Iran and the JCPOA

Focus is shifting in Washington as President Obama has enough congressional support to sustain a veto against a resolution of disapproval for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that aims to reduce Iran’s nuclear program.

Though a resolution of disapproval could be overturned, supporters of the deal have announced intent garner even more support for the deal, potentially saving ink in the president’s veto pen. If successful, the United States would send a stronger message to the international community of its intent to support diplomacy in the Middle East.

As mentioned in a previous post, the COB has shown support for the JCPOA, and we do this primarily out of our heritage as a peace church with a peace witness. With approval for the JCPOA in sight, time needs to be taken to discuss what it means for us as a church to show support for this deal. Equally important, it is important to understand what it does not mean.

This deal only addresses nonproliferation in Iran – not Iran’s support of terrorist organizations, its covert attempts to destabilize regimes, nor its aggression towards Israel. This narrowness, however, is not an inadequacy of the deal since it accomplishes the goal of thoroughly diminishes Iran’s nuclear capabilities. These outlying issues with the Iranian regime have led some critics to fear that Iran’s sanctions relief will help Tehran fuel more of these illicit programs and question Iran’s commitment to following the deal altogether.

Distrust in Iran, after all, is why the US does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons in the first place – hence the comprehensive regulations in what has been called “the most robust, intrusive, multilateral nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated.” The strength of this monitoring program is endorsed by 29 of the nation’s top scientists, stating that the deal’s safeguards would prevent Iran from covertly developing a nuclear weapon.

Curbing Iran’s nuclear capacity in this zone of mistrust is the primary talking point of the JCPOA, but its capacity to actually build trust is potentially more important. US relations with Iran and the rest of the region automatically assume tension, especially because of the constant meddling of the US military in the Middle East. While simple nonproliferation is noble, the multilateral approach of the JCPOA reinforces the value of diplomacy as a pathway to holistic and lasting peace.

Said a letter from international relations scholars, “While the JCPOA is primarily a non-proliferation agreement that successfully closes off all weaponization pathways in the Iranian nuclear program, it carries with it significant peace dividends by making diplomacy and dialogue available for conflict resolution – a necessary step to tackle all of the region’s sources of tensions, be they terrorism, sectarianism, or unilateralism.”

It is here that the values that Brethren stand for can be found in the Iran deal. The 1988 Annual Conference stated, “The Brethren understand peace as something more than merely the silence of guns and bombs; it is also the presence of justice, the practice of mutuality, and the process of reconciliation.” It may sound like brash optimism to suggest that this deal paves the way to reconciliation, but to assert that walking away from the deal does this job better is ludicrous.

The real question is: Would the world be better without the deal?

One would be hard-pressed to say yes. Refusing the deal means rejecting the most comprehensive nuclear monitoring regime in history. With no restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s “breakout” point would quickly draw near, especially as international sanctions fall away. Such a scenario almost guarantees that Iran would develop a nuclear weapon, despite critics’ attempts to suggest we have better options. Once these positions are analyzed, however, it is clear that the JCPOA is the best course of action.

A moderate argument for walking away suggests returning to the table to negotiate a new deal, one that further restricts the flow of sanctions relief so that Iran is guaranteed to not fund terrorist plots. However, the reality of returning to the table with the international support of the EU and two US rivals, China and Russia, is very slim. Without the support of the international community, the US would be hard-pressed to broker a deal that is nearly as comprehensive.

The same argument same can be made against those that think any deal is out of the question. Such critics would propose that imposing stricter sanctions would be more effective in crippling Iran’s nuclear program. After all, sanctions have already made Iran desperate enough to have a conversation, suggesting further sanctions would cripple Iran until it has no choice but to fold on its nuclear program. Opponents of the deal have threatened that, since the JCPOA will survive a resolution of disapproval, later legislation will be put forth that will reinstate sanctions and put pressure back on Iran. The problem with this logic is that US sanctions against Iran have been supported by other international sanctions. Since walking away from the deal, initially or through post hoc legislation, means the US would lose international support, US sanctions would not only prove increasingly meaningless and would certainly unravel.

