Quaker Theology #8 Spring-Summer 2003
Peace Theology and Foundations for Ecumenical Dialogue
Lauree Hersch Meyer
Editor’s Introduction: In 1999, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches invited WCC member churches and others who share their concerns to participate in a decade of work to overcome violence in our world. Giving shape and direction to the commitment of the eighth Assembly of the WCC (1998) to begin this work, the Central Committee noted: "There are a number of positive and encouraging examples for congregations and churches around the world. We recognize the steady witness of monastic traditions and the historic peace churches, and we want to receive anew their contribution through the Decade" (WCC Central Committee, "Minutes of the Fiftieth Meeting, Geneva, Switzerland, 26 August-3 September 1999," 188).
In order to respond to the request of the Central Committee of the WCC for an offering of our best to the work of the Decade, it was clear that Friends, Mennonites and Brethren would need first to consult with one another and deepen our own dialogue. Our three communities have much that draws us together, but also much that is divergent in history, in theological and doctrinal expression, and in community self-understanding. Between 25 and 29 June 2001, interested members of the Brethren, Quaker and Mennonite communities and a few friends met at the Mennonite theological seminary at Bienenberg, Switzerland, and in Geneva at the offices of the World Council of Churches.
Sixteen of the papers given at Bienenberg, an Epistle sent from the gathering and a study-document, "Just Peacemaking," prepared there have been collected in Peace in a Globalized World: Perspectives from the Historic Peace Churches, forthcoming from Telford, PA and Geneva:Pandora Press US and World Council of Churches. There the reader will also find bibliographic information on papers presented at the conference and published elsewhere. The taped transcript of the discussions that followed each presentation at the meeting is now housed in the Mennonite Central Committee’s Peace Office, in Akron, Pennsylvania.
Quaker Theology published Gene Hillman’s paper "Quakers and The Lamb’s War: A Hermeneutic for Confronting Evil" (#7, Vol 4 (2002):pp. 146-161). In 2001, we published two pieces by Ann Riggs that addressed the Decade to Overcome Violence A Report on the North American Launch of the World Council of Churches’ Decade to Overcome Violence. Vol. 3 (2001) pp. 7-24: and Stillness: Surrounding, Sustaining, Strengthening Vol.3 (2001) pp. 142-158. Lauree Hersch Meyer’s paper "Foundations for Ecumenical Dialogue, Building on Our History" is the first we have published that is connected directly with the work of the Decade to Overcome Violence and from one of our partner historic peace church communities, the Church of the Brethren.
Peace Theology has a place in all Christian as well as other religious and political thought. Concerns with how to deal with hostility, dissent and struggle are part of human life, and Christian life is no exception. But there exist two important distinctions regarding how Christians deal with concerns for peacemaking.
One is the difference between having feelings and acting on them, whether peacefully or violently. The second is whether peacemaking is viewed from within (how to live and act peacefully) or from without (how to "contain" violence). Christianity’s earliest memories (even apart from Jesus’ life and actions) is filled with stories of nonviolent responses and efforts at peacemaking. One is the record of Peter and Paul, unable to do mission work together, who none-the-less both did mission work. Apparently the church (and presumably they) affirmed both "ways," although Peter’s and Paul’s ways were so different that they could not minister together .
What leads Christians to translate/incarnate feelings of violence into violent actions? How and when do Christians "justify" such transference? Students of Christian history recall Harnack’s struggle to trace the Church’s enmeshment in war to its place in the Roman empire from the time of Constantine when Church members began to be understood and understand themselves as Roman citizens, that is, persons expected to be obedient and loyal to Rome. Christian theologies about peacemaking amid conflict usually make reference to Augustine’s effort to establish guidelines identifying when, to save people in his town from death from others’ military violence, he came to identify counter-violence as "justified."
Questions about the source of feelings and actions of hostility and violence are important, but call for another path than this paper follows. Even so, those questions are central to concerns and contexts of peacemaking. This is so both because Christian believers and theologians, like all persons concerned about and committed to peacemaking, find it difficult to observe and respond with love to (our own or others’) harsh feelings in response to difficult, painful or challenging situations. We, as they, are inclined to react to pain. We feel a need to protect our identity and seek security. Confessing that "perfect love casts out fear," Christians’ real fear and love- imperfection is manifest as we converse better about peacemaking than we live our confessions.
The following reflections on the foundations for an ecumenical dialogue on peace theology arise in the context of these questions and observations. The question of peace-making and peace theology is complex. Several approaches and theologies are familiar in the Christian legacy. The following are four "Historical Peace Church" theologies, theological dynamics found by no means only among "Historical Peace" churches or theologians.
1. A "confessional" theology that focuses on embodying the theology proclaimed. Here believers intend to manifest through visible actions their confessed faith. Emphasis is placed on what speakers intend and commit themselves to, leading these peace-makers to relinquish "power over" others. Christian Peacemaker Teams illustrate this kind of peace theology in action.
2. A second peace theology consists of conversations about how theologians believe peace "should be" established. Blueprints of how society "should" function are discussed and may lead to actions aimed at bringing society into correspondence with the ideals, values and practices identified in the blueprint. Protest and advocacy actions pressing official leaders to legislate social change are one form of this approach.
3. A third kind of peace theology addresses in-house dissent. Traditionally peace church believers have grappled with how to respond faithfully and rightly when their members transgressed the community’s confessional boundaries. Religious peacemakers did and do excommunicate, disfellowship or shun such members. (Political groups are more apt to bring legal action or imprison such members.) 4. A fourth peace theology - perhaps more nearly a theological peace ethics? - identifies how "others," namely those outside one’s identity group, are to be engaged when they are believed to offend or threaten the group’s well-being.
Peace theological confessions, ideals and theories are all easier to write than to live. That is true of all confessions, as daily life teaches us. "Peace" in the home does not rule out dissent and noise unpleasant to various of its members. Saying we believe in and are committed to peace does not in itself predict what incarnate actions will constitute others’ experience of our peace theology. Alpha adult (s) normally assume responsibility for (and have the most power to) foster a spirit of peace in a home. Yet adult peacemakers tend to use physical, economic, psychological or spiritual punishment in efforts to seek to reestablish that peace (control?) when they feel tired or are short-tempered. Yet again, these are often the same persons who seek to nurture and build a sense of self-esteem and competence for each family member, basing all family relations less on obedience to their power than on mutual honesty, compassion and trust.
People and groups usually believe what they experience. Experience of dialogue partners’ embodied peace theology is more apt to be seriously engaged than is well-reasoned but "dis-incarnate" theological confession. Broad theoretical and rhetorical agreement exists in Christian religious and Western political history about the desirability of peace. We find far less agreement as to what peace looks like and what means may be rightly used in seeking to establish peace. Familiar religious, political, economic and cultural wars illustrate how people(s) generally hold "their own" to different standards than "others," (Bertolt Brecht noted that thieves and robbers require peace and justice, or at least the rule of law, among themselves), freely using very different actions toward others than toward their own members.
"Their own." Our own. Who are "our own" among Christians, among those in ecumenical dialogue around peace theology?
In our spiritual depth, we seek peace within the fullness of inner- and inter-personal dynamics. Christians look at God through Jesus Christ, embracing as siblings those who know Christ as Lord. Christians also confess that God created, loves and redeems all creatures and creation, presenting us with a universal, even cosmic, context for our theological reflection. The oekumene, the fulness of human (not only Christian) community, was the initial Christian context for theological inquiry. While the context of our ecumenical conversations on peacemaking is global, our conversational focus is particular. Aware that a full ecumenical conversation on peacemaking would call us to engage with people of "other" or "no" faith, these conversations inquire into the Christian ecumenical foundations for a theology of peacemaking.
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