Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Jeremiah the War Resister: A Sermon

Nota Bene: A version of this sermon was published as an article in The Baptist Peacemaker in 2004.

Jeremiah:
The War Resister
Barbara Brown Taylor, one of Rev. Cindy’s major theological dialogue partners, says that it is time to put the “protest” back in “Protestant.” Specifically, she wants us to reclaim the prophetic traditions of the church—not absent from Catholic or Orthodox history by any means—that were nonetheless highlighted and emphasized by the Protestant Reformers. The renewed focus on close biblical study promoted, in different ways, by the likes of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrich Zwingli, and the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation like Conrad Grebel, Michael Sattler, Pilgram Marpeck, Hans Hut, Pieter Ridemann, and Menno Simons, led to a recovery of the prophets of ancient Israel for the life of the church.
It has always fascinated me that Israel’s prophets flourished most with the institution of the monarchy. When Israel, and later the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah, desires to have kings “like the other nations,” God must continually give them prophets to remind them to be different from the nations, the empires. We need that, too. The church too often forgets to be different from the particular nations in which it lives. Especially in the United States, we are tempted to be “good Americans” first and “good Christians” only insofar as that doesn’t conflict with the other gods of this nation, especially the great gods “Free Market” and “War Machine.” “I knew just how much trouble we were in,” says the Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas, “in the days following Sept. 11, 2001, when politicians and pundits began to tell us that nothing after 9/11 could ever be the same as before.” They were saying that 9/11 was the decisive event in history, but, for Christians, the decisive event in history was the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And if we viewed the 9/11 attacks, and our vengeful response, through Jesus, things look very different.
We, like our spiritual forebears in ancient Israel and Judah, are too often tempted to understand our world and our lives in terms dictated by the empire. The biblical prophets can help us recover our own alternative readings of history. Today, in a time of greed, violence, war, and corruption, I especially want to highlight the life and message of the prophet Jeremiah, who, in the name of God, spoke out against greed, violence, war, and corruption in the Southern Kingdom of Judah 7 centuries before Jesus and did so for 40 long years.
Was the prophet Jeremiah a pacifist? If we mean to ask if Jeremiah was absolutely opposed to all uses of violence, then I don’t think the Scripture gives us enough information to settle the debate. Jeremiah makes no sweeping statements against all war and violence. His writings contain nothing similar to the Sermon on the Mount, nor does he ever suggest a disbanding of Judah’s army. What we can know for certain is that Jeremiah was a war resister. He resisted all the wars of his day and he inspires us to resist the wars of our day.
Consider Jeremiah’s resounding denunciation of Judah’s war plans in chapter 21. Zedekiah, God’s anointed King of Judah, wanted Jeremiah’s counsel in order to make sure that God was on the king’s side in the coming war against Babylon. Did Jeremiah give such assurance? NO! In fact, Jeremiah sounded positively treasonous to Judah’s pro-war party. The prophet claimed that their proposed war was an offense to God and that, if they went to war, God would fight against them and punish them!

Behold,[God says] I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands with which you fight against the King of Babylon. . . . And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger and in fury and in great wrath! (21:3-5)

This language is all the more startling when we realize that King Zedekiah’s war aims were so much more justifiable than those of contemporary imperial USA. Zedekiah had no doctrine of “preemptive war,” nor “preventive war,” nor any ambitions for “regime change” in Babylonia. He only wanted the prophet to assure him of God’s approval of Judah’s military resistance to the Babylonian Empire’s plans to annex Judah. King Zedekiah’s war aims were purely defensive and would probably have met the criteria of the later “Just War” tradition—something the “preventive war” doctrine formulated by Bush (and partially continued by Obama) definitely does not.

Yet, even if Zedekiah’s war aims would have passed muster with the Just War criteria of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas (and Luther, Calvin, and many contemporary Protestant theologians), they could not pass Jeremiah’s criteria for divine approval. Using terms as harsh as those Jesus used against the disciples’ attempted defensive violence in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26), Jeremiah thundered against Zedekiah’s plans to resist Babylon with military might.

Why was Jeremiah so sure that God was against the planned violent defense of Judah (including defense of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Temple of YHWH)? Why was Jeremiah so sure that God wanted no military resistance to the cruel invasion of the Babylonians? Jeremiah understood that foreigners and people of other religions could still be the agents of the very will of God. Like other pre-exilic prophets, Jeremiah saw the coming loss of Judean national sovereignty as the instrument of God’s corrective discipline for an unfaithful people.

Therefore, Jeremiah accepted the Babylonian king as a new overlord, under whom Judah would be safe from other would-be invaders and able to learn a better way to be God’s covenant people. Violent resistance would not succeed in saving Judah’s national sovereignty, Jeremiah knew, but it would result in a much harsher invasion, occupation, and deportation into a long exile. And thus it came to pass.

Jeremiah’s attitude was light-years away from that of contemporary nationalism or patriotism. By the standards of contemporary U.S. Christians, Jeremiah would be a traitor who shamelessly cooperates with the enemy. People of other religions justified in conquering the would-be People of God while God’s prophet consorts with those pagans? Strong stuff. Any Christian wishing to justify a current crusade against Muslims had better leave Jeremiah off the reading list.

Jeremiah insists in chapters 12 and 18 that God is free to make or unmake any nation of people as God’s own—with no exceptions for Judah—or for the U.S. or the modern state of Israel for that matter. To Jeremiah, God is universal and the moral rules of Torah are universal in application. The Way of God cannot be made the exclusive claim of any single nationality, culture, or ethnic group. A people can only demonstrate that they are God’s people by abiding in God’s will.

Jeremiah declares that God’s covenant with Israel/Judah is broken and nullified. He looks for a new covenant that God will write on the hearts of God’s people (31:31-33). Jeremiah anticipates and informs Jesus’ own revolutionary extension of the divine covenant to the Gentiles.

Jeremiah’s call for the men of Judah to “circumcise their hearts” instead of their foreskins will inform the Apostle Paul’s judgment that Gentile Christians do not need physical circumcision to be part of God’s covenant people. (See especially the argument Paul makes to the Galatians.) Women and eunuchs cannot be physically circumcised, but they can “circumcise their hearts” through baptism. Here is a universal invitation to be included in the People of God, but also a universal challenge to faithfulness.

So what is God’s will for any people that would call themselves the People of God? According to Jeremiah, God’s people make justice and not war. In chapter 5, Jeremiah denounces the way the rich people of Judah exploit their poor neighbors. Jeremiah describes the rich of his day as “setting traps” for their fellow human beings and accuses them of having no respect for the rights of other people. He accuses the religious leaders of his day of exploiting their positions and then he declares that the majority of the people enjoy this abominable situation.

All this sounds horrifyingly contemporary and applicable to U.S. Christians. The rich steal from the poor with the help of government. Government tax giveaways to the rich hurt the poor and the common good. The rich convinced the government in 1981 to repeal usury laws that once limited how much interest credit card companies could charge. In the late 1990s, the rich convinced the government to abolish the wall between investment banks and regular banks that had been in place since 1937—allowing huge “too big to fail” financial institutions to gamble with ordinary people’s money—and wreck the global economy. (By the way, that wall between ordinary banks and investment firms was not restored in the recent financial reform law.) Then the rich convinced the government to make it harder for the poor to declare bankruptcy but easier for wealthy corporations to do the same. In the name of “tort reform,” the rich convince the government to limit the amount of damages that courts can award people who have been harmed by corporations. The U.S. Supreme Court rules that government can use “eminent domain” to take private homes and businesses NOT for highways, parks and other public use, but to sell them to big corporations to “develop.” And, in the ultimate insult, that same Supreme Court declares that “corporations are persons” and “money is speech,” and, therefore, corporations may spend unlimited amounts of money electing tame politicians who help them continue to rob the poor.

Meanwhile far too many church leaders support all this “reverse Robin Hood” action. A nationwide study conducted by Baylor University found that frequent church attenders oppose government assistance to the unemployed because they identify the “invisible hand” of the so-called “free market” with the Providence of God! In this messed up theology, if some are rich it is not because they have exploited others, but because God has made them rich and, if others are unemployed or underemployed or even homeless, it is because they have sinned in some way. Nationally famous church leaders glorify violence, promote war, call for assassination of some foreign leaders while defending other dictators with whom they are in big business. Other famous clergy engage in the sexual exploitation of children and then scapegoat vulnerable populations such as minority ethnic groups, minority religions, single mothers, sexual minorities and other vulnerable groups. In 2009, A Pew Study was released that still has me in shock: It showed that the more frequently one attended church in the U.S., the more likely one was to think that “some torture is justified!” It is not hard to guess what Jeremiah would say to us.

Jeremiah also had much to say about exploited laborers and the unfair treatment of resident aliens. In chapters 7 and 22, Jeremiah rails against the exploitation of poor workers and resident aliens. What Jeremiah would say about the current demonization of immigrants and refugees in this country is not hard to guess. One of King Zedekiah’s predecessors, King Jehoiakim, is denounced for exploitation of the poor by building large palaces and employing the poor at low wages to build them. No doubt Jehoiakim defended his “jobs program” by explaining that living wages would hurt competition and small businesses.

Ever since 1981, U.S. labor law has become increasingly weaker and workers’ rights ignored or undermined, along with the ability to engage in collective bargaining through labor unions. Global trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, and the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, subordinate national labor laws to these treaties, along with using these treaties to override local environmental and workplace safety rules. Now, the government is free to give rich no-bid contracts for rebuilding to corporate cronies and exploit the workers they hire for this necessary work! Further, millions of resident aliens in the U.S. labor in slave-like conditions in U.S. fields and sweatshops (intimidated by the lack of “green cards” into keeping quiet about their abuse). Led by the state of Arizona, state after state in this country is rushing to pass ever harsher laws against undocumented workers and immigrants, culminating in Alabama’s new law that would cut off water to anyone who couldn’t PROVE citizenship!

Like all true prophets, Jeremiah constantly announced that economic exploitation and war were fundamental offenses to God and no amount of “prosperity doctrine” or “health and wealth” gospel by the false prophets of his day or ours can efface that reality.

A prophetic war resister like Jeremiah will not only be unpopular with the rich and powerful, but often with the common folk as well. Throughout the Book of Jeremiah we see him hounded as a traitor and a troublemaker. He was accused of destroying the people’s morale during wartime.

Early in his career as a prophet, the people of his hometown threw Jeremiah into the stocks. Later, he was thrown in prison. Still later, he was thrown into a partially dry cistern where he sank into the mud and experienced continual physical pain.

God wasn’t easy on Jeremiah, either. God forced Jeremiah to prophesy doom and destruction on the people he loved and when Jeremiah tried to be silent, the Word of God burned in his bones like fire! God refused to let Jeremiah marry or have children—a huge curse in his culture. Jeremiah was a priest who was forbidden to serve at Temple!

Having been forced to watch most of the people of Judah taken into Exile by the Babylonians, near the end of Jeremiah’s life, he was abducted and forced to go to Egypt by a group of Judah’s “freedom fighters” who had assassinated the Babylonian governor of their region. The group which kidnapped Jeremiah pressured him into prophesying things that would favor their actions, but he steadfastly refused. He died in Egypt.
Violent, terrorist “patriots” holding war resisters captive sounds very contemporary, doesn’t it?
In the passage we read for today, 29:1-14, Jeremiah writes to the people of Judah taken into exile in the Babylonian empire. He outlines a “mission strategy” if you will, that I think will serve a global church, scattered in exile in the various nations around the world.
“Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage. That they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the Shalom of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its’ shalom you will find your shalom. ”
It’s a risky strategy. One is not to disappear into the greater culture. One must remain a distinct people—and this will mean resisting many of the customs of the surrounding empire. One has to continue to have children—a sign of hope in a world bent on destruction. But then one seeks the welfare, the shalom, the peace, of the city where one is in exile. Seek BABYLON’s peace and well- being? Babylon who has just destroyed the nation and the temple of God? Yes—and we have to seek the peace of Louisville of the U.S., of whatever city and country God sends us—and pray to God on its behalf. But the empires of our exile may not recognize that we seek their shalom: Our resistance to the values of violence and greed and corruption—our refusal to cheer military victories or delight in the downfall of those named as enemies—our continued welcome to those named by others as “illegal” or “deviant” or “unclean,” all this may make the empire’s inhabitants nervous about us, to say the least. The WAY we are to seek the well-being, the “shalom” of our places of exile may not look very “shalom-seeking” to our unbelieving and other-believing neighbors.
We are likely to be misunderstood, as Jeremiah, was misunderstood—for 40 years of painful witness. Yet, if we too will become “circumcised of the heart” (ch. 4), Jeremiah is an excellent example for us of how to be faithful to God, resist injustice, war, and violence in our day as he did in his.

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May 8, 2013 Posted by | Biblical interpretation, Just Peacemaking, nonviolence, peace | Leave a comment

A Tribute to Walter Wink (1935-2012): New Testament Theologian of Nonviolence and Power

On 10 May 2012, Rev. Dr. Walter Wink, passed away less than a week before what would have been his 77th birthday (23 May).  He had, apparently, been suffering some form of dementia for several years.  Dr. Wink was a huge influence on me through his writings, but I met him only once–in Washington, D.C. in 1989 when we were both arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience outside the White House–protesting the continued support of the Bush I administration for the apartheid-era government of South Africa.  (The protests, called “Stand for Truth,” had been planned for months and were huge that Mother’s Day weekend in ’89, but the news was somewhat overshadowed because less than a week earlier, the Chinese government had massacred protesting students and other pro-democracy groups in Tienenmen Square.  I met an amazing array of Christian peace and justice folk that weekend including Wink’s wife, June Keener-Wink, a young Jesuit priest named Fr. John Dear, S.J., who would soon make major contributions to peace and nonviolence theory, to theology, and to peace activism, but, who, that weekend before his fame was very quiet because his handcuffs were too tight and he was in great pain; Sister Joan Chittister, OSB; Jim Wallis, founding editor of Sojourners; Joyce Hollyday; Rev. Eugene Rivers, an African-American Pentecostal whose work with the Boston 10 Point Coalition was greatly reducing violence in street gangs; many more. It was a life-changing weekend for me.)

Dr. Wink lived an amazing life of witness. He was born in 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression. He was born and raised in Texas in the midst of Texas Methodism–coming to a very different form of Christian nonviolence than fellow Texas Methodist Stanley Hauerwas.  He earned his B.A., magna cum laude from Southern Methodist University (Major: History; Double minor: Philosophy; English), but rather than pursue his theological education at SMU’s own Perkins School of Theology, Wink earned his Master of Divinity (1959) and his Ph.D. in New Testament studies (1963) from New York’s famed Union Theological Seminary, an ecumenical seminary of great influence. There is some irony here:  Union Theological Seminary is known as a center of non-pacifist liberal Christianity.  True, there are a few pacifist voices associated with UTS: Harry Emerson Fosdick and James Forbes, both Senior Ministers at nearby Riverside Church, were pacifists who taught preaching at UTS. But “Union” has become almost synonymous with names like Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), proponent of “Christian Realism,” Paul Tillich (1889-1965), German-American proponent of Christian socialism and a neo-liberal theology,  James H. Cone (b. 1938-), one of the founders of Black Liberation Theology, and Beverly Wildung Harrison (b. 1932–), foremother of Christian feminist ethics–and all of these voices represent strands of liberal Christianity that, while not militarist or “pro-violence,” are decidedly non-pacifist and endorse nonviolence only tactically and not out of principled conviction.

