In this series on the histories of peace movement organizations, we have been so far been examining those whose roots were in opposition to the First World War: The Fellowship of Reconciliation (1914 in UK, 1915 in U.S., FOR International in 1917, French and German branches in 1919), The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (1915 U.S., 1917 International), The American Friends’ Service Committee (1917). The War Resisters’ League, the oldest pacifist organization in the U.S. without a religious foundation, also grew out of the experience of World War I. (I have phrased this very carefully. It would be accurate to call the WRL a “secular” organization, but to many people this suggests a hostility to religion or religious persons that is not a part of the WRL. As we will see, the major founder of the WRL, Jesse Wallace Hughes, was a profoundly religious person and people of faith have always been involved and are still, including in the leadership. But neither any particular religion, nor religious faith in general, is a predicate for membership.)
Jessie Wallace Hughan (1875-1955) was one of the founders of the U. S. chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1915, but, from the beginning, she thought the name of the groups was too wimpy, and, though a devout Unitarian, she chafed against the leadership of the F.O.R. by ministers who focused on forgiveness. She wanted an organization that pushed forcefully for an end to war and militarism and which boldly confronted the causes of war (which she saw rooted in the injustices of capitalism). Hughan was an American educator, a socialist activist, radical pacifist and a perpetual Socialist Party candidate for various public offices in New York city and state. In 1915 she helped to found the Anti-Enlistment League to discourage enlistment in the armed services as part of efforts to keep the U.S. out of World War I.
Many U.S. pacifists were imprisoned for resistance to the war. After the U.S. entered WWI, the Bill of Rights was practically suspended. Any verbal or written opposition to the war was prosecuted as “subversion,” including of clergy who refused to promote the sale of war bonds to parishioners. Members of the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers) were sometimes given better treatment, but other conscientious objectors, especially Jews, African-Americans, socialists (especially after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia), union leaders, and anarchists were given very harsh sentences and many were also treated harshly by other prisoners without intervention by authorities.
Out of these experiences, Hughan and others founded the War Resisters League in 1923 as a pacifist organization for those who, for one reason or another, did not feel at home in faith-based peace organizations such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation (although the F.O.R. supported the formation of the WRL and many were members of both organizations–which traded leaders, too). At that time, the F.O.R. was an ecumenical Christian organization, not interfaith, and the Jewish Peace Fellowship did not exist until 1941. The U.S. was not so pluralistic religiously in those days that any felt the need for such later organizations as the Muslim Peace Fellowship (Ansar as-Salaam), or the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, but the WRL was a haven for secular and non-Christian pacifists, along with those who felt that the Christian peace groups of the day were not radical enough in their opposition to war.
The WRL’s basis for membership has remained the same since its founding in 1923, “The War Resisters’ League affirms that war is a crime against humanity. We, therefore, are determined not to support any kind of war, international or civil, and to strive nonviolently for the removal of all causes of war.” When Gandhi began his “experiments in truth” in South Africa and India, the WRL was even faster than the F.O.R. to take notice. Along with socialist economic philosophy, most members of the WRL strongly adhere to Gandhian nonviolence. For some, the philosophy and tactics of Gandhian nonviolence form a de facto substitute for a religious faith.
The WRL has been deeply involved in most of the anti-war movements of the 20th and 21st C., but it has also been involved deeply in most of the nonviolent domestic struggles for justice, including the Civil Rights movement, the feminist movement, labor struggles, the environmental movement, and struggles for fair trade against globalized top-down free trade. The WRL publishes a journal, WIN, an annual peace and justice calendar, and has become famous for its yearly tax pie charts that show the actual amount of the U.S. budget that goes to support past and present wars (the official budget hides part of the military budget under Veterans Affairs and Social Security) which is over50%. The WRL pie chart has been used by numerous peace groups to promote war tax resistance and protests against the bloated nature of the U.S. military budget. (Even using the official figures, the U.S. spends more on its military than the next 25 nations COMBINED!)
The WRL’s current projects include an anti-recruitment effort called Not Your Soldier (which I think is not as effective as the AFSC’s counter-recruitment efforts), and a major effort to target war-profiteers called the Bite the Bullet Network. The latter targets the military industrial complex which Bob Dylan rightly called the “masters of war.”
The WRL is a major component organization of United for Peace with Justice, the umbrella peace organization working to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The WRL is also a national chapter of the London-based War Resisters’ International which grew out of a Dutch organization in 1921. In 1931, the WRI and its chapters adopted the broken rifle as its symbol. (This has major significance for me. I have only ever held nominal membership in the WRL, unlike my greater involvement in the F.O.R., the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Witness for Peace, Every Church a Peace Church, and Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace with Justice. Mostly, I just subscribe to the WRL newsletter and buy the occasional calendar and T-shirt. But because I became a pacifist as a military conscientious objector, the broken rifle has always been a deeply-loved peace symbol for me,–a modern equivalent to beating swords into plowshares and a symbol of my deliberate break with my military past.)
Famous members of the War Resisters League, other than Jessie Wallace Hughan, include Dave Dellinger (1915-2004), Ralph DiGia (1915-2008), Grace Paley (1922-2007), Igal Roodenko (1917-1991), Barbara Deming (1917-1984), A. J. Muste (1885-1967) (after Muste’s retirement as head of the Fellowship of Reconciliation), and the architect of the 1963 March on Washington, Bayard Rustin (1912-1987). The WRL continues to be a major force for peace and justice.
Update: Although I deeply appreciate the work of the WRL, I have not been involved with them except, as I said, on the edges. The major reason for this is that I believe ultimately nonviolence depends on a spiritual commitment. As a Christian (i.e., one who believes Christianity is actually TRUE ), I think Christian faith provides the best spirituality for pacifism and nonviolence, but it is not the only one. Most, if not all, major religions have a nonviolent strand and resources for equipping believers to respond to injustice, oppression, and violence with nonviolent direct action and peacemaking rather than with reactive violence. Secular commitment to nonviolence must rely either on a strictly moral commitment without any spiritual underpinnings or a pragmatic belief that nonviolence usually ‘works.’ But it doesn’t always work and such a pragmatic or rational view is not enough to keep one nonviolent in the face of oppressive violence: If you see your family murdered before your eyes, for instance, can a purely rational or secular commitment to nonviolence hold?
So, while I agree with the WRL that war is a crime against humanity and am grateful for their work, I distrust their lack of a spiritual foundation. It is significant to me that the current leadership of the WRL includes Frida Berrigan, daughter of the radical Catholic pacifists Elizabeth McAlister and the late Philip Berrigan, and Fr. G. Siman Harak (a friend of mine), who is a Jesuit priest.
We turn to the Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). As with groups in our previous installments (F.O.R. and WILPF), the AFSC began as a specific response to World War I. The Religious Society of Friends (nicknamed the Quakers) began as a Christian movement out of radical Puritanism in the mid to late 17th C. Although it’s founder, George Fox, seems to have been a pacifist since his conversion, the Friends as a whole did not adopt the Peace Testimony as a defining characteristic until 1660. Since that time, Friends have been a powerful force for peace and justice–making an impact well beyond their numbers. (There are less than 1 million Friends/Quakers worldwide–the majority in Africa.)
Especially in the U.S., the 19th C. was a troubling one for Friends–leading to several schisms between various Yearly Meetings. This fragmented the peace witness after the Civil War, but numerous Friends played key roles in the development of the international peace movement in the late 19th and early 20th C. When the U.S. decided to enter World War I, Quaker Meetings formed the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in order to give young Quaker men an alternative form of national service to war. During AFSC’s very first year of existence, it sent women and men to France (along with British Friends) where they worked and cared for children who were refugees because of the war. They also founded a maternity hospital, repaired and rebuilt homes destroyed by the war, and provided returning refugees with the necessities to rebuild their lives.
Over the years, AFSC has been open to hiring non-Quakers, but everyone associated with AFSC must share the Quaker belief in nonviolence and peacemaking rooted deep Quaker convictions about the dignity and worth of all persons (Quaker evangelists–called Publishers of Truth–were instructed to answer “that of God in every person”), in the power of love, service, and nonviolence, and in the ability of the Light (a biblical symbol of God) to speak to all people. Quakers see their responsibility in opposing war, militarism, and other systems of domination as a calling to “Speak Truth to Power.”
The AFSC continued its work after the end of WWI. Some major highlights from the early years (1917-1938) include:
- Feeding 1 million starving children in Germany and Austria in 1919.
- Feeding and reconstruction work in Poland, including buying 1000 horses from the Polish army to lend to farmers for plowing in 1920.
- Distributed food, milk, and clothing in famine relief in Russia in 1920-1921. (This work in famine relief saw the rise in leadership of a Friend in business named Herbert Hoover who went on to become U.S. president–and then see his famine relief experience prove fruitless during the Great Depression–though he remained convinced that the New Deal’s programs were the wrong answer.)
- 1925-1934, helped with poverty relief among Native Americans, African-Americans and immigrants in the inner cities, and poor whites in Appalachia.
- 1937, provided relief to both sides of the Spanish civil war.
- 1938, sent a delegation to Germany to rebuke the new Nazi government for its treatment of Jews and worked to get it to allow Jews to leave the country.
As WWII loomed near, Friends, along with Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, managed to get Congress to pass exemptions to the draft for conscientious objectors to war (although the law limited this to those whose pacifism was “based on religious instruction”) and for COs to perform “alternative service of national importance” in work camps run by the peace churches. Many other WWII -era Conscientious Objectors, religious and otherwise, went to prison, instead. During these years, the AFSC worked to try to maintain a consistent peace witness around the world in the midst of war.
- 1941, provided medical help to civilians on both sides of China’s civil war.
- 1942, provided alternative service for conscientious objectors to war in mental hospitals, conservation programs, and training schools. Provided relocation help for Japanese-Americans and worked to protect the property of Japanese-Americans interred for the duration of the war.
- 1943, sent food to relieve severe famine in India.
- 1944, led the reconstruction efforts in post-war Europe and Asia.
In 1947 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to both the AFSC and the British Friends Service Council on behalf of Quakers everywhere.
- As the Cold War began, the AFSC published Speak Truth to Power(1955) as a pacifist alternative to the arms race.
- 1961, sent volunteers to work in developing countries. This began earlier and, along with similar programs run by Brethren and Mennonites, was the inspiration for John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps program.
- Following the 1962 ceasefire between France and Algeria, AFSC worked in Algeria to develop garden and poultry projects, milk stations, and clinics to fight poverty-related diseases.
- 1965 –worked to place 7, 000 African-American children in previously all-white Southern public schools and pushed to keep school desegregation a front burner issue. (Friends had pioneered here. Even during the days of slavery, Friends schools were open to everyone. When segregation laws in many Southern states forbade teaching white and black children together, Friends founded numerous private schools for African-Americans because of the horrible quality of the state-run “Negro schools.” Rosa Parks attended such a Quaker primary school.)
- 1966, provided free medical aid to civilians in North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and areas held by the NLF. (This led to official investigations of the AFSC by the House Un-American Activities Committee which, thankfully, no longer exists.)
And on and on it goes.
Today, the AFSC has programs seeking economic justice both globally and in the USA, programs on immigration rights, equality for LGBT persons, the Wage Peace campaign to end the war in Iraq and rebuild Iraq justly, a program to combat the militarization of American Youth (including counter-recruitment), work for fairer patterns of international trade, programs to end weapons build ups and the international weapons trade (especially work to end nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and work against weapons that mostly harm civilians, such as landmines), programs for debt cancellation and debt relief in Africa, a program for a just two-state peace in Israel-Palestine, reforming the U.S. criminal justice system (including abolishing the death penalty and ending police abuse).
A glance at these many programs shows that the AFSC’s peace witness is not just a negative peace (the absence of war or armed conflict), but a positive peace built on the presence of justice and human reconciliation.
Like the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) began out of the horrors of the First World War. It also grew from the first wave of international feminism. As women in Europe and North America were struggling for the vote (suffrage) and equal rights with men, they also were leading the way to more just and compassionate societies. Many of the women involved in the struggle for women’s rights had also been part of the movement to abolish slavery and some were still struggling for equal rights for minorities. Many were working to end child labor and for better housing and working conditions for the poor. They also worked for international peace. In fact, it was widely believed at the time that women would more likely vote for peace and against war–this was an argument many feminists themselves used–that female suffrage would transform the world because women were more naturally just and compassionate and peaceful than men. (This belief in female moral superiority was also used by men to argue AGAINST female suffrage.)
While subsequent history has proven that women are just as fallen and sinful as men are, it is true that the early feminists were also campaigners in many moral and social causes, and none more so than the budding peace movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Thus, the eruption of the First World War in 1914 was seen as a horror by many of these leaders. True, some women rallied round the flags of their various nations–reverting to nationalist militarism–and others, like Alice Paul, used the contradictions of a supposed “war for democracy” when women did not have the vote to put pressure for passage of women’s suffrage. But for many of the leaders of this first wave feminism, stopping the war became the most essential cause of their lives.
The war began in August 1914. In April, 1915, some 1300 women from Europe and North America gathered for a Congress of Women at the Hague in the Netherlands. They came from both belligerant countries and neutral countries. The women were responding to the call of Dr. Aletta Jacobs, M.D., a Dutch suffragist and feminist, who urged women concerned for peace come to the Hague. The purpose of the Congress of Women was to protest the killing then raging throughout Europe–which would soon spread to Europe’s colonies in Asia and Africa and would draw in the United States as well. The Congress issued some 20 resolutions: some short-term such as calls for cease fire and resolution by binding arbitration from neutral parties, and others with more longterm goals–to lay the foundations to prevent future wars and produce a world culture of peace. They called on all neutral nations to refuse to join sides in the war, to pressure the belligerant nations to cease fire and to pledge to help solve their differences through binding arbitration. They called for a league of neutral nations (an idea that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson would later use in his argument for a League of Nations–in fact, most of Wilson’s 14 point peace plan came originally from the Congress of Women’s 20 resolutions!).
At the end of the Congress, the women elected small teams of delegates to take the messages of the conferences to the belligerant and neutral states of Europe and to the President of the U.S.A. These delegations managed to visit 14 countries (during wartime!) between May and June 1915. They also decided to form themselves into a permanent organization with an international headquarters and national branches. This beginning of WILPF was first called the International Women’s Committee. They elected Jane Addams (1860-1935) of the U.S.A. as the first president of the Congress and as the delegate to Pres. Wilson. Addams was already famous throughout North America and Europe as a pioneer in what today would be called social work and community organizing. (See Hull House.) Addams had been raised a Quaker, though her father had served in the U.S. Calvary and was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln. The adult Addams left her Friends meeting, tried for a time to be a Unitarian (because of their greater acceptance of male/female equality), but eventually became a baptized member of the Presbyterian Church. She had been elected to the Chicago City Council on a reform ticket. Upon returning to the U.S. from the Hague, she not only presented the views of the Congress to President Wilson (who, as I said, “borrowed” heavily from them when he formed his own peace plan), but formed the Women’s Peace Party to try to keep the U.S. out of the war.
When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, the rights of pacifists and conscientious objectors were greatly trampled. Speaking out against the war was prosecuted as treason, as was counseling draft resistance or even refusal to promote the buying of war bonds! Freedom of the press and speech were greatly curtailed–even ignored–during the war fever. Addams, who continued to protest the U.S. involvement in the War, did not end up in jail as so many, but she had her passport revoked and lost much of her prestige, attacked in the press. She was kept a virtual house prisoner for some time. Addams’ younger associate, Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961) lost her post as Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College due to her refusal to support the war or sign a loyalty oath. Other International Women’s Committee women in other countries faced similar or worse hardships, some even being thrown into prison for the duration of the war.
When the war ended in 1919, the International Women’s Committee attempted to be true to its promise to hold a parallel Congress to the official peace meetings of the belligerant nations. Because the French government would not allow German delegates to meet in France, the IWC’s Congress met not at Versailles as they’d planned, but in Zurich, Switzerland. A small number of women “ran shuttle” from the Zurich meeting to the governmental deliberations at Versailles–though they do not seem to have made much of an impact. The Treaty of Versailles was so brutal in its treatment of Germany and other defeated nations that historians widely credit it with sowing the seeds of the rise of Naziism and the Second World War. The Women’s Congress denounced the terms of the Treaty of Versailles as revenge of the victors and correctly predicted that it would lead to another global war. They decided to make the International Women’s Committee permanent, called it the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and stated its purpose as “to bring together women of different political views, and philosophical and religious backgrounds, to study and make known the causes of war and to work for a permanent peace.” That remains the purpose of WILPF to this day.
In 1922, WILPF tried to get the League of Nations to convene a World Congress to renegotiate the Treaty of Versailles at a “Conference on a New Peace.”
In 1924, correctly seeing the development and global sale of arms as a major cause of war, WILPF worked to mobilize scientists to refuse to work on weapons of war or on projects funded by the military.
In 1927 WILPF first went to China and Indochina, moving beyond the European and North American scope of its concerns.
In 1931, first WILPF president Jane Addams, now in failing health, was belatedly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but she was too ill to travel to Oslo to receive it. (Addams would finally die in 1935.)
In 1932, WILPF delivered over a million signatures for complete global disarmament to a disarmament conference.
From 1940 to 1945, WILPF found ways to aid victims of fascism, Naziism, and Japanese imperialism.
In 1946, WILPF was at the founding of the United Nations and pushed for the concept of mutual security–urging that security be based on justice and freedom from want, rather than on military might and prestige. WILPF gained official UN status as a non-governmental organization (NGO) at that founding meeting of the UN.
In 1946, Emily Greene Balch, first International Secretary of the WILPF, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1958, WILPF sent missions to the Middle East. In 1961, WILPF convened the first of many meetings between American and Soviet women to break down the barriers of the Cold WAr.
From 1963 onward, WILPF was a major force urging an end to the Vietnam War, undertaking investigative missions to North and South Vietnam. In 1971, they went to Chile, where the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) had just toppled the elected government of Salvador Allende and installed military dictator Pinochet, to investigate Pinochet’s human rights abuses.
From Northern Ireland to the Middle East to East Timor, WILPF has been a force for peace. With an International Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, WILPF has a UN Office in NYC, and national “Sections” on every continent except Antartica. There are 36 national Sections in all. WILPF works on peace, disarmament, racial justice, economic justice, environmental health, the democratization of the United Nations (especially the reform of the Security Council), defense of human rights. It also pushes for greater roles for women in negotiating peace treaties since women and children are often disproportionally affected by war and conflict. And it recruits young women peacemakers for the next generations.
As WILPF approaches 100 years of work (2015), it’s vision is still that of its founding:
- the equality of all people in a world free of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.
- the guarantee of all to fundamental human rights including the right to sustainable economic development
- an end to all forms of violence: rape, battering, exploitation, military intervention, and war.
- the transfer of world resources from military to human needs, leading to economic justice within and between nations
- world disarmament and the peaceful arbitration of conflicts through the United Nations.
The U.S. Section has a Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA) that focuses on peace education among children.
In addition to Nobel Prize winners, Addams and Balch, WILPF has had numerous amazing members and leaders including Coretta Scott King, Phyllis Bennis (whom I suggested as Under-Secretary of State for the Middle East, though no one took me seriously), Evelyn Peak, Dr. Elise Boulding, and many others. I urge women who read this blog to check out WILPF and its national sections and men to pass this page on to the powerful peacemaking women in your life.
I am going to write some brief historical sketches of major grassroots, contemporary peace organizations–with special concentration on religious, especially Christian, organizations and especially those in North America (because I know them best). The “modern” peace movement began in Europe and North America in the 19th C. In North America, a major root was the largely Christian movement to abolish slavery with its stronghold in the Northern United States, but also with Canadian participants, especially after the Fugitive Slave Act meant that runaway slaves were not safe until they reached Canada. Although 19th C. North America had a Christian peace witness from Mennonites, Dunkers (now called the Church of the Brethren) and some smaller sects, the major Christian peace witness to the larger, ecumenical church at this time was by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) who made up a disproportionate amount of the leadership of the Abolitionist movement.
Because of the Quaker peace witness, many non-Quaker abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison (a white newspaper editor raised as a New England Baptist) and Frederick Douglass (a former slave, editor of The North Star, and lay-preacher for the African Methodist Episcopal Church) and Sojourner Truth (former slave and traveling preacher) were pacifists who hoped that slavery could be abolished without war–though some later, reluctantly endorsed the Civil War after Lincoln added the abolition of slavery to his war aims. The evangelical preachers of the Second Great Awakening, including Charles Finney, Timothy Dwight Weld, Jonathan Blanchard, Alexander Campbell and others were also pacifists and crusaders against slavery, child labor, and for the rights of women.
Opposition to Pres. James Polk’s War on Mexico (1845-1848), which was a thinly disguised ploy to gain territory and to break the Missouri Compromise and spread slave states all the way to the West Coast, was found across the religious and political spectrum. Not until the Vietnam War would an American War have such widespread opposition from the American people themselves. That opposition produced the first U.S. peace societies, the beginnings of a widespread anti-war movement–one that grew again following the U.S. Civil War and which united political conservatives and liberals at the end of the 19th C. in opposition to the Spanish-American War (in which the U.S. took over the Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico) and the Philippine-American War (in which the U.S. gained colonies in the Philippines, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Samoa).
In Europe, similar movements were growing in response to numerous 19th C. wars, including the British war in Burma, the revolutions against the Spanish throughout Latin America, the Crimean War, the Savoy Revolt in India, the Boer War in South Africa, the British War in Afghanistan. The beginnings of discontent with these long series of wars probably began with the 18th C. Napoleanic conquests. In addition to Christian influences, the European peace movement drew from the growing body of international law in the 19th C. (with more institutions for international arbitration and law), and from two rival economic philosophies–the global free trade movement (wars disrupt business) and the various labor and socialist movements–both Marxist and non-Marxist versions (labor was likely to see most wars as exploitations of the poor by international capital).
Alfred Nobel, capitalist with a guilty conscience after inventing dynamite and making his fortune on munitions, was convinced at the turn of the century by his secretary Bertha Suttner (an author aand activist in the peace movement) to make one of his Nobel Prizes in his will dedicated to peacemakers, bringing new prestige to the movement.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (F.O.R.) was birthed with the First World War. In the aftermath of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Serbia, peace activists, especially Christian peace activists, realized that a pan-European war could erupt. In August of 1914 an international group of church leaders, clergy and laity, gathered in Switzerland to make a last ditch attempt to stop the war. The conference had barely begun when word came that the fighting had begun–they were too late. Conference attendants raced to rail stations to return to their home countries before the borders would be closed. At a railway station in Germany, two of the conferees, a British Quaker named Henry Hodgkin (who taught philosophy at Queens College, Cambridge University) and a Lutheran minister named Friedrich Siegmund-Schutlze (who was, astonishingly, chaplain to the Kaiser!) clasped hands and pledged that because they were Christian brothers they, personally, could never be at war and they would seek to work for peace between their nations, regardless of the policies of their respective governments!
Back in the U. K., Hodgkins quickly acted on his promise. He convened an ecumenical Christian conference at Queens College from which about 20 individuals declared that they could not conceive of God as a nationalist and that they would not agree to a moratorium on the Sermon on the Mount for the length of the war. From this meeting the British chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation was born.
Travel during wartime is uncertain, but a year later Hodgkins came to New York City and convened a meeting of interested pacifists at Union Theological Seminary in NYC that included some of the most influential theologians and ministers and laypeople of the day including Reinhold Niebuhr (who would, in the ’30s, break with the F.O.R. and forever after be a severely harsh critic of Christian pacifism), Ernest Lefevre (who followed Niebuhr’s break and then went further and became a neoconservative!), John Haynes Holmes (prominent Unitarian minister), Jesse Wallace Hughes (prominent labor leader who would later found the more secular War Resisters’ League), and others.
In Germany, Rev. Sigmund-Schultz’s opposition to war and the Kaiser’s war aims quickly led to loss of his position as the Kaiser’s personal chaplain. He was soon imprisoned until 1917. Upon release from prison, Rev. Sigmund-Schultz founded the German chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Internationaler Versöhnungsbund, which is a thriving branch of the F.O.R. today. After Hitler’s rise to power in the ’30s, Sigmund-Schultz was an early outspoken critic and died in a concentration camp.
