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Be ye therefore doers of the Word, and not hearers only

January 26, 2009

Dear Members of Brooks College:

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I did something out of the ordinary last week.  After reading a vivid account of civilian casualties and deaths resulting from Israel's recent military action in Gaza, I decided that I needed to do something.

I firmly believe that identifying with and praying for those that suffer is in itself an effective and important means of responding to suffering.  Generally, that is what I try to do when I read or hear about difficulties or tragedies, be they near or far, and in no way do I want to diminish the significance of that form of interceding.

Yet in this case, for some reason, I decided that my prayerfulness had to be accompanied by something more.  Perhaps it was because I was especially moved by the deaths of so many Gazan children and by what struck me as the disproportionate use of force by the Israelis.  The result was that I wrote a letter to the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and copied a handful of U.S. officials that might play a peacemaking role.

In retrospect, I am struck by how small a thing it was to write a letter, and also by how limited and frankly helpless I am to do much about this particular tragedy on the other side of the world.  At the same time, I also recognize that it is right to speak out about issues where matters of justice and injustice, and life and death, are at stake--even if grieving, praying, and speaking out are all that it is possible for one to do.

I also look back at my letter and see ways in which I should have expressed my concerns less stridently.  Deeply held convictions do not always have to be expressed with the sharpness that comes across in what I wrote to Ambassador Meridor.  I am including the letter below, so you can read it for yourself, but in doing so I want to acknowledge that I am neither wholly satisfied with it, nor do I see in it any particular cause for self-congratulation, nor do I suppose that certitude accompanies all of my judgments.  Still, it constitutes a willingness to say that something is wrong, that we share responsibility for addressing it, and that I want to be a part of improving our lot in the world.  

When you come up against the evils and tragedies of our world, as you ultimately cannot avoid doing, I hope that you will grieve, that you will pray, and that you will speak with directness, integrity, and reason insofar as you are able.  Beyond that I also hope that you will respond as compassionately and helpfully as your circumstances allow, whatever that entails.  Sharing with you in a vision of responsible engagement with and witness to the world makes being a part of Brooks College all the more rewarding.  Thanks for letting me tell you about my latest experiences in trying to make good on the promise of life together with you in this place.

All the best,

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Douglas V. Henry, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Master, Brooks Residential College

January 19, 2009

His Excellency Sallai Meridor
Ambassador of Israel
3514 International Dr. N.W.
Washington DC 20008

Dear Ambassador Meridor:

Over the course of my thirty-seven years, I have admired and supported the Jewish people scattered around the world.  As with many Americans of my generation, some of my earliest childhood memories include listening to stories of the unspeakable horrors your people suffered in the Second World War.  With my family, I cherished the courageous witnesses to my Christian faith found in such exemplary figures as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie ten Boom who gave themselves up in defense of the Jewish people.  In reading their work, and in struggling through the work of such divergent Jewish writers as Elie Wiesel and Herman Wouk, I have wept in sorrow at the evils suffered by Jews during the last century.  I want the Jewish people to flourish, to enjoy peace both in Israel and around the world, and to embrace blessings of the God who brought us all into being.

Understanding, then, my lifelong sympathy for the Jewish people, I want you to recognize as all the more costly my indignation at the unbelievable devastation that Israel has brought to Gaza in the last month.  The conduct of your government and its military has been brutal, cavalier, indiscriminate, and reprehensibly violent.  Not only has it resulted in a terrible loss of many innocent lives in Gaza--a reality that makes the action intrinsically evil--but it is also almost certainly an ineffective response to the violence of Hamas.  In short, as matters appear to me now, it is an increasingly easy matter for me to regard the plight of the Palestinian people as much the same as that of the Jewish people.

Your government’s unjust and ill-advised extremism in Gaza has all but dried up my deep wellspring of goodwill toward Israel, for when the persecuted become the persecutors, not justice but wickedness is wrought.  Criminals, terrorists, and thugs should by all means be held accountable for their deeds.  Such a principle as this, of course, is universally applicable and holds whether evil conduct is traceable to lone desperadoes, organized criminal syndicates, terrorist groups, or state-sanctioned military units.

Lest Israel be thought of as--and become--no better than the rocket-wielding vigilantes that seek your people’s demise, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to make a lasting peace with Gaza.  Indeed, nothing but the most generous possible outpouring of material relief, sincere compassion, and spiritual sympathy from your government to the Palestinians in Gaza is appropriate.

I hope against hope that Israel in the days ahead can demonstrate nobler policies of statecraft that what the world has recently seen.  If so, then perhaps I can in the second half of my life sustain the admiration and support for the Jewish people that has been such a defining feature of my life thus far.


Douglas V. Henry

Douglas V. Henry
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Honors College
Master, Brooks Residential College
Baylor University

cc: U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton