the 14 organizations that, together, submitted this report a week or so ago is one with which I've been connected: September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrow, made up of families like mine who experienced the death of a family member (my nephew) in the 2001 9/11 terrorist attacks.
As the statement notes, members of the U.N. Human Rights Committee are about to undertake a review of how well the U.S. is doing "with obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) with regard to the use of lethal force outside of armed conflict and the detention facility at US Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba ('Guantánamo')."
The statement acknowledges some progress made under the Biden administration, but concludes that there still is much to fix. It says, for instance:
"The ICCPR rights at stake in this submission have been previously raised by the Committee in concluding observations and lists of issues (LOI), and they persist to this day. Our organizations share the concerns expressed by the Committee regarding the US practice of using lethal force outside the context of recognized armed conflict, as well as indefinite arbitrary detention and unfair trials at Guantánamo."
Because I think this statement is important and a fair critique of U.S. action and policy (under Biden as well as under several previous presidents), I want to quote from it at some length here. I hope you'll see the care and detail put into the statement.
"With regard to the use of force outside of recognized armed conflict, the United States continues to claim that its military operations adhere to international humanitarian law (IHL), which is the lex specialis with respect to armed conflict and the protection of war victims. In doing so, like the three previous administrations, the Biden administration claims the unilateral authority to carry out the secretive extrajudicial killing of individuals suspected of engaging in terrorism outside any recognized battlefield, often via armed drones–and ignores its international human rights obligations under the ICCPR. As a result, past and current US policies on the use of lethal force outside recognized armed conflict, the strikes it has carried out under these policies, and its continued lack of transparency around state policy and practice in this area, fail to abide by its ICCPR obligations, in particular its obligations to respect the right to life (Article 6), due process (Article 14), and effective remedy (Article 2).
"Although the US government’s new Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMR-AP) is a welcome step in US efforts to prevent and respond to civilian harm, its impact remains to be seen as implementation is still under way, and three key issues raise concerns. First, the CHMR-AP does not apply to lethal strikes carried out by agencies other than the Department of Defense, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which has been responsible for numerous civilian
casualties. Additionally, the policy only applies to allegations of harm against civilians and does not address the rights to life and due process all persons have under international human rights law in situations outside of armed conflict, regardless of their status or the accusations against them. Third, the plan does not currently provide accountability mechanisms that could address human rights violations.
"Guantánamo remains open after 21 years despite myriad documented human rights abuses, including the US government’s use of arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and unfair trials violating Articles 7, 9, and 14 of the ICCPR; and numerous calls for closure. Even though the Biden administration itself committed to closing Guantánamo in recognition of these abuses, 30 men remain detained today, the majority of whom are cleared for release, and the fundamentally broken military commissions continue to drag on. Recently, in a response to the 2023 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism (SRCT), the US government asserted its commitment to providing safe and humane treatment to detainees in accordance with international and US domestic law. However, there continue to be issues of immediate concern, including that the US has failed to adequately address urgent and serious medical complications due to an aging population and the torture they endured at the hands of US personnel."
One result of all this, of course, is that 9/11 families like mine still have received no justice and no answers in a court about exactly what happened on 9/11, by whom and why, as I noted in this recent column I wrote for The Kansas City Star.
Being a patriot doesn't mean being silent when the public officials you help elect are doing things you believe are damaging the nation. If you are silent in that case you are, in effect, on the side of those doing the damage.
Much the same is true inside a faith community. Sometimes it's the members, the people in the pews, who must speak up and point to something that has gone amiss. That, thank God, is what some Catholic families did to make public the painful stories of sexual abuse committed by some priests and the cover-up of those crimes by some bishops.
I think 20th Century English novelist and playwright J.B. Priestly got it right when he wrote this in his 1939 book Rain Upon Godshill: "We should behave toward our country as women behave toward the men they love. A loving wife will do anything for her husband except stop criticizing and trying to improve him. We should cast the same affectionate but sharp glance at our country."
(I also like the quote from the late Sen. J. William Fulbright that I used in the graphic here today, and I recall covering one of Fulbright's re-election campaigns for Senate back in the 1970s. One day I watched him get a haircut in Cabot, Ark., and entertain the barber and other customers with his humor and wisdom.)
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P.S.: Heber Springs, Ark. -- Speaking of Arkansas, my wife and I are here with friends for a few days, so there won't be a second item to the blog today. Back to normal in this coming weekend's blog, inshallah.
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ANOTHER P.S.: You can get an email for free each time my blog publishes -- almost always on Wednesdays and Saturdays -- by clicking on this link and filling out a simple form.
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FINAL P.S.: Christians have been under attack recently in India and Pakistan, and my friend Markandey Katju, a former justice on India's Supreme Court, writes that he wants it all to stop. Markandey, by the way, identifies as a Hindu atheist.