This leaves opponents with a third option: call for direct US military intervention. This position is the easiest to denounce given the deplorable track record of US intervention in the Middle East. Ignoring the diplomatic option is also challenges the Brethren commitment to nonviolence and promotion of sustainable peace.

In short, there is no viable alternative for this deal. This deal not only reduces the chance of Iran using nuclear weapons against the United States, but even more importantly, this deal helps keep the imagined need for the US military intervention in Iran from becoming a reality. Despite the flaws of the deal, it truly is a step forward for US relations with Iran and the rest of the region. The JCPOA shows a commitment to diplomacy and meaningful engagement with world leaders. While Iran has stated that its policy will not change once the deal takes effect, this show of good faith by the US and other nations can pave the way to a more sustainable peace as the Iranian regime and the political climate in the Middle East changes in the next 15 years.The future cannot be predicted, but the light that shines from it is brighter under this deal.

Office of Public Witness
Church of the Brethren
Washington, DC

Devotions (EYN Daily Link) September 6 – 12, 2015

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015EYN Devotions graphic
A Daily Devotional Guide from the
EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria)

EYN leaders in Nigeria believe prayer is one of the most important ways to support the Nigerian people and the Church.  These daily devotions were written by EYN members and published by the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Reading them daily is a powerful way we can be in solidarity and connect with our brothers and sisters caught in this crisis.  EYN’s daily devotional for 2015 will be posted a week at a time on this blog, appearing mid-week for the following week. More information about the crisis can be found at www.nigeriacrisis.org.

Click on this link for Devotions September 6-12, 2015

Confession, Repentance and Commitment to End Racism

“Racism will not end with the passage of legislation alone; it will also require a change of heart and thinking. This is an effort which the faith community must lead, and be the conscience of the nation. We will call upon every church, temple, mosque and faith communion to make their worship service on this Sunday a time to confess and repent for the sin and evil of racism, this includes ignoring, tolerating and accepting racism and to make a commitment to end racism by the example of our lives and actions.”
-Invitation from the African Methodist Episcopal Church

More information and resources: http://www.ame-church.com/liberty-and-justice-for-all/

The shooting in Charleston, more than 500 miles away has left me in a state of shock. Coming out of it, I have turned to prayer. Pray. Pray. Pray. I keep returning to prayer because I don’t know what to do about the pervasive, racialized violence in our nation. I wish I had the vision of a community leader, but instead I am closing my eyes and clasping my hands. Pray. Pray. Pray. Fortunately, being part of a body of Christ means that I don’t always have to be the leader. Sometimes I can be another part of the body (say the elbow or littlest toe) while other people are leadership. Right now, I am grateful to the leadership of the AME Church.

As they celebrate their bicentennial anniversary, the African Methodist Episcopal Church is also still grieving the attack on the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. Founded because of racism and injustice, the AME is committed to leading the nation to move the nation to face, confront, and act on the issue of race. As part of their celebrations and grief, they are asking that every church, temple, synagogue, mosque, and place of worship focus on race, while asking every pastor, rabbi, imam, and other leaders to preach on race, reminded that out of one blood, God created all of us to dwell together in unity.

I am hoping that some of our congregations will join in prayer and confession. Also, I encourage you to reach out to the AME congregation in your community with a letter of support and, if possible, join them in any planned public witness on this important issue.

As Director of Intercultural Ministries, Gimbiya Kettering seeks to continue and expand the conversation and ministry work for those working in intercultural and cross-cultural settings. To join the conversation leave a comment or email her directly at gkettering@brethern.org.

 

From the Frying Pan into the Fire

Cragos at GurkuBy Tom Crago, CoB Volunteer in Nigeria

This past week, visiting the resettlement camp in Gurku (near Nigeria’s Capital Abuja) was an eye-opener for me. This was our first visit to the camp, and we had a special opportunity to worship with them on Sunday, the 16th of August.  Church attendance was 142 people that Sunday, down from 152 the previous Sunday. When we asked about this difference, we heard a heart-wrenching tale.  And,                                                          therein lies the story —

It seems that many of the displaced families who are staying in the Gurku resettlement camp were desperate to find educational opportunities for their children. Stretched financially, they heard of several private schools near Benin in Edo State that were offering free tuition and board for the IDP’s (Internally Displaced Persons) from Northeastern Nigeria.  So, many of them sent their children, many Secondary School age boys and girls, to Edo State to continue their education.

Then, last week an incident occurred which caused considerable alarm.  A group of about 40 buses showed up at one of these private schools, announcing that the children were being relocated to another place.  The school Principal, not understanding this move, called Nigerian security authorities who intervened to stop the movement.  It seems there was no official documentation for authorizing such a move, and those attempting to remove the children have been arrested.  It remains unclear, as I write this short note, whether this was an elaborate attempt to sell these children into household and/or sexual slavery, or possibly even an attempt by Boko Haram to carry out yet another mass abduction. It seems that Benin is known here in Nigeria as a “hotspot” for movement of children into the sex slave trade. Many children end up as slaves in Middle Eastern households, or as sex workers in Europe, and even occasionally in America. We plan to follow up on this incident as the investigation continues.

Classes for younger students are held under this tree

Classes for younger students are held under this tree

But — getting back to the Sunday worship attendance figures — about a dozen fathers had traveled that Sunday from Gurku to Benin to retrieve their children, and bring them back to the camp.  The incident, and the desperation we see in this attempt by parents to continue the education of their children in spite of the risks, points to just one problem facing the many thousands of IDP’s from the EYN (or Church of the Brethren, in English). One EYN leader has estimated that more than a thousand children may have been relocated to Delta and Edo states — many to further their education!

Gurku Church service held in a temporary spot

Gurku Church service held in a temporary spot

The Gurku camp we were visiting is a new development, and has no school, either primary or secondary, associated with it.  All of EYN’s resettlement camps face similar problems (Jalingo, Jos and Masaka are all being developed, and another is planned in Yola).  EYN’s Comprehensive Secondary School and Kulp Bible College are located in Kwarhi, in an area over-run by the Boko Haram last year, and they have not been open for most of the past year. Ultimately, another Secondary School is planned for Chinka on a large parcel of land owned by EYN, located between Abuja and Kaduna, but it is still under development.  But, there is clearly an immediate need for more safe schooling opportunities in the EYN, and the insurgency and refugee situation has only made a stretched EYN educational system even worse.

Our hopes and prayers, of course, are focused on EYN finding safe alternatives and solutions for these children, who may be faced with the rhetorical – and diabolical – choice of “sitting in the frying pan, or jumping into the fire”, as they struggle to continue their schooling.  Pray, with us, that safe solutions can be found, that schools can be set up in the resettlement camps, and that educating this next generation of children will continue safely.

Devotions (EYN Daily Link) August 30 – September 5, 2015

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015EYN Devotions graphic
A Daily Devotional Guide from the
EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria)

EYN leaders in Nigeria believe prayer is one of the most important ways to support the Nigerian people and the Church.  These daily devotions were written by EYN members and published by the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Reading them daily is a powerful way we can be in solidarity and connect with our brothers and sisters caught in this crisis.  EYN’s daily devotional for 2015 will be posted a week at a time on this blog, appearing mid-week for the following week. More information about the crisis can be found at www.nigeriacrisis.org.

Click on this link for Devotions Aug 30 – Sept 5, 2015

Iran Deal: An Analysis by the Office of Public Witness

After twenty months of negotiations, President Obama and other international leaders made a landmark agreement that will curb Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. The agreement stipulates that the United States lift economic sanctions that forced Iran to the table in the first place. Israel and Saudi Arabia have spoken out about the proposed deal since Iran’s economic influence would expand, but the global community generally sees this deal as a way of promoting stability in the region. Iranian public opinion even stands in strong support of the deal since the lifted sanctions would greatly improve their crippled economy.

With international opinion on his side, President Obama has been campaigning to guarantee that the negotiated settlement with Iran passes in Congress. A vote will likely happen soon after Labor Day when Congress is back in session, so time is running out to garner support. Many members of Congress have already released statements for or against the agreement, and President Obama announced that he would veto Congress’s decision if the agreement did not pass. For Congress to override the veto, each house would need a two-thirds majority rejecting the Iran deal.

Since the deal is contingent upon sanctions being lifted, many opponents of the deal insist that the growth of the Iranian economy will allow Tehran to more easily produce nuclear weapons and conduct terrorist operations. This line of thought, however, ignores the great unlikelihood that Iran could get away with such a feat.

The intrusiveness of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program is unprecedented under this new agreement. The media has generated concern about the IAEA’s practices, suggesting that Iranian scientists will be testing their own inspection sites. This procedure is actually only a part of the IAEA’s practices, which requires that samples are tested by both Iranian scientists and IAEA officials to ensure that data is not misrepresented.

By having both parties administering tests, both groups are held accountable; in other words, Iran cannot tamper with data since it will conflict with IAEA data and vice versa. This double accountability is actually a strength of the deal, and when combined with the deactivation of over half of Iran’s centrifuges and the repurposing of Iran’s nuclear reactor, the negotiated agreement effectively guarantees that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon for the next fifteen years while the deal is in effect. Without the provisions in this agreement, we cannot guarantee Iran’s nuclear program will be stifled.

As stated in a letter signed by fifty-one Christian leaders, including the General Secretary Stan Noffsinger, “There is no question we are all better off with this deal than without it.” This unified Christian front shows the great moral significance of this deal. Too often politics controls conversations by talking strictly in terms of US interests. If we wish to be Christians committed to inviting the Kingdom of God, we cannot allow this opportunity to de-escalate conflict and address our neighbor slip away. We need to remember our kinship to others, as Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Our sisters and brothers in Iran struggle, and now they too have a chance for at least a small measure of liberation. Even more, an Iran with a diminished nuclear program helps place the already unstable region on a pathway to peace and opens the door to reconciliation between Iran and the United States.

On the Road to Damascus: When the scales fall from our eyes

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated our country. It not only flooded cities, destroyed buildings, and displaced people off the Gulf region– it somehow displaced all of us. I remember being struck by a photo of an older, Black woman, suddenly homeless, wrapped in an American flag. It seemed impossible to believe that this could happen to “us” – Americans in America. The storm unfolded layers of complications and injustices that revealed people of color were disproportionately impacted by the storm – in part because their lives were tenuous before the storm began. That systematic racism and poverty had swept them away like so much debris in the force of the storm and the country’s response to it.

a small sign of hope - a mud-stained and tattered American flag stands in a pile of debris left by Hurricane Katrina in Chalmette, Louisiana

a small sign of hope – a mud-stained and tattered American flag stands in a pile of debris left by Hurricane Katrina in Chalmette, Louisiana

Ten years ago, it felt like the scales had fallen from our eyes and in the bright, new light we repented. From the robust conversation about power, privilege, and prejudice, it seemed we were on the verge of understanding something fundamentally “wrong” with ourselves and how we treat one another. That with this understanding we would be able to bring about the kind of change that would genuinely support our national vision where all people are created equal, with right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness – where no one would be abandoned on their rooftop in times of storm or calm.

Like now, in 2005 the conversation about race in our nation seemed urgent and important. Then it went silent. Not all at once, but gradually fading away. There was other news. The post-storm “normal” was not worth reporting and we became swept up in our daily lives. We forgot the urgency around race. We left the conversation mid-sentence. The underlying realities, inequalities and injustices remained and we forgot that the next storm would mean people returning to the roof.

Now, current events related to race, are sweeping the nation like a storm and breaking the levees of the status quo. After the shootings in Charleston and the publicity about mass incarceration and the public awareness about police brutality, we are again on the road to Damascus. We are seeing with new eyes and a repentant heart that racism is a sin that destroys us all. We are vowing to make a change.

