By Anna Woofenden
“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”
I’d heard the phrase many times, spoken it even, but it was not until this past Thursday at Peace Forum that I leaned it’s source. The Rev. Abraham Johannes (A. J.) Muste, a leader in the pacifist movement, labor movement and civil rights movement in the early 20th century. I learned this gem from graduating Masters of Arts student Jeff Myers as he presented excerpts from his thesis: The Way of Love, the Way of the Cross: A.J. Muste’s Theology of Pacifism.
Jeff began by sharing a glimpse of his own journey as an evangelical Christian who was exposed to theories of non-violence and pacifism through the legacies of people such as Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Dr. King while he was in undergrad at Hope College. He found a collection of essays by A. J. Muste and shared that until that point he had, “never been so powerfully struck by the written word.” Muste brought to light the depth that his Christian faith informed his pacifism and how at heart, Muste was a theologian and from his teaching one could make the argument that “Christianity is pacifism.”
Muste’s theological basis for pacifism, Jeff presented, can be summed up in the value of each individual person, the command to love the neighbor and the life of Jesus Christ, especially as it culminated on the cross. Muste presents a way of pacifism that is far from passive. He presents an active and powerful way of life, claiming that God is love, love is active, love is the most powerful force and that it is this love we need to embody. Muste proclaims the ineffectiveness of meeting violence with violence and reminds us to look to the way of Jesus. Jesus did not respond to violence with violence, culminating in his crucifixion when he proclaimed forgiveness for those that were killing him.
This way of reading the gospels and looking at the life of Christ through the lens of pacifism came to Jeff through his reading of Muste. He shared, “I am a pacifist because of A. J. Muste. He showed me that the Bible speaks to pacifism.” As someone with evangelical roots, Jeff is passionate about how to have the conversation about pacifism with a variety of Christian modalities. He shared, “If you’re talking to an evangelical about pacifism, do not talk about the secular arguments, talk about the Bible”, as that’s what is held as the authority.
Jeff presented a vision, which he is actively engaged in, of growing conversations of pacifism from the Biblical conversation and lives engaged in being peaceful, loving and powerful beings in our communities. I know I, for one, was changed by Jeff’s presentation and urged more deeply into my own exploration of what it means to follow Christ and how the actions and principles of pacifism are part of this journey.
Anna Woofenden is a MDiv student at Earlham School of Religion and the Swedenborgian House of studies. She blogs at http://annawoofenden.wordpress.com