In 1919, after the war ended, the F.O.R. created an International branch (IFOR), headquartered first in Switzerland and today in Alkmaar, the Netherlands. There are today 85 national branches of IFOR, on every continent on the globe. The International Fellowship of Reconciliation and some of its national member branches (including the U.S. branch) have broadened from being ecumenical Christian organizations to interfaith pacifist organizations (but still religiously based). Other branches, such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation in England (F.o.R. E.) are still specifically Christian, perhaps in reaction to the strong secularization of the wider culture.
The F.O.R. and its various branches have been involved in nonviolent struggles for justice and peace throughout the twentieth century until today. They were early supporters of Gandhi’s work in South Africa and then India and helped to plant FOR branches among the Gandhians while learning Gandhian nonviolence theory and adding it to their religiously based pacifism. Six (6) prominent members of the IFOR have won the Nobel Peace Prize (Jane Addams, USA, 1931; Emily Green Balch, USA, 1946; Chief Albert Luthuli, South Africa, 1960; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., USA, 1964; Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Northern Ireland, 1976; Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentina, 1980) and literally hundreds of others have been nominated for it and hundreds of its members have won other peace and human rights prizes. IFOR has nongovernmental status at the United Nations as it works to create a culture of nonviolence, peace, and justice.
In the U.S. branch of IFOR, as well as in the British branch and, perhaps others, many members also belong to religious peace fellowships specific to their faith or denomination, some more organically connected to the F.O.R. than others (e.g., the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Muslim Peace Fellowship, the Lutheran Peace Fellowship, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Disciples Peace Fellowship, the Catholic Peace Fellowship, etc.) There are also regional branches of the U.S. F.O.R.–I have served on the board of the Louisville Chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation which meets monthly on the campus of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
The U.S. branch of the F.O.R. has often spun-off other organizations during its various campaigns. For instance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) began when F.O.R. board member Roger Baldwin sought to protect civil liberties guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution that were being trampled during World War I–especially the rights of conscientious objectors to war. Likewise, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was founded by staff members of the F.O.R. during the 1940s, especially James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, and George Houser–beginning with students at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The F.O.R. was involved in the Civil Rights movment, the movement against nuclear weapons, to stop the Vietnam War (and every war thereafter), work to end the death penalty and work for prison reform, to end apartheid in South Africa, to free Burma from military rule, to end U.S. support of dictatorships, to work for women’s rights, labor rights, and, since the 1990s, the rights and equality of LGBT persons. F.O.R. workshops on nonviolence in the Philippines laid the groundwork for the nonviolent people power revolution in the ’80s–and similar stories can be repeated around the world.
The F.O.R.’s role in various nonviolent campaigns and peace efforts has not usually been widely noted. For instance, the role in the Civil Rights movment is mentioned in most history books, but seldom in any public celebrations of the achievements of that struggle. But the FOR and its members have never been about getting “credit,” but about experimenting with the power of love and nonviolence and forgiveness as a force for personal and social change.
I have been a member since 1983. Only recently returned from the U.S. army as a conscientious objector, I went twice to Nicaragua with the movement Witness for Peace, which aimed to stop the civil war and the Reagan-backed terrorists known as the Contras. On my second trip unarmed into this war zone, most of the delegation happened to be members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, of which I had never heard. Upon my return to the states, I joined up and have counted my membership to be one of my deepest commitments.
The F.O.R. is not perfect and has made mistakes. A major mistake, in my view, happened just after its birth. As Paul Alexander shows in his Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God, the early Pentecostals, especially the AoG, were pacifist and strongly opposed WWI. (They did not officially abandon pacifism until 1967.) But there was little contact with Pentecostals or other conservative Christian groups by the members of the F.O.R. at that time, who were mostly liberal, mainline Christians who looked askance at conservative groups. That view has changed, but a major opportunity that would have strengthened both groups was lost.
Nevertheless, some of the strongest activists and theologians for peace have come from the ranks of the Fellowship of Reconciliation–and do so still.
Here is a partial list of famous members of IFOR or one of its branches:
- Rev. Paul Jones, Episcopal bishop removed from his diocese in Utah because of his pacifism and opposition to WWI.
- Norman Thomas, Presbyterian minister turned union organizer and leader of the Socialist Party, USA. Ran for U.S. president on a Socialist and pacifist platform 5 times.
- John Haynes Holmes, Unitarian minister.
- Jane Addams.
- Alfred Hassler, American Baptist leader.
- Bayard Rustin, African-American Quaker, labor and civil rights leader–not as well known as others because he was gay in a time when that was literally illegal in most of the U.S.
- James Farmer, Jr., African-American Methodist minister and founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
- Glenn Smiley, Methodist pastor and advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr.
- A. J. Muste, Congregationalist minister turned Quaker who led the F.O.R. through the middle of the 20th C.
- Lillian Smith, Southern novelist.
- G. H. C. MacGregor, Scottish New Testament scholar.
- Andre Trocme, French Reformed pastor-theologian who led the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to hide 5,000 Jews from the Nazis, thus saving them from the Holocaust.
- Dorothy Day, co-founder and motivating spirit of the Catholic Worker movement.
- Clarence Jordan, radical white Baptist New Testament scholar who founded the interracial farming community known as Koinonia in South Georgia in 1942.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
- John M. Swomley, Jr., Methodist theologian and ethicist.
- Thomas Merton, Trappist monk.
- Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., Catholic priest, poet, biblical scholar, and radical anti-war activist.
- Martin Niemöller, German Lutheran pastor who was held as Hitler’s personal prisoner during WWII.
- Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher.
- Maurice Friedman, Jewish philosopher, Buber scholar, and one of the founders of the Jewish Peace Fellowship.
- Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentine sculpter, writer, and nonviolent activist who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize.
- Hildegard Goss-Mayer, German peace activist whose workshops on nonviolence in the Philippines sowed the seeds for its 1986 nonviolent revolution.
- Elise Boulding, Quaker sociologist.
- Howard Thurman, African-American mystical theologian.
- Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Catholic laywoman and co-founder of the Irish peace movement and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
- Cesar Chavez, Mexican-American labor and civil rights leader; co-founder of the United Farmworkers of America.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist priest, leader of the Buddhist nonviolent protest against the Vietnama war; nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Joseph Lowry, African American Methodist pastor and civil rights leader.
- John Dear, S.J., Catholic priest, pastor, author, and nonviolent activist.