And I can only pray this is true. That, this time, we will stay the course. I pray that we will finish what we have begun, truly addressing the issues and social forces that divide us from one another. I pray that we will heed the call to care for the widow, the orphan – those most vulnerable in our society. My hope is that our hearts will remember the urgency to see the work to completion.

My fear is that we will look away, work unfinished, again.

As Director of Intercultural Ministries, Gimbiya Kettering seeks to continue and expand the conversation and ministry work for those working in intercultural and cross-cultural settings. To join the conversation leave a comment or email her directly at gkettering@brethern.org.

Food Distributions

Rhoda - member of Relief Team

Rhoda – member of Relief Team

Thank you for your support of the Nigeria Crisis Response. (Consolidated from a report by Rhoda)

Ekklesiayar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) Relief Team has been very busy with food distributions.  In the last two weeks, your donations have provided food for 988 families (about 6000 individuals). Food was distributed to three remote districts that had never received help because they were still in dangerous and unsafe areas.

Bags of Maize (corn)

Bags of Maize (corn)

Mussa District: Most of the people had relocated back home but they were attacked for the second and third time by the Boko Haram. The community was burned and many were killed. They have taken refuge in Wamdeo (a neighboring village). EYN relief team provided about 277 households with rice, detergent, cooking oil, Maggi (cooking flavoring), soap, salt and personal care items.

Dille District: The people of Dille have also returned home.  The EYN Disaster Management Team assisted in this relocation of 654 families. Dille was attacked a few days before the distribution. However, soldiers around the community were been able to restore order and the people are living well and going about their normal activities. The Disaster team along with Glenn and Marcus from Christian Aid Ministries went under Nigerian Military escort to ensure a safe distribution.

Military Escort assisting

Military Escort assisting

Ado Kasa: Ado Kasa is another community in Nassarawa state where IDPs  have relocated and are staying.  It is not a camp, but a community where people stay in rented houses. 57 households have found refuge at Ado Kasa; they have a church with a Pastor assigned to them from the EYN Headquarters. They face many health challenges especially the pregnant women who have to travel to another town for medical services.  When the people of  Ado Kasa received the bags of corn, they danced and were happy and they said it was more than anything they have ever received.

Nigeria: Office of Public Witness analysis and update

In July, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in the United States for his first Presidential visit to D.C. President Buhari’s visit came just seven weeks after an historic electoral victory over incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, which marked the nation’s first successful and peaceful transition of power from an incumbent to an opposition party.

This success took center stage as President Obama sat down with President Buhari on Monday to commend him on this achievement.  But looming over Buhari’s visit and his recent electoral victory, is Boko Haram’s renewed bloody campaign.

The visit included a series of several high-profile meetings with President Obama, senior members of the Obama Administration and Congressional leaders. Framing these dialogues is a surge in Boko Haram-related violence throughout Nigeria and into neighboring Chad and Cameroon despite increased presence and funding of multi-national security forces.

As such, much of the official visit and its media coverage has focused on the expansion of US-Nigeria military cooperation in countering Boko Haram. Yet this is only one piece of the puzzle.

There is, however, a great resource that continues to go ignored and untapped in countering violent extremism—namely the brave and resilient communities on the frontlines of the violence. And if we are to take a more holistic approach that addresses the underlying causes of terrorism, as asserted by President Obama and Buhari, then there should be a greater concerted effort to develop a strategy that ensures accountability of military forces to local communities and puts civil society leaders and peacebuilders at the center of countering violent extremism.

Even though displaced to Yola, Jos, Abuja and many places in between, the Church of the Brethren Nigeria (EYN) have already begun to rebuild. During these weeks the region has experienced increasing attacks from Boko Haram, which has left more than 625 more people dead since President Buhari’s inauguration. To be sure, they have felt the acute brutality of Boko Haram. Their hearts are still heavy from the loss of the 273 Chibok girls, most of whom were members of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN), taken by Boko Haram. Since 2009, more than 1350 women and children have been kidnapped, confirmed 10,000 EYN members killed, over 280,000 members displaced, and 70% of EYN churches burned or abandoned due to the conflict.

