In tomorrow's Gospel reading
we hear the prologue to the Gospel of John. In it, John writes in part,
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
These are interesting words about which to write on a morning when the news is dominated
by the hanging of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and others convicted with him of "crimes against humanity." Light and darkness still contend with one another.
There is no denying that Saddam's reign in Iraq was one of darkness rather than light. Arrogantly brutal, he was a cruel dictator in a world where that has been all too common. And Hussein was an nationalist who used the conflict among the factions of Muslims in his country (Sunnis and Shi'ites) to his advantage creating a tension very like the Roman Catholic/Protestant fighting in Northern Ireland. Then he used that tension to create control by giving power to some in exchange for building up his own base of support. Much of the Sunni/Shi'ite violence tearing that nation apart is due to the way Sunnis found favor under Saddam and oppressed the Shi'ites. Now Shi'ites look for revenge
and Sunnis are fighting back. And this from a man who seemed from afar to be a Muslim only when it suited his political needs.The Cycle of Violence
I am not so naïve as to misunderstand why the current Prime Minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki, was pleased to tell the press of hearing Saddam's neck snap. For he also said, "Saddam's execution puts an end to all the pathetic gambles on a return to dictatorship." And so Maliki's government no longer has to worry about overthrow by Saddam himself. But everyone knows and our own president has already said that, "Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq."
Darkness can never be dispeled by darkness and the way to break a cycle of violence is never with more violence. Fight darkness with light
Jesus nonviolently opposed Roman oppression and Jewish collusion with it. He brought life and light to a time of death and darkness by preaching, teaching and living love. Light does not overcome darkness by using the the tools and techniques of darkness to shed light.
Killing Saddam could create a martyr, while letting him live could have allowed for his redemption. And if you don't believe Hussein could have been neutralized as a threat without putting him to death, recall Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega who is cooling his heals in a federal prison in Miami for racketeering, drug trafficking and money-laundering as part of a 40-year term. No one in Panama is worried about his return to power.Creating scapegoats
We have an uneven history of dealing with dictators
but it is possible for the world to help a nation hold its leaders accountable by bringing them down without putting them to death. Otherwise we create a scapegoat, attaching all the ills of a country to one person, which is never the whole story. With the one person gone, the system that put them in place will largely remain. Countering darkness is not so easy as removing one person. It takes an ongoing campaign of letting light shine in the darkness.
Rather than creating and eliminating the scapegoat, we are better served to work to dismantle the systems that fuel dictatorial power. For example, the end of World War I gave Hitler more power rather than less as it fueled German nationalism. The end of World War II, in which we helped rebuild Japan and Germany had vastly different results. Likewise the light shining in the darkness in the real world of governments looks more like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
in South Africa at the end of Apartheid.
So today is a day for praying for the family and friends of Saddam Hussein in the name of the one who taught us to pray for our enemies. That's what light shining in the darkness looks like—showing love in times and places when love could least be expected.
In the archives is the sermon Enkindle Our Hearts
Now I've mixed a lot of stuff around while failing to stick to the main point. But you probably get the idea. Now I'm wondering what do you think?
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor