Black History Month: Future

If you haven’t read the first two posts in this series, you can find them here and here.

Future

  1. The Universe is a House Party,” by Tracy K. Smith (video)
  2. The Universe: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack,” by Tracy K. Smith
  3. what the cathedral said to the black boy,” by Clint Smith III

The final installment of this series dwells on “future,” likely the least considered time frame when thinking of black history. Afrofuturism is a term that has grown in public awareness, mostly used in arts and academic circles, and centers on this very idea.

Afrofuturism is a bit of a complex concept, but it’s explained well in an episode of This American Life. One of the hosts, Neil Drumming, says: “What I like about Afrofuturism, it just seems very—it’s like this way of talking about black people in a way that’s really hopeful.” Ira Glass follows up later, saying, “[a]nd for so long, in so many imaginings of the future, in so much science fiction, there were no black people at all—which, as Neil points out, makes no sense. He says, you can tell black people are going to make it into the future because they’ve survived so much already over the centuries.” It’s a way of thinking about the future that takes into account the lived history of black people while also being creative and positive about what’s to come.  These themes can be seen in pop culture in blockbuster movies like Black Panther and the work of musicians like Janelle Monae, whose albums often feature characters and narratives set in futuristic, spacey worlds.

This is the definition I will be using for the sake of this reflection—Afrofuturism as a hopeful, imaginative way of thinking about the future for black people. It’s an approach that is not only important for changing the way we as non-black people can think about black futures, but it also challenges us as the church to change how we think about our own future.

Tracy K. Smith is a poet whose work is thoroughly imbued with this imaginative, galaxy-strewn setting. Both poems I’ve included here explore human themes in universal language. In “The Universe is a House Party,” she says:

“We grind lenses to an impossible strength,

Point them toward the future, and dream of beings

We’ll welcome with indefatigable hospitality:

How marvelous you’ve come! We won’t flinch

At the pinprick mouths, the nubbin limbs. We’ll rise,

Gracile, robust. Mi casa es su casa. Never more sincere.

Seeing us, they’ll know exactly what we mean.

Of course, it’s ours. If it’s anyone’s, it’s ours.”

In this poem, she paints a future in which we are of course hospitable to aliens, to those who come from far reaches of the universe, and we are sincere in our welcome of these other beings. In describing this scene, she reveals the stark contrast to today, in which we find it difficult to welcome other humans with distinct differences from our own communities. She imagines a brilliant future in which we aren’t burdened by prejudice and hate, and it challenges us to do the work now so we can reach that starry future.

She is not deluded in this fantastical future—she tells of incredibly strong telescopes built for no other reason than a deep human curiosity of what is out there. Maybe from here, we can get to a place of equally deep hospitality.

Tracy K. Smith said at an event, “Imagining, for me, is an act that allows for a different kind of engaging with things.” As we look toward the future of the Church of the Brethren, we must accept the challenge to engage with issues differently, creatively, and imaginatively.

Smith said in an interview about one of the poems in her book, Life on Mars, “Part of what I’ve been trying to ask myself to do is think, OK, we belong to the history of the centuries that we span, but we’re also part of something enormous. What if we think about our actions as having some bearing upon the history of eternity? What would we change if those were the stakes that we were cognizant of?

This is the way the church needs to think about our future. We need to be cognizant of the stakes—if there’s anything that our faith tells us, is that our actions have bearing on the history of eternity. We need to take our commitment to racial justice, to true hospitality, to telling black stories, to lamenting our broken past, very seriously, because there are high stakes.

Clint Smith’s poem, “what the cathedral said to the black boy,” stands as a goal for the church in the future. The cathedral that he describes is, unfortunately, not what our church has always been for people of color. We want to be a refuge, but we must recognize the ways we have at times caused pain instead. His words should be a call to action for us all: “ain’t we all just trying to be / some type of sanctuary for someone? for every year we are not destroyed / do they not remind us what a miracle / it is to have lasted this long?” As the church, it should be our primary goal to be “some type of sanctuary” for populations that have long been targeted and oppressed.

What are our congregations not saying to the black boy, and how can we better say to them:

“come inside child

rest yourself

it’s okay to want to be held”

Black History Month: Present

If you haven’t read the first post in this series, please read it here first.

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Present

  1. Your National Anthem” (2018), by Clint Smith III
  2. litany” (2016), by Mahogany L. Browne

“Your National Anthem,” by Clint Smith III

Both Clint Smith’s and Mahogany Browne’s poems begin with “today.” They immediately place us in the current day, the present, such as the start of a news story that has just occurred. Whether they actually happened today or not, the situations described in each poem still circle around us daily, asking what we as a church can do for justice in this very moment.

For Smith:

“Today, a black man who was once a black boy

like you got down on one of his knees & laid

his helmet on the grass as this country sang

its ode to the promise it never kept”

For Browne:

“today i am a black woman in america

& i am singing a melody ridden lullaby…”

They were written two years apart but, in many ways, coexist in the same space. Smith is thinking about what it means to be a father raising a black child today, and yet, the question of tomorrow is factored into each thought. He says about this poem: “This is part of a series of poems […] thinking through what it means to watch my son discover the world for the first time [and] what it means to watch the world discover him. How [people] who call him adorable now might very well call him dangerous when he’s older.”

Smith spoke at a performance in 2016 about how, when he was in college, he was looking for “work that spoke to the urgency of now,” and how he found this in spoken word poetry. Now as a poet himself, his work definitely speaks to the urgency of now. In “Your National Anthem,” which acts as a letter to his very young son, Smith speaks to this in his reference to Colin Kaepernick’s protest while also speaking to the impending future that presses on his mind as a father.

“I know that you will not always

be a black boy but one day you may be a black man

& you may decide your country hasn’t kept

its promise to you either”

In “litany,” Browne is reflecting on what it looks like to live as “a brown and black & / bew woman dreaming of freedom.” She says, “today, i am a mother, & my country is burning/ and i forget how to flee.” Browne wrote this poem as a response to “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” as sung by Nina Simone.

“I sat with what that meant, years later—when I am still wishing for a certain type of freedom. To think of the time passing but of senseless deaths of black and brown bodies remaining. The poem is mulling all that has changed and all that has not,” Browne says of her work.

This is truly what it means to reflect on the present, today, the current state in which we live. All that has changed and all that has not. The urgency of now.

Today’s movements for racial justice and equity are not separate from the civil rights and abolition movements of the past that we now honor. Yes, today’s movements are tied to politics, but, most fundamentally, they are made up of everyday people who are yearning for freedom, for safety for their children, for trust that their country values their lives.

The 1991 Report of the Committee on Brethren and Black Americans says: “Because racism is built into our way of life, it is extremely difficult to unmask it and honestly face the radical changes that need to be made in ourselves and our institutions if it is to be eradicated. […] Many of us benefit from racist practices, without being direct participants, because of decisions and policies already in place in our religious, economic, and political institutions. The Church of the Brethren has affirmed that war is sin. It is time we acknowledged racism as sin—sin against God and against our neighbors—and mount a concerted effort to combat it.”

What does it mean for the church to speak to the urgency of now, keeping in mind what has and has not changed in all these years?

I don’t have an easy answer, but I do know that if we pat ourselves on the back for holding up lauded figures in black history such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harriet Tubman, perhaps we should also ask about lesser-known black history that is being written as we speak and what we can do to add our voices to the call for justice in this very moment.

This is not about simply remembering heroes of the past or imagining some potential day in the future that calls us to action. This is about looking at the world around us and asking ourselves how we can support our brothers and sisters—who right now are afraid for their families, yearning for freedom, and demanding justice—in such a time as this.

Black History Month: Past

For the end of Black History Month, I have curated three small collections of poetry, each with an accompanying reflection. The three reflections will dwell on the ideas of “past,” “present,” and “future.” Too often, it seems people and events must be decades old to be documented by the mainstream as “black history.” We must remember that black history is being created today, shaped by the past and informing the future. Looking at black stories from our past, present, and future requires us to think critically about how the church tells its own stories, as well as which stories we deem to be “our own.”

Langston Hughes, April 1942. By Jack Delano.

Past

  1. Frederick Douglass,” by Robert Hayden (1913-1980)
  2. Let America Be America Again,” Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
  3. I saw Emmett Till this week at the grocery store,” Eve L. Ewing (1986-)

We begin with past—the time with the clearest tie to the concept of history—and with Robert Hayden’s “Frederick Douglass.” Hayden’s words are a perfect framing for the way we should approach the past. He asserts that this incredible man, a former slave turned renowned abolitionist, will be honored not by the typical trappings of American remembrance, but instead by “the lives grown out of this life, the lives / fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.”

The past is not some dusty relic to be pulled out of a dark cabinet for a few days each year. It is something that we tell and retell every day, choosing which stories we highlight and the language we use to tell them. The people who make up today’s movements are the “lives grown out of this life,” the flesh on the bones of an idea that was once only a dream.

In Langston Hughes’s famous poem, “Let America Be America Again,” he challenges the narratives America tells about itself—narratives of freedom for all, where dreams are lived out and opportunities are ripe for the taking, if only one does the hard work to snatch them up. Hughes instead repeats the refrain, (America never was America to me.) He not only refers to his own identity as a black man, but also dons the identities of other oppressed peoples, such as Native Americans, farmers, immigrants, and poor. He rewrites the story, not saying that he doesn’t belong in America, but rather that America first and foremost belongs to those who built it.

Brethren openly condemn this dangerous type of American nationalism that ignores injustice and calls for blind obedience. In the 1967 statement “The Church, the State and Christian Citizenship,” Annual Conference asserted: “The church must warn against idolatrous nationalism in foreign affairs and call people to broader horizons of concern. In relation to domestic policy the church will try to help and to protect those who have been deprived of their rightful voice and are neglected or injured in some way.”

Eve Ewing takes a different approach to the past. In her quiet poem set in an ordinary grocery store, she imagines an alternate past in which 14-year-old Emmett Till was not brutally murdered. Instead, he has grown old, become a familiar face in the community, lived a long life. This is a moment of peace for a story that is only one of extreme violence and tragedy.

“How are things going for you,” she asks.

“Oh, it goes, it goes.”

By telling this story, one which was never allowed to happen, she manages to tell Till’s story all the same. His story is one of a young life brutally cut short by men so deeply entrenched in racism that they took the life of an innocent boy. It is the false memory of this ordinary moment in the grocery store, a brief glimpse of warmth, that brings the harsh reality of the past rushing in. She references everything Till’s life and death represent without saying it. “It goes, it goes” suggests the echo that, in fact, it does not.

As Christians, and as people in community, we use stories from the past to help us define who we are. We tell and retell the stories from the Bible to provide the foundation for understanding our identities and the world around us. All three of these poems by black writers ask us questions about which stories from the past we tell and how they inform us now. As we remember black history, perhaps we need to be creative about imagining new ways for the church to tell its stories and grapple with its past.

World Order and the Brethren

BCCN: Re-framing Creation Care

by Brethren Creation Care Network

Gus Speth, an environmental law professor, noted a failure of environmental policy to a group of evangelical leaders in 2006:

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

Speth’s confession for a spiritual transformation suggests that the Christian faith has an important contribution to alleviating ecological degradation. Most of humanity has forgotten that nothing in creation is owned – rather, it’s on loan to us from the One who created it all.

Humanity stands at a very crucial point in our history. Instead of being distracted by the politics of the day, humanity needs a metanoia moment (Greek phrase meaning “to turn around”), which requires a change of the heart. We believe Christian hope can inspire this change. It is not a passive hope – waiting for external agencies to bring about what we desire; but rather an active hope – partnering with God to bring about transformation over despair.

The Church of the Brethren has the opportunity to be partners with Jesus in living out his active hope to the world. The Brethren Creation Care Network (BCCN) is our avenue towards a Christ-centered ministry for the healing of creation. We can rise to the challenge of creation care by building a community of support through your energy and talents. Please contact Nathan Hosler to join BCCN at nhosler@brethren.org.

We would also like to highlight an upcoming retreat hosted at Camp Emmaus (Illinois). Outdoor Ministry Association Board members Jonathan Stauffer and Randall Westfall have come to believe that living attuned with God’s creation is essential to our discipleship with Jesus. In recent years, we have rediscovered just how attuned to creation Jesus was. He knew God’s wisdom came from these encounters and sought them out intentionally. He sought the solace of the wilderness, the sea, the mountain, and the garden to regenerate his ministry and mission. Jesus was drawing on a blueprint as old as creation itself.

As a result, Jonathan and Randall have crafted an innovative weekend retreat entitled “Cultivating a Verdant Faith.” Sessions will be held March 8 – 10 at Camp Emmaus in the winter retreat lodge and on trails. By exploring the four directions of eco-discipleship, along with bible study, worship, and group discussions; participants will unearth their relationship with creation in new and profound ways. Ages 18 and up, are invited to unplug and rediscover the eco-blueprint of faith that our Creator gave us.

If you’re interested in registering for this unique spiritual formation experience, please see this brochure. For further questions about the event contact Jonathan and Randall. CEUs will be available through Brethren Academy. (Note: Retreat limited to 25 participants.) They hope to see you at Camp Emmaus in March 2019!

Guide our Feet in the Way of Peace 

By Nathan Hosler

This blog post is a sermon given by Office of Peacebuilding and Policy director Nathan Hosler. To learn more about Christian Peacemaker teams, visit their website here. 

Luke 1:68-79 

We are called to be a sign, a witness to the peace of Christ. To proclaim rightly, means that the peace of Christ cannot be forced. We can’t impose peace, at least not a true peace that is both geopolitical and personal, that is both an inward reconciliation and an outward wellbeing, that is both reconciliation to God and to neighbor and even, inexplicably, to our enemy. We cannot—nor should we try—to force peace. We bear witness to it, proclaim it. We must struggle for it—we must dedicate ourselves to it.  

In our Luke passage there are two layers of proclamation. One is of the coming savior. In verse 68 we hear—“The Lord has redeemed”. In the next verse “He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,..” This will be Jesus, Emmanuel—God with us. The Prince of Peace. This is the Advent waiting for the incarnate one. This is God coming near to heal.  

In a resolution on drone warfare initially drafted in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and then passed at our 2013 denominational Annual Conference—we referenced this coming near to heal. It reads in part:  

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 

While our policies and practices often pull us apart, drive wedges between groups, and heighten animosity—our ministry of reconciliation and peacemaking is proclaimed by the one for whom we wait this advent.  

There is also a second layer of proclamation in Zechariah’s song—that of the messenger, John—who will be called John the Baptizer. He will prepare the way for the Holy one. In verse 76 we read, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,…”  

Throughout this text, through the two layers of proclamation we see the mighty acting of God on the plane of human history. The passages ends with— “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 

To guide our feet into the way of peace. Because many of us have read the story beyond Christmas, we know that the awaited baby Jesus will become the teaching Jesus who will say, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” He will teach to love one’s enemy and pray for the one that persecutes you. He will teach to go and confront and be reconciled. He will guide our feet into the way of peace. 

In this town peacemaking is an odd word. Even for organizations that work for things that I would characterize as peace, peacemaking—the term—is a little unusual. While at dinner after speaking on a panel about Nigeria, I was talking with a colleague from one such organization. I was in the throes of dissertation writing and I revealed that I was writing on peacemaking within the work of Stanley Hauerwas. While she certainly didn’t know of Hauerwas she also wondered why the term peacemaking rather than the more common “peacebuilding.” I noted that while I use the terms somewhat interchangeably, the term peacemaking is based on the biblical text, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”  

But why are these peacemakers called the children of God? A chapter later we read– Love your enemy because God who is your heavenly parent sends rain on both the righteous and unrighteous. God provides even for the enemy. To resemble your parent is to demonstrate that the you are a child. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” I am not sure when I first learned about Christian Peacemaker Teams, but I think it was sometime as a child. I grew up in a Church of the Brethren congregation and my grandfather and his brothers were conscientious objectors. I grew up believing that to follow Jesus meant serving others and being against war. In college as my understanding of my vocational call to ministry took shape, I felt the same theological impulse that brought about CPT—If I am opposed to war, I need to be ready to work for peace. For my graduate work in international relations I almost wrote on Christian Peacemaker Teams.  

I have a vivid memory of being at the Church of the Brethren’s Annual Conference over the time when I was beginning to decide what I would research. We met up with Art Gish, an old CPTer, to talk about intentional community. While walking briskly through the crowds of people I told him I was considering writing on the power leveraged by CPT as international actors. The picture caught in my mind is him looking back at me, with his bushy white brethren beard, a big smile and laughing, saying “I don’t know why it works, but it works!” The earlier work of CPT focused on “Getting in the Way,” more explicitly using their international presence in nonviolent resistance to both stop violence and highlight the situation for the broader international community. This then plays on international institutions, geopolitics, and broadly international relations—hence my interest as a Historic Peace Church kid studying international relations. While CPT still works in this context its work and framing of its work has evolved over the years. We now describe the work thusly: “CPT builds partnerships to transform violence and oppression.”   

We then expand this by describing this short phrase by stating that the work is:
Inclusive, multi-faith, spiritually guided peacemaking. We approach injustice from a spirit of faith and compassion.   

CPT accompanies and supports our partners in their local peacemaking work in situations of violent oppression. 

Committed to undoing the structures of oppression that feed violence, both in society and within our organization. 

Christian Peacemaker Teams has projects in Iraqi-Kurdistan accompanying human rights defenders and supporting communities being bombed, the city of Hebron in the West Bank of Palestine accompanying during things such as the olive harvest and monitoring heavily militarized checkpoints that children pass through on the way to school, Winnipeg, Canada with the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Program, in Colombia with small holder farmers at risk of displacement from their land, and a regional project on the Island of Lesbos with arriving refugees.  

First, CPT’s work is Inclusive, multi-faith, spiritually guided peacemaking. We approach injustice from a spirit of faith and compassion. 

A few weeks ago, Marcos Knobloch, a full-time CPTer on the Colombia team, was with me DC. My office arranged a series of meetings with partners and US government bodies—specifically the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights staff and with the State Department. In the course of telling about their work he noted that while there are a number of international organizations working in their area of Colombia, CPT is the only one that is faith-based. This spiritually guided peacemaking gives them a particular pastoral work as they accompany people that have suffered violence.  

Secondly, CPT accompanies and supports our partners in their local peacemaking work in situations of violent oppression.  

Marcos also spoke about CPT Colombia’s work to protect human rights defenders and vulnerable communities. Since the signing of the peace accords late in 2016 there have been 350 assassinations—approximately 1 every other day. In this context CPT works with the Corporation for Humanitarian Action for Peace and Coexistence in Northeastern Antioquia (CAHUCOPANA). CAHUCOPANA has being working for human rights for small scale miners and farmers for 14 years and because of this work has faced many threats. CPT has been working with them since 2009. While the government has agreed to provide such leaders protection, this is often limited to cities. In these isolated areas accompaniment is vital. In this, CPT plays an unique and critical role.  

Thirdly, CPT is Committed to undoing the structures of oppression that feed violence, both in society and within our organization. In Canada, with the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity project this involves working for decolonization and challenging corporate and government exploitation Indigenous nations. In Hebron this involves living and working in the old city—being a physical presence in a contested space and documenting the military occupation.  

 

 “CPT builds partnerships to transform violence and oppression.”   

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 

In this second Sunday of Advent we continue to prepare for the coming of Jesus. The one who will embody peace, who will bring reconciliation and justice, and who will teach blessed are the peacemakers. The incarnation—the coming of Jesus—is the showing up of God to bring healing.  

Show up. Peacemaking, like the Incarnation, involves showing up.  

I invite you to continue with us in this important work. We need our teams on the ground. We need individuals to go on two-week delegations to learn, support, and then tell the story. We need funds, prayers, passing on our publications. As the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans–“For as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function.” (Romans 12). We are called to peacemaking. Our common call to peacemaking will look different. —may Christ guide us in the way of peace

Defend Human Rights: Ban Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems

It seems like something out of a dystopian novel- autonomous killer robots, making decisions about who is targeted and when to fire their weapons. Unfortunately, scenarios involving Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) aren’t as fantastical as we would like to believe. Many of the weapons used today are already employing artificial intelligence technology to aid in military operations, and the industry is headed rapidly towards the development of fully autonomous systems in which humans are not involved in the final decision to strike.

On this Human Rights Day, we call attention to the potential for LAWS to take away the basic human rights of “life, liberty and security of person” and the right to a hearing before an impartial tribunal in relation to criminal charges, as laid out in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Church of the Brethren laid out the biblical rationale for sanctity of life in a 2010 statement, saying, “sanctity of life was and is a fundamental value of our faith. According to the biblical witness we recognize the following as foundational for our conviction regarding the sanctity of life: God created human beings in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), and God proclaimed this creation “very good.” In Exodus God commands the Israelites to “not wrong or oppress a resident alien” (Ex. 22:21).”  The church’s commitment to human rights is evident in it’s work against the use of drones in warfare. Even the human-operated drone strikes have resulted in unacceptable loss of human rights for targeted communities, and autonomous weapons would accelerate our departure from human rights norms in how we deal with international conflict.

The trend towards development of autonomous weapons is chilling, and a wide range of industry representatives, faith communities and human rights NGOs have called for a complete ban on the development of and use of LAWS. The Future of Life Institute coordinated a Lethal Autonomous Weapons pledge, which has been signed by industry leaders like Google DeepMind and Elon Musk.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the European Forum on Armed Drones, and many other disarmament-focused organizations are working to incorporate language against LAWS into United Nations and European Union policy. The Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare continues to advocate in Washington, D.C. for good drone policy on the United States’ end.

The Church of the Brethren affirmed it’s statement against the use of drones in warfare in 2013, and has been working with the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare since then to enact policy changes in the United States. The Church views the use of drones as a moral issue, as it does all participation in war, saying in the 2013 statement that “war or any participation in war is wrong and entirely incompatible with the spirit, example and teachings of Jesus Christ,” (1918 Statement of Special Conference of the Church of the Brethren to the Churches and the Drafted Brethren) and that all “war is sin…[and that we] cannot encourage, engage in, or willingly profit from armed conflict at home or abroad.”

To urge the company responsible for the Predator and Reaper drones (General Atomics) to sign the Future of Life Institute pledge to not develop lethal autonomous weapons systems, our office is working with the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare to host a faith rally on May 3rd in Washington, DC. At this event, we will share why drone warfare is illegal, immoral and ineffective, and our communities will call for an end to CIA drone strikes and for General Atomics to sign the Future of Life pledge on lethal autonomous weapons.

Join us for the rally on May 3rd! More details can be found here.  Can’t make it to D.C. for the rally? Organize your own demonstration in your own community, and support us on social media with the hashtag #EndDroneWarfare.

Drone strikes are being ordered on our behalf, as U.S. citizens. It is important that we take the time to speak up for justice for the victims of the drone strikes that are already happening, and preemptively protect human rights that would be taken away by the use of autonomous weapons.

Exporting Violence: How preoccupation with U.S. economic interests is undermining peace around the world

As members of the Church of the Brethren, it is easy to forget that there are worldviews other than “peacefully, simply, together.” In our communities of faith, we are much more likely to have discussions about how we can make peace or build relationships with global competitors than we are to have discussions about how to gain coercive economic power over our international peers. As it says in the statement Justice and Nonviolence, “persons who aim to maximize their wealth and power rather than serve human needs deny the sacredness of life.” This lens is not universal, however- something that is made abundantly clear when looking at the United States’ approach to national security in recent years.

The National Security Strategy released earlier this year by the Trump administration lists “Promote American Prosperity” among it’s three main pillars, arguing that “a strong economy protects the American people, supports our way of life, and sustains American power… A growing and innovative economy allows the United States to maintain the world’s most powerful military and protect our homeland.” This view is driven home by presidential advisor Peter Navarro in a New York Times op-ed, where he highlights the administration’s belief that “economic security is national security.”

This focus on American prosperity in relation to national security has begun to impact the global community, as U.S. arms sale policies are adjusted for the express purpose of benefiting the U.S. economically. This economic focus comes at a cost- a decrease in focus on the impacts of U.S. weapons sales on peace efforts, humanitarian situations and human rights.

  • The gun manufacturing industry has pushed for rule changes that would loosen oversight of foreign military sales. The proposed change would move the foreign sale of certain semi-automatic weapons under the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce rather than the State Department. This move would make it easier to sell these weapons abroad, and more difficult for human rights actors to track where guns are going and how they are used.

It is ethically problematic to suggest that the economic interests of the American people outweigh the human rights of people impacted by U.S. arms sales. In its statement entitled Call to Peacemaking, the Church called for policies that “convert our national priorities to peaceful and life affirming production.” In its Justice and Nonviolence statement, the church called for the United States to “cease immediately its sales of arms to other countries.”

So what can we do to push back on this economic focus?

We can support legislation that will counteract the proposed rule changes- especially bills like H.R. 4765, which would counteract the shift of semiautomatic weapons to the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce. Let your Representative know that the bill has been introduced, and ask them to add themselves as a co-sponsor.

We can learn from and support coalitions and organizations working to make the arms trade more transparent, and those working to put pressure on defense contractors. Check out  organizations like the Forum on the Arms Trade, the Stimson Center, the Divest from the War Machine campaign, and the Security Assistance Monitor to learn more about this issue.

We can recognize the legitimate concerns that those employed in defense-related industries have for their livelihoods. We must restructure the economy in a way that allows for a just transition for these people into jobs that contribute to the well-being of humanity rather than to war.

Most importantly, we must continue view the world through the lens of the Brethren values that have been reiterated time and time again through our discussions and statements at Annual Conferences. This includes self-sacrificing perspectives on the relationship between economic gain, national security and global power, a commitment to non-violent solutions to conflict, and the desire for all of humanity to live with peace and justice.

Happy #IndigenousPeoplesDay!

“Creation Story,” 2000. Harry Fonesca, 1946-2006. Nisenan Maidu/Native Hawaiian/Portuguese.
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian

Happy #IndigenousPeoplesDay! Today and every day we recognize the many vibrant and resilient Native American tribes and communities around the United States.

Join the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and Intercultural Ministries during the month of November, Native American Heritage Month, for the Native American Challenge—30 days of daily resources and weekly conference calls to foster learning, conversation, and awareness. Go to http://www.brethren.org/intercultural/continuing-together.html for more information.

“The scriptures also call us to work alongside indigenous people to seek justice and peace on their behalf, as they are among those on our planet whose lives and cultures are most in jeopardy. The church has an obligation to join with them to protect their human and political rights, their cultural expressions, their claims to land, and their religious freedom, at any point that such efforts are in keeping with the purposes of God for human life.” —Community: A Tribe of Many Feathers, 1994 Annual Conference Statement

Make Peace and Justice a Campaign Issue!

In 1989, the Church of the Brethren passed an Annual Conference Statement on Church and State. In this statement, the Church recognized the importance of speaking out against the government when it is “doing things that negate and deny God’s will as revealed in Jesus Christ and the Bible,” and in support of government when its work aligned with the “general direction of God’s will and way (human well-being, justice and peace).”

As we get closer to election day, candidates for public office will be available to you at town halls, campaign events, and even online question sessions. These are opportunities for you to let your current or future legislators know which issues matter to you as a person of faith. Other voters present at these events may also have their interest in the issue piqued by your questions!

Please consider taking advantage of these opportunities to show politicians that Christians care deeply about justice domestically and globally, and are willing to speak up about our commitment to peace.


Types of Events:

  • Town Halls
    • Town halls are a chance for legislators or candidates to meet their constituents, give legislative updates and answer questions from the community. You can find a list of town halls in your congressional district at The Townhall Project. Most of these events are in-person, but some may be virtual.
  • Campaign Events
    • Candidates for office often travel throughout the community to meet their potential future constituents and share their views with voters. These are typically listed on the individual’s campaign website or social media. While there may not be a scheduled time for questions, you may be able to bring up the issues in conversation with the candidate.
  • What if my candidates aren’t available? 
    • There are still plenty of opportunities to get your candidates’ attention. Social media is often just as public a forum as a town hall, and your message has the potential to be amplified by other interested voters! Find your candidate on Twitter and Facebook, and use the sample posts below to bring up the same concerns.

Issues to Bring Up: 

Drone Warfare

Drone strikes are used by the United States around the world, including countries like Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan. These strikes are shrouded in secrecy, often kill civilians, and incite fear and anger in the affected communities.

Our office works with the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare to tell Congress that drone strikes are immoral, illegal, and ineffective. We need your help to tell legislators that their constituents care!

One Church of the Brethren member from Michigan asked Rep. Justin Amash questions on drone warfare this past spring. Check out his example here. 

  • Sample Town Hall Questions
    • If you are elected, what steps will you take to curb the harmful impacts of the U.S weaponized drone program on communities around the world?
    • Can you commit to supporting legislation that would end the CIA’s authority to conduct drone strikes?
  • Sample Tweets
    • [CandidatesHandle], can you commit to supporting legislation that would end the CIA’s authority to conduct drone strikes? #EndDroneWarfare
    • {CandidatesHandle], if elected, what steps will you take to curb the harmful impacts of the U.S. weaponized drone program? #EndDroneWarfare

Refugee Resettlement

This month, the administration announced goal refugee resettlement numbers lower than at any point in the program’s history. This change denies stability to thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and disaster, and weakens the refugee resettlement structures- including faith-based organizations like Church World Service! This action is directly counter to the commitments we have made as a church to care for immigrants and refugees, and it is important that people of faith step up to advocate for these marginalized communities.

  • Sample Town Hall Questions
    • This past year, the administration released the lowest refugee resettlement goal in the program’s history. If elected, what will you do to ensure that the United States provides a home to those fleeing violence, oppression and disaster?
  • Sample Tweets
    • [CandidatesHandle], This year’s refugee resettlement goal numbers were released- lowest in program’s history. If elected, what will you do to make sure the United States continues to welcome refugees?  #RefugeesWelcome

Able to ask a question at a town hall? We’d love to hear about it! Email us the story and any pictures/video to vbateman@brethren.org, so we can share your work with other Brethren interested in getting involved. 


Interested in learning more? You can find additional background on the Church of the Brethren’s approach to these issues here: 

Drones: 

Refugee Resettlement: 

  • The Church of the Brethren is a member of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, which advocates for policies that treat refugees and immigrants with dignity and justice. 
  • The recent release of the low refugee resettlement numbers is detailed in this article from the New York Times.
  • Church of the Brethren Statement on Undocumented Persons and Refugees states that: We need to affirm that everything belongs to God and that we are part of an immigrant people who are looking for better land. Our brother and sister immigrants are reminders of who we are and whom we serve. The refugees and immigrants bring needs with them but they also bring considerable skills, rich cultures, and great spirits which can enrich us all. We look forward to a time when all people will be free to move from one nation to another and to choose their homeland without restriction. If that seems impossible to us now, it is only because sinful greed and fear still divide the nations East and West North and South, poor and rich, crowded and spacious.