Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thoughts About Peace and Pacifism (Part Two)

In the USA where conscientious objection to participating in the military is recognized by the government, it may be easy for a pacifist to refuse to participate. However it's probably more difficult for one to maintain a pacifist approach to dealing with enemies in the personal sense, that is those who intentionally and repeatedly mistreat us in the work, home, or school setting.

For the Christian, pacifism is not optional, and it should be a part of a person's whole life, not simply reserved for the time when the military requests or demands our participation. For many, the biggest challenge to living a peaceful life and relating to others in a forgiving and Christian manner occurs when we are seriously hurt by a relative, friend, or co-worker. I've written extensively about my experience in this area elsewhere on this blog under the heading "Workplace Psychological Abuse," so will not go into much detail here, except to say that I was the target of an abusive co-worker for over two and a half years at my former employer, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, eventually diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder as a direct result of the abuse, became partially disabled, and had to leave my employment there after thirty years.

Needless to say that experience, which is still ongoing, has been a source of enormous pain to me. Coping with PTSD is a daily challenge, but with time, practice, and help from many sources I've developed reliable exercises to remain functional and confront the injury with which I must live. It isn't as bad as it used to be and I believe it may get better, although I don't expect it to go away. During the course of this experience which began in January of 2004, I've conscientiously and deliberately responded to the psychological assault in a manner that I believe reflected my Christian beliefs. When I first reported the problem to my department manager, I simply told him that I was having a communication problem with the co-worker, because I was afraid she would be fired if I described her behavior in detail. I just wanted to get the problem resolved. I wasn't trying to be vindictive.

Nothing was done about the problem, even after multiple reports to management, not even after the diagnosis of PTSD which I reported to management more than two dozen times without receiving a response addressing the fact that I was being injured. St. Alphonsus, a part of the Trinity Health system headquartered in Novi, Michigan, claims to be a Christian organization, and advertises itself as being the place where "advanced healing" begins. However the treatment I received from management included nothing that even remotely demonstrated Christian principles and no commitment to healing, let alone "advanced" healing. After reporting the injury to management, I wasn't offered any treatment for the PTSD. Instead I was ordered to lie about the injury if asked, and threatened with termination for reporting the PTSD to management. I was told I would be fired if I talked about the problem, or if I continued to report the abusive behavior of the co-worker. I've received numerous written threats from Saint Alphonsus, the most recent one a few days ago, more than five and a half years after the problem began, but no written apologies, no written acknowledgement that I was injured, and no accountability.

The primary purpose of this entry is to focus on how a Christian should respond in this kind of challenging circumstance. In any situation where someone is being injured, the need for safety and protection is paramount. This is an emergency situation. The injured person, especially one with PTSD, cannot be expected to continue performing as before, especially when the abuser is still in his work environment. I made a valiant effort to stay at that job since I liked it a lot, but had no choice and was forced to leave. I felt, and still feel, that it was and is my obligation to report what happened to me to as many people as possible. What I experienced represents a major health and safety hazard to the whole region. There are certain obligations that responsible citizens and health care professionals have and reporting safety hazards is one of them. I will continue to do so in spite of St. Als ongoing threats and attempts to silence me.

It's a Christian's obligation to recognize each person as a child of God, created in God's image, someone loved and cared for by the Creator. That's difficult to do when a person is being chronically cruel and malicious toward you, trying to get you fired or forced to resign by making false accusations about you. Some of the activities that may help one deal with this situation are as following:

1. Pray for the one who is persecuting you.

2. Talk to others who are sympathetic about your experiences.

3. Seek professional counseling (pastor, psychologist, counselor, etc.)

4. Research the problem. You're not the first person to be the target of a bully and there is much literature available on the topic. Even if it's not written from the perspective of a Christian pacifist it will still contain useful information.

5. Request a professionally mediated conflict resolution process. I tried this more than once but the request was denied, which, of course, blocked a resolution to the problem.

6. Be prepared to begin the process of forgiveness.

Recently I sent a letter to the abusive co-worker, briefly reviewing the context of the trauma, and offering her my complete forgiveness. Although I forgave her a long time ago, I felt it was important to say so directly to her and this was the most direct way possible. I also sent a copy of the letter to a member of senior management. Instead of responding in a Christian manner with a thank-you note and an attempt at accountability, management responded by accusing me of harassment. Offering forgiveness for an injury is about as far from harassment as one can get, but unfortunately at St. Alphonsus and Trinity Health there is no awareness of the value of forgiveness. It's a major tragedy when a Christian institution is not capable of recognizing and acknowledging an act of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the expected response of Christians to an injustice or intentional injury.

Unfortunately managers of many businesses are so blinded by the dollar sign that they cannot see the greater value of human health, safety, and integrity. If a conflict occurs, and conflicts are to expected in any situation with human interaction, the only thing taken into consideration by mangement is the potential cost of the conflict. Many large businesses and corporations see any possible conflict as a litigious situation. Unfortunately this seems to be as true for "Christian" corporations such as Trinity Health as it is for other corporations. Every conflict is viewed as a situation is which two sides will engage in legal battle, each one trying to be the winner, and make the other the loser. However there is a different way to address conflict. It involves both sides sitting down together with an impartial professional mediator, discussing and reviewing the history of the conflict and working together to seek a solution, and also taking steps to make sure the problem doesn't reoccur. That's a Christian approach to conflict. For the Christian, trying to retaliate, get even, or "beat the other side" in any kind of setting, legal or otherwise, is not a desirable goal or option.

Many people have the mistaken concept that a pacifist response to violence, including the violence that takes place, (as I experienced it), in the workplace, means that one does not do anything. Nothing could be further from the truth. Likewise some people believe that forgiveness means the injured person pretends that the injury never happened and doesn't mention it again. That too is false. Forgiveness means that a decision has been made to not consider retaliation or retribution as a possible solution to the problem. I believe it also means that holding a grudge or harboring resentment against the one who injured me is not acceptable. Addressing the problem or behavior that caused the injury, seeking justice and a peaceful solution to the problem, and requesting, or even demanding, accountability, is still very much an option. In fact it may be easier, after forgiveness, for one to actually address the problem since the goals are clearer. It's possible that one can focus better on addressing the experience with concern for the safety of others as the foremost priority. After forgiveness one can proceed in a more single-minded and persistent manner.

In any conflict situation, a Christian pacifist response must be an unselfish response. It should take into consideration the best interests and well-being of all persons and parties involved. Such an approach will look to the future, not just at past injuries or losses, and consider the possible impact of any decisions made now. Revenge, selfishness, and an attitude that "you need to lose in order for me to win" is not an acceptable approach to the resolution of any conflict.

Leonard Nolt

West Yellowstone, Montana

Thoughts About Peace and Pacifism (Part One)

I am a pacifist, and have been one for much of my life. A pacifist for me is someone who will not use violence against other people for any reason. There are those who would define the term more broadly and include violence against other animal species. They may have a legitimate point, but I'm not exactly at that place in my life, and for the purposes of this series of entries I will limit the definition to violence against humans. However violence against humans can be included in acts that threaten human health and life, such as destroying vegetation and crops by spraying Agent Orange as was done during the Vietnam War, or the use of depleted uranium in Iraq and elsewhere which will be causing potentially fatal tumors in children for millions of years. Those actions are just as wrong as killing people,

My pacifism is based in my Christian beliefs. I grew up in the Mennonite Church in Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania, one of the increasing number of places in the world with a high concentration of Mennonites. I was taught from my earliest memories that it's wrong for me as a Christian to participate in warfare, to get in fights with other people, or to try to get even with someone who wronged me. I repeatedly heard the stories of Dirk Willems, the early Mennonite, or Anabaptist as we were called then, who gave up his life to rescue an enemy from drowning in a frozen Dutch river, or the story of two brothers, members of the Hutterites, who were tortured to death in a military prison in Kansas because they refused to put on the uniform and participate in World War 1. I am currently a charter member of and on the leadership team at Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship in Boise, Idaho, although the thoughts and beliefs I present in this series and anywhere on this blog are my own. I'm not writing or speaking for anyone else.

I graduated from Lancaster Mennonite High School in 1966, during the Vietnam War. Although many young men were being drafted and sent to Vietnam, I not only was not drafted, I didn't even know anyone who was drafted, or who joined the military. All of my friends and nearly all of my acquaintances were Mennonite pacifists like myself. Some would say that I was sheltered and out of touch with the reality of the world where wars rage and people suffer immensely, but who would argue that being sheltered from the violence of warfare is a bad thing? There was no chance I would have participated in the military, if drafted. Becoming a soldier was unthinkable. There was no way that I could have disgraced my family and shamed my parents and grandparents more than by joining the military and participating in warfare.

As Mennonites our pacifism, (or, as some would prefer, non-resistance), is based on solid historical and Biblical foundations. Roland Baintan in his book "Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace" writes that for the first three centuries of Christianity, all Christians were pacifists. Soldiers were not allowed to be church members. The Christians who lived closest to the time of Christ believed that pacifism was mandatory for Christians. The treatment of enemies by Jesus and his twelve apostles was strongly pacifist. None of them were allowd to use violence to defend themselves from their enemies, and when Peter tried to protect Jesus by using the sword, Jesus rebuked him.

The number of Biblical and other reasons for being a pacifist are almost endless. In this series I will be presenting what I see as reasons to reject participation in warfare or any kind of retaliatory violence against humans. However I want to emphasize that being a pacifist does not mean that one is passive. On the contrary. The two words, pacifist and passive are more likely to be antonyms than synonyms. A passive person is one who is nonchalant, apathetic, one who doesn't care. In order to be a pacifist one has to care deeply. For a Christian pacifist, that caring will include enemies, including enemy nations. During the two most recent wars we've all seen the messages on bumper stickers, on magnetic signs, and even on some Christian church signs. Many of them include the phrase, "God Bless Our Troops," which is a profoundly anti-Christian way of directing our requests for blessings. The Christian approach, which has been used in prayer at our church many times, is to request God's blessing for all the troops. Taliban troops and Iraqi insurgents are also created in the image of God. Like us, they are people Jesus came and died for, precisely so they would not have to die for their sins.

You might argue, perhaps with some justification, that the Taliban and Iraqi Insurgents are evil, oppressive people, with no respect for human life. Others would claim, perhaps with equal justification, that they are just protecting their homelands from a vicious foreign invader and occupier. I've noticed that one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, that one person's war lord or insurgent is another's liberator. Any person or country who uses violence for whatever reason is destroying freedom. Killing people destroys freedom. A dead person has no freedom of speech, press, or religion, no choices on election day, and no democracy. We may claim that sometimes it's necessary to use deadly force against those who might take away our freedoms, but in doing so we are also guilty of destroying freedom. And in all of these violent military conflicts, those most likely to be killed or injured are always the innocent, that is women and children. From 75 to 90% of all the victims of wars since World War 2 have been innocent civilians, and that is as true for victims of US military actions as for the military actions of any other country.

Leonard Nolt