Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Peace Testimony in the Twenty-First Century

By Valerie Hurwitz

As many of you know, Earlham School of Religion has a Church of the Brethren seminary next door. We share share some parts of the curriculum, a weekly Friday worship, and Common Meal once a month with them, as well as our Academic Services and Computing Services offices. I am often asked what Brethren and Quakers have in common. While the Brethren would not use the term “Testimonies” with as much
specificity as Quakers do, there is a strong emphasis on values very similar to the Quaker testimonies. The Brethren have a longstanding commitment to non-violence and American Brethren required their members to abstain from joining the military in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Simplicity is another strong value, and I have seen a few “plain” Brethren around Bethany.

This digression will be quite familiar to anyone who has spent time on ESR’s campus since Bethany seminary moved her in the mid-90s, and to the Bethany-affiliated folks who might be reading this. My hope is to provide context for those who aren’t familiar with Brethren.

Jordan Blevins, a Brethren pastor on the staff of the Eco-Justice programs at the National Council of churches, spoke at Peace Forum this past Thursday. He spoke about Just Peace and how Peace Churches can no longer be a “set apart” movement, but must reach out to the larger Christian movement as it struggles with questions of nonviolence and opposition to war. Jordan also told us that it was not sufficient for Peace Churches to rest on their history of opposition to war. There will be no more drafts, he told us, and no more opportunities for conscientious objectors to express their opposition through registering. Contentious objection is now silent. We must articulate what we are for rather than what we are against. Enter “Just Peace”, a concept that is strongly promoted by the World Council of Churches. It seems best to quote directly from their document “An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace”:

[Just Peace is] “a collective and dynamic yet grounded process of freeing human beings from fear and want, of overcoming enmity, discrimination and oppression, and of establishing conditions for just relationships that privilege the experience of the most vulnerable and respect the integrity of creation”

In short, peace and justice are inter-related, and peace must be maintained not through the absence of conflict, but through a holistic approach to creating right relationships among people, governments, companies, the earth, etc. Peace Churches have an opportunity to “put meat on the bones of Just Peace” for other denominations, to “flesh out” the idea of Just Peace. (Weird analogies for a conversation over a
vegetarian meal, I know.)

The discussion after that ranged widely. There was discussion of the Peace Tax Fund, of economic conscription into the military, and of what Just Peace might look like from the perspective of a prisoner or a Native American. With the election this year, there is a great deal of discussion over the federal budget. What does this document say about our values? What does it mean when no one is turned away from military service, but Americorps and Peace Corps must be very selective? I honestly vacillate on total pacifism (can I say that, working for a Quaker seminary?), but I do appreciate the larger approach that Just Peace takes. Wars and conflicts are the end of the process, not the beginning, and working on peace and justice requires affecting those causes. On an international level, Ron Paul has mentioned the “golden rule” in a few of the Republican primary debates, and been booed for it. If it’s good enough to be taught in every elementary school, why is it not good enough for foreign policy?

  • First, Jordan’s big question to us: “What needs to change in our world for Just Peace to occur, and what can we do to make that happen?” 
  • What can Quakers learn from considering the commitments of other Peace Church to their version of the Peace Testimony? 
  • Are there any Brethren out there who can tell me more about the history of the Brethren commitment to non-violence?

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

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