- Rabia Terri Harris, founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship.
- Walter Wink, United Methodist New Testament scholar.
- John Howard Yoder, Mennonite theologian.
- Vincent Harding, African American Mennonite historian.
- Edwin Dahlberg, former president of the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, USA) and the National Council of Churches, USA.
- Walter Rauschenbusch, theologian of the Social Gospel (for the last year of his life).
- Glen H. Stassen, Baptist ethicist.
- George Edwards, Presbyterian New Testament scholar.
- Jim Forest, founder of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.
- Barbra Deming, Quaker, feminist.
- Albert Einstein, ‘Nuff said.
- Rabbi Leo Beerman, rabbi of Temple Leo Baeck, Los Angeles.
- Sami Awad, founder of Holy Land Trust and the Palestinian News Network
- Rev. Rick Ufford-Chaise, Presbyterian minister, founder of BorderLinks, past-presiding officer of the Presbyterian Church, USA.
- Rev. Glen Gersmehl, Executive Director of the Lutheran Peace Fellowship
- Rev. Susan Mark Landis, Executive Director of the Mennonite Peace and Justice Support Network
- Rev. Mel White, co-founder of Soulforce–using Gandhian and Kingian nonviolence to combat the spiritual oppression of LGBT folk in the church and society.
- Charles Raven, Anglican theologian
- H. H. Farmer, British NT scholar
- Jean Lassere, French Reformed pastor and theologian and friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
- Danilo Dolci, the “Sicilian Gandhi” who faced Sicili’s Mafia with Gospel nonviolence.
- Ibrahim Rainey, Imam and co-founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship
- Joan Chittister, OSB, a Benedictine prioress.
- Gene Sharp, Quaker and historian who has done more to analyze the “nuts and bolts” of nonviolence than anyone.
Far too many more to count.
This coming weekend, I’ll give the first of the promised profiles on my top 10 list of U.S. theologians. But I have noticed that when I switched to this blog from my old one, I interrupted my series of brief histories of major peace organizations–and that before I even posted a brief history of the peace group I’ve been involved with the most, The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. So, I will move the posts in that series to this blog and then regularly add to them. The series will be indexed in the “Popular Series” page.
This kind of a list is necessarily subjective, but I am trying to base my choices not on “my favorites,” but on the basis of influence–both on other theologians and on the faith and practice of the churches. After I post this list, my next posts will be a series of profiles of each of these ten. I do not think that either my choices or descriptions/evaluations are incontestable. I invite others to submit their own lists and reasons for them–either in the comments or on their own blogs with links in the comments. I also invite readers from other nations to list the most important theologians of their nations. Our mutual enrichment could be considered a form of globalized “continuing theological education.” I hope you enjoy this series and I look forward to your responses. My list is in chronological order.
- Roger Williams (1603-1683). Williams was a Cambridge educated English Puritan theologian who emigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony where his evolving views led to conflict with the colony’s religious establishment. He became a champion of religious liberty and church-state separation, as well as a friend and advocate for Native Americans. Banished (together with his wife) into “ye howling wilderness” by the Massachusetts Bay Colony authorities, Williams was saved by Native Americans of the Narragansett nation. He founded Providence and secured a royal charter for the Colony of Rhode Island. He founded the First Baptist Church in North America in Providence, but soon withdrew himself from membership (believing all churches to be impure) to await the rise of a new apostleship. He wrote a grammar of the Narangansett language for English speakers, founded Rhode Island as the first colony to ensure religious liberty, and wrote many theological tracts that were influential on others, especially later Baptists.
- Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Calvinist Congregationalist theologian of the Awakening, educated at Yale. Although
the stereotypes focus on his “hellfire and damnation” sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Edwards was actually one of the foremost philosophical theologians of love. He helped create the discipline of sociology in order to accurately describe the phenomena of
the revivals. His work Freedom of the Will re-thought the doctrine of Predestination. Edwards reshaped Puritan theology to mold the Evangelicalism of the Great Awakening.
- Charles Hodge (1797-1878). Presbyterian theologian of the first generation of Princeton Theological Seminary, Hodge established the Calvinist orthodoxy of the central strand of American Evangelicalism. He also began the form of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy (refined by his son, A.A. Hodge and by B. B. Warfield) that became so important to most U.S. conservative Protestants after the rise of the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy.
- Walter Rauschenbush (1861-1918). American Baptist pastor, church historian, and THE theologian of the Social Gospel movement.
The son of an immigrant German Lutheran pastor (August Rauschenbusch) who converted to Baptist convictions. Educated at Rochester Theological Seminary and the University of Berlin, the largest theological impact on Rauschenbusch was his experience as a pastor of poor people in Hell’s Kitchen—one of the worst slums in NYC. Rauschenbusch’s theology centered around Jesus’ inauguration of the
Kingdom of God—in which both individual salvation and the struggle for social justice were incorporated.
- Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). Minister in the Evangelical Synod of North America (and, after the merger, with the Evangelical and Reformed Church)—an immigrant denomination of Germans influenced by the Heidelberg Catechism which combined Lutheran and Calvinist influences. (This is one of the root denominations of today’s United Church of Christ.) Educated at Elmhurst
College, Eden Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, and Yale University Graduate School (but his father’s death prevented him from finishing his Ph.D.). Greatly Iinfluenced by his time as pastor in Henry Ford’s Detroit. As Professor of Applied Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, Niebuhr reconfigured the Social Gospel of Rauschenbusch with influences from Luther and
Augustine—especially on the nature of sin. He called the result “Christian Realism,” and, for better or worse, it has dominated the American Christian approach to social ethics and political involvement ever since.
- H. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1962). Reinie’s younger brother and arguably the more brilliant, but less influential, thinker. Influenced more by Calvin than Luther, also Troeltsch and Karl Barth. Created the foundations of what became “narrative theology” and the post-liberal tradition.
- John Howard Yoder (1927-1997). American Mennonite theologian educated at Goshen College and the University of Basel. Influenced by traditional Anabaptist theology, Harold Bender, Karl Barth, Markus Barth, and Oscar Cullmann. Yoder took these
influences and forged a nonviolent theology of social concern that rejected the Constantinian synthesis of imperial Christianity that had dominated Christianity since the 4th C. He was probably the most influential Christian pacifist theologian since World War II and certainly the most Christocentric.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). African-American Baptist minister who took traditional Black Baptist pietism, the Social Gospel, Christian Realism, Boston Personalist philosophy & Gandhian nonviolence theory to forge the theology of the nonviolent Civil Rights movement. Educated at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, Harvard University, and Boston University, King repeatedly turned down academic posts in order to keep his commitments as a pastor and leader of the grassroots Civil Rights movement.
