Discovering the Networks of the Christian Left

In 2004, David Horowitz launched the website A former leftist, Horowitz is well aware of the direct connections that often exist between self-described peaceful activist groups and those that condone, support, or participate in various forms of terrorist violence. His website carefully documents these ties, allowing the public to discover for themselves the associations between certain progressive mainstream organizations and their militant left-wing partners.

Such extensive documentation is especially useful with the Christian Left, whose organizations have biblical names and mission statements and whose leaders are often presented as uber-servants of Christ, who bring a prophetic, apolitical message of peace, concern for the poor, and stewardship of the environment. Prominent among these leaders is Shane Claiborne, whose book Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical (co-authored with John Perkins) is required reading this year for all freshman at the Christian university where I teach. Someone reading about Claiborne on his website, the Sojourners blog God's Politics, or the anti-American, anti-capitalist website is likely to discover that he is a peace activist who currently lives among the homeless in Philadelphia, has worked alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and in 2003 spent three weeks in Baghdad during the war in Iraq as part of a group called the Iraq Peace Team. It is this last venture that leaves a trail which calls into question Claiborne's advocacy of nonviolence.

Claiborne's Iraq Peace Team was a joint project of Voices in the Wilderness and Christian Peacemaker Teams. "Voices" was founded in the mid-'90s for the purpose of protesting the economic sanctions imposed upon Iraq during the Clinton administration. Its founders were almost exclusively Catholic radicals influenced by the Catholic Worker movement and by such personalities as activist priests Philip and Daniel Berrigan. The modus operandi of Voices was to highlight and sponsor frequent trips to Iraq in violation of the U.N. sanctions, where team members would further break the law by distributing what were mostly symbolic amounts of medical and other supplies. Upon return to the United States, team members would parrot the information fed to them by Saddam Hussein's officials regarding the effects of the sanctions on the Iraqi people. Commenting on this apparent alliance with Saddam against the United States, disillusioned former member Charles M. Brown had this to say about Voices:

To be perfectly frank, we were less concerned with the suffering of the Iraqi people than we were in maintaining our moral challenge to U.S. foreign policy. We did not agitate for an end to sanctions for purely humanitarian reasons; it was more important to us to maintain our moral challenge to 'violent' U.S. foreign policy, regardless of what happened in Iraq. For example, had we been truly interested in alleviating the suffering in Iraq, we might have considered pushing for an expanded Oil-for-Food program. Nothing could have interested us less. Indeed, we even regarded the paltry amounts of aid that we did bring to Iraq as a logistical hassle. ... We were so preoccupied with our own agenda that we didn't notice or care that the regime made use of us. When critics asked us whether the group was being exploited by the Iraqi regime, we obfuscated, and in so doing put Saddam and his minions on the same level as the U.S. government.

Writing about his experience with the Iraq Peace Team in the book Follow me to Freedom, Claiborne admits to intentionally breaking the law during his time in Baghdad. He justifies this civil disobedience by comparing his unlawful actions with those of the early Christian martyrs, who are not known for protesting Roman foreign policy but are known for their submission to imprisonment, torture, and execution as a result of their refusal to worship Caesar. In comparison with the martyrs, Claiborne writes that today's civil disobedience should also be peaceful. In particular, he warns that there is "no room for killing abortion doctors." That's true. Claiborne's disciples, however, might benefit more from hearing that there is also no room for supporting terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, which brings us to the second co-sponsor of his Iraqi Peace Team.

The group Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), founded in the mid-1980s by a handful of leftist religious organizations, conducts most of its operations in the Middle East, where it has been involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1992. Working closely with Palestinian political leaders, CPT members promote peace by engaging in "direct-action" sabotage against the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). According to, "CPT cooperates with, shares personnel with, and works alongside the International Solidarity Movement (ISM)," a radical, anti-Israeli organization led by Palestinians who work with American recruiters to invite Western volunteers to Israel for the purpose of disrupting the activities of the IDF. 

After a suicide bombing of an Israeli bar in 2003 that killed three people and wounded fifty, it was discovered that the two British nationals who carried out the attack had met with ISM members just prior to the bombing. As a result of this apparent attempt to provide cover for suicide bombers, the Israeli government formally accused ISM of maintaining ties with Palestinian terrorism. Adding strength to this accusation is the fact that ISM lobbies for the release of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade leader Marwan Barghouti -- a terrorist captured in Israel and convicted on five counts of murder -- and the acknowledgment by ISM co-founder Huwaida Arraf that her organization cooperates with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. George Rishmawi, another co-founder, gave an interview in 2004 in which he explains the motivation for recruiting student volunteers from the West:

When Palestinians get shot by Israeli soldiers, no one is interested anymore, but if some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.

Christian Peacemaker Teams has also maintained a presence in Iraq since 2002. In 2005, four of their members were kidnapped by an Islamist group known as the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. Four months later, the lone American hostage was shot to death and dumped on a street in Baghdad. A few weeks after that, British and U.S. forces rescued the other three. Following the rescue, CPT released a statement in which they took direct aim at their liberators:

... We believe that the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping and so much pain and suffering in Iraq. The occupation must end. ... During these past months, we have tasted of the pain that has been the daily bread of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis ...

Given Claiborne's reputation as a Christian peace activist, it would be helpful if he explained the extent of his solidarity with groups like Voices in the Wilderness, CPT, and especially ISM. If he is unwilling to distance himself from these organizations, then his followers should proceed with extreme caution. Instead of finding freedom, they may find themselves being led on yet another futile attempt to establish an earthly Marxist utopia.

Robert Huff is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas.