The world's churches - those within the World Council of Churches (WCC) - are further on the way to becoming "living peace churches" than many of us in our "historic peace church" might imagine. This gathering of Christians, lay and clergy, women and men, young and old, black and white and shades in between - all following a call to "Just Peace" - was simply awesome! It was a joy and a privilege to spend a week amongst so many wonderful, Spirit-led people.
Nearly 1,000 of us from churches throughout the world gathered at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. We met in small bible study groups, worship, plenary sessions, seminars, workshops and cultural events. The Convocation, which marked the end of the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence, addressed four themes: Peace in the community; Peace with the Earth; Peace in the market place; and Peace among the peoples. There were plenty of opportunities for sharing experiences and ideas. It was an occasion for learning from one another rather than passing resolutions or making policy decisions. But a Message was drafted by a small group, amended substantially in the light of comments made during a plenary session and agreed by acclamation on the final day. Along with reports from the plenary sessions, seminars and workshops, the Message will feed into the planning and preparation of the WCC's forthcoming assembly in Busan, South Korea, in 2013.
Amongst nearly 1,000 participants, there were - so I was told - just over 100 US Americans and nearly 100 Germans. I guess most WCC member churches were represented, but the global North was probably over-represented in relation to church membership and the South under-represented. I came across very few people from the UK, though. There may well have been some participants from Belfast, one of seven cities in the Peace to the City campaign, part of the WCC's Programme to Overcome Violence which preceded the Decade. But I didn't meet them.
The historic peace churches were well represented. The following Quakers were present, mostly in order to run workshops: David Atwood (then about to retire as director of Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO Geneva), Rachel Brett (QUNO Geneva), Dorothy Day (Pendle Hill), Jorge Lafitte (American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Brazil), Kees Nieuwerth (Netherlands YM and Church & Peace), Paul Oestreicher (BYM and Church of England), Rachel Stacy (Young Friend from the US serving as a steward), Andrew Tomlinson (QUNO New York). We met twice with Mennonites and members of the Church of the Brethren. These meetings were chaired/facilitated by Fernando Enns, a German Mennonite professor of theology who, at the WCC Assembly in Harare in 1998, proposed the resolution calling on the WCC to designate the first decade of the 21st century as a Decade to Overcome Violence. I had some interesting conversations with two members of the Church of the Brethren: Scott Holland, who teaches at Earlham School of Religion, and Stanley Nafziger, General Secretary of the Church of the Brethren; and also with Janna Postma, a retired Dutch Mennonite pastor who serves on the executive committee of Church & Peace.
When waiting for the bus to take us to the airport I met Peter McDonald, Leader of the Iona Community, who is looking to Scottish Friends for support in a campaign to prevent the construction of new facilities for Trident submarines at Faslane.
The convocation began on Wednesday 18 May with visits to local projects in various parts of Kingston. I visited two church-run projects in Trench Town.
During the afternoon there was a plenary session with three keynote speakers: an Orthodox bishop; Margot Kaessmann, former bishop of Hanover, former president of the council of the protestant churches in Germany (EKD) and author of a book on overcoming violence; and Paul Oestreicher, who is well known in ecumenical circles as a (now retired) canon in the Church of England and also a Quaker. The Orthodox bishop highlighted the plight of Christians who are subject to violent persecution in various countries. Margot Kaessmann set the scene for the Convocation by giving a historical overview of the WCC's Programme to Overcome Violence and the subsequent Decade.
Paul Oestreicher began by dedicating his "cry for an end to war" to the memory of Elizabeth Salter, "peacemaker, Quaker, lifelong servant of the Ecumenical Movement, staff member of the World Council of Churches and an initiator of the Decade to Overcome Violence and therefore of this Convocation". He said that Jesus, who tells us to love our enemies, "speaks to us now". Much of Paul's address is worth quoting. Here are a few short passages. (The full text can be found at www.overcomingviolence.org and is attached to this report.)
"This Convocation will not yet be the Universal Christian Peace Council of which Dietrich Bonhoeffer dreamed long before Hitler's obedient servants hanged him. But we could help to pave the way to such a Council, a Council speaking with the authority of the whole Church, if, here and now in Kingston, we were ready to say: it is impossible both to love our enemies and to kill them, it is impossible both to reverence life and to be in league with the military-industrial complex, the killing-machine that rapaciously consumes levels of wealth that are beyond our mathematical imagination."
