Reflection on Christian Peacemaker Teams Trip

The Office of Public Witness has been meeting with U.S. government agencies to advocate for the use of Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP). Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is one organization that uses UCP methods to nonviolently work towards justice. In this guest blog post, Tim Heishman reflects on his experience with a CPT delegation.

By: Tim Heishman

This past August I was privileged to take part in Christian Peacemaker Teams’ Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Delegation to Manitoba and Ontario with my wife Katie. Christian Peacemaker Teams is an organization founded by the historic peace churches and based on the notion that Christians should be as willing to put their lives on the line for peace as soldiers are for war. During my time on the CPT delegation I heard many stories about the effectiveness of unarmed civilian protection and peaceful efforts to bring about solutions to injustice.

We learned about the story of the Shoal Lake 40 indigenous community in western Ontario. About 100 years ago the city of Winnipeg decided to build an aqueduct from the lake next to the indigenous community to carry water to the city. The problem was that the lake was split during construction, half of it was then contaminated, and half of it was clean. The clean water was reserved for the city of Winnipeg and the contaminated water was left for the indigenous tribe. Contaminated water is a huge problem for indigenous people because so much of their life and culture revolves around water. For example, the fish that made up a significant part of their diet now made them very sick. The way the city of Winnipeg divided the water when constructing the aqueduct also cut the community off from the rest of the world. They could get out during the summer by boat and in the winter by driving across the ice, but in the fall and spring they were stuck. Fast forward nearly 100 years and Winnipeg built the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. A successful campaign organized by indigenous leaders and settler allies highlighted the fact that the human rights museum was getting its water by oppressing an indigenous tribe. It was a bit of an embarrassing public relations issue, to say the least! The organizers even came up with their own Museum of Canadian Human Rights Violations! A peaceful campaign worked to call out and transform structural violence committed by the city of Winnipeg over a period of 100 years.

We met with leaders from the Grassy Narrows indigenous tribe in Ontario and they told us the story of how they successfully organized a blockade to stop illegal logging by corporations on their land. It began when a teenager cut down a tree to block the road so the logging trucks could not get through and complete their work. Soon others from the tribe joined in and a protest camp was established next to the road. Christian Peacemaker Team members joined to stand in solidarity with the tribe. For four months, from December to March, indigenous and settler allies stood together to stop illegal logging on indigenous land. They were ready to stand peacefully against the violence of the corporations and the state. The corporation eventually decided to do their logging in another place and for now the tribe has been successful in peacefully defending their right to the land that belongs to them.

Christian Peacemaker Teams does work like this all over the world. They believe that Christians should put as much energy into working for peace as militaries do for war. Working against injustices and violence with peaceful methods allows us to retain the moral high ground and expose the injustices of the perpetrator in a way that a violent response would not. Sometimes violence is physical and other times it is structural. It can be stopped with unarmed civilian protection.

Sometimes governments and militaries choose to lay down their weapons and protect a place peacefully. The peninsula on which Common Ground is located is one such place. Common Ground is located in Kenora, Ontario. Many years ago several indigenous tribes and settlers fought over this piece of land. The opposing sides came together, they decided to hold it mutually, and they called it Common Ground. Today it is surrounded by several miles of beautiful hiking trails and it is still a place where all people can come together and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. May all people come together to embrace God’s call to model our lives after the Prince of Peace and settle our conflicts nonviolently.

Update on North Korea

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

North Korea has been in the news over the past few weeks as tense rhetoric between the U.S. and the North Korean government escalates. North Korea continues to build its nuclear arsenal and test long-range missiles- even going as far as to fire a missile over the nation of Japan, and claiming to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb this past week. President Trump threatened “fire and fury” in a speech on the conflict, and U.S. policy towards potential military action on the peninsula continues to be unclear to both citizens and our international allies.

If military conflict does break out on the Korean peninsula, there will be massive loss of human life. Even former presidential advisor Steve Bannon admitted as much, saying recently, “There’s no military solution, forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here.”

In addition to the people of South Korea, there are over 25 million people in North Korea who would be impacted by military action- not to mention the 28,000 American soldiers stationed on the peninsula.

The Church of the Brethren has consistently called for peace and nonviolence in the Korean peninsula. The Church was a signatory on the 2013 World Council of Churches “Statement on Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula,” which called “upon the churches of the world, and upon those holding social, economic, political, and governmental power, to pursue a lasting and sustainable peace with justice that will reunify and reconcile the people of Korea.”

In 1996, the Church released its “Statement on Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention,” which said that “in bringing the Good News to the poor and afflicted through serving their needs and unequivocally opposing all forms of military combat, we demonstrate that the world’s priorities still reflect too much faith in military power to solve problems and too little faith in the power of love to transform social, political, economic, and environmental threats into opportunities for cooperation and human community.”

We continue to support this approach, and believe that the current tense rhetoric is incredibly detrimental to the peace process. As we work towards human rights, nuclear disarmament, and international peace, we need national governments to speak with clarity, sincerity, and peaceful intentions. The United States, as a global leader, has the power to reframe conflict narratives by swallowing its pride and making the first moves towards peace. As John Delury wrote in a recent Foreign Affairs article, “Incessant talk of war only serves to reinforce North Korea’s worst narrative about America’s implacable hostility.” We encourage the U.S. national leadership to consider how they can actively work towards de-escalation and the normalization of relations with North Korea.

The Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness will continue to monitor the situation in North Korea, and we will seek to advocate for a peaceful resolution to the tensions that have plagued the U.S. – North Korea relationship for far too long.

Public Perception of Drone Warfare

As drone strikes become all too common, the Church of the Brethren has taken a leadership role in the faith community’s response to drone warfare. Our 2013 Annual Conference Resolution on Drone Warfare makes it clear that the use of drones is at odds with our commitment to peace.

Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo

“All killing mocks the God who creates and gives life. Jesus, as the Word incarnate, came to dwell among us (John 1:14) in order to reconcile humanity to God and bring about peace and healing. In contrast, our government’s expanding use of armed drones distances the decisions to use lethal force from the communities in which these deadly strikes take place. We find the efforts of the United States to distance the act of killing from the site of violence to be in direct conflict to the witness of Christ Jesus.” -2013 Resolution on Drone Warfare

One of the biggest battles to be fought in the campaign against drone warfare will happen right on U.S. soil- in the hearts and minds of U.S. citizens. In 2015, Pew Research found that only 35% of Americans disapprove of the use of drones in warfare (link). An AP-GfK poll the same year found that only 13% of Americans opposed drone usage (link).

Numbers like these are disheartening, considering the tremendous ethical concerns and transparency issues that arise in the United States drone program. Humans on the ground are labeled as “targets” based not on proven crimes, but because they fit a profile of possible combatants. Children experience fear for their lives and families when they hear the telltale buzzing of a drone overhead. Soldiers operating drones face emotional and mental trauma. The use of drones even contributes to anti-American sentiments around the world- increasing the chances of more conflict later down the road.  

If the public had a greater understanding of the true impact of drone warfare on civilians, soldiers, and even American security, we believe that the percentage of Americans opposed to drone warfare would increase dramatically. If public perception of the drone program reflected the true moral, ethical, and security concerns, it would be much easier to get the U.S.

This is why it is so important to work towards increased public awareness of the U.S. drone program. Our government will not take steps to increase transparency and limit the use of drones without the American public speaking out for justice and peace.

Fortunately, there are ways to get involved in changing the public perception of the U.S. drone program! The Interfaith Network on Drone Warfare, one of our partners through the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare, has put together five 30-minute documentaries that can be used in congregations to start the conversation on drone warfare.

Two of the documentaries feature Nathan Hosler, director of the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness, who provides a Peace Church perspective.

We need individuals from congregations to host showings of these documentaries in their congregations. We will provide access to the documentaries and an easy-to-use discussion guide. These videos and discussions are a great way to engage your congregation in deep discussions about peacebuilding and the ethical problems with the drone program.  If you are interested in more information or if you decide to host a screening, please contact vbateman@brethren.org.

By helping the public understand the drone program, we can work towards a more just and peaceful world. Please join us in this effort by hosting a documentary viewing and discussion in your congregation!

 

Peacebuilding in Tense Times: The Church of the Brethren and Russia

The Russia-U.S. relationship has become increasingly complicated over the past few years. The Syrian conflict has attracted both U.S. and Russian involvement, becoming a proxy war between several international actors. Accusations of cyber- and information warfare between the nations persist, and complex questions of global leadership have arisen.

The tensions should concern all who seek international peace. In one recent example of conflict, the United States shot down a Syrian warplane. In response, the Russians suspended the use of a military communication program that helped to prevent accidental in-air collisions in Syrian airspace. They also threatened to shoot down any U.S. plane that traveled west of the Euphrates River.

The dissolution of communications structures like these, combined with military action and general posturing on the part of each national actor, does not bode well for regional or international security.

When suspicion clouds the relationship between nations, it is often difficult to see past our national allegiances and fear. However, peacebuilding requires us to build relationships where others only see conflict.

Quote from 1947 Annual Conference statement on Russia, referenced in the Brethren Encyclopedia.

The Church of the Brethren has a fascinating peacebuilding history in relation to Russia. During the Cold War, in which tensions ran high and peace was fragile, the Church of the Brethren maintained connections with the Soviet Union in hopes that relationships could prevent nuclear war.

As part of this work, the Church of the Brethren participated in two cultural exchanges in 1963 and 1967. While in the United States, Russian church leaders ate, talked, and joked with their American hosts, and were especially interested in visiting with the youth. Their American counterparts, while visiting Russia, were fascinated by the unfamiliar political ideology and relationship between the Church and State.

A 1967 Messenger article on the cultural exchange

At these meetings, delegates were able to experience each other’s culture, learn about their religious beliefs and structures, and gain new perspectives on the other nation. These were not meant to be high-level religious or political discussions- rather, they were meetings of Christians from different countries, earnestly seeking to understand one another and forge a peaceful future.

The work done by the Church of the Brethren during this era is strikingly relevant to modern interfaith connections in U.S. and Russia. The same general distrust and military posturing that occurred during the Cold War has resurfaced in more modern contexts. As the political rhetoric once again heats up, it is essential that the faith community works to discern its role in the U.S.- Russia relationship.

There are many relational and advocacy opportunities for churches, including the Church of the Brethren, to work towards greater interpersonal understanding and large-scale investment in peace. Like the leaders of the Church of the Brethren during the Cold War, we can, and should, use our faith commitments as a powerful platform for international dialogue and peacebuilding work.

While we recognize that there are many ways in which the current tensions are different from Cold War tensions, we believe that it is important to adapt the Church of the Brethren’s historic peacebuilding mindset to the modern context. At the Office of Public Witness, we hope to continue the Brethren legacy of peacebuilding in this region, and will be working to discern our role in the relationship over the next few months.

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A huge thanks to the staff at Brethren Archives for their research assistance!

Interested in reading more about these cultural exchanges? Check out these Messenger articles:

https://archive.org/stream/messenger1967116126mors#page/n823/mode/2up/search/%22Russian+Orthodox+Church%22%22

https://archive.org/stream/gospelmessengerv112mors#page/n83/mode/2up/search/%22Russian%22

https://archive.org/stream/gospelmessengerv112mors#page/n1243/mode/2up/search/%22Russian%22