Quaker Theology #8 Spring-Summer 2003
Peace Theology and Foundations for
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
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.
<<< Contents Page
<<< Back to Theological Resources Page
<<<Back to QUEST Home
QUEST, P.O. Box 82, Bellefonte PA 16823