Category: Peacemaking

Learning non-violence from John Dear

Father John Dear

By Charles Kiker

Rev. John Dear is a noted peace activist and author. He is a follower of the nonviolent way of Jesus. He has traveled worldwide, rubbed shoulders with numerous peace activists including the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and the Berrigan brothers. He is a student, via their works, of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. He is the author of numerous articles and books relating to peace, justice and nonviolence.

For several years he was the priest for several congregations in New Mexico. His persistent—Roman Catholic authorities called it obdurate—criticism of nuclear weapons and of those who build them resulted in his removal from New Mexico, with the result that now he is a priest without a parish. No, the nation, even the world is his parish.

Patricia and I were privileged to hear John Dear in Amarillo on May 16 at an event cosponsored by the Peace Farm and the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Amarillo. At that event I purchased his most recent book, The Nonviolent Life, and since then I have worked my way through that short but heavy volume.

The book is divided into three sections—Part One: Nonviolence Toward Ourselves; Part Two: Nonviolence Toward all Others; and Part Three: Joining the Global Grassroots Movement of Nonviolence. Each section concludes with questions for personal reflection and small group discussion.

In Part One Rev. Dear makes the case that all nonviolence must begin  with nonviolence toward ourselves. We cannot love others if we hate ourselves. The great commandment of Jesus is to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And often we are filled with self-loathing. If we hate ourselves how can we love our neighbors? And if we hate our neighbors how can we love God?  To cultivate nonviolence toward ourselves we need to acknowledge to ourselves the hurts and putdowns we have received. We need to acknowledge to ourselves our own self-worth. We don’t need to be afraid to pat ourselves on the back. Cultivating nonviolence toward ourselves is a daily lifelong attitude adjustment project.

If we are inwardly violent to ourselves it’s easy to turn our self-loathing outward and become mean and hateful to others. Peace and justice advocates, believing so strongly in their own cause, can become mean and hateful in the process and thus do more harm than good. I have to acknowledge that this strikes a sensitive nerve. I am not physically violent, but I can have a mean tongue and a meaner pen. Rev. Dear, along with the Epistle of James, reminds me to keep guard on that.

Becoming nonviolent to ourselves is not a one and done affair. It is a lifelong project. Rev. Dear returns to this topic throughout the book. Maybe it’s a problem for him, too?

Part Two emphasizes nonviolence toward all others, including God’s creation. This nonviolence is active, not passive. We don’t just roll over and play dead in the face of violence and injustice, but we do not return violence for violence. Glenn Stassen makes the case that turning the other cheek and walking the second mile shames the violent one in his violence. Dear emphasizes the environmental aspects of nonviolence. Raping the earth is violence. Brutality to animals is violence. (Rev. Dear is an advocate of vegetarianism). Working in industries which live off violence is participating in violence. After the session I had opportunity to speak with him briefly about this. I told him how so many of the young people in our church, in my church specifically, go into the military upon graduation from college. We are reminded to pray for them. I confessed that I am torn about this. I don’t say don’t pray for them, but neither do I want military service to be considered a badge of honor. He said, “Pray for them, but pray for the young people of Afghanistan too.” Pray for people who are subject to our drone strikes! Praying for our national “enemies” can be active nonviolence!

Some of us can become active in local organizations for peace and justice, such as Friends of Justice. We can witness impossible possibilities. I remember being at a meeting near the end of the trials of the Tulia Drug Sting victims. Everyone who went to trial had been convicted. Legal minds said it would be impossible to overturn the convictions. One woman whom I will not name jumped up and said, “No! We’re going to see that they all go free!” Within three years all those convictions were overturned.

Part Three regards becoming a part of the global movement toward nonviolence. Not all of us can be personally involved. But all of us can be advocates.

Meeting Rev. Dear has caused me to reexamine my own life, to try to be sure I’m not inwardly or outwardly violent, and to recommit myself as much as in me lieth to be a follower of the Way of the nonviolent Jesus.

Joe Phelps: Jesus’ Rejection of Violence is the Long-term Answer

Pastor Joe Phelps

By Alan Bean

I attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with Joe Phelps between 1975 and 1978.  Joe is now pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville.  My wife and I were members at Highland in the early 1990s while I was finishing up a doctorate at Southern.  There is a good article in the Washington Post describing my alma mater’s messy descent into what former Southern Seminary professor Frank Stagg called “obscurantism”.

In this opinion piece written for the Louisville Courier-Journal, pastor Phelps talks about being invited back to Southern Seminary shortly before the invasion of Iraq to talk war and peace from a Christian perspective.  He quickly realized that he was the token pacifist on a panel of five Baptists.

It was five against one. In the midst of the interchanges I drew the evening’s biggest laugh when I expressed surprise at being more conservative than the seminary’s president because “I take Jesus’ words on war and violence more seriously than he does.”

The laughter was loud and long. It wasn’t a disrespectful laugh. It was, rather, a spontaneous reaction to something that sounded to them too preposterous to be serious.

Here in an auditorium filled with young men being equipped to go out and lead churches across the land in the ways of Jesus, not one of them expressed concern that our country was forming its response to the 2001 attacks based on the visceral reactions of the dominant culture more than from a faithful following of the one they’d pledged allegiance to.

If you are a Christian who thinks pacifism is a laughable position, I urge you to hear Joe out.

Jesus’ rejection of violence is the long-term answer

Joe Phelps

I visited yesterday with a young man who is part of a crew remodeling our house. When I learned that he is an Army reservist who is home for a while from the Middle East and will soon be redeployed there in the coming weeks, I thanked him for his service to our country and spoke of the current dilemma in Syria. (more…)

Kiker: Random Reflections on War and Peace

By Charles Kiker

I’m writing this on the 85th anniversary of the signing of the Kellogg-Briand pact on August 27, 1928. Kellogg-Briand made war on war, declaring that the only legal war in international relations was a war of self-defense. The United States Senate, by a vote of 85-1, ratified that treaty, entered into and agreed upon by the world’s major powers. The United States has never officially abrogated that treaty.

In at least 50 of the 85 years since that pact was signed there have been major conflicts involving one or more of the world’s major powers. In a very, very few of those years could one say the world was without some sort of armed conflict.

So much for international law!

The President has promised that the United States will withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, bringing to a close this country’s longest war.

But it seems likely that before that war ends, our country will be involved in another, a very messy situation in Syria. (more…)

“The Power to Make us One”: Heather McGhee’s One-People America

Heather McGhee

By Alan Bean

Heather McGhee, the Director of Demos’ Washington Office, was the lead-off speaker at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor conference on February 7th.  I have heard hundreds of presentations from leading authorities over the course of the last decade, but I have never been so impressed with a messenger or a message.

Maybe that’s because Ms. McGhee is the first speaker to elucidate the big picture message I have been groping for.  Like me, McGhee is searching for a message that will bring Americans of all races and religions together around a vision of the Beloved Community.  We need to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, no doubt about that.  But we need to convey that truth in language that will inspire and unite a broad cross-section of the American public.   

As I listened to Ms. McGhee, I couldn’t shake a strong sense of Deja Vu.  I had heard a similar message before, I felt.  When McGhee told us she is the daughter of Gail Christopher, Vice President of Programs at the WK Kellogg Foundation, the mystery was solved.  Melanie Wilmoth and I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Christopher speak at a Mississippi Convening sponsored by Kellogg just two weeks ago in Tunica, Mississippi.  Christopher talked about “racial healing”, one of the key concepts that will be driving Kellogg’s funding priorities in the forseeable future. 

When Dr. Christopher finished speaking, I asked her if the concept of “racial healing” was based on anti-racism theory with its focus on white supremacy, white privilege, and the historic dynamics of racial oppression.  She told me that she had certainly been influenced by the anti-racism model, but that she was more interested in “talking about what we’re for, as opposed to focusing primarily on what we’re against.”

Dr. Gail Christopher

Then she asked me if I had ever attended an anti-racism training.  “Two,” I said. 

“How did they go?” she asked.

“Well,” I replied, “the first time I got pretty defensive because I felt the leaders were dealing in artificial abstractions and making unwarranted assumptions about me on the basis of my whiteness.  The second time, I was fine with the content, but several other white people in the room got really defensive.  When it was over, I talked to an African-American leader in a predominantly white denomination who told me he didn’t ‘mess with racism’ anymore because ‘it just gets people riled up.'”

Dr. Christopher nodded her head as if she was hearing a familiar story. “That’s just the problem,” she remarked, “if people feel condemned by the message, the conversation stops.  That’s why we focus on a vision that all people of good will can embrace.  We’ve got to put race in front of us so, eventually, we can put it behind us.” (more…)

America’s enemies: the experts weigh in

“Can someone explain to me if there is supposed to be a scandal that someone pees on the corpse of a Taliban fighter — someone who as part of an organization murdered over 3,000 Americans?  I’d drop trou and do it too. That’s me, though…Come on people this is a war.” CNN contributor Dana Loesch

 “A dead body is just, you know a f—— body that’s dead and it just doesn’t bother me.”  It all depends on “what the people they were pissing on did.  If they were real Taliban, if they were people who burned down girls’ schools, and, you know, do honor rapes and throw acid in people’s faces, I’m not that upset about pissing on them.” HBO comedian Bill Maher

“When you’re in war — and history kind of backs up. There’s a picture of General Patton doing basically the same thing in the Rhine river. Although there’s not a picture, Churchill did the same thing on the Siegfried line . . . Going after them as a criminal act, I think [is] really a bad message.” Texas governor Rick Perry 

“Andrew Jackson had a clear cut idea about Americas enemies…kill them!” Newt Gingrich

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Jesus, Matthew 5:43-45

There’s hope for reconciliation between religious right, progressives

This ground-breaking op-ed by Mark Osler and Randy Potts appeared in the Christmas Eve edition of the Dallas Morning News.  Historically, opinion leaders in the Christian conservative and social progressive camps have viewed one another as ideological opposites and, regrettably, frequently bolster their fundraising efforts by attacking the other side of the culture war stand-off.  Having worked with folks from both sides on both sides, Osler and Potts see more similarities than differences.

Law professor, Mark Osler, will be familiar to our readers.  Randy Roberts Potts, a former social worker and middle school English teacher, is a freelance writer who wrote about his coming out experience as the grandson of televangelist Oral Roberts in the recent book, It Gets Better.

There’s hope for reconciliation between religious right, progressives

The holiday season is a time to rejoice, a time to eat and be merry, a time to reflect on what unites us. Especially at this time of year, it seems that too much of our political landscape has been covered with battles between conservative Christians and social progressives.

Some people see the occupy Wall Street and tea party movements as a manifestation of that divide, but such an analysis (though true in part) obscures the fact that that both sides of the culture wars now feel ignored by a power structure that most values the rich and large institutions. Within this truth lies an opportunity for reconciliation between two groups that in many ways are natural allies. Like estranged relatives who find themselves welcome again at Christmas dinner, we need to drop our guard and open our hearts.

Why should we have hope that such reconciliation is possible? (more…)

Pastor W.G. Daniels waged peace in Fort Worth, Texas

PASTOR 4By Alan Bean

No one can account for the dramatic drop in violent crime.  According to the Washington Post, in 2011 the DC homicide rate reached its lowest point since 1963.  But just across the county line, the homicide rate is experiencing an upswing.  When violent crime drops there is always a reason.  When gang-related violence plunged in Fort Worth, TX, a big part of the reason was the Rev. W.G. Daniels. 

Daniels died this week.  Marty Sabota’s obituary shows that Daniels grasped many of the principles criminologist  David Kennedy outlines in his excellent book Don’t Shoot:

America has four inextricably linked problems that converge in its most troubled communities.   There’s the violence that terrorizes many of its, especially, black and minority communities. There’s the chaos that comes with, especially, public drug markets.  There’s the devastation being wrought on, especially, troubled black and minority communities by our criminal justice in response to the first two problems.  And there’ the worsening racial divide that’s causing.

In Fort Worth, Pastor W.G. Daniels stopped the violence by forging a creative dialogue between law enforcement and the communities most affected by violent crime.  A former police officer who understood the law enforcement mindset, Daniels made the perfect peacemaker.  He knew why his neighbors didn’t want to talk to the police, but he also understood why law enforcement will always concentrate on high crime communities.  Daniels didn’t want the police to ignore the hot neighborhoods; he just wanted them to show more respect and professionalism.  

Getting gang members, community members and the police on the same page isn’t easy, but it can be done.  As Daniels once told the Star-Telegram:

You had gangs like the Crips and the Bloods fighting against each other, but after we conducted a survey, we found that there just needed to be somebody to bring a truce to stop the madness and no better people to do it than pastors who meet every Sunday. We needed to send a message that it would not be tolerated, and by the help of God and Christ we were able to bring about peace.

When people are talking to one another behavior changes.  Open air drug markets move underground, police officers feel more appreciated and behave with a higher level of professionalism, residents of high crime neighborhoods gain a new sense of confidence and self-respect.  Criminologist David Kennedy and pastor W.G. Daniels heal communities because they understand the spiritual nature of the war they are fighting.  (more…)