"Jesus was not an idealistic dreamer. He was and remains the ultimate realist. The survival of our planet demands nothing less than the abolition of war."
"It is time for the still small voices of the historic peace churches, hitherto respected but ignored, to be taken seriously. That is the main reason why, as an Anglican priest, I have also chosen to be a Quaker, a member of the Religious Society of Friends. Quaker history, often a story of suffering, witnesses to the biblical insight that love casts out fear."
"When soldiers under United Nations command are trained, as police in our streets are trained, not to kill enemies, but to prevent or to end violent conflicts, we are already on the way to the new world. . There is good news too in the experience that a critical mass of peaceful, unarmed people, often young people, from Leipzig to Cairo and beyond, can bring down tyrannies. That 'love is stronger than hate' is, as Desmond Tutu often reminds us, a political as well as a spiritual truth."
Paul Oestreicher called for war to be made illegal, just as slavery was made illegal, as a step towards its ultimate abolition.
The following days, except Sunday, followed the pattern of plenary sessions in the morning, seminars and workshops in the afternoon and cultural events in the evening. The plenary sessions and seminars were devoted to one of the four themes on each day. Early on the Sunday morning, before ecumenical worship, a number of us, not only Quakers, held a Meeting for Worship.
One of the speakers in the plenary on Peace in the Community was Martin Luther King III, son of Martin Luther King Jnr. He told us that his father had read the writings of Mohandas ("Mahatma") Gandhi and that participants in the civil rights movement were trained in nonviolence. Whereas Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, Gandhi furnished the method. An earlier speaker highlighted the plight of the Dalits in India and a speaker from Palestine told us that the Israeli occupation reinforces patriarchy. In 2009 there were 13 "honour killings" in Palestine.
The need for Peace with the Earth was made very evident by a video presented by Tafue M. Lusama, the General Secretary of the Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu. Tuvalu is already suffering the effects of climate change: coastal erosion, longer droughts, unpredictable weather patterns, increased frequency and intensity of strong winds, rising sea level and salination of groundwater, coral dying - leaving the shores unprotected and with reduced fish stocks, shortages of food and health problems. A more market-based economy and lifestyle is creating poverty to the extent that some people do not have enough food. Adrian Shaw, from the Church of Scotland and one of the few participants from the UK, told us about the important role that Eco-Congregations can play in creating more sustainable communities.
I found the plenary session on Peace in the Marketplace rather unsatisfactory. We were told about the oppression of poor people around the world by the globalised free-market capitalist system. This was nothing new to most of us. It would have been more fruitful to explore some of the alternatives to capitalism. We were told: "Economic justice is an issue of faith and we need to repent of our sins." Yes, but how?
Peace among the Peoples was the theme of most interest to me as a representative of one of the historic peace churches. An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace, which was published by the WCC prior to the Convocation, makes it clear that the churches are moving away from the old "just war" doctrine towards a theology and praxis of "just peace". This was reflected to some extent in the panel of speakers at the plenary session: Christiane Agboton-Johnson, deputy director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR); Avak Asadourian, Armenian Orthodox Archbishop of Baghdad and general secretary of the Council of Christian Church Leaders in Iraq; Kjell Magne Bondevik, former prime minister of Norway and current moderator of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the WCC; Patricia Lewis, deputy director and scientist-in-residence at the Monterey Institute of International Studies; Lisa Schirch, Professor of Peace-Building at Eastern Mennonite University.
Both Patricia Lewis and Lisa Schirch stressed the important role that women have to play in peacemaking and peacebuilding. Men tend to be preoccupied with national or state security, whereas women are more concerned with human security. Patricia Lewis said that we need to trust in the possibility of nonviolent change and that change can happen quickly and unexpectedly. She was surprisingly optimistic about the prospects for significant progress in nuclear disarmament negotiations. Kjell Magne Bondevik made much of his refusal as prime minister of Norway to join George Bush and Tony Blair in the invasion of Iraq. But he asserted the need to keep open the option of military intervention under UN auspices as a last resort to protect people from genocide, according to the UN doctrine of "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P). Paul Oestreicher said that UN peacemakers are needed in the Congo to protect people, not to fight a war. Fernando Enns told us that the ecumenical consensus is that we have given up the concept of "just war". Whilst military intervention may be justifiable as a last resort in order to protect people, those who resort to it must accept that they become guilty. He suggested that the concept of "just policing" might be worth pursuing. Tim Seidel, peace secretary of Mennonite Central Committee, said that our goal should be to outlaw war within ten years.
In an earlier workshop, entitled "The Responsibility to Witness: The Historical Peace Church Testimony towards Peacebuilding", Kees Nieuwerth called for an ecumenical peace council to be held in 2021. He said that the churches should finance nonviolent responses to conflict and that the WCC should campaign for nuclear disarmament and the abolition of war. During the first workshop that I attended, entitled "Historic Peace Church Continental Consultations during the Decade to Overcome Violence", Stanley Nafziger said that we need to give up our special status as "historic peace churches" and join all the other churches in becoming "living peace churches". I also took part in the following workshops: "Reflecting on Peace Practices"; "There is no Way to Peace - Peace is the Way"; "To become a Church of Peace?"; "Overcoming the Violence of Global Imperial Capitalism".
During the final plenary session Fernando Enns said that justice and peace are the heartbeat of the ecumenical movement. We must continue our journey and invite our brothers and sisters of other faiths to join us. "The church is accepting the call to just peace or it is not church at all." Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, said that the way to just peace is uniting us as churches and the fruits of the IEPC will be taken into the WCC Assembly in Busan, S. Korea in 2013.
The Message from the Convocation was amended substantially in the light of comments from a large number of participants. When the redrafted Message was read during the closing session, it received a standing ovation! Here are some selected sentences:
We appeal to governments and other groups to stop using religion as a pretext for the justification of violence.
We are unified in our aspiration that war should become illegal.
Issues of sexuality divide the churches, and therefore we ask the WCC to create safe spaces to address dividing issues of human sexuality.
At every level churches play a role in supporting and protecting the right of conscientious objection, and in assuring asylum for those who oppose and resist militarism and armed conflicts.
We acknowledge the peacemaking capacity of youth and call on the churches to develop and strengthen networks of Just Peace ministries.
We join global civil society in urging governments to reconstruct radically all our economic activities towards the goal of an ecologically sustainable economy.
It is a scandal that enormous amounts of money are spent on military budgets and toward providing weapons for allies and the arms trade while this money is urgently needed to eradicate poverty around the globe, and to fund an ecologically and socially responsible reorientation of the world economy.
History, especially in the witness of the historic peace churches, reminds us of the fact that violence is contrary to the will of God and can never resolve conflicts. It is for this reason that we are moving beyond the doctrine of just war towards a commitment to Just Peace.
We continue to struggle with how innocent people can be protected from injustice, war and violence. In this light, we struggle with the concept of the "responsibility to protect" and its possible misuse. We urgently request that the WCC and related bodies further clarify their positions regarding this policy.
We call on the ecumenical movement as a whole, and particularly those planning the WCC Assembly of 2013 in Busan, Korea, with the theme "God of life, lead us to justice and peace", to make Just Peace, in all its dimensions, a key priority. Resources such as
An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace (ECJP) and the
Just Peace Companion can support this journey to Busan.
All the documents relating to the IEPC, including keynote speeches, can be downloaded from www.overcomingviolence.org
Besides the Message, I would recommend reading not only An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace but also the Just Peace Companion, which provides theological underpinning for An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace.
At Kingston the world's churches took a major step forwards on the way towards "Just Peace".
I hope that we - Quakers worldwide - can give critical support to the WCC as the member churches continue to move away from "Just War" and towards "Just Peace". Some yearly meetings have already studied An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace and communicated their response to the WCC. Other yearly meetings could do likewise or at least endorse the statement of Switzerland Yearly Meeting regarding the "Responsibility to Protect".
At a historic peace church meeting towards the end of the Convocation, Kees Nieuwerth, Rachel Stacy and I agreed to participate as Quakers in an international historic peace churches "continuation committee" with Tim Seidel (MCC) as convenor. We will keep closely in touch with
Friends World Committe for Consultation (FWCC) World Office as discussions progress in the run-up towards the WCC Assembly in Busan in 2013.
Gordon Matthews, 8 June 2011