Sunday, 30 October 2005

Peace Talk: Signs of the Times

Peace Talk: Signs of the Times
Signs of the Times for Peace Talk

This is a little piece I wrote in October 2005 for On Earth Peace, Gene Stoltzfus

In an age when millions are anxious about their security and long for structures that bring peace, the sign of hope that a peace church can bring people everywhere is breathtaking. Peace and hope incorporate both our personal life styles and our ability to organize competently, explain our vision clearly and live out this vision in our homes and communities. Our work together up to this time has been preparation, like pilot projects where our faith and confidence are tested and our skills refined. Forty years of peace work has taught me that our world is waiting for us to move beyond pilot projects to invite the nonviolent Gospel of peace to become fully visible and an active choice for every citizen of the human family. This can be the defining sign of the 21st century.

Twenty years ago during the discussions about the founding of Christian Peacemaker Teams I realized that despite so many voices to the contrary a sizable minority in our churches were joined by many other mainline and evangelical groups, and Roman Catholics representing a potent force for world peace. I believed that if organized we could fundamentally impact spiritual health, social structures and the perceived legitimacy of war and killing for nations and neighborhoods striving to achieve justice. The incredible power of active nonviolent peacemaking is the premier sign of our time. People of faith have witnessed the effectiveness of nonviolence to push back killing and violence often with amazingly small doses of organized action. We no longer need to be surprised by this.

The effectiveness of nonviolence has been adequately tested but we are in fact caught in the history that still waits for us to demonstrate this power fully. Over the last 20 years I have carried on conversations about nonviolence and faith in more than 20 countries often with people who are open to active nonviolence but until it is demonstrated more comprehensively, they believe the threat of the gun must be maintained in order for society to be secure. The final elimination of military force, armed police and armed national and international guerilla action will be accomplished when a broader culture of nonviolence that rejects the gun is expanded exponentially beyond the millions of people and the organizations they support.

As the statistics of human and economic costs of the Iraq invasion rise, we can feel our hope tested, and we see anger and revenge lurking within. But there were important signs of hope here as well. Never since formative period of the church in the centuries after Jesus life have churches world wide been so unified against war as we witnessed in the period immediately prior to the April 2002 invasion of Iraq. Isn’t this a sign that there are millions of Christians who may voluntarily consider the invitation to no more killing and nonviolence inherent in the Gospel of Peace?

But, this sign of hope must be placed in perspective because elements of the Christian community are expressing the same kind of fundamentalism found in other religious streams that are mean spirited, violent and engage in narrow search for a parochial chauvinistic body politic. When these voices are strongest, it is tempting for us to forget that light overcomes darkness and hope expressed with kind and firm words, and active nonviolent love in the public marketplace is a sign of victory that we are helping to invent. In my work of peacemaking I have found that every strand of Christian can be invited to the circle of Bible study, prayer, worship and the central thread of Jesus’ peacemaking. However, when we are caught in a confined liberal or evangelical ideological conviction we are tempted to eliminate the possibility of authentic common prayer and the effective expression of the Gospel of peacemaking.

Our tendency to get caught in the negative foibles of our ethnic life, organizational and church life, the legacy of racism and domination thinking, keep us from being the dancing signs of hope we are created to be. These foibles and yes, sins have driven many of our colleagues into solitary individualism, cynicism, or depression. Hopeful people organize themselves, work together and sustain their efforts over long periods despite individual tensions and great national differences. We also learn to celebrate and worship in ways that lift up the unity of our souls and the Gospel of Peace while respecting various paths to spiritual abundance. The most treasured but often overlooked sign of our age is the hope demonstrated by peacemakers. It is contagious and inviting. It leads to deeper spiritual life.