Thursday, June 16, 2011

Report on "Peace Among the Peoples"

            At the invitation of leaders in my denomination, I attended the conference titled Peace Among the Peoples, held at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, July 28 – 31, 2010.  It was a privilege to represent the Moravian Church, Northern Province, at what proved to be a challenging, stimulating, and informative event.  Following is a report on my experience at the conference.

Attendees:  There were nearly two hundred attendees, including presenters, at the conference.  While a substantial number of them were Mennonite, there were members of other historic peace churches, including Quaker and Church of the Brethren; mainline Protestant churches, such as the United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Lutheran, United Methodist, and American Baptist; evangelical traditions such as the Assemblies of God, Community of Christ, Missionary Church, and Seventh Day Adventist; and at least two Christian Scientists. Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions were represented, as well as international delegates from the United Church of Canada, Mennonite Church Canada, and the Anabaptist Movement in Australia.  I was the only Moravian in attendance and was able to do a lot of informal education in conversations with a number of persons.

Schedule:  Each day opened with breakfast and morning prayer at the seminary. The daytime schedules included plenary sessions with time for Q&A after each pair of speakers, discernment sessions during which the group as a whole discussed assigned questions, and small group sessions on a wide variety of topics.  Lunch time conversations with some of the keynote speakers were also available.  Each day ended with worship at an area church.

Worship:  The morning prayer liturgies were adapted from “Take Our Moments and Our Days: An Anabaptist Prayer Book”.  Each service took as its theme one of the Beatitudes.  Thursday was “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”; Friday was “Blessed are the merciful”; and Saturday was “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  The order of service included song, scripture, and intercessory prayer.

Wednesday evening’s Opening Worship service was held in the Chapel of the Sermon on the Mount on the Seminary campus.  This was also the site for all plenary and discernment sessions.  Because of a plane delay I missed much of this service.

For each of the succeeding evenings, liturgy and worship leadership were provided by the host congregation, while a conference speaker delivered the sermon.  Thursday evening’s service was hosted by the First Presbyterian Church of Elkhart. The speaker was Itonde Kakoma, a first generation American of Rwanda/Ugandan origin, who is presently an assistant program coordinator for the Conflict Resolution Program of The Carter Center.  On Friday we worshipped at St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church of Elkhart.  The excellent homily was delivered by Bogdan G. Bucur, Ph.D., a native of Romania and member of the Romanian Orthodox Church who is presently Assistant Professor of Theology at Duquesne University.  The conference concluded on Saturday evening with a service at St. James A.M.E. Church of Elkhart.  Their choir’s rousing anthems provided a fascinating counterpoint to the Plainsong chant of the previous evening.  André Gingerich Stoner of the Mennonite Church USA preached the sermon.

Plenary Speakers:  There were five plenary sessions during the course of the conference, with two speakers at each session.  Following is a summary of my notes on each speaker.  (I took a lot more notes on some than on others.)

Session One – Alternative Approaches to Christians and War; Rita Nakashima Brock, Faith Voices for the Common Good, and Philip LeMasters, McMurray University

Brock: We need to create new positive neuro-pathways in order to unlearn violence and learn ways of peace.  80% of what we know, we take in with nonverbal signals.
Early Christianity was a life-affirming this world religion.  One of the primary images was of the restored Paradise Garden, which was a place of struggle against evil, not a utopia.  The church taught people how to live in the garden as a dissident space of resistance against empire.
Love was the great power of the church.  Baptism taught the initiate to love the world more deeply.  The story of the Transfiguration spoke of changing the whole world, not just Jesus.
The greatest hurdle for today’s Christians to overcome is the sanctification of violence in the Eucharist.
The passion stories are dissident stories, told against the reality of Roman crucifixion.

We need to develop a dynamic praxis of peace.  Christians have an ethical obligation to resist war.
Human community is essential to peacemaking.  The Trinity as a communion of Persons shows us how community should be formed and maintained

Session Two – Just War and Pacifism in Dialogue; Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University, and Gerard Powers, University of Notre Dame

What would a Just War foreign policy look like?  We would have to start the evaluation before hostilities begin.
Christ ended sacrifice.  War is idolatry.  War is not the sacrifice of people; it is the sacrifice of people’s unwillingness to kill.  Soldiers have to be conditioned to overcome the natural resistance to killing.
Rhetoric such as is found in the Gettysburg Address asks us to continue to kill people in the name of those who have died in the past.  This thought is antithetical to the Christian gospel.  It is what drives our nation to continue unjust wars.
Churches don’t have an alternative to war; churches are the alternative to war.
Part of being a peacemaker is to give your enemy hope.
If you are going to be a pacifist, you must be willing to be at least as disciplined as is the military.  We may have to watch the innocent suffer for our convictions.

Just War is about practical moral discernment.  It should be about violence prevention.
Non-violence must be the norm.  Engaging in a Just War must be the exception.

Session Three – Decade to Overcome Violence and International Ecumenical Peace Convocation; Guillermo Kerber, World Council of Churches, and Kent Yoder, former staff member in Geneva of the Decade to Overcome Violence

The World Council of Churches (WCC) is an ecumenical organization founded in 1948.  In dealing with violence in the world, they ask, “Can war be an act of justice?”
The Decade in Solidarity with Women, which ran from 1988 to 1998, was followed by the Decade to Overcome Violence, 2001 to 2011.  The WCC is now planning an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, to be held in Kingston, Jamaica, 17 – 25 May 2011.  According to the website, “The International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) will be a "harvest festival" celebrating the achievements of the Decade to Overcome Violence which began in 2001. At the same time it encourages individuals and churches to renew their commitment to nonviolence, peace and justice.”
The WCC is engaged in a process of self-criticism.  Have they focused on justice at the expense of advocating non-violence?  They are examining the roles of guerillas in revolutionary movements over past decades.

Unity and peacemaking are at the center of WCC work.
He discussed programs that have been part of the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV).  Churches in the US formed a Think Tank, but the initiative never really took root in North America.
September 21, 2010, has been declared an International Day of Prayer for Peace.  It is an ecumenical and interfaith effort.
They have had some successes:
·        The definition of peace and non-violence has been continued beyond war.
·        Many churches take peacemaking more seriously.
·        It has brought peacemaking to the forefront of activities in churches.
The WCC is devoting significant staff time to the effort.  Outreach successes include the current conference.  Mennonites and Brethren have not been a part of the WCC, but they are working with the WCC on this conference and preparing for Kingston.
For the future – it is essential to reap the harvest of what has been done in the past decade.  Much has been done to identify peaceworkers around the world.  Workshops at the convocation will focus on best practices.

Session Four – New Views – Visions for Peacemaking in North America; Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity, and Paul Alexander, Co-founder of Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace and Justice

He began by quoting Ivan Illich: “If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.”
He described six framing stories:
1.      Domination Story – peace and security come through being in control - “If only I were in control.” (He thinks this is the primary story in U.S. Evangelical communities.)
2.      Revolution Story – peace and security through violent overthrow of oppressors – “If only THEY weren’t in control.”  Motive is revenge.
3.      Purification Story – peace and security come through naming, blaming, shaming, and excluding a dangerous minority – “If only THOSE PEOPLE would change or disappear.”  This leads to scapegoating and ethnic cleansing.
4.      Victimization Story – peace and security (and identity) through preserving the memory of a past injustice – “If only our oppressors would be brought to justice.”
5.      Isolation Story – peace and security through withdrawing from the corrupt, doomed majority – “The system is doomed; leave us alone.”  Creates an elite/elect remnant.
6.      Accumulation Story – peace and security through accumulating possessions in a competitive economy to achieve economic advantage.

These stories all generate conflict.  Jesus came with a different story: The Kingdom of God, the New Creation.  He invites us to join that story, which becomes Good News of reconciliation.  This can be expressed as “some of us for all of us.”  Language about “us vs. them” disappears as all are drawn into an inclusive “us.”

There is a danger of losing Jesus’ story, of co-opting Christian language as a camouflage for one of the other stories.  The true meaning of evangelism is good news for all creation.

The early Pentecostals were non-violent.

Session Five – Domestic and International Peacemaking in Perspective; Jarrod McKenna, Anabaptist Network of Australia, and Linda Gehman Peachey, Mennonite Central Committee

He is a member of an intentional Christian community named The Peace Tree Community, and works with the Together for Humanity Foundation. The Foundation acknowledges that different faiths have different stories.  They work to create space for young people of different faiths to work together in direct action, from service projects to protest.
Some recent areas of activity:
·        Supports the Australian military in its call on the government to see climate change as a security threat.
·        They are literally planting vines and fig trees in a re-vegetation effort.
·        They are engaging with the military hierarchy on a number of issues.
He calls for a cosmic vision to avert ecological disaster.
His heroes include John Howard Yoder, Dorothy Day, and Joanna Macy.


Violence against women is not just a domestic issue but is a problem around the world.  The church treats women very differently from the way it treats men.
Domestically, sexual violation is a huge problem.  Within minority groups, police cannot be trusted to be helpful to women who are being abused.  Immigrant women are frequently sexual targets of employers and officials.  How does our peace theology address this?
In the U.S.:
·        Three women per day are killed by a domestic partner
·        One third of adolescent girls report sexual abuse
·        Four plus children per day are killed by abuse or neglect
·        Christian women tend to stay longer in abusive relationships.
She identified four specific areas where peace theology may contribute to violence against women and children:
(1) Emphasis on suffering and the cross can imply that suffering is required for salvation.
(2) The understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation can be used to avoid accountability and stop the process of healing.  Repentance must be a part of reconciliation, and the perpetrator must understand that harm was done. 
(3) The myth of entitlement asserts that some people have the right, and even the duty, to control others.  This is the dynamic of empire, not of the gospel.  It is also used to justify destruction of the earth. 
(4) The understanding of the power of God in terms of control and domination makes God too much like Caesar.
Suggested solutions:
·        Give more attention to sin – personal, social, and systemic.
·        Look at new leadership patterns.  Develop new rituals which specifically counter thought patterns leading to violence and abuse.
·        Pay close attention to those who have been hurt by individual and systemic violence.  Who is missing from the discussion?  Who is most vulnerable?  How do those missing and most vulnerable hear our message of peace?  We must engage in regular self-evaluation to assure that our peacemaking efforts are not inadvertently harming others.

Concurrent Sessions:

On Friday morning there were eight small group concurrent sessions, and I would have liked to have attended just about all of them.  Because I had participated in the first Re-Imagining Conference, held in Minneapolis in November, 1993, as a “check-in” half way through the WCC Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (DCSW), I chose to attend the Concurrent Session on the same topic.  It was facilitated by Dr. Gail Allan, staff person for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, United Church of Canada; and the Rev. Dr. Janet Parker, Associate Minister at Rock Spring UCC, Alexandria, Virginia.

The goals of the DSCW were:
·        To empower women to challenge oppression
·        To affirm the contributions of women in church and community
·        To give visibility to women’s work and issues
·        To enable churches to free themselves from racism and sexism
·        To empower churches to take action

The Montreal massacre in 1989 framed the Canadian response to the DCSW, making violence against women the focus for the decade there.  (Historical note: On December 6, 1989, Marc Lépine, declaring that he hated feminists, killed fourteen women students and injured thirteen other students – nine women and four men – at the École Polytechnique in Montreal.  

Some of the actions organized and sponsored by the WCC as part of the DCSW:
·        “Living Letters” Project – teams of visitors were sent to churches and organizations around the world as “living letters,” like Paul’s letters.  Teams from the project found a culture of silence around the world, and lack of accountability.
·        WCC issued a call to move from solidarity to accountability, to eliminate all forms of violence.
·        WCC assembly acknowledged that violence against women is a sin
·        They urge breaking silence by telling the stories
·        Recognize that violence is rooted in theology which legitimizes it

Churches must confront violence as a theological problem.  Jesus knew suffering and offers a way through it.  But this should not be used as a justification for valorizing suffering.  The theological critique must look at issues of power.  Violence is part of a web of oppression.  Empire is an interlocking system of violence and oppression.

The DCSW led to the WCC’s declaring the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV).  We are now in the ninth year of the decade.

Group discussion:
  1. The WCC acknowledges that violence against women is a sin and an offense against God.  What should this mean for our practices of faith as we move into the future?
    1. We should talk about the issue in church
    2. Is “sin” a useful judgment?  We might add that it is an offense against one’s own path toward God.  Sin holds one back.
    3. We need to keep a broader definition of violence; it is not just physical violence.
    4. The sin of violence is systemic.  It affects the whole community.
    5. Release the power of worship.  We need to “un-sanitize” worship.
    6. Recognize God’s breadth by the use of inclusive language
    7. Expand the range of those with whom we engage
  2. What is the logical work still before us to challenge the theologies of violence and suffering?  What resources now exist to assist in this endeavor?
    1. We need to unwrap crucifix images.  Jesus is living on the cross, not a corpse.  He continued life, ministry, and teaching up to the moment when he died.
    2. Need to deal with the doctrine of atonement.  Possible resources:
                                                               i.      Delores Williams: Sisters in the Wilderness
                                                             ii.      Peter Schmiechen: Saving Power
                                                            iii.      Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker: Proverbs of Ashes
                                                           iv.      J. Denny Weaver: The Nonviolent Atonement
                                                             v.      April 1994 Mennonite Quarterly Review: Women Doing Theology

Working Group Sessions:

            Like the Concurrent Sessions, the Working Group Sessions, which occupied a substantial block of time on Saturday, offered a number of attractive choices.  I attended the Report from the Truth Commission on Conscience in War, led by the Rev. Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock and the Rev. Dr. David B. Miller, formerly pastor of University Mennonite Church, State College, and currently Associate Professor of Missional Leadership Development at AMBS.

            Brief background for the Truth Commission on Conscience in War:  In December 2008 the producers of the film “Soldiers of Conscience”, knowing that she had worked with the South African Truth Commission, invited Dr. Brock to dinner.  Their goal was to form a Truth Commission in the United States to hear the voices excluded from public awareness regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The purpose of a Truth Commission is to bring to light people’s testimony, to hear narratives of personal experience of harm.  It operates on the basic feminist principle that the personal is political.  The goal is to attempt to restore relationships and to create a better society.  It operates on a model of restorative justice, not a model of crime and punishment.

            Preparation for the Truth Commission took more than a year.  Each co-sponsoring organization could name a commissioner, so they ended up with 72 commissioners.  Testimony was taken over a two day period in March 2010 at Riverside Church, New York City.  Two groups of persons testified during the hearings – soldiers who related their personal experiences of war, and leaders from the fields of medicine, religion, and psychology who served as expert witnesses. 

Testimony from the soldiers was vetted to assure that the person testifying would not be re-traumatized by doing so.  There were repeated stories of deep moral injury.  For example, U.S. soldiers are carefully instructed in Just War Theory as part of their military training.  But they face severe penalties if they apply what they have been taught to analyze a current conflict, conclude that it does not comply with just war requirements, and then refuse deployment on that basis.  There is no provision in current U.S. law for selective conscientious objection.  The result is imposition of substantial moral injury on precisely those soldiers who take their training most seriously.  One positive consequence of the Truth Commission testimony is that the Veterans Administration is now writing protocols to deal with moral injury.

Resources specific to this session:
  1. Truth Commission website. Video of the testimony is available on the website.
  2. GI Rights Hotline: 877-447-4487 or
  3. Soldiers of Conscience” film.  By Luna Productions.  It was broadcast on PBS.  A DVD is available.  Dr. Brock warned that it is important to prepare the audience if your church or other group intends to show the film.  Be sure to provide chaplains and a safe space in case a veteran in the audience is triggered to have flashbacks.
  4. Boudreau, Tyler E.; Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine, Feral House, 2008. 
  5. Rhodes, Richard; Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist; Vintage Books, Division of Random House, 1999. ISBN: 0-375-70248-2.  Rhodes treats learning to kill as a socialization process, not a pathology.

Final Discernment Session:

            The Listening Committee and selected presenters were asked for final thoughts on what should be next.

  1. Form a continuing committee to further the work of the conference
  2. Possible partnership among leaders of the Decade to Overcome Violence, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Historic Peace Churches
  3. Establish an Ecumenical Peace Center – this is an ongoing conversation among those planning for the Kingston Convocation
  4. Establish a Peace Network, space where theological and practical resources could be shared.  A workshop proposal on this topic has been submitted to the planners for Kingston.
  5. Continue focus on women’s concerns.  How does the issue of violence against women intersect with the peace movement?  Need to develop awareness and advocacy.
  6. Need to work on theology and inclusive language
  7. Recognize “dominating power” as a common problem, from domestic violence to nuclear war.  Develop a theology of resistance to domination.

Additional Resources and References:

Book: Brock, Rita Nakashima and Rebecca Parker, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire, Beacon Press, 2008.

Book: Nyce, Dorothy Yoder, Multifaith Musing: Essays and Exchanges, self published, May 2010; ISBN 0692008659 Available on

Reference on the Pace e Bene website for The Peace Tree Community

Women Transcending Boundaries – organization bringing women of faith together after 9/11; based in Syracuse, New York

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