Last night, we had a 2nd gathering of the Historic Peace Churches here in Kingston – to talk about what we had heard, what we were taking back, and what our next steps were as people following the Prince of Peace.
There was lots of affirmation for our acceptance and large presence within this ecumenical gathering. In fact, I don’t think a day passed without a member of the Historic Peace Churches on the plenary stage – bringing our voice of pacifism and active nonviolence. It was a powerful thing to witness and see. It was also named that we are a voice that has often been on the side of the ecumenical movement – speaking to it, but not often being heard. It has certainly felt good to be heard.
However, it is more than that for us now. For this ecumenical gathering marks not only an acceptance of the message the peace churches have been preaching, but a new challenge for us in how we approach the gospel of peace – a push and a challenge to not only witness against war and violence, but to better preach what we are for.
Are we willing to hear not only the acceptance of our message of peace by the ecumenical community, but the challenge they bring to us in the midst of their acceptance? Are we ready to more actively seek a just peace – even when it might make us a bit uncomfortable? When it might challenge the standards and the reality that we have gotten used to?
I certainly hope so. It is the way of peace. It is the work of following Jesus. It is the embodiment of another way of living.
This is a phrase I will be taking home from this place. I have heard it a couple of times, and then got into a couple of good conversations around it yesterday, as we considered the concept of peace among the peoples, and how that plays out in our global community of nations.
For so long, the ecumenical movement has been about making manifest the unity we find in Christ. We have been about unity for, well, unity’s sake. But the question was raised here, what exactly are we seeking to live out our given unity for? And the reminder that we have been given is that it is so that the world will know.
We are called to be one in Christ, to seek our given unity as a Christian community, to offer a different example of life to the world, a different model of community and living with one another. We are called to seek unity for peace’s sake. That we can show to the world what it means like to live “God’s Security Strategy”. That is what is truly at the heart of the ecumenical movement. To be a body seeking to live out our unity so that we are a witness to the world of the vision God has.
And this gets made manifest in a number of different ways that we heard here yesterday. It is made manifest in the church serving as an early warning mechanism in places where violence is beginning – being connected to the community in ways the government just isn’t. It is made manifest through delegations of church leaders speaking to our governments, and laying out the alternative vision of security that we find in Christ.
But it is also in being willing to ask tough questions, like the one I am going to leave you with here. What does relying on the ability to kill millions of others for our security do to our souls?
Lets seek to live out our unity for the sake of peace in our world.
Our theme for today is Peace Among the Peoples, and we once again started with bible study and worship. For bible study, we focused on Ephesians 2:11-22. Below are some excerpts:
“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace […] so then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God […] in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; into whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
Bible study this morning offered the church an interesting challenge – why do we always carry ministry to those on the margins of society – when often it is those who have, who are deeply imbedded in our society the most, who need the voice of the gospel the most. As we think the church as an example of the alternative community – a beacon of the world God desires and united in our common citizenship in the household of God – how do we witness in the different places in which we find ourselves?
In the United States, and for the Church of the Brethren, this strikes me as meaning that the mission fields are not in the global south, or with those communities are struggling (mission field in the sense of conversion – doing service in partnership with them is still vital), but rather with those around us who are so deeply embedded in a society that keeps people hungry and in poverty, which perpetuates the structures of economic colonialism, and which has so much while so many have so little. Brothers and sisters – how do we witness to them? To our neighbors? It is harder to do this work when the mission field, the people needing conversion, might be those who live right next door, instead of an “other” halfway around the world.
“While refugees go homless
and die before they live,
while children have no future –
our apathy forgive!
Where hope fades to drperession,
despair erodes the soul,
restore in us a passion
to make the broken whole.”
– From Great God of Earth and Heaven
Those words were part of a hymn we sang during closing prayers yesterday – marking the end of a day that may see the most difficult conversations for US participants – peace in the marketplace. To hear stories of what our economic vitality has brought to the rest of the world – environmental degradation, exploitation of workers, and colonialist economics … it is hard to hear that the way in which we live, the products which we choose to buy, the stocks our pension funds invest in – pretty much everything which economically sustains our lives – wreaks havoc on the rest of the world.
