Life, Infant Death, and Afghanistan: 21 September

This week I will be taking 5 funerals in four days. That’s a record for me in 25 years of vicaring. Bilston, where I work, is a solid traditional place.

One of the funerals is of a 2 month old baby. The mother has a strong Christian faith and was saying the Lord must have taken him for a reason. As I usually do, I gently tried to present another view, that God did not want this baby to die, but, in this life, His will is not always done. That’s why we pray ‘Your Kingdom come, You will be done.’ It felt like a pushy thing to say, to try and change someone’s belief at such an anguished time – but for me this is important. Thinking that God had, mysteriously or cruelly, decided to take her baby from her, might damage her faith for the rest of her life. Yes He had allowed it to happen, but did not want it to happen, a crucial difference, saying much about His character. The baby’s mother seemed to accept what I was saying. After I spoke about God not wanting her baby to die, she and her partner told me in detail about all the mistakes the hospitals had made. I don’t think they would have been free to speak like this if I had agreed that God had taken him for a reason.

This baby had been born 3 months premature, but he had breathed independently from his first day, soon started feeding, and had the nuzzling, ‘where’s-the-milk?’ reflex. Just before he was due to go home, he picked up an infection in the hospital. He was transferred to another hospital where he picked up another infection. It was his fourth hospital-given infection that killed him. Not God’s will but human negligence.

One member of staff explained that hospitals aren’t as clean as they used to be – not enough money is spent on ‘proper’ cleaning. These wonderful, resilient, caring parents are scared of having another baby in a British NHS hospital. How can this have happened in the 21st Century, in one of the world’s most prosperous nations, at a time when recession is only beginning?

Cutbacks in the NHS are bound to come as the economy goes from bad to worse. For me it is even more imperative that we stop wasting millions of pounds and hundreds of lives in Afghanistan.

A friend advised me to search the net for ‘Christian troops out Afghanistan.’ Veteran atheist US soldier, Stan Goff, now Christian, has written a tremendous Open Letter to Christian US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sept 18 2008. He eloquently calls on such troops to refuse to fight. But it is governments, not soldiers, who make decisions.

The Presbyterian Church in Wales are on the right lines. On Monday 7 Sep, the General Assembly voted in favour of putting pressure on Gordon Brown to pull British troops out of Afghanistan. In his final address as Moderator, the Rev Haydn Thomas said, ‘Is a war which is winning us nothing but enemies the most effective way of preventing massacres like the one in London four years ago? Certainly not.

A Conference of South Asian Churches, part of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Bangalore from March 30 to April 2nd this year noted that ‘the overwhelming presence and reliance on 52,000-strong foreign forces in Afghanistan has created more animosity among the local people as well as in neighbouring Pakistan. This situation creates an atmosphere ripe for extremist groups to exploit the religious sentiments of ordinary people and involve them in committing more violence.’ They called ‘upon all parties concerned to eschew violence and invest in negotiated settlements of all issues which will ensure peace, security and development in the region.’ All parties include the British Government. They further called for ‘the withdrawal of U.S.-led international combat troops from Afghanistan and appeals to the international community to ensure that the resultant power vacuum may be filled by a UN-sponsored peacekeeping force with Asian forces as major players, which will help the country’s transition towards stability…

http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/wcc-programmes/public-witness-addressing-power-affirming-peace/international-advocacy/02-04-09-statement-on-peace-security-and-development-in-south-asia.html

The British Christian conservative organisation Christian Voice, back in November 2001 stated ‘In Afghanistan, America is conducting not so much a war against terror but a war for a pipeline.  She claims to seek justice but those in high places see the opportunity to make money.  Britain was supposed to have an ‘ethical foreign policy’ but our Prime Minister is acting like America’s Foreign Secretary, travelling the world shoring up – in the eyes of God – an unholy alliance between backslidden Christian nations, and despotic Muslim regimes like those of Saudi Arabia and Syria.’ 

http://www.christianvoice.org.uk/islam4.html Nov 2001

Surely it is time for more British Christians to join with our Welsh and South Asian brothers and sisters, with politicians in Germany and Italy, to do the best for our troops by taking them out of danger, to put pressure on our Government to pursue a policy in Afghanistan which is not based on a military campaign?

Roger Harper

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