Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Just peacemaking: working together to end war, poverty, and injustice

I am grateful to Daniel Wilcox for his response to my recent blog asking "Where are the Quakers? Quakers who come to meeting once a week to worship and do little or nothing to promote peace and justice the rest of the week sometimes like to take credit for, or sentimentalize, what prophetic activist Quakers have done in the past, often distorting their message to make it fit their quietist perspective. For example, Woolman is often lifted up as a "compassionate or sympathetic listener." One Friend repeated this claim several times, as if Woolman were a disciple of Carl Rogers instead of Jesus Christ!

But the reality is that Woolman did not hesitate to confront slaveholding Friends on their own turf. He went to his monthly meeting and obtained a certificate so he could travel in the ministry with his concern about abolishing slavery. He then went to the homes of slaveholding Friends, often uninvited, and they were obliged by the custom of hospitality to receive him as a guest and a traveling minister. With patient firmness he "labored" with them about their practice of holding slaves, making it clear he felt this was contrary to the teachings of Christ. Granted, he did not rant and he did listen. But he also made his convictions crystal clear. When he left the home of  a slaveholding Friend, he often gave money, saying: "I notice that your black servants fed me and took care of my horse, but are not being paid, so please give them this money."

If the slaveholding Friend refused (no doubt shocked by this audacious request), Woolman often gave the money directly to the black servants.

This would no doubt have mortified some, and infuriated, other slave-holder Friends.

When it came to Truth, as he understood it, Woolman was not afraid to speak his mind and do what Spirit let him to do. This is an example I wish that more Friends (including myself) would follow. We are sometimes so afraid of offending people that we are willing to offend God by not sharing what we really feel and believe.

Here's what Daniel shared with me, which I really appreciate:

Though your article relates some disappointment, it actually inspired me--seeing how you are living out Jesus' vision relating to many different people, working for peace and justice. Very inspiring. It's an encouragement to those of us who are in times of struggle.
As for Friends not being so active, keep in mind, that except for the great movement in the 1600's, Friends 'as a society' have tended not to be at the forefront of social action. The great abolitionists of the 1700 and 1800's from Woolman to Coffin actually had to go against their meetings in order to promote peace and justice.
But this isn't just in the Quakers, most Christian denominations, though they 'talk' peace and justice, even make resolutions...when it comes down to action, tend to stay in their chairs. I think this has many causes, some sociological as H. Niebuhr showed, some personal, and some bad ol' mild selfishness.
But seeing you, and Micah Bales, and Liz Opp, and Convergent Friends living on the healing edge gives me hope that friends of Jesus are reaching forward, even if Quakers as a denomination (no matter how much they talk and write statements) aren't.
On a different issue, I find it difficult to work with those I strongly disagree with on key faith issues. But you seem to manage to hold to your own faith strongly yet dialog deeply and work for social change with many other faiths--wonderful...
Maybe you could write another article on how you deal with this. For instance, how do you deal with the Muslim view that Jesus didn't die on the cross? Or their view toward marriage or their belief in just war?
( I used to live in the Middle East for a while.)
Or Buddhists some who think there is no ultimate truth?
My wife thinks I'm too theological for my own bad;-)
Daniel Wilcox
I'd like to respond to Daniel's final concern. How do I deal with Muslims and others who don't share my belief that Jesus died on the cross, and that war in never justified.
First, I don't feel I need to agree with someone's theology to work with them to do what Jesus commands me to do, and what my heart tells me is right. When it comes to feeding the homeless, or working for peace and justice, I am willing to collaborate with any sincere person of faith and conscience.
Many Evangelicals (including my wife) would agree with me. When Rick Warren was asked to be keynote speaker at the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Long Beach, CA, a few years ago, he didn't say, "I won't go because I don't agree with your theology." He agreed to speak, even though some conservative Evangelicals picketed the event with signs saying hateful things about Islam and Muslims. True to the spirit of the Gospels, Rick Warren began his speech with words I'll never forget:
"I love Muslims, and I love Jews. I love Democrats, and I love Republicans. I love gays, and I love straights."
He paused dramatically and added, "Because Jesus Christ commands me to love."
He wasn't talking about lovey-dovey kumbaya sentimentality. He was talking about real agape. He told the 2000 Muslims at this gathering that Muslims and Christians need to work together in Africa to end poverty, disease and violence. It was a powerful message, calling for people of different faiths to work together to make the world a better place. I say, AMEN!
Prof Glen Stassen, a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Seminary, describes himself as an Evangelical Christian and was a student of Niebuhr (the nemesis of pacifists like me). But he has come up with an approach called "just peacemaking" that I as a liberal Quaker pacifist find very compelling. He argues that pacifists and just war theorists/Christian realists will never agree because they come from very different theological perspectives. Arguing about theology may or may not be helpful to the cause of peace. So Stassen argues that every Christian can agree that God calls all of us to do our utmost to avoid war and promote peace. After considerable study, Stasses has come up with ten "best peacemaking practices" that have been proven to work:
  1. Support nonviolent direct action
  2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat
  3. Use cooperative conflict resolution
  4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness
  5. Advance democracy, human rights and interdependence
  6. Foster just and sustainable economic development
  7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system
  8. Strengthen the UN and international efforts for cooperation and human rights
  9. Reduce offensive weapons and the weapons trad
  10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations
Stassen shows these techniques not only work in the real world, they are also consistent with biblical teachings. He published his first book on "Just Peacemaking" when the Cold War ended in the 1990s. He then helped put together an anthology by Christians of various denominations embracing the concept of Just Peacemaking. Finally, Susan Thistlethwaite just published a book called "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigmn of Peace and War" (MacMillan: 2012).
This is a fascinating book by leading Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars that explores the practical application as well as theological basis for Just Peacemaking from the Abrahamic faith perspective. These scholars don't all agree on every point--God forbid!--but they are in general agreement that the practices of Just Peacemaking are consistent with the Torah, the Gospel, and the Quran.

This is good news, don't you think? I plan to write a review of this book for Friends Journal because I want people to know about this growing consensus among theologians.
I am disappointed that no Quaker scholars were tapped for this book and asked Glen about this. He said he would like to have included some but didn't know of any who are doing significant work in this area. How sad! I thought, since Glen has worked with the AFSC and FCNL and even has a poster on the door of his office: "War is not the answer."
So I end with a question: Where are the Quaker scholars doing important research and writing about the Peace Testimony? How can we make sure that our Quaker voice and vision is included in efforts to create new Just Peacemaking paradigm?
Most importantly, how can we all work together to do our utmost to end war, poverty, and other forms of injustice?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Anthony,

    I'm back from babysitting precious grandkids, etc.

    Thanks for responding to my questions on your blog so quickly.

    In the Light,