If we are to be a church that seeks peace, we must address the way in which we interact with the world in the marketplace. And not just our governments – it is about the individual decisions we all make. It might be a little more expensive, it might take a little more time and research, but we can make good decisions in the consumer marketplace that support fair wages and treatment of workers around the world, that support not exploiting resources, and more. And when we start to speak through our decisions, the government will start to take notice.
We prayed these words last night:
“This evening we remember before God the people of the world who hunger and thirst for justice and peace, for bread and dignity. And we hold up before God the peacemakers who build harmony and right relationships after the pattern of The One who has made peace by the blood of His cross, even Jesus our Liberator and Redeemer.”
May we be those peacemakers.
I have to say, I was grabbed by the energy in this space – especially yesterday afternoon and evening. I attended two workshops – one was on the future of the global ecumenical peace conversation once we leave Jamaica. And, well, once the organizing structure of the Decade to Overcome Violence ends. Friends, we have work to do. We have named over the past 10 years – as a united church, the problems of various kinds of violence in different corners of our globe. We have also named what it would look like to be a church that is seeking a Just Peace. Now the question is – do we have the prophetic voice and action to actually live into it? To continue these conversations and see them produce fruitful action, that can further the inbreaking of God’s kin-dom all over this world? From the gist of this conversation – from friends in the Mennonite Church, the ELCA, the WCC, from a Bishop in Europe and a pastor in Africa …. the energy, the passion, the drive is there. Are we ready to join that dance as the Church of the Brethren? To offer our mouths, our hands, and our feet to actually seeking to build a world of just peace?
And then last night, dance is exactly what we did. Kingston treated us to a night of live music in Emancipation Park – called a concert for peace. We had everything from soul style gospel music, to reggae, to folk, to amazing dancing. And the folks at the IEPC were dancing in the isles – for hours on end. Friends, there is an energy here – an energy that this kind of work, this kind of work seeking peace in our world, is exactly the kind of witness the church needs to bring. That the church needs to be about. That is no longer just the domain of the historic peace churches, but that the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ are dancing right along with us. So, the question that is before us – how will we join the dance?
This one seems pretty straight forward at first glance – as the IEPC moves into its day that focuses on peace with all of God’s Creation, or peace with the earth. We need to care for the creation God has blessed us with, right? We need to be caretakers of the garden.
But this gets a bit harder when it gets into the weeds, particularly for those of us from the West. This summer, the CoB will entertain an Annual Conference Resolution on Climate Change – which is a good first step. But living in partnership with creation means so much more than just installing some solar panels, recycling more, or driving a Prius. It is about the totality of the way in which we live.
Are we willing to consider that we need to radically change the way we live? That in order to really bring peace to this world, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror, and consider that the standard of living to which we are accustom is not sustainable? That we should not support companies from the United States buying water rights in India, and charging people there for access? That we shouldn’t allow companies to set up factories in the United States and around the world in poor communities, communities that have no voice, and destroy their environment – bringing them poor health?
As the handbook says for today, “violence against the earth is violence against life, the future of life.” Are we ready, as the Church of the Brethren, to own this part of our responsibility for peace? Or, as a friend of mine once said, can you really be a pacifist and drive a Hummer?
Our day today began with prayer – and then moved into a radical bible study. Looking at 2nd Samuel 13:1-22, we considered what this text means for seeking peace in the community? What kind of example does it lay out? What is the context in which we should read it? What does it say to us about the violence that exists within our communities today?
Our opening plenary moved to develop that question even more – as we heard from a Palestinian Christian, a woman from the Indian Dalit community, and other human rights activists about the struggles of their communities. What does it say about us as a church that we allow these, and other, forms of discrimination to exist within our midst?
Today, from the bible study to the plenary, was a stark reminder that if we are going to be a church that seeks a Just Peace, we must address the violence that is hidden within our own walls – violence against those we label “other”, and those who are marginalized by the systems in which we exits. As the Just Peace Handbook phrased the question, “The challenge, therefore, is: what do we, as churches, peace activists, and movements, have to offer as alternative models of community? How do we encourage and ensure our communities to be open, just, and inclusive?”
For me, it starts with being willing to preach the rape of Tamar, and listen to its implications. What about you?
Greetings from Kingston, and the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation! There are 6 Brethren here, gathered with almost 700 of our ecumenical friends from around the world. I will be getting online as often as I can, and offering updates during the week. Today, we recieved a recap of the decade, and a call for work to be done. But what I want to point your attention to today comes from the Just Peace companion – a document given to us to study before we arrived.
In this document, they list 7 commitments all people in a society should make so all can enjoy a good life. There are:
- I commit myself to cultivate a personal and family spirituality of love and nonviolence
- I commit myself to respect and protect the dignity of human life in all its forms as well as to the care of creation
- I commit myself to practice nonviolence in all my family relations, rejecting physical, verbal, and psychological mistreatment
- I commit myself, in love toward my neighbor, to resolve conflicts in a nonviolent fashion
- I commit myself to build solidarity and to work towards an alternative economy that promotes holisitic and sustainable human development
- I commit myself to not carry arms nor participate in militaristic projects
- I commit myself to place my gifts, talents, abilities, time and resources at the service of constructing a society of life, justice and peace through nonviolent action
Are you ready to make those commitments? As the journey continues here this week, be sure to follow along – there will be live streaming at www.oikumene.org, and join us in prayer on Sunday, during World Peace Sunday.
The following prayer is offered by Joshua Brockway, the Church of the Brethren’s director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship:
God of the empty tomb, whose life and resurrection we celebrate in this season of Easter, we are confronted by so much death–from the demise of thousands of nameless individuals to celebrations over the killing of notorious criminals–while knowing in our hearts that the death of one of your children is never a cause to rejoice.
As we gather proclaiming the truth of Easter, hear our wondering thoughts of the future, and our visions of your peace, so that our lives may reflect your way of life within a world falling into terror and death.
For it is in the confession of fears and hopes, anxiety and relief that the world knows us to be fully human and fully alive in you. Multiply our witness through our praise and service so that our prayers for “your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” might become manifest in our midst.
In the name of the one who died and yet rose again, Jesus the Christ, we pray. AMEN
We believe that peace and security will not be found through military, economic, and political reprisal, or in the drastic curtailment of civil liberties in the United States. These avenues may satisfy the desire for retaliation and the appearance of greater security, but in the long term they can neither change the conditions that give rise to terrorist impulses nor eradicate the threat of terrorist attack. The perpetrators of acts such as these should be held accountable for their deeds. However, their apprehension and prosecution should be carried out within the rule of applicable law, without the loss of additional lives.
These were the words spoken by the General Board of the Church of the Brethren on October 22nd, 2011. I have yet to find a statement that better reflects the Christian call to nonviolence in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 attacks.
This year marks a number of turning points – both in the churches witness against violence, and the war on terror for the United States. This month, Christian peacemakers from around the world will gather in Kingston, Jamaica, for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, an event that will mark the end of the Decade to Overcome Violence – an initiative of the World Council of Churches. Coming out of this convocation will be a Just Peace Declaration – providing the church a framework for its peace witness moving forward.
This September will also mark the 10 year anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, and a decade of our country being at war. Furthermore, July of this year marks the anticipated beginning of a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. Despite many statements on the War in Iraq, the Church of the Brethren has not made a statement on Afghanistan, or the War on Terror, since October 22nd, 2001. As we move toward all of these milestones, I want to hear from you. What word does the Church of the Brethren have to offer our country, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, regarding the War on Terror and the War in Afghanistan? What would you like to have us say?