In my Russian context, the term "new martyrs" has a specific meaning: those who died for their faith under Soviet rule. But the world continues to generate martyrs--as I was powerfully reminded by an article by an Orthodox writer, John Parker: "An Orthodox Christian Response to Beheading By Muslims."
A completely different sort of "Christian" response to the ISIS beheadings has been the unauthorized circulation of private e-mails from Iraq with unsubstantiated claims of systematic slaughter of children. The truth is bad enough; why overdramatize if not to whip up anomosity? We already have plenty of experience telling us that, these days, Muslims are many Christians', and many Americans' favorite enemies.
In any case, the situation for Christians in Iraq is truly awful ... and not for Christians only. Those of us watching from a supposedly safe distance, whose responsibility includes helping to mobilize a world response to the crisis, may not feel that discussing the meaning of martyrdom might not be our highest priority. But we should also face the truth: some of us are going to be called upon to exercise this gift.
Martyrdom is a "gift"? I never thought about it this way until back around 1982, when our adult education class at First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, was studying Peter Wagner's book Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow. Wagner includes martyrdom in his list of biblical gifts and explains why. Even so, in the safety of a comfortable church classroom in a middle class American community, martyrdom seemed even less relevant than the gift of celibacy to a class of young (then!) married couples.
Now Judy and I live among people whose country lost millions of people during the Stalinist repressions, not to mention 27 million more untimely deaths in World War II. Among those people caught up in the mass cruelty of those years, many thousands died one way or another for their faith in Christ. In this context, ideas of safety and security take on a new and much more fragile perspective. The choice to prioritize faithfulness or our own lives (and that of our nearest and dearest) is not theoretical. This is more dramatically true in some parts of the world than others, but there's no place where we can justify blissful ignorance.
How does martyrdom relate specifically to Friends discipleship? R. W. Tucker, in his "Revolutionary Faithfulness," distinguishes "cult pacifism" from the cross-shaped testimony of early Friends:
Cultishness is the first and most conspicuous face of Quaker pacifism today. A prospective new Friend is likely to meet Quaker pacifism first in the shape of the dear old lady who rises in Meeting for Worship to speak to the children about why they ought to be pacifists. She tells homely little stories about pacifists who won through to victory in some worldly dilemma. Such cult pacifism is pretty easy to debunk. It is false doctrine in obvious ways. It discounts the Cross, and the whole bloody history of martyrdom.In contrast, Tucker urges persistent and costly faithfulness, and by persistence he includes faithfulness in the face of clear evidence that many people are not nice, and will not become nice just because we are (at least in our own eyes). We remain peaceable, in other words, when we might have to pay for it with our lives. No wonder the late T. Canby Jones told us that a crucial step in understanding the peace testimony is coming to grips with our own mortality.
Friends do have a powerful heritage of martyrdom--and it goes right into the present day when we take into account the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the death of Christian Peacemaker Teams' Tom Fox in Iraq. But as we see from John Parker's "Orthodox Christian Response," the history of faithfulness unto death goes back to apostolic times. In the larger family of faith, this too is our heritage. As Parker says, "We stand proudly with the martyrs, whose blood is the foundation of the Church. And we beg God to grant us equal strength when we have to face what they did."
This post is first and foremost addressed to myself.
A "Statement of Conviction" (PDF) originating with Christian Peacemaker Teams' participants in Hebron in 1996. "We reject the use of force to save our lives should we be caught in the middle of a conflict situation or taken hostage. In the event that we die as a result of some violent action, we reject the use of violence to punish the people who killed us."
Wess Daniels, "Learning the Art of Sketchnote Preaching." "... When I get stuck in a writing project it may be helpful to change tactics...." Delightful and useful!
Thanks to Mark D Russ, here's a fresh glimpse of Beacon Hill Friends House in Boston, the place where Judy and I met.
"Conversations that could change your life." Friends Summit 2014.
The subtitle says it all: "Churches without the broken are broken churches."
After a concert at Reedwood Friends Church back in 2006, Derek Lamson picked up his guitar and played his (then) new song about Tom Fox: