“Faithful Unto Death”
A Review of 118 Days:
Christian Peacemaker Teams
Held Hostage in Iraq,
edited by Tricia Gates Brown.
By Chris Smith.
For twenty years now, the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) have been calling the Church to be more intentional in bearing witness to the peace of Christ in some of the worst conflict situations of the modern world. In recent years, their work has focused primarily on the conflict regions of
118 Days tells the story of the kidnapping, the murder of Tom Fox and ultimately the release of the other three prisoners from a number of perspectives, including friends and family of the prisoners, CPT members and the prisoners themselves. The reader is immersed in the pain of CPT members in
“You are a martyr. Not the passive, doormat, too-good-to-be-true kind whose eyes roll heavenward and leave behind empty white sockets but the kind that though for himself, gnashed against chains, and rolled up his sleeves … You are a martyr because God gave you the grace to stand and bear witness, even to death, to the one truth authorities can’t bear and those in despair forsake, that things do not have to be as they are. Your life is a witness that a different world is possible” (219).
The statement of forgiveness bluntly names the kidnapping as a “wrong,” but extends forgiveness to the captors with a plea that these oppressors would not be put to death, which would only perpetuate a cycle of violence. This statement, from three men who endured almost four months of captivity in a foreign land, is a powerful witness to the way of Christ that calls us to love our enemies even in the most oppressive of situations.
Another significant contribution of this book is the paradigm of media interaction that CPT set forth during this crisis. This paradigm is described in the most detail in Tim Nafziger and Simon Barrow’s essay “Writing Peace out of the Script.” Barrow and Nafziger speak plainly of the “dominant narrative” expressed in the media, namely that CPT’s work in
118 days also reflects a little known facet of this kidnapping story – i.e., Jim’s sexual orientation as a gay man. This fact was kept concealed during the crisis for fear that it would incite the kidnappers to greater violence against Jim. CPT is to be commended for resisting the whitewashing of two potential publishers who ultimately objected to the presentation of this side of the story in 118 Days, leading CPT to self-publish this volume. Although Jim’s sexual orientation is only a small part of a much larger story, it is a part of that story and thus should not be censored. Rather, let us recognize the wonderful opportunity that is presented for discussing the place of sexuality in the mission of the Church.
The early Christian martyrdom story of Perpetua and Felicitas opens with this probing question:
If ancient illustrations of faith, which both testify to God’s grace and tend to humankind’s edification, are collected in writing so that by the studying of them God may be honored and humanity may be strengthened, why should not new instances also be collected that are equally suitable for both purposes?
Indeed, 118 Days is precisely this sort of modern day story of Christian faithfulness in the face of oppression. May we be moved by this story to embody more fully Christ’s way of peace and reconciliation!
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
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