home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
Posted May 29, 2011

Book: Witness of the Body: The Past, Present, and Future of Christian Martyrdom
Editors: Michael L. Budde and Karen Scott
Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company. Grand Rapids. 2011. 228

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

In an age of suicide bombers and paranoid political rhetoric, the concept of martyrdom can make ordinary Christians uncomfortable, filled like something far removed common experience — something only from long ago (in gruesome stories of ancient saints and Roman lions) or far way (in troubled Africa or Central Asia or the war-torn Middle East). In this volume, however, twelve scholars from across academic disciplines effectively demystify Christian martyrdom and resituate it within the everyday practices of the church.

Beginning with the persecution of early Christians by the Roman Empire, Witness of the Body explores the place of martyrdom in the church through all ages and into the future. Combining expert historical studies with clearheaded analysis, these chapters will help Christians better understand martyrdom not as a quick ticket to heaven or a cheap political ploy — not as something mystically distant from everyday life — but, rather, as the firm and faithful witness of Christ’s church in a hostile world.

An Excerpt from the book:

Christian Martyrdom in the Contemporary Christian Political Vocation In the global economic system, blessed are those who labor for sustainable development and just distribution. In the global military system, blessed are the peacemakers. In the global communication system, blessed are those journalists who speak truth to power. In the global political system, bless are those who institutionalize justice, promote social order, and defend the rights of the poor. All four of the above vocations have become extraordinarily risky in the post-Cold War system, when extreme political movements on many sides of national, regional, and global conflicts use killing to promote chaos. Let’s take a particular political vocation as an example.

UN analyst James Traub called the Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello the “most experienced crisis manager in the U.N. and perhaps its single most gifted official.” In 2003, Vieira de Mello had just finished overseeing East Timor’s transition to independence and had become the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights. He had no desire to lead the UN’s entry into Iraq. However, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had become desperate to improve life for the Iraqui and to restore relations with Washington, so he convinced his Brazilian friend to go to Baghdad as UN special representative. Vieira de Mello then met with Ayatollah al-Sistani and others to work on national stability, but he refused tight security measures like those in the U.S. “Green Zone,” viewing them as incompatible with the UN mission of reconciliation.

On August 7, 2003, insurgents bombed the Jordanian embassy, but Vieria de Mello continued his work under the same porous UN security arrangements. Twelve days later, a flatbed truck pulled up directly under de Mello’s office, the corner window of the Canal Hotel. When a ton of high explosives was detonated, the floor of the special representative’s office vaporized, and de Mello was crushed to death before medical help could reach him. Altogether, twenty-two UN officials were killed in the blast, the worst debacle ever to befall UN civilian officials. The rules of engagement have changed in the post-Cold War world. Peacekeeping has become a terribly dangerous occupation, even if — maybe especially if — one is wearing a blue hat. And this is also true for obvious humanitarian efforts such as aid to Darfur, or patrolling the streets of Haiti. Yet there are some things that only a lightly defended international civil servant can do, such as meeting with al-Sistani and arranging legitimate elections in the Iraqi case.

. . .The above martyr[s] — famous and less so — died attempting to protect the human rights of innocent people suffering in the midst of civil war. They died, according to Lawrence Cunningham, in odium caritatis, like the Jewish theologian Edith Stein, who died because she was a Jew, or the Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe, who died because he took the place of a married man in a Nazi starvation bunker. The Iraqi and Salvadoran political dynamic is well understood. As the political and military situation polarizes, the more violent parties of both the right and left continue to grow in strength. The moderates, who are in the middle and who often refuse special protection so that they can continue their work of reconciliation, get assassinated by both the right (85 percent in El Salvador, according to the UN report) and the left (the other 15 percent). Should we call these nonviolent reconcilers Christian martyrs, or maybe “just” peacemakers who embrace high-risk civil war situations to do their work? Does it make any difference what we call them? Does the contemporary global situation add any special considerations?

Table of Contents:

Part 1: Martyrdom as the Church’s Witness

1. Christian Martyrdom: a theological perspective
2. Early church martyrdom: witnessing for or against the empire?
3. The primacy of the witness of the body to martyrdom in Paul

Part 11: Martyrdom Builds the church

4. Witness, women’s bodies, and the body of Christ
5. The judgment of the Eucharist at the trial of Joan of Arc

Part 111: Martyrdom destroys the church

6. Persecution or prosecution, martyrs or false martyrs? The reformation era, history, and theological reflection.
7. Destroying the church to save it: intra-Christian persecutions and the modern state
8. Martyrs and anti martyrs: reflection on treason, fidelity, an the gospel.

Part IV: Martyrdom and the future church

9. Is anything worth dying for?
10. “Threatened with Resurrection”: martyrdom and reconciliation in the world church
11. Flashpoints for future martyrdom: beyond the “clash of civilization.”