As the violence spread in the fall of 2014, EYN Liaison Officer, Markus Gamache, opened his home to displace family friends and others.  Soon 50 people were living in his 2-bedroom home located in Jos.  As the violence spread and the needs grew, Markus developed the vision for an interfaith camp to relocate both Muslim and Christian families while demonstrating how people of different faiths can live in peace.  Working with an interfaith group called Lifeline Compassionate Global Initiatives, Markus started with a plan to build 10 homes to help those living in his home.  By the spring of 2015 the list grew to 100 families, even as the construction on the first 62 homes, sanitation, water well and kitchens are completed.

When the EYN Church headquarters near Mubi where over run by Boko Haram in October 2014, displacing all national church leadership and the related Bible College staff and students, the loss and shock of the situation was more than overwhelming, we wondered if the Church would continue.  With support coming from the US Church of the Brethren, EYN leadership soon found new footing and created a crisis response team.  In an impressive show of resiliency and leadership the EYN team have provided relief to thousands through the remaining church structure of districts.  Under the inspired leadership of Reverend Dr. Samuel Dali, EYN president, construction is underway for care centers that will support those displaced from the current crisis and future violence in Nigeria.  The Church is not only helping serve those in need, it is imagining how to better serve beyond this crisis.  An impressive effort with displaced staff and only 30% of the Church body intact.

Yet in the face of such tragedy, our faith and relationship with the Church of the Brethren US and the Swiss and German Mission 21 has united us, fortifying our resolve to live together in peace.  Indeed, over the last year, Church of the Brethren has raised $3.1 million dedicated to a five-year plan for crisis response in the affected areas. In our efforts, thousands are receiving food and shelter, EYN’s Peace program is providing trauma healing workshops for pastors, women’s groups, and lay leaders to help those suffering from spiritual and emotional trauma, and a special interfaith relocation project is building homes that will house more than 100 families or 800 people.

Through these efforts of response, recovery, and rebuilding we have strengthened our communities and connections with our Muslim kindred and brought hope to a people that have been brutalized.  Many times over the populations in the northeast have felt abandoned by their government and international community.

Improved diplomatic relations between the most populous country in Africa and the USA may help Nigeria fight its insurgency more effectively, but only to the extent that the relationship encourages a more holistic response to the Boko Haram insurgency–and not one focused exclusively on the battlefield.  This insurgency will only end when there are real and robust attempts to tackle what is at the root of Boko Haram’s insurgency: political and economic marginalization, corruption, inequality, and abuses committed by political elites and military personnel without recourse. While this visit might not yield any substantial initiatives or agreements in the short term, ideally this initial diplomatic visit could serve to more clearly define the long-term, shared work to be done eradicating the conditions that bring about groups like Boko Haram.

And while state diplomacy and cooperation is an important bulwark against terrorism, the responsiveness and flexibility of civil society cannot be underestimated as an integral part to the solution. Therefore, we encourage both Administrations to consider a more prominent role for civil society and religious organizations in developing a more holistic and regional approach to counter Boko Haram.

Office of Public Witness
Church of the Brethren
Washington, DC

Devotions (EYN Daily Link) August 23 – 29, 2015

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015EYN Devotions graphic
A Daily Devotional Guide from the
EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria)

EYN leaders in Nigeria believe prayer is one of the most important ways to support the Nigerian people and the Church.  These daily devotions were written by EYN members and published by the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Reading them daily is a powerful way we can be in solidarity and connect with our brothers and sisters caught in this crisis.  EYN’s daily devotional for 2015 will be posted a week at a time on this blog, appearing mid-week for the following week. More information about the crisis can be found at www.nigeriacrisis.org.

Click on this link for Devotions August 23 – 29, 2015