CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Beth Pyles, a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams group that suffered the loss of member Tom Fox in Iraq, recently described her spiritual journey at a workshop during the Presbytery of West Virginia’s annual Festival of Faith educational event.
The decision to join CPT was “mostly spiritual, partly political,” acknowledges Pyles, who set aside a 22-year legal career in Parkersburg, W.Va. to attend Princeton Theological Seminary. It was spiritual because “we follow a Savior who was killed for the greater good for the greater number. We are a people who do not follow a cause, we follow a person,” she said. It was political because “what we’re doing in Iraq is problematic,” Pyles stated.
Pyles, who graduated from Princeton in May 2005, returned in late March from her latest tour, two months spent in Baghdad. During those eight weeks, four of her colleagues were kidnapped, one of whom, Tom Fox, was murdered. The other three were found on March 23, unharmed, bound in an abandoned house. It was her second tour in Iraq; she spent last September and October there working with Palestinians.
Christian Peacemaker Teams arose in the mid-1980s, stemming from calls in traditional peace churches — Mennonites, the Brethren and Quakers — for a more active participation in stopping violence. There are approximately 200 persons serving through CPT.
The organization’s Web site (www.cpt.org ) asks: “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?” The Presbyterian Peacemaking Fellowship is one CPT’s official sponsors, along with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and other organizations.
CPT’s motto is “getting in the way,” and Pyles said much of its work around the world involves “accompanying.” As an example, in Hebron, CPT members will walk with school children and, if violence develops, get “physically between the rock and the child to break the cycle of violence.” CPT also has worked in Ontario, Canada, along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and in Colombia and elsewhere.
In Iraq, CPT members, who pay their own way, “document human rights abuses … help Iraqis locate disappeared loved ones, train with other peacemakers,” she said.
In recounting her assessment of life in Iraq, Pyles said, “I try to tell the truth as best I can, but I don’t have a good story to tell.”
She catalogued economic decline, including skyrocketing prices for basic necessities; social upheaval, as people are murdered or kidnapped by all sides; and the specter of death: “For every American soldier who is killed, 10 to 100 Iraqi citizens –non-combatants, mostly children — are killed.”
She also criticized the use of private contractors, many of whom are paid twice to three times as much as U.S. soldiers to do the same job, but who are not bound by the rules of war.
“This is what chaos and war look like,” she said. “A whole country is being changed day-by-day and minute-by-minute.” She quoted one Iraqi who had been in favor of U.S. intervention, believing life would be better, but now wants the troops gone. “You’ve made it worse,” Pyles quoted the Iraqi as saying. “You need to go. It’s worse than under Saddam Hussein.”
Pyles urged people “not to get so overwhelmed by how big it is, that we do nothing.”
“What on earth can you do?” she asked. “Pray that every church will become a peace church. Pray for [the soldiers] to hold on to their souls.” She also suggested Bible studies on peace and letter writing campaigns to senators and representatives.
“The other piece is to remember human kindness,” she said.
Pyles acknowledges that many view CPT and similar organizations as anti-American.
“There seems to be some thought that CPT advances the cause of the enemies of the United States by opposing the war in Iraq,” Pyles wrote in an e-mail after the three CPT hostages were released. “In Iraq, CPT does not advocate for violence by anyone and in fact, opposes violence everywhere by everybody,” she said.
“I ask myself the question, is there anyone with whom I would not meet? And I remember the Jesus of the New Testament, the man as a Christian I try to follow. And I ask of him the same question, is there anyone with whom you would not meet? And I remember the indictment lodged against him in his day that he spent time in the company of the unsuitable, the unfit, the unclean, the ‘enemies’ of his own faith, his own country …” she wrote.
Pyles also recounted her reception by U.S. soldiers as she unsuccessfully sought to accompany Fox’s body home.
“I learned that soldiers, like the rest of us, have many different points of view,” she wrote. …”I learned of their own sadness at viewing so much death and destruction as I helped them catalogue Tom’s belongings, a routine chore they must do with each body sent home. I learned that they are kind and silly, informed and ignorant, for and against the war, and all anxious for home.”
Pyles is looking for a call that would enable her to continue her two-month-a-year commitment to CPT.