Wink was an ordained United Methodist Minister who spent time as a youth worker and a parish pastor before teaching at his alma mater, Union Theological Seminary. From 1976 onward, he was Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in NYC, a sister-institution to UTS in covenant with the Presbyterian Church, USA (and found on UTS’ campus).  During his time as a youth worker at East Harlem Protestant Parish, Wink came under the influence of the lawyer and Episcopal lay-theologian, William Stringfellow. Stringfellow’s interpretation of the “Principalities and Powers” in the New Testament would profoundly influence Wink’s own work.

In 1973, Wink published a small book called, The Bible in Human Transformation that declared “the historical-critical method is bankrupt.” I have to confess that I was unable to follow Wink’s point when I first encountered it.  I had come from a tradition of conservative evangelical Christianity and had found the historical-critical method to be liberating from biblicist literalism.  But Wink was not wanting to repudiate the gains of the historical-critical method, but to add to them–using insights from psychology (and later from sociology).

He is best known for his 3 volume work on “The Powers,” i.e., on the biblical terminology for power, especially in the Pauline corpus, that uses terms like “Powers, Authorities, Principalities, Thrones, Dominions, Angels, ” etc. For centuries, these terms were simply dismissed as speaking of demons–and demythologized by the likes of Bultmann and fetishized by some Pentecostals and some Fundamentalists.  Hendrikus Berkhof, John Howard Yoder, and William Stringfellow began to see the importance of this language as pointing at once to political realities and to spiritual realities “behind” political institutions.  Wink, with insights from process theology and depth psychology, gave a metaphysic for the Powers that attempted to be non-reductionistic while acknowledging that none of us on this side of the Enlightenment can simply adopt the pre-modern worldview of the New Testament.  Wink also derived a theological ethic from his study of the Powers, especially in his third volume, Engaging the Powers.  The Powers form a world-system Wink called “The Domination System,” and the inbreaking Kingdom of God is “God’s New Domination-Free Order.” The Powers are not simply evil for they were created by God to bring order out of chaos. But they are “fallen,” twisted from their created purpose and used to enslave and dominate humanity.  They must be engaged–resisted and redeemed–by the followers of Jesus.

Wink also helped many reinterpret the Sermon on the Mount so that Matt. 5:9 is understood not as a call to nonresistance or passivity in the face of evil, but to a “Third Way” of Nonviolent Confrontation of Evil.  In a lexical study of the verb αντισθηναι (“antisthenai”), usually translated “resist,” Wink finds that it actually means “stand against” as in armed rebellion or murder, so that Matt. 5:9 should be translated, “Do not violently resist evildoers.” Wink demonstrates that turning the other cheek when backhanded by a social superior , removng both garments in court when sued for one’s outer garment (thus stripping naked in protest), and going a second mile when a soldier of the occupying army compels you to carry his gear the required one mile are all nonviolent direct actions against acts of domination and oppression.  He first published this is in a small book published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation for black churches in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle–churches that were seeking a way to be true to the gospel but resist the apartheid evil.  (See Wink, Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa:  Jesus Third Way [Fellowship, 1984]).  He expanded and deepened his defense of this approach in several academic articles and book chapters aimed at changing the way New Testament scholars, especially translators and writers of commentaries on Matthew, understood the Sermon on the Mount.  Finally, he reworked his original popular study for a larger audience–beyond the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. See Walter Wink, Jesus and Violence:  A Third Way.  Because of this “active nonviolence” interpretation, Wink did not like the term “pacifism,” (too easy to confuse with “passivity,” and refused to be called a pacifist even though his dedication to nonviolence was strong–and he was a critic of the way that Christian admiration for the life and testimony of Dietrich Bonhoeffer translated into justifications of violence. (The liberationist left often uses Bonhoeffer to justify violent insurrection against conservative governments and the rightwing uses it to justify bombings of abortion clinics.)

Wink was an early defender of full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons in the church.  Eventually, he edited a collection of writings on the topic that did not simply include the “usual suspects,” but also the voices of pro-gay evangelicals like Peggy Campolo, Lewis Smedes,  and Ken L. Sehested.  See Wink, Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches.

Wink also edited one of the best collections of writings on nonviolence by members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation over a 50 year period.  See Wink, Peace is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. It’s truly a remarkable collection.

Walter Wink seamlessly combined the roles of pastor, teacher, scholar, and nonviolent Christian activist.  I give thanks for his life and witness hope that God continues to raise up prophetic voices like his.

May 25, 2012 Posted by | "homosexuality", Biblical interpretation, biographical entries, biographies, church history, Fellowship of Reconciliation, heroes, Methodists, nonviolence, obituary, peace, peacemakers, theologians | Leave a comment

Nobel Peace Prize 2011: Shared by 3 Women Peace & Human Rights Activists

The Norwegian Nobel Committee (appointed, as mandated by Alfred Nobel’s will, by the Storting, or Norwegian Parliament) has announced that for 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize will be shared equally by three (3) women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman, “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”  The Nobel Peace Prize has often been shared by two individuals (or an individual and an organization), rarely by three individuals, and never by more than three individuals.

Each of these women has long been involved in nonviolent human rights struggle, especially for the rights, safety, and well-being of women and children.  They have also pushed for women to be treated by nations and international organizations as equal participants in peacebuilding efforts, especially post-conflict peacebuilding. This goes against the long history of women and their concerns being ignored in the normal negotiating process that leads to peace treaties.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (1938-) is the current President of Liberia, the first woman to be democratically elected head of state of any African nation. A Harvard-educated economist, Sirleaf had served as Assistant Finance Minister in the administration of William Tolbert from 1972-1973. Later she was Finance Minister from 1979 to 1980, when the democratic government was overthrown in a coup d’etat by the dictator Samuel Doe. Sirleaf fled the country, one of only 4 members of Tolbert’s cabinet to escape execution, and took jobs with international agencies. She returned to Liberia and was placed under house arrest and had to flee again. At the outbreak of the first Liberian civil war in 1997, she initially supported insurgent leader Charles Taylor’s fight against the dictator Samuel Doe, but later repudiated and denounced him as his war crimes became public knowledge.   A second Liberian war raged from 1999-2003.  At the end of this, Sirleaf returned to Liberia, supported the transitional government’s de-armament process, the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee and efforts to heal returned child soldiers (who had been both victims and victimizers). She ran for President under the new constitution in 2005 and won. Two decades of civil war had left Liberia with no infrastructure, nearly universal unemployment, raging ethnic and tribal animosities, and mountains of debt. Sirleaf managed to get the international community to cancel almost all of Liberia’s debt and has encouraged international investment. Using Liberia mineral wealth, she has restored some of the infrastructure (most of the capital of Monrovia now has electricity and running water, again) and has helped to re-build schools and hospitals throughout the country. She signed into law a Freedom of Information Act, the first of its kind in Africa.  But, Liberians, like Americans, think presidents can achieve miracles overnight so Sirleaf is nowhere near as popular at home as she is admired abroad. After all, unemployment remains about 80%!  Also, though Sirleaf has waged battle against corruption, it has proven to be difficult to stamp out and several of her cabinet members have been fired for scandals.  Further, many believe she should have worked more on reconciliation between ethnic groups and less on rebuilding the institutions of government and the nation’s infrastructure.  So, Sirleaf is far from being assured of reelection next month (and she broke a 2005 campaign promise to serve only 1 term if elected). But whether or not she is reelected, the 72 year old Sirleaf is well-deserving of being a Nobel Peace Laureate.