- Letty M. Russell (1929-2007). One ofthe pioneers in Christian feminist theology, one of the earliest women ordained
by Presbyterians, Russell incorporated feminism into a much more mainstream Christian tradition than did other early pioneers like Mary Daly (who became a self-described “post-Christian”) and Rosemary Radford Reuther.
- James Hal Cone (1938–). The most influential of the pioneers of Black Liberation Theology. A minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Cone was educated at Philander Smith College, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, and Northwestern University, Cone has spent most of his career teaching at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Influenced by traditional Black Methodism, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Power Movement, Cone has sought to re-think Christian theology from the perspective of the oppressed and to articulate a theology of liberation focused on the African American context, but in dialogue with other liberation movements and cultural traditions around the globe.
Well, there’s my list. I am deeply aware that it is dominated by white males, but the tradition has been so dominated for most of U.S. history and I am trying to organize my list in terms of influence. I may believe (as I do) that Frederick Douglass should have been far more influential than Charles Hodge, but, at least at this point in U.S. history, it is not the case.
Even so, narrowing this list to 10 was not easy. The omissions are glaring–and I hope your responses will help to fill them.
John Stott died on 27 July 2011. For those readers who are not familiar with the Rev. John Stott (27 April 1921-27 July 2011), he was a pastor and evangelist in the Church of England with a long ministry to London’s urban poor. He was also one of the architects of the global Evangelical movement, especially in the English-speaking world. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof favorably compares Stott and his ministry to the hateful U.S. TV preachers who have stolen the term “evangelical,” twisting it from its natural meaning (“gospel centered”) to one of favoristism to the rich, punitive political power, self-satisfied self-righteousness, and marginalization of outcasts. Stott, a scholarly minister who wrote numerous books, combined orthodoxy in his theology with compassion for the poor and the environment.
Stott was born in London to Sir Arnold and Emily Stott. His father was a physician and an agnostic while his mother was a Lutheran by conviction who faithfully attended All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, a famous parish church of the Church of England at which Stott would later be the pastor.
At age 8, Stott was sent to boarding school in the English tradition. In 1935, he entered the famous Rugby School. (Yes, the sport of Rugby football was invented there.) In 1938 at Rugby, Stott heard an evangelist preach on Rev. 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. . .”, realized he’d never invited Christ into his heart, and became a born again Christian. Steve Bash, the evangelist in question, became a mentor to Stott, writing him a weekly letter, advising him on how to grow as a Christian.
Stott earned his B.A. in Modern Languages at Cambridge University (Trinity College) where he graduated with a double first in French and theology. There Stott became heavily involved in the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, an evangelical student ministry. He did his theological studies and ministry preparation at Ridley Hall, the Anglican theological college at Cambridge. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1945. He then became first curate (1945-1950) and then rector (1950-1975) of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, the parish of his childhood.
One of the things I admire most about Stott was his longterm commitment to inner-city ministry and to a single parish. Too often in contemporary evangelical circles, the “successful” minister moves to ever bigger congregations (with increases in salary packages and perks) or building a mega-church with a TV ministry–either independent or only loosely tied to a denomination. This has encouraged a “cult of personality” and for people to seek churches that “meet their needs.” By contrast, Stott was unabashedly Anglican (though involved in many ecumenical endeavors and organizations, especially those with strong evangelical ties) and was committed to inner-city ministry that was not glamorous–and to a single parish, All Souls’ Church.
As Rector, Stott began to play an important role in national and international debates among evangelical Christians, especially in the English-speaking world. In the late 1960s, British evangelicals had a large debate over whether they could remain in the Church of England (then being led mostly by strong liberals such as John A. T. Robinson (1919-1983), New Testament scholar, “secular” theologian, universalist and Bishop of Woolwich.) Stott was one of the leaders of those arguing for evangelicals to remain in the Church of England and his side ultimately prevailed. As a result of this leadership, however, Stott increasingly felt unable to devote his full time to All Souls. He appointed a vicar to take over most pastoral duties in 1970. In 1975, he retired as rector but remained a member of All Souls as rector emeritus.
Stott created John Stott Ministries (a.k.a. Langham Place International) to equip Bible teachers for local churches around the world. In 1974, the first International Congress on World Evangelization (an evangelical event) at Lausanne, Switzerland, adopted the Lausanne Covenant. It committed evangelicals to the orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed (with the Reformation emphasis on justification by faith), to global evangelization and to work for social justice. (Most U.S. evangelicals, while affirming loyalty to Lausanne, abandoned the commitment to social justice by the 1980s, instead forming the Religious Right and becoming an ultra-conservative wing of the U.S. Republican Party.) Stott was a major drafter of the Lausanne Covenant and both his writings and his ministries were consistent in keeping the tri-partite balance between evangelism, a generous orthodoxy, and work for social justice. Jim Wallis of Sojourners , a U.S. ministry focusing on peace and justice that was founded by white evangelicals (most of the original members began as students of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL in the 1970s), affirmed that John Stott was the first evangelical leader with any name recognition to affirm the value of their work, instead of seeing it as a threat to the work of evangelism.
Stott wrote over 50 books, all of which were aimed at “informed laity,” and could be read and understood by high school graduates, but none of which “talked down” to readers. The most famous of these was Basic Christianity (InterVarsity Press, 1958), an evangelical and ecumenical primer and apologetic which was widely used in “new members” and “seekers” classes around the world.
Stott never married. While this led some to suspect that he was a closeted gay man, he affirmed a calling to the celibate life.
Stott was never a major influence on my theology or my outlook. At the time I would have appreciated his popular works the most, I was reading other people. But I admired the balance in his life and I have always believed that if his influence had been stronger in North American (especially U.S.) evangelical circles, the health of American Christianity would be far stronger. When, beginning c. 1979, strident voices like those of Jerry Falwell, Gary Bauer, James Dobson, and others drowned out voices like that of John Stott, American evangelicalism became cancerous.
