The WCC Decade to Overcome Violence and the UN Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence
By Simon Barrow
Some theological pointers and practical questions to assist member bodies in exploring the contribution of mission to peace building, and vice versa. Also appears on the CCOM site. Other resources (March 2002): Kai Funkschmidt’s more detailed paper on religion post-11/09. And my earlier piece, A Clash of Logics. Resource pack from Sojourners.
And a page at the London Mennonite Centre. And After the fire…
1. The connection between the Decade / Year and global mission in ecumenical terms
* The essence of the Good News that the churches are called to proclaim, model and act towards in the world is that ‘Christ is our peace’. The New Testament reminds us that this peace is not just comfort for the faithful; it is an active process of breaking down the walls that divide peoples and cultures (in context, Jew and Greek). It is God’s peace for the whole world, made known for us through the life of Jesus Christ.
* The peace of Christ is costly. It is generated through the absorption and overcoming of violence. Jesus’ willingness to endure suffering and crucifixion rather than to collude in the infliction of suffering and victimisation is itself a sign of contradiction in the face of a scapegoating culture of ‘the powers that be’ (Rene Girard).
* The kingdom of God is one of justice, peace and joy in the Spirit displacing the forces of oppression. To follow Jesus Christ and, moreover, to be church (to be incorporated into the Body, and thus to be co-extensive with Christ as an agent of redemption in a divided world) is to confront the forces of violence and death in our world.
* Jesus calls his disciples to be peacemakers. Peace making requires risk taking, the crossing of barriers, the turning of enemies into friends – or at least people to be faced with love rather than hate. These tasks are part of the missionary mandate.
* The mission of the church in response to God’s initiative is to be agents of reconciliation (another name for peace making) between people, between humanity and creation, and above all between humanity, creation and God.
* Unity, the oneness that testifies to the harmony of Christ, is also a key component of Christian mission.
* Christians are called to be ‘witnesses’ (martyria) to the ends of the earth. As the Greek derivation implies, the witness is not a passive onlooker or an espouser of theory, but someone who is prepared to endure suffering with Christ, the Prince of Peace, someone who testifies to a different path.
* The Christian tradition of building up the community of the church as a ‘contrast society’ based on a culture of inner and outer peace is evidenced not just by (say) the ‘historic peace churches’ associated with these things — the Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren in Christ — but increasingly within Catholic and other communities.
* By contrast, it is sadly true that the history of missionary movements has also been a history of violence and conquest. We are called today to learn the lessons of the past and to disarm mission of all but the ‘weapons’ of love and truth.
* Antagonism towards those of different faith or culture in the name of mission has unfortunately also been matched by dissention and violence within and between Christian communities. Obstacles to mission within the churches have to be overcome.
* Our churches are also places of considerable anger and disagreement. How will those outside the household of faith know that we are followers of Christ by the way we handle our differences?
* Conversation and collaboration among the faiths, which is the basis for authentic witness, requires a culture of peace and strenuous efforts to overcome violence. So does racial justice.
* Urban mission often confronts cultures of ingrained violence and casual hatred. Nations too build their security on the willingness to unleash death. The call to Christians in such situations is not towards cheap words, easy ideals or quick judgments, but to costly involvement with the pain of the polis, the place where the New Jerusalem is struggled for.
2. Questions for mission departments and agencies of the churches
a) In what areas of endeavour (and through which partnerships) is the building of peace and the overcoming of violence seen to be part of the conveying of the Good News?
b) If a significant component of mission is the movement and exchange of people for the sake of the Gospel, what stories do we have to share of the way Christians have been ‘witnesses for peace and reconciliation’?
c) What does the prevalence of violence within many cultures and societies (including violence against women) have to teach us about the relationship between Gospel and culture?
d) How can we overcome the association of mission with violence and domination?
e) Where, in your experience and mission relationships, are the best examples of churches as communities of peace and shalom?
f) What do you identify as the other ‘missionary questions’ involved in peace building and working to overcome violence?
A wide range of materials are available. Two that touch on the issues raised in this paper are:
Eds. Robert Herr & Judy Zimmerman Herr, Transforming Violence: Linking Local and Global Peacemaking (Herald Press, 1998). With a forword by Dr Konrad Raiser.
Alan & Eleanor Kreider, Becoming a Peace Church (New Ground HHSC Ltd, 2000)
These and other materials through Metanoia Books.