  Leymah Roberta Gbowee (b. 1972-) is known as “Liberia’s Peace Warrior.” A mother of six (6) children, Gbowee is a human rights and women’s rights campaigner. Born in central Liberia, she moved to the capital, Monrovia, at 17–just as the first Liberian Civil War broke out! She trained as trauma counselor and worked with the child soldiers of Charles Taylor’s rebel army.  Surrounded by death and destruction, Gbowee realized that if the country were to ever have peace, it would have to be mothers who brought it–mothers tired of seeing their dreams for their children shattered by the horrors of war.  Gbowee formed the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace in 2002. She organized the Christian and Muslim women of Liberia to pray together for peace and to engage in nonviolent demonstrations for an end to the civil war.  Gbowee, a Lutheran Christian, spread her movement to the churches and mosques and they forced a meeting with then-president Charles Taylor, getting him to attend a peace conference held in Ghana in 2002. Together with fellow Lutheran woman Comfort Freeman, Gbowee founded Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), whose nonviolent actions finally brought an end to the Second Liberian War in 2003, the abdication and exile of Charles Taylor, and a transitional government that paved the way for democratic elections in 2005. Wearing white t-shirts (to symbolize peace), Gbowee and the women of WIPNET marched by the thousands throughout Liberia. They formed the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which has been used to spread the women’s peace movement to other African nations such as Sudan (now South Sudan) and Zimbabwe where the women are also using prayer and nonviolent tactics to petition for peace and human rights.

  Tarwakkol Karmen (1979-), a Muslim feminist and human rights activist in Yemen, represents the Nobel Committee’s acknowledgement of the “Arab Spring.” She is a journalist by profession and has chafed for years under press restrictions in Yemen’s dictatorship.  She is a senior member of al-Islah , the main opposition party in Yemen. In 2005 she founded Women Journalists Without Chains, an organization dedicated to democracy and freedom of the press.  As soon as Tunisia’s nonviolent movement toppled its dictator, Karmen pushed for a similar movement in Yemen. Photos of her heroes (Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela) adorn her home. In a country wear most women are forced to wear all-black niqueb,  or full head covering, Karmen wears an open-faced head scarf, usually white with flowers, as a symbol of women’s dignity and defiance to the dictator Salleh and the oppressive culture.  She insists that Islam itself does not demand the niqeb, but that it is a sign of outmoded patriarchal culture, instead.  She has pushed for laws against the wedding of women younger than 17 and against violence against women and children.  Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Karmen has led in march after march in Yemen’s capital, been arrested and beaten. Her life and the lives of her children have been threatened by the government, but she presses onward. To the nonviolent pro-democracy movement, Karmen is known as “The Mother of the Revolution,”–a revolution that is, at present, incomplete since Salleh clings to power by the use of massive violence against his own people–as he done for 33 years, now.  Karmen and her fellow Yemeni nonviolent revolutionaries are undeterred.  She has dedicated her Nobel Prize to the entire movement. (Many within the movement have proposed her for president in a post-Salleh Yemen, which would make her the first democratically-elected female leader in any Muslim-majority nation, if it happens.)

Largely because of its longevity and the large monetary awards accompanying it, the Nobel Peace Prize is the most widely recognized and prestigious peace prize –despite ambiguities in Alfred Nobel’s will and oddities in the Norwegian Nobel Committee that have led to some bizarre recipients (e.g., Teddy Roosevelt, Nicholas Murray Butler, Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, & Yitzhak Rabin) and even stranger omissions (e.g., Mohandas K. Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dom Helder Camara, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J.).  The committee has too often neglected women. Prior to this year, only 12 women have won the Nobel Peace Prize in its over 100 year history.  But this year’s prizes are to be celebrated by all who believe in nonviolence, human rights, democracy, and the full equality of women.  I look forward to watching the ceremonies in Oslo this December and reading their speeches and lectures. I pray continued success to these brave women and the movements they lead.

 

October 8, 2011 Posted by | heroes, human rights, Just Peacemaking, justice, Nobel Peace Prize, nonviolence, nonviolent activism, peace, Peace & Justice Awards, peacemakers, political violence, violence | Leave a 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

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

A Brief History of the War Resisters’ League (WRL)

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.

Scott H. Bennett, Radical Pacifism:  The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915-1963 (Syracuse University Press, 2004).

August 31, 2011 Posted by | blog series, heroes, human rights, Just Peacemaking, nonviolence, nonviolent activism, pacifism, peace, peacemakers, War Resisters League | Leave a comment

A Brief History of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

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.

August 31, 2011 Posted by | AFSC, blog series, Friends (Quakers), heroes, human rights, nonviolence, nonviolent activism, pacifism, peace, peacemakers, religious liberty | 2 Comments

A Brief History of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

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.