We need more people like John Stott as evangelical leaders–in the U.S. and throughout the English-Speaking world.
My congregation sings hymns from all over the world. One of our favorite is a Latin American hymn from 1971 (early Liberation Theology era, when most of Latin America was under rightwing dictatorships, many of them actively supported by the U.S. guns and money) written by A. Oliver and Miguel Manzano. The English translation is by George Lockwood. They hymn is a meditation on Matt. 25: 31-46. I haven’t figured out how to print music on this blog, but this is sung in unison in 6/8 time. The tune is challenging but the powerful words make it worthwhile. I will give both the Spanish and English of all 4 verses. Enjoy.
- Cuando el pobre nada tiene y aun reparte, cuando el hombre pasa sed y aguano da, cuando el débil a su hermano fortalece, [Estribillo] va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar, va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar.
- Cuando sufre un hombre y logra su consuelo, cuando espera y no se cansa de esperar, cuando amamos, aunque el odio nos rodee, [Estribillo] va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar, va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar.
- Cuando crece la alegria y nos inunda, cuando dicen nuestros labios la verdad, cuando amamos el sentir de los sencillos, [Estribillo] va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar, va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar.
- Cuando abunda el bien y llena los hogares, cuando un hombre donde hay guerra pone paz, cuando “hermano” le llamamos al extraño, [Estribillo] va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar, va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar.
- When the poor ones who have nothing share with strangers, when the thirsty water give unto us all, when the crippled in their weakness strengthen others, [Refrain] then we know that God still goes that road with us, then we know that God still goes that road with us.
- When at last all those who suffer find their comfort, when they hope though even hope seems hopelessness, when we love though hate at times seems all around us, [Refrain] then we know that God still goes that road with us, then we know that God still goes that road with us.
- When our joy fills up our cup to overflowing, when our lips can speak no words other than true, when we know that love for simple things is better, [Refrain] then we know that God still goes that road with us, then we know that God still goes that road with us.
- When our homes are filled with goodness in abundance, when we learn how to peace instead of war, when each stranger that we meet is called a neighbor, [Refrain] then we know that God still goes that road with us, then we know that God still goes that road with us.
My friend, Rev. Ken Sehested, is a bit of an odd duck. (No wonder we’re friends. 🙂 ) A Texas Baptist by conviction and upbringing, he swam upstream enough to quit football when a student at Baylor so that he could devote more time to his studies! (A male athlete voluntarily quitting FOOTBALL–the REAL dominant religion of the South–in order to be more studious is unheard of in the South. In Texas, the debate would be over whether to call in the psychiatrists or begin a heresy trial!) He then bucked tradition further by studying for the ministry NOT in one of the six Southern Baptist seminaries, but in the ecumenical Union Theological Seminary, a school with a reputation for liberalism in that most un-Southern of places, NEW YORK CITY! He not only married a woman minister (Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested), but put her calling first–moving to her pastoral placements in Atlanta, then Memphis, and, finally, Asheville, SC. Ken was the founding Director of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and led that fine organization for two decades. Today, is one third of a co-equal pastoral team (along with Joyce Hollyday and Nancy Hastings Sehested) of the ecumenical congregation, Circle of Mercy, in Asheville, NC–a self-declared peace church jointly affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the Alliance of Baptists. Ken is also a poet and writer on theologically-related topics. This poem of Ken’s was inspired by his study of Ezekiel 34:1-14; Acts 2:17; Romans 8:22.
Pentecostal power has little to do with
exaggerated religious emotion. But
such power, when granted,
has everything to do
with passion, with conviction.
It’s not your head that
you lose4–it’s your heart,
which falls head-over-heals
in love with the vision of dry bones
re-sinewed and aspired to life.
When such power erupts, they
probably will call you crazy.
“Have you lost your mind?!”
Yes, we will say, because
these days the mind has
become acclimated to a culture
of war; has become inured to
the ravages of poverty in a culture
of obesity; has become numb
to ecological wreckage.
When Pentecostal power erupts, all
heaven’s gonna break loose.
The boundaries will be compromised;
barriers will be broken; and
borders will be breached.
Economies of privilege will be fractured
and the politics of enmity will be impeached.
The revenge of the Beloved is the
reversal of Babel’s bequest.
“I will pour out my Spirit,”
says the LORD; Poured out
not for escape to another
world beyond the sky but
here, amid the dust. Poured out
not on disembodied spirits but
“upon all flesh.” It is to the
agony of abandonment that Heaven
is aroused. Queer the One Who
fashions a future for the disfavored.
The groaning of creation is both
an ache and an assurance. We
dare not insulate ourselves from
the one, lest we be deafened to
the other. Birth is at work.
Though the labor is prolonged,
provision is tendered.
Pentecostal power is the wherewithal
by which we wager our lives on
the surety of this promise.
The following song by the folk group, Small Potatoes, was sung by my friends Donna and Dan Trabue at church today. It says more than I can and it always makes me–the grandchild of a World War II veteran who fought in the Pacific and the friend of several Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals–cry my eyes out.
My grandmother had three sons
She dreamed about her children’s children
Then came 1941
Only one son would see the war end
Joseph died marching in Bataan
Frank on the sands of Iwo Jima
The day the bomb destroyed Japan
She thanked God and Harry Truman
She blamed the “godless Japanese”
For having crushed her sweetest dreams
One thousand candles for my sons
Every day I will remember
In Illinois, far from her past
Miss Nakamura still remembers
She was six when she saw the flash
That turned the world to smoke and ashes
Mother taught her daughter well
Run from the fire to the river
There she found a living hell
But not a mother or a father
Though she survived with just a scrape
Her family vanished into space
One thousand suns, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember
My grandmother had three sons
She never dreamed she’d have a daughter
But at the age of eighty-one
She met a nurse named Nakamura
It was a question only meant
To make some talk and pass the hours
About a picture by the bed
A photograph of two young soldiers
Hatred and anger stored for years
Slowly melted into tears
One thousand candles, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember
I’ve a picture in my mind
Of two women slowly walking
August 6th, 1985
Walking to church to light a candle
And they once asked me to explain
Why grown men play such foolish games
One thousand candles, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember