Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

After 10 Years: On Trying to Follow Jesus in Post-9/11 America

Since I (also) work nights, I remember that I was asleep when the first plane struck the tower on that awful day. Kate, my wife, called and told me to turn on the TV–any channel. I did. By the time I’d washed my face and could absorb the horror, we could see the 2nd plane crash into tower 2 and we knew that this was no horrible accident, but a terrorist attack using planes as weapons. Before much longer, a 3rd plane had crashed into the Pentagon and 4th crashed into a field in PA–thanks to brave passangers whose actions probably prevented that plane from crashing into the White House or Congress.  Like almost everyone else in the nation (indeed, much of the world), I was numb with shock for much of the day. Then, I drove downtown to the Red Cross and stood in line for hours to give blood.

I was grieving the victims and, like anyone else, afraid of what more attacks could mean. But I was MORE afraid of the reaction of my nation. From the beginning, I knew it would be very, very, bad.  I knew that, without wise leadership (which we lacked entirely), the country’s response would not be for justice, much less forgiveness, repentance for our part in creating such hatred, or work for reconciliation, but a thirst for REVENGE that would blind us to idiocy and immorality of our own actions.  The U.S. was traumatized on 9/11, and I am not sure we have recovered much from that trauma in the following decade. We continue to act in blind rage. We refuse to ask seriously “Why do they hate us?” and continue to give ourselves the cheap and easy non-answer of “they hate our freedoms,” even while we barter away that freedom for “homeland security” that does little to make us secure.  We have loudly retold ourselves the myths of our national innocence (even sinlessness) and refused to examine our foreign policies to see where we are sowing the seeds of hatred and fear that is reaped in terrorist attacks.  People from over 50 nations perished in the Twin Towers on 9/11, but we in the U.S. act as if we were the only victims.  And we are far too willing to victimize others in return.

The reactions of people varied, of course: Many lost faith in God.  Equating all religion with terrorist fanaticism, Hitchens, Dawkins, and others led a wave of “new atheism.” Others simply lost their faith in nonviolence and peacemaking.  I had a different response: My faith in God and in gospel nonviolence were reaffirmed and strengthened, but I lost faith in America and in most of the American churches.  Now, as an Anabaptist-influenced Christian, I didn’t have “faith in America” in the sense of many Constantinian Christians who believe in such foolishness as “Christian nations,” and who treat patriotism as part of Christian faith. I think all that is anathema to the gospel and have for decades.  And I knew too much history to think that my nation was incapable of great evil. But 9/11’s aftermath revealed to me that I did have a lingering liberal residue of faith that my nation, ON SOME LEVEL, really believed in its stated values of democracy, freedom, “liberty and justice for all,” and peace and human rights–however imperfectly it lived up to those ideals.  Since 9/11, I have become more cynical about my government and about the moral sensibility of the vast majority of the American people. I now see the U.S. as primarily a force for injustice and violence in the world and not a force for justice or peace.  In 2003-2005, I even gave a serious effort to emigrating to Canada and seeking Canadian citizenship.  (I would have been open to opportunities to relocate to the UK, Australia, or New Zealand, either–despite the fact that the UK and Australia had become “junior partners” in the “war on terror,” because I saw the resistance of citizens being more widespread there than here.)

But my biggest disillusionment was with mainstream U.S. churches–whether Catholic or Protestant, evangelical or liberal or centrist.  I saw major theologians and  pastors get swept up in the urge for revenge.  I saw prominent Christian voices demonize all Muslims–and criticize their hero, Pres. George W. Bush, for calling Islam a “religion of peace.” (Around the world, people saw most that Bush’s actions belied his words that he was not engaged in a “war on Islam,” but at home, Christians, especially Bush’s base of conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants, were angry that he did not join them in demonizing Islam and VERBALLY equating Islam and terrorism.) This wasn’t universal, I know: Both the late John Paul II and the current Pope Benedict XVI condemned the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq–but most U.S. Catholics completely ignored this (if they were even aware of it) and some even dismissed John Paul II’s opposition to senility.  President Bush’s denomination, the United Methodist Church, opposed the invasion of Iraq (and raised warnings about the invasion of Afghanistan), but when Bush ignored the UMC Bishops, they did nothing in response and most UMC laity assumed their leaders were completely behind the “war on terror.” Evangelical groups were even more militant and the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm even started printing “military Bibles!” My description and comments on that idolatry can be found here and here.

To be sure, some were more faithful in resisting this militaristic distortion of Christianity and even renewed and deepened their commitment to gospel peacemaking. The “historic peace churches,” Mennonites, Friends/Quakers, and the Church of the Brethren, have been steadfast in their peace witness and have renewed efforts to share that witness.  Methodist pacifist theologian, Stanley Hauerwas spoke out more on the gospel commitment to nonviolence. I joined the staff of Every Church a Peace Church and worked with others to try to get congregations, parishes, synods, denominations, to declare themselves peace churches and take concrete steps to make that a reality.  When I was introduced to theological blogging in 2004, I created a “Christian Peace Bloggers” ring that worked to publicize the gospel of peace in diverse settings.  Denominational Peace Fellowships experienced growth in numbers, dedication, and creative programs with most of them adopting or strengthening already existing programs to activate the message of gospel nonviolence at the level of the local congregation/parish.  Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace with Justice was formed and is working to reclaim the radical gospel nonviolence that was at the heart of the Pentecostal movement in its earliest days.  Christian Peacemaker Teams continued their work of nonviolent interference with war in Iraq at the risk of their lives (a delegation was captured by insurgents and one member lost his life) and, along with others, stepped up work for a just peace in Palestine-Israel, which remains a major obstacle to overccoming terrorism.  Princeton theologian George Hunsinger organized the National Religious Coalition Against Torture (NRCAT) in response to the revelation of the horrors of Abu- Ghraib and of Guantanemo Bay. As part of that NRCAT coalition, evangelical Christian ethicist, David Gushee, while not embracing pacifism (yet, I have hopes) gave up defending Just War Theory and put his full efforts into work for peace, including founding Evangelicals for Human Rights, and the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.  Other efforts abound. But, for the most part, these voices are drowned out in the U.S. by the voices of “militaristic Christians” who do not want to take up their crosses and follow the Lamb of God and Prince of Peace, but take up their guns and march into battle behind a bloodthirsty false god using Jesus’ name in vain.

The great Christian theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the first Christians in Germany to realize Hitler’s threat, not just to world peace, but to the gospel, and one of the earliest resistance leaders, wrote an essay, “After Ten Years,” in which he asked whether or not the resisters were still
“of any use” to the cause of Christ.  Ten years after 9/11 and the U.S. response of total violence, it is worth asking if we U.S. Christians remain “of any use” to the cause of Christ or to the cause of peace.  Are we engaged in interfaith dialogue with Muslims and working for better interfaith understanding–not out of a commitment to liberal “tolerance,” but because without such we are bearing false witness against our Muslim neighbors?  We need to ask it of ourselves individually, of our local congregations/parishes, of our denominational and ecumenical leaders, of our theologians .

As for my local house of worship, Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty, I doubt that I could have survived this decade with my sanity intact, without it.  Long before 9/11, we were already a congregation with a long history of working for peace and justice. After 9/11, even before the invasion of Afghanistan, we began lighting a peace candle during each worship service. By 2003, we had declared ourselves a “peace church” and joined the network of congregations in Every Church a Peace Church and deepened our connections to the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and to the interfaith Fellowship of Reconciliation.  It is quite a contrast with others where I know people are not even free to PRAY for peace!

Tomorrow, on the 10th anniversary of that day of terror, when many congregations are stoking more fears of Muslims, or promoting more militarism in the name of the Prince of Peace(!), one of our youth, Jesse Weber-Owens, will be baptized at Deem Lake. He is dying to the violence of the world system and rising to follow the unarmed Lamb who conquers with defenseless love! He will be joining the army that sheds no blood, as Tertullian called the church of God.

My congregation is far from perfect and our following of Jesus is full of stumbling. But I rejoice in God’s gifting of it to this section of downtown Louisville. It grounds my own resistance to greed, consumerism, violence, war, and empire.  May such communities of grace and resistance abound, enabling a global dance of resurrection in the Dragon’s jaws.

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September 10, 2011 Posted by | testimony | 1 Comment

A Brief History of Christian Peacemaker Teams

One of the most dynamic and creative organizations working for peace in the world is Christian Peacemaker Teams which works out of deep commitment to gospel nonviolence.  CPT works for peace by “getting in the way” of those who would make war.  They train teams of volunteers in the techniques of nonviolent direct action and the methods of conflict resolution (or conflict transformation) and send these teams into situations of conflict–wars, civil wars, armed buildups, undeclared wars, violent oppressions of workers, etc. The teams then attempt various ways of disrupting the conflict and working toward a just peace: sometimes physically imposing their bodies between armed belligerants, sometimes documenting violence and/or human rights abuses and publicizing them to the world, sometime trying to create space for dialogue, sometime accompanying indigenous human rights workers as “nonviolent bodyguards.”

Although it has become a broader, ecumenical Christian movement, CPT is rooted in the witness of the Historic Peace Churches (Mennonites, Friends/Quakers, Church of the Brethren). In 1984, at a meeting of the Mennonite World Conference, Mennonite theologian Ronald J. Sider challenged participants to give new life to the historic peace witness of Mennonites by being as committed to nonviolent peacemaking as members of the world’s militaries are to the violent defense of their respective countries.  Sider’s challenge fell on receptive ears. A series of conversations started among Mennonites (especially in North America) about ways in which “nonviolent armies” and “nonviolent reservists” could be employed.  By 1986, a retreat of 100 persons put out a call among Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren for the creation of Christian Peacemaker Teams–volunteers supported by churches, trained in nonviolent forms of conflict intervention, who would go to areas of conflict at bold risk of their lives. In 1988, Gene Stolzfus was hired as the first staff person.  By 1992, CPT had sent teams into Iraq, the West Bank of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Haiti.  Later delegations went to the Chiapas region of Mexico, Bosnia, Winnipeg, MB (negotiating between First Nations and the Canadian government), Colombia and elsewhere.

In the middle of the second U.S.-led war with Iraq, CPT gained far more visibility when a delegation was captured by Iraqi insurgents and held for several weeks. One member was executed. The rest were freed by U.S. military action.  While peacemakers saw this action by CPT as heroic and many were attracted to such serious peacemaking, the rightwing media in both the U.S. and U.K. denounced CPT as naive tools of terrorists whose presence did more harm than good.  There were even calls for the U.S. govt. to investigate CPT for possible terrorist links and to put members’ names on “no fly lists.” CPT was not intimidated and continued its nonviolent peacemaking efforts in Iraq.  (Note: The Bush admin. was particularly hostile to CPT because of two things–first, Bush’s own claims to being a “Christian president” who was supposedly invading Iraq on God’s orders. Second, CPT had earlier been the first to document and publish the U.S. torture of prisoners at the notorious Abu-Ghraib prison.  The passing of the Bush era, however, has hardly led to an embrace of CPT’s convictions or methods by the Obama administration. Far from it.)

Initially, CPT was sponsored only by the 2 largest Mennonite denominations in the U.S. (now both merged into Mennonite Church, USA) and the Church of the Brethren. But CPT sponsors now include (to date): The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, The Congregation of St. Basil (Basilians, a Roman Catholic priestly order), Friends United Meeting (Quakers), On Earth Peace (the major peacemaking program of the Church of the Brethren), The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Every Church a Peace Church, Mennonite Church, Canada, The Peace and Justice Support Network (of Mennonite Church, USA), and Peace and Justice Ministries (of Mennonite Church, Canada).  CPT, which is expanding its regional offices in Mexico, Canada, and the UK, invites other Christian groups to sponsor this growing ecumenical peace witness.

Current CPT delegations include nonviolent peacemaking efforts in Iraq, Palestine, Coluombia, the U.S.-Mexico border, the African Great Lakes region (based in Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, but also including work in Uganda), and support for aboriginal justice in the U.S. (groups working for Native American rights) and Canada (groups supporting the rights of First Nations).  Additional sponsors, funding, and volunteers could allow for other delegations.  (Among the places which have asked for CPT type nonviolent intervention are Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Costa Rica, South Sudan.)

The specific Christian identity of CPT (even in its name) has both strengths and weaknesses: On the plus side, it operates out of a clear Christological center and supported by a specific spirituality. This gives its peacemaking efforts depth and its members unity. However, in areas where “Christianity” is identified with either Western (especially U.S.) military imperialism or with coercive missionary efforts or both, such preconceptions can get in the way of CPT’s peace efforts–as seen in its capture by Iraqi military dissidents in 2005.

The challenge remains:  What would happen if Christians developed the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking as armies devote to war?

September 5, 2011 Posted by | heroes, human rights, Just Peacemaking, nonviolence, nonviolent activism, pacifism, peace, peacemakers | 2 Comments

Labor Day: A Prayer by Ken Sehested

Labor Day:

A Communal Prayer by Rev. Ken Sehested

Creator God, we give thanksthis day for work:

for work that sustains; for work that fulfills;

for work which, however tiring, also satisfies

and resonates with Your labor in creation.

As part of our thanks we intercede

for those who have no work,

who have too much or too little work;

who work at jobs that demean or destroy,

work that profits the few

at the expense of the many.

Blessed One, extend  your redemptive purpose

in the many and varied places of our work.

In factory or field, in sheltered office

or under open sky, using technical knowledge

or physical strength, working with machines

or with people or with the earth itself.

Together we promise:

To bring the full weight of our intelligence

and strength to our work.

Together we promise:

To make our place of work a place of safety

and respect for all with whom we labor.

Together we refuse:

To engage in work that harms another,

that promotes injustice or violence,

that damages the earth or otherwise

betrays the common good;

or to resign ourselves to economic

arrangements that widen the gap

between rich and poor.

Together we refuse:

To allow our work to infringe

on time with our families and friends,

with our community of faith,

with the rhythym of Sabbath rest.

Together we affirm:

The rights of all to work that both

fulfills and sustains:  to just wages

and to contentment.

Together we affirm:

That the redeeming and transforming

power of the Gospel, will all its

demands for justice and its promises

of mercy, is as relevant to the workplace

as to the sanctuaries of faith and family.

We make these promises,

we speak these refusals

and we offer these affirmations

as offering to You, O God–

who labors with purpose and

lingers in laughter–in response

to your ever-present grace, as

symbols of our ongoing repentance

and transformation, and in hope

that one day all the world

shall eat and be satisfied.

Amen.

From Ken Sehested, In the Land of the Living:  Prayers Personal and Public (Publications United, 2009).

September 4, 2011 Posted by | liturgy, prayers, worship | Leave a comment

A Brief History of Denominational Peace Fellowships (U.S.)

People connect to the work of peace and justice, if they do, at the heart of their personal identities. For most people, throughout history, the heart of their identities is intimately connected to their religious convictions. Even for the non-religious, some controlling philosophy or ideology substitutes for a religious identity.  So, denominational peace fellowships developed early in the 20th C. as ways for people to connect their faiths to their work for peace. Many of these denominational peace fellowships are directly connected to the Fellowship of Reconciliation and others have informal connections.  This history is for the U.S. scene, although there are denominational peace fellowships around the world..

The “historic peace churches” (Mennonites, Friends/Quakers, Brethren/Dunkers) have been normatively pacifist for centuries,but  they were actually slower to develop peace fellowships than other denominations. Further, because each had strands of tradition that included “separation from the world,” they were often hesitant to join ecumenical or interfaith peace groups.  Thus, the beginning of peace fellowships in the U.S. came from groups whose majorities were not pacifist–and could even be hostile to peacemaking activities.  The peace fellowships of Protestant denominations came first.  In the aftermath of World War I, a huge revulsion toward war swept through the U.S. and its churches, especially, but not only through its mainline liberal Protestant churches. It is safe to say that the years 1919-1940 constitute the period in which Christian pacifism came the closest to being the majority view of U.S. Christians.  (Non-Christians in the U.S. also adopted anti-war views in larger numbers than at any time since the U.S.-Mexican War of the 1830s. Pacifists and near-pacifists would not be in the U.S. in anywhere close to the numbers between the World Wars until thel late 1960s as the Vietnam War dragged on seemingly forever.) One strong motivation for the formation of denominational peace fellowships was the protection of the rights of conscientious objectors.  Most conscientious objectors to World War I were imprisoned for the length of the U.S. involvement in the war and the peace fellowships wanted to protect the rights of conscientious objectors if and when another war came. If you are not a member of one of the “Historic Peace Churches” (Mennonites, Friends/Quakers, Brethren), then participation in a denominational peace fellowship was one of the ways to show a military draft board that one objected to participation in war as a matter of religious conviction.

The earliest denominational peace fellowship was the Methodist Peace Fellowship which formed in the 1920s.  The founder of Methodism in 18th C. Britain, John Wesley, was not a pacifist (because he was too much a supporter of the Church of England as a state church), but he came close–considering war to be the most visible sign of human falleness and sinfulness.  American Methodists, however, had been strong supporters of the American Revolutionary War and the influence of Wesley’s views on war and slavery (which he condemned in the strongest terms) was slim in the years when American Methodism strove to prove itself as a truly AMERICAN denomination.  But the recovery of a Christian peace witness began with Methodist participation in the Abolitionist movement–thanks to the huge leadership of Quakers in that movement. After the Civil War, many Methodists saw pacifism as a natural outgrowth of Wesleyan emphasis on “holiness” or “entire sanctification.” (Indeed, numerous Wesleyan Holiness denominations split off from mainline Methodism out of a sense that the latter was losing this emphasis.  Many of these Holiness offshoot groups, e.g., Free Methodists, the Church of God [non-Pentecostal], the Wesleyan Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Brethren-in-Christ[a denomination that combined influences from Anabaptism and from Wesleyan Pietism], and the Evangelical United Brethren [a group that would, in the 1950s, merge with the Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church], were pacifist–at least at their beginnings.) The rise of the Boston Personalist movement in theology, and the Social Gospel, increased the rise of Christian pacifism among American Methodists until, by World War I, pacifism was ALMOST a majority view in American Methodism and the Methodist Episcopal Church was recognized as a “peace church” by the U.S. military. (The Methodist Episcopal Church–South, formed as a split in American Methodism over slavery, had fewer pacifists, but it was still a sizable minority.) The strength of the pacifist witness in American Methodism waned beginning with World War II, although numerous Methodist pacifists continue to this day. Still, the Methodist Peace Fellowship itself became increasingly weaker in the 1980s and died out altogether in the 1990s.  Organizationally, the witness of gospel nonviolence in the United Methodist Church has been maintained by the Methodist Federation for Social Action, but many of the more evangelical United Methodist pacifists avoid joining MFSA because of its perceived theological liberalism–especially its strongly inclusive stance toward LGBT folks and its support for legal and accessible abortion as part of its commitment to women’s procreative choice. (Both are stands largely rejected by evangelical Protestants, including evangelical United Methodists.) A “Pan-Wesleyan” peace fellowship began in the 1980s to fill the gap left by the death of the MPF. Methodists United for Peace with Justice began in 1987 as a response to the United Methodist Bishops’ pastoral letter, In Defense of Creation, which condemned nuclear weapons and called for the development of theologies of “just peace.” Membership is open not only to United Methodists, but to members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the African Methodist Episcopal Church-Zion (AMEZ), the Christian Methodist Church (CMC), the Free Methodist Church, and the Free Methodist Church. Because MUPJ takes no stand on LGBT issues or abortion, evangelical pacifists among these branches of the Methodist family are more likely to join it.

The oldest denominational peace fellowship in the U.S. in continual existence is the Disciples Peace Fellowship, founded in 1935 as  the peace fellowship of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is the more mainline liberal branch of the Stone-Campbell movement that grew out of the Second Great Awakening in 19th C. America.  Many early leaders in this movement, such as Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) and David Lipscomb (1831-1917) were pacifist.  As the movement splintered along both cultural and theological lines into the Churches of Christ, independent Christian Churches, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), pacifism was strong among all branches until World War II, though only the Disciples formed a denominational peace fellowship or took part in ecumenical efforts to end war or make peace. (Note, outside the U.S., denominations related to the Stone-Campbell movement are not divided along a liberal-conservative axis. In the UK and Australia, for instance, the Churches of Christ relate to the U.S. Disciples, as does the Evangelical Christian Church of Canada.) After World War II, pacifism declined sharply in all branches of the Stone-Campbell movement, though a strong pacifist minority remains in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  By contrast, the independent Christian Churches and the Churches of Christ have become some of the most militarist of all U.S. Christians, with few remembering the pacifist roots of many of their early leaders. (There HAS been an effort by Stone-Campbell movement historians to recover this early witness, the major result of which has been the beginnings of a peace studies program at  Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN (related to the Churches of Christ), though most of the professors teaching in the Institute for Conflict Resolution do not share the pacifism of David Lipscomb.) One strength of the Disciples Peace Fellowship is its program of “peace interns” who spread gospel nonviolence to youth at church camps.

The Episcopal Peace Fellowship began in 1939 and today connects with the global Anglican Pacifist Fellowship.

The denominational peace fellowship I know best, of course, is also the peace organization with which I have been most deeply involved:The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North AmericaIn its current form, BPFNA was founded in Louisville, KY in 1984 out of a meeting of Southern Baptist peacemakers with American (Northern) Baptists who belonged to the (Northern) Baptist Peace Fellowship which was founded in 1940.  The BPFNA is a grassroots Baptist peace fellowship that has members in at least 15 different Baptist denominations in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. It also has strong ties to the British Baptist Peace Fellowship (founded in 1941) and similar groups around the world.  One does not need to be a pacifist to be a member of the BPFNA, just committed to the call on all Christians to be peacemakers, but it is safe to say that BPFNA gathers together more Christian pacifists in Baptist life than any other organization. BPFNA has ties to the Fellowship of Reconciliation and is represented on the boards of Christian Peacemaker Teams, and Christian Peace Witness for Iraq.

Other Christian peace fellowships include: Adventist Peace Fellowship (formed in October 2001 as a recovery of earlier–mostly lost–pacifist convictions among Seventh Day Adventists and in response to American militarism following the attacks of 11 September 2001), Brethren Peace Fellowship (1946, the ecumenical and interfaith peace witness of the Church of the Brethren, one of the historic peace churches), The Catholic Peace Fellowship (1965, renewed in 2001, with a primary focus on protecting and spreading conscientious objection to all war among U.S. Catholics), Church of God Peace Fellowship (1964 with roots in the Interracial Fellowship founded in the 1930s and deeper roots going back to the initial pacifist witness of the Church of God [Anderson, IN–Non-Pentecostal] in the 19th C.), Lutheran Peace Fellowship (1994–members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the USA), Orthodox Peace Fellowship (founded during the Vietnam War and re-launched in 1984; connects Orthodox Christians globally in peacemaking. Pacifism is not required, but active work for peace is seen as “not optional” for Christians), Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace with Justice (founded in 2002 as The Pentecostal Peace Fellowship and quickly expanding to the Pentecostal and Charismatic Peace Fellowship, the current name was adopted to stress both the essential connection of peace and justice in the gospel, and to avoid confusion with another peace group listed below; early Pentecostals were pacifist but this witness was progressively lost after World War I. PCPWJ attempts to recover, deepen, and expand the radical nonviolence of early Pentecostalism.), Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (1940s).

Noticeably missing (considering the peace witness of their roots) is any peace fellowship of Moravians, the Evangelical Covenant Church, or the Evangelical Free Church, or the Church of the Nazarene.  Also noticeably missing (considering its many pacifists) is a peace fellowship related to the United Church of Christ.

Of the Historic Peace Churches, only the Church of the Brethren has a Brethren Peace Fellowship, but it is small these days and has no website. The peace witness of the Church of the Brethren is most strongly expressed organizationally in On Earth Peace, the official peacemaking program of the Church of the Brethren.  Likewise the Mennonite Central Committee (founded in 1920), which unites many different Mennonite and Amish groups in the U.S. and Canada on matters of missions, hunger and disaster relief, development aid, and peacebuilding, performs many of the functions of a grassroots peace fellowship in traditions that are not rooted in a historic peace witness throughout all parts of the Mennonite identity.  In the largest of these groups, the Mennonite Church, USA, there is also a Mennonite Peace & Justice Support Network, linking and supporting the peace work of Mennonite congregations, much like peace fellowships do in other traditions.  Among Friends/Quakers, the American Friends Service Committee , whose history I sketched briefly in an earlier post in this series, acts as a peace fellowship and is an official affiliate of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

After World War II, the horrors of the Holocaust (with its roots in centuries of Christian anti-Semitism) awakened ecumenical Christian pacifists to the need for interfaith peace work.  The International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) broadened its identity and membership basis from Christian pacifists to interfaith pacifists–as did several of IFOR’s national branches such as the U.S. FOR. (Other branches, such as in the UK, remained specifically Christian.) This led to “denominational” peace fellowships connected to the FOR (USA) from other world religions, beginning with the Jewish Peace Fellowship (founded in 1941 to support Jewish conscientious objectors).  Today, such peace fellowships in other faiths include The Buddhist Peace Fellowship (1968), The Muslim Peace Fellowship (Ansar as-Salam, founded in 1994), and the Unitarian Universalist Peace Fellowship. (Both Unitarians and Universalists began in the 19th C. as liberal Christian denominations and several prominent Unitarians were among the founders of the U. S. branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. But UUs today do not widely consider themselves to be Christian, but an interfaith collection of “free congregations” with Christian roots. So, I list the UUPF in this interfaith section and not among the Christian denominational peace fellowships.)   To date, I know of no Hindu peace fellowship, no Jain or Sikh peace fellowship, no Ba’hai peace fellowship,  Other interfaith peace groups with less connection to the FOR and Christian denominational peace fellowships will be profiled in future posts.

September 4, 2011 Posted by | AFSC, blog series, Buddhism, Christian Denominations, Friends (Quakers), heroes, Islam, Judaism, Methodists, Non Christian World Religions, nonviolence, nonviolent activism, pacifism, peace, peacemakers, Pentecostals, violence | Leave a comment