Friday, February 3, 2012

Christian peacemaking: a biblical and practical perspective

Are you interested in exploring the biblical and spiritual basis of peacemaking from a Christian/Quaker perspective, and how we can put these principles into practice?

Jill and I will be facilitating a Christian peacemaking discussion group at our home during the month of February. Included here are some of the readings for this discussion, all of which are available online. I'd be very interested in your responses to these topics. (If you'd like to take part, please let me know and we'll send you an invitation.)

Some questions we will be considering include: What is the biblical basis for "just" war, "holy" war, and pacifism? What are the alternatives to war? Can the "Golden Rule" be applied to international relations and conflicts? Is it necessary to use violence to combat "evil" in the world, as theologians such as Niebuhr insist? We may also consider specific ethical questions: Is the use of drone warfare justified? Is the killing of Osama Bin Laden and other "terrorists" justified?

We will be joined by Bert Newton, a Mennonite peace activist who (among other things) started the Palm Sunday Peace Parade in Pasadena, where Jill and I met. He is active with the Occupy movement and extremely knowledgeable about the biblical basis for peacemaking. (He has written a book about the Gospel of John which will be published this year.)

Here are some suggested readings. Please feel free to share with me your thoughts about these readings.
Matt Rindge explores the question of "whether — and if so, how — violence can serve as a legitimate instrument of justice. Contemporary debate about this question echoes the diverse and conflicting perspectives within biblical texts regarding the use of violence as a potential force for good. What, if anything, can these texts teach us today?"  Rindge concludes that the killing of Osama bin Laden is "legal" and justified, but the execution of Troy Davis is not. Do you agree?

Glen Stassen, professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Seminary, author of numerous books, and a dedicated peace activist, discusses his concept of "Just Peacemaking"--a biblically based argument calling for all Christians (whether they believe in just war or pacifism) to do their utmost to promote peace.

Walter Wink, noted theologian and author of numerous books on nonviolence, gives a Gospel perspective on pacifism. Wink is perhaps best known for discussing the "myth of redemptive violence," a topic we will explore in a later session.

In response to 9/11, Andrew Gallery provides historical and biblical background about the Quaker Peace Testimony. He also considers peace making from a Buddhist and Muslim viewpoint (a not uncommon approach among Friends who tend to take an interfaith perspective).

Myron S. Augsburger provides a biblical based view of pacifism in Intervarsity, an Evangelical Christian organization:

President Obama called Reinhold Niebuhr his "favorite philosopher" and Niebuhr called pacifists "heretics." Here's an article that provides some background about this controversial and influential theologian who coined the term "Christian realism" to justify wars against "evils" such as Communism and Fascism. (He did not support ALL wars against communism, however; he opposed the Vietnam War, much to the chagrin of liberal hawks like Lyndon Johnson.)

Upcoming sessions:

Feb 7: "Blessed are the peacemakers." What the Bible says about peacemaking, and how we can put these lessons into practice in our personal lives and in the world.

Feb 14: "Pray the Devil Back to Hell." This documentary shows the amazing story of how "ordinary" women in Africa were able to overcome a ultra-violent tyrant and war lords using the techniques of nonviolence. In 2011 three of these women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." We will discuss how people power, and the power of prayer, can make a difference.

Feb 21: "The Myth of Redemptive Violence, and the Reality of Redemptive Love." We will explore some of the ideas of the theologian Walter Wink about the domination system, and how this system can be transformed through the practice of redemptive love.

Feb 28: Alternatives to violence. What Christians are doing, and what we can do, to promote alternatives to war and violence. AVP, Christian Peace Teams, Compassionate Listening, etc.


FYI here are some "advices" and "queries" (open-ended questions) used by Quakers to help further deeper reflection about peace. You might find these useful to help prepare spiritually for our discussion group.


Friends (Quakers) oppose all war as inconsistent with God’s will. As every person is a child of God, we recognize God’s Light also in our adversaries. Violence and injustice deny this reality and violate the teachings of Jesus and other prophets.

Friends challenge their governments and take personal risks in the cause of peace.We urge one another to refuse to participate in war as soldiers, or as arms manufacturers.We seek ways to support those who refrain from paying taxes that support war. We work to end violence within our own borders, our homes, our streets, and our communities. We support international order, justice, and understanding.

Become an instrument of peace. At every opportunity, be peacemakers in your homes, workplaces and communities. Steep yourself in the power of the universal Spirit. Examine your actions for the seeds of violence, degradation and destructiveness. Overcome the emotions that lie at the root of violence and nurture instead a spirit of reconciliation and love. Come to know the oneness of all creation and oppose the destruction of the natural world.

Do I live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars?

How do I nourish peace within myself as I work for peace in the world?

Do I confront violence wherever it occurs, even when my personal relationships are involved?

Where there is distrust, injustice, or hatred, how am I an instrument of reconciliation and love?

What are we doing to remove the causes of war and destruction of the planet, and to bring about lasting peace?

Do we reach out to all parties in a conflict with courage and love?

† Some queries are intended for individuals.

Italicized queries are intended for the Meeting collectively.

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