The earliest roots of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) can be traced back to 1984, when the leftwing theologian and social activist Ron Sider—who established Evangelicals for Social Action and was a founding board member of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment—exhorted likelinded activists to travel to war-ravaged locations around the world, physically “stand peacefully between [the] warring parties,” and “be prepared to die by the thousands” as human shields. Moreover, Sider condemned the “competing self-righteous ideologies of the United States and the Soviet Union” that “trample arrogantly on the people’s dreams for justice and freedom in Central America and Afghanistan, the Philippines and Poland.”
Sider’s call-to-action helped spark vigorous conversations about antiwar initiatives in church congregations across North America. In the late fall of 1986, these discussions culminated in a gathering of approximately 100 individuals in Chicago who officially established CPT. The fledgling organization was initially sponsored by the two largest North American Mennonite denominations and the Church of the Brethren. The Quakers also played an important role.
Fulfilling Ron Sider’s vision, CPT—whose official motto is “Getting in the Way”—has cultivated a reputation for its “direct action” sabotage of military operations across the globe. “At the invitation of local peace and human rights workers,” the organization “places violence-reduction teams in crisis situations and militarized areas around the world.” These teams “seek to follow God’s Spirit as it works through local peacemakers who risk injury and death by waging nonviolent direct action to confront systems of violence and oppression.” CPT’s ultimate aim is to “embody creative non-violence and liberating love,” and to use “the nonviolent power of God’s truth” to “transform violence and oppression,” tear down “structures of domination,” and create “a world of communities that together embrace the diversity of the human family and live justly and peaceably with all creation.”
CPT’s work also includes such activities as monitoring and reporting on human-rights violations in various places, training activists in non-violent intervention, providing witnesses to testify in courtroom proceedings, delivering education and advocacy through presentations to schools and churches, disseminating articles and media releases, organizing fact-finding and learning delegations to areas of conflict, and supporting public actions and speaking tours.
In the 1980s, CPT’s attention was focused heavily on what it described as the “low-intensity” wars that had broken out in many places including Central America. By CPT’s telling, “the U.S. government usually sided with the elite groups and oppressive systems in these conflicts.”
By 1992, CPT had put together a series of delegations to Haiti, Iraq, and the West Bank. By the end of 1998, its “violence-reduction projects” were active also in Bosnia and Chiapas, Mexico.
Below is an overview of CPT’s major programs today:
(1) Palestine: Since June 1995, CPT has been a continuing presence in the Hebron District of the West Bank. There, team members “stand with Palestinians and Israeli peace groups” engaged in “nonviolent opposition to Israeli military occupation, collective punishment, settler harassment, home demolitions and land confiscation.” Specifically, CPT activists accompany Palestinian children walking to and from school; accompany Palestinian shepherds and farmers to fields where “Israeli settlers often assault them”; monitor the treatment of Palestinians at Israeli military checkpoints and roadblocks; and intervene during Israeli “human rights abuses and violations” including “military invasions of Palestinian homes and markets.”
In an effort to combat Israel’s many alleged transgressions, CPT supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement. The organization also cooperates with, shares personnel with, and works alongside the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which likewise engages in shielding terrorists from the Israeli Defense Forces. Moreover, CPT often partners with groups that regularly smear Israel as the modern-day equivalent of apartheid South Africa—e.g., the ISM, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center.
To drive home the message of Israeli abuses against the Palestinians, CPT conducts such initiatives as: (a) “Stop the Hate” tours, designed to gives visitors an opportunity to “see the [Israeli] occupation of the historic old city of Hebron through new eyes”; (b) the “Firing Zone” Project, whose purpose is to “save” Masafer Yatta, an area of the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank, from being annexed by Israel and turned into a military-training area; and (c) the “Al-Rajabi Building Project,” which seeks to “prevent [Israeli] settlers from re-occupying Al Rajabi Building in Hebron.”
CPT activist) and former television journalist Jerry Levin gave voice to the organization’s anti-Israel orientation when he characterized the first Palestinian Intifada as an exercise in “creative nonviolent resistance.”
In December 2007 CPT condemned the separation barrier that Israel constructed in the West Bank, characterizing it as a structure “that snakes through the occupied Palestinian territories, in effect annexing valuable Palestinian land and water resources” and affecting the lives of “nearly half a million Palestinian residents.” To help spread the message that the existence of this barrier was an immoral violation of Palestinian human rights, CPT urged its supporters to implement, during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, such “Action Ideas” as these:
Notably, CPT made no mention of the reason why the barrier had been erected in the first place: to stop the relentless wave of Palestinian terrorism that had preceded its construction.
CPT “conflict resolution teams” periodically make short-term visits (of 7 to 14 days) to Palestinian centers, both to provide “practical guidance to warring parties,” and to “link communities experiencing violence with concerned individuals, churches and groups.” Toward these ends, CPT has established a forum for “social change through listening, public witness, prayer vigils, [and] dialogue.” CPT also funds longer-term projects by “peacemaker teams” whose members return periodically to their home churches, where they are active in “organizing, speaking, training, or other peace work within their communit[ies].”
(2) Iraq: CPT’s Iraq program began in October 2002, when Team members “accompanied the Iraqi people” during the period leading up to the U.S.-led invasion, during the “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign in Baghdad, and throughout the subsequent “occupation.” Initially, the organization sought to “support the UN Weapons Inspection Program as an alternative to war”; “expose the injustice and deaths from the U.S.-led economic sanctions”; and “put a human face on Iraq, helping people in the U.S. understand that Saddam Hussein was not the only person living in Iraq.”
Self-professed Christian monastic pacifist Shane Claiborne, an American, participated in one of CPT’s most infamous crusades when its members sojourned to Iraq in 2003 to discourage U.S.-led coalition forces from overthrowing Saddam’s despotic regime. While there, Claiborne did not denounce the depredations of the murderous dictator, but instead depicted America as the principal victimizer of Iraqis. When CBS News asked Claiborne whether he could understand why some Americans viewed him as a traitor, he replied: “If this bloody, counterfeit liberation [of Iraq] is American … I am proud to be un-American. If depleted uranium is American … I am proud to be un-American. If the imposed ‘peace’ of Pax Americana is American, I am proud to be un-American.”
During the “Shock and Awe” phase of the U.S. invasion of Iraq (in March/April 2003), CPT members stayed in Baghdad to “stand alongside Iraqi families; provide an alternative voice to the reporters ’embedded’ with Coalition forces; [and] use their bodies [as human shields] to protect critical civilian infra-structure such as water treatment facilities, electrical plants, and hospitals.”
From June 2003 to September 2004, CPT worked to “document abuse of detainees by Coalition forces”; “assist Iraqis in gaining access to loved ones in detention”; and administer its “Adopt-a-Detainee Campaign” that asked churches “to advocate on behalf of Iraqi detainees,” and paired suspected terrorist prisoners with American sponsors who would write to political authorities on their behalf.
Once major U.S. military operations in Iraq had ended, CPT activists stayed on to “document abuse of detainees by Coalition forces.” In a 12-page litany of purported abuses, CPT member Peggy Gish wrote that Iraqi prisoners-of-war whom the U.S. was holding captive in Abu Ghraib were being horribly mistreated—e.g., forced to sleep “about a hundred men in each tent.” Gish reported that on one occasion when the prisoners began shouting “Freedom,” American soldiers gunned down four of them.
CPT also held demonstrations against the American military on U.S. soil. In November 2003, for example, Team members joined a raucous protest in front of the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. Two of them were arrested for trespassing during a time of war.
On November 29, 2005, a radical Islamist group known as the Swords of Righteousness Brigade kidnapped four CPT members (including one American) in Iraq, claiming that the captives were undercover spies disguised as Christian peace activists. On December 1st, an official CPT statement said: “We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people.” In early March 2006 the American hostage was shot to death and dumped onto a Baghdad street. When U.S. and British forces rescued the other three hostages later that month (on March 23), CPT issued the following statement: “…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…”
In 2009, CPT activist Shane Claiborne — drawing a moral equivalence between the 9/11 attacks and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003) — wrote: “We lament the violence suffered by 9/11 victims and their families. And we lament the violence that people in Afghanistan and Iraq have suffered these past eight years. We cry out against the violence, and we want to act now for peace.” Also in 2009, Claiborne invited fellow pacifists to donate $911 to CPT through its “9-11 Campaign.”
(3) Iraqi/Kurdistan Project: This CPT initiative “partners with and accompanies mountain village and shepherd communities as they struggle for a peaceful existence, resisting displacement and destruction caused by Turkish and Iranian cross-border military operations.” It also “documents and reports on the effects of the attacks on the civilian population, calls Kurdish and international attention to them, and advocates for an end of the attacks.” In the spring and summer months of 2013, CPT’s Iraqi Kurdistan team conducted twelve workshops on nonviolence. In cooperation with the Suleimani Directorate of Education, the team presented this interactive workshop to more than 180 students and teachers in five high schools. It then led the workshop in various Iraqi and Kurdish towns.
(4) Aboriginal Justice: This program was launched in February 1999 to “help reduce violence directed at First Nations communities resisting industrial activity (i.e. logging, mining, fishing) in their territories without their consent.” It is also committed to “undoing colonialism and supporting Indigenous communities seeking justice and defending their lands against corporate and government exploitation without community consent.”
(5) Colombia: Launched in February 2001, this CPT initiative uses “fasting, public prayer, and nonviolent action” to “support threatened communities, primarily in the Magdalena Medio region, working for a peaceful end to Colombia’s 50-year-old civil war.” CPT teams in Colombia oppose the use of “huge infusions of foreign [i.e., American] military aid” to combat narcoterrorists, and they stage protests in Colombia against U.S.-sponsored spraying of drug fields.
(6) Africa Great Lakes: In conjunction with human rights organizations, peace groups, civil society leaders, and church leaders in the Great Lakes region of the Congo and Uganda, CPT works to “support local nonviolent peace initiatives, to bring international attention to the conflict in the region, and to research economic factors which continue this violence.”
(7) Borderlands: Between 2004 and 2007, CPT’s Borderlands project periodically partnered with local groups along the U.S./Mexico border in an effort to reduce the number of migrant deaths in the border region, advocate for “just and comprehensive U.S. immigration reform,” and call for “compassionate treatment of the immigrant ‘stranger.’” Today CPT condemns the U.S. “policy of border militarization,” citing it as a factor that has contributed to the deaths of “over 3,500 men, women and children” who “have died in the borderlands attempting to find work, reunite with family, and pursue the ‘American Dream.’”
CPT also maintains a seasonal presence along the Arizona/Mexico border, where it conducts what it describes as “a campaign to challenge U.S. immigration policies that result in hundreds of migrant deaths in the desert every summer.” CPT team members “[hold] cross-border prayer vigils, remain alert to vigilante threats, and monitor border patrol officers’ treatment of migrants.”
The Borderlands campaign is conducted in close cooperation with the open-borders organization No More Deaths (NMD). In addition, CPT and NMD members engage in “resistance to harmful immigration policies and enforcement practices” by giving “emergency aid” to “migrants” illegally crossing the Arizona border. Specifically, the activists cruise the desert that separates Mexico and Arizona, picking up illegals who have “already” crossed the border and transporting them to a safe house on the American side. Moreover, CPT encourages American churches to hide these illegal aliens from immigration authorities.
Sponsors, Funders, and CPT Chapters
Today, CPT’s endorsing and sponsoring denominations and organizations include the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Church of the Brethren, the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilians), the Friends United Meeting, the Mennonite Church Canada, the Mennonite Church USA, On Earth Peace, Peace and Justice Ministries, the Peace and Justice Support Network, and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Funded primarily through donations from members of affiliated churches in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, CPT has established regional groups in and near Boulder, Clorado; Cleveland, Ohio; Minnesota; Northern Indiana; Washington, DC; Southern Ontario, Canada; Winnipeg, Canada; and the United Kingdom.