August 31, 2011 Posted by | blog series, ethics, heroes, human rights, nonviolence, pacifism, peace, peacemakers | Leave a comment

A Brief History of The Fellowship of Reconciliation

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.

August 31, 2011 Posted by | blog series, heroes, human rights, nonviolence, pacifism, peace, peacemakers | 5 Comments

Pentecost Sunday: Come Holy Spirit!

1On the day of Pentecost [a] all the Lord’s followers were together in one place.   2Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting.   3Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there.   4The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak.   5Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem.   6And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages.   7They were excited and amazed, and said:

Don’t all these who are speaking come from Galilee?   8Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages?   9Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia,   10Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome,   11Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done.

12Everyone was excited and confused. Some of them even kept asking each other, “What does all this mean?”

13Others made fun of the Lord’s followers and said, “They are drunk.”

14Peter stood with the eleven apostles and spoke in a loud and clear voice to the crowd:

Friends and everyone else living in Jerusalem, listen carefully to what I have to say!   15You are wrong to think that these people are drunk. After all, it is only nine o’clock in the morning.   16But this is what God had the prophet Joel say,

17“When the last days come,

I will give my Spirit

to everyone.

Your sons and daughters

will prophesy.

Your young men

will see visions,

and your old men

will have dreams.

18In those days I will give

my Spirit to my servants,

both men and women,

and they will prophesy.

19I will work miracles

in the sky above

and wonders

on the earth below.

There will be blood and fire

and clouds of smoke.

20The sun will turn dark,

and the moon

will be as red as blood

before the great

and wonderful day

of the Lord appears.

21Then the Lord

will save everyone

who asks for his help.”

22Now, listen to what I have to say about Jesus from Nazareth. God proved that he sent Jesus to you by having him work miracles, wonders, and signs. All of you know this.   23God had already planned and decided that Jesus would be handed over to you. So you took him and had evil men put him to death on a cross.   24But God set him free from death and raised him to life. Death could not hold him in its power.   25What David said are really the words of Jesus,

“I always see the Lord

near me,

and I will not be afraid

with him at my right side.

26Because of this,

my heart will be glad,

my words will be joyful,

and I will live in hope.

27The Lord won’t leave me

in the grave.

I am his holy one,

and he won’t let

my body decay.

28He has shown me

the path to life,

and he makes me glad

by being near me.”

29My friends, it is right for me to speak to you about our ancestor David. He died and was buried, and his tomb is still here.   30But David was a prophet, and he knew that God had made a promise he would not break. He had told David that someone from his own family would someday be king.

31David knew this would happen, and so he told us that Christ would be raised to life. He said that God would not leave him in the grave or let his body decay.   32All of us can tell you that God has raised Jesus to life!

33Jesus was taken up to sit at the right side [b] of God, and he was given the Holy Spirit, just as the Father had promised. Jesus is also the one who has given the Spirit to us, and that is what you are now seeing and hearing.   34David didn’t go up to heaven. So he wasn’t talking about himself when he said, “The Lord told my Lord to sit at his right side,   35until he made my Lord’s enemies into a footstool for him.”   36Everyone in Israel should then know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, even though you put him to death on a cross.

37When the people heard this, they were very upset. They asked Peter and the other apostles, “Friends, what shall we do?”

38Peter said, “Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit.   39This promise is for you and your children. It is for everyone our Lord God will choose, no matter where they live.”

40Peter told them many other things as well. Then he said, “I beg you to save yourselves from what will happen to all these evil people.”   41On that day about three thousand believed his message and were baptized.   42They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread [c]and prayed together.

43Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked.   44All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had.   45They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it.   46Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread [d] together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely,   47while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.

Acts 2  Contemporary English Version.  I’ll reserve commentary for a post tomorrow. Today, let the Word speak.

June 12, 2011 Posted by | Church, diversity, economic justice, Holy Spirit, mission, nonviolence, peace, Pentecost, Pentecostals, race, sexual orientation | Leave a comment