Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Alternatives to War: Just Peacemaking Practices

“War is Not the Answer!” So What IS?

  1. Support Nonviolent Direct Action. Has toppled many dictators.
  2. Reduce Threats. In situations of conflict, both unilateral disarmament and escalation are dangerous. What is needed are unilateral, independent (often surprising) initiatives to reduce the threat to the adversary. This allows breathing space and can create new dynamics for negotiation. Because the adversary may well suspect motives, the initiatives need to come in a series of “confidence building measures” that invite reciprocation.
  3. Cooperative Conflict Resolution. Principled negotiation that speaks truth boldly, but attacks the problem rather than the adversary. Numerous cross-cultural works on this now. The Carter Center is excellent at this process.
  4. Acknowledge Responsibility/Seek Repentance & Forgiveness.
  5. Advance Democracy, Human Rights, and Religious Liberty. Because of the way the Bush administration has called its warmongering “promoting democracy,” it is necessary to add that democracy cannot be forced on people at gunpoint. One encourages indigenous movements for democracy, and democratic reforms in governments–setting examples in one’s own. Lack of voice in political decisionmaking is a major cause of war–as are human rights violations and the denial of religious liberty.
  6. Foster Just and Sustainable Economic Development. Many future wars could be “resource wars.” Lack of access to healthy food, clean water, a decent home, good education, and healthcare, are sources of conflict and internal dissent that can turn violent. Unjust and ecologically unsustainable trade patterns breed wars too.
  7. Work with Emerging Cooperative Forces in the International System.
  8. Strengthen the United Nations and International Efforts for Cooperation and Human Rights. The most dangerous longterm action of the Bush administration has been the way it has weakened the UN and the system of international law which has developed since WWII. The UN is far from perfect. It needs democratic reform itself. But the UN and its relief and human rights agencies make the world more just and safer. So does the International Criminal Court and the system of treaties which work toward arms reduction, human rights protection, environmental protection, etc. These institutions need strengthening, not undermining.
  9. Reduce Weapons and the Weapons Trade.
  10. Encourage Grassroots Peacemaking Groups and Voluntary Associations. Don’t leave it to the policy “experts.” We need networks of non-governmental organizations spanning the globe working for peace and pushing governments to do their part. A few good groups like that are found on the links to this blog.

For more on all this see Glen H. Stassen, ed., Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices to Abolish War.
Or see Stassen’s own website: Just Peacemaking Theory.

April 27, 2005 Posted by | just peacemaking | 2 Comments

Two Types of Religion

I am going to contend that religion comes in two very broad types. I will call the one type authoritarian and the other prophetic. I saw both types clearly last Sunday 25 April in Louisville. Those supporting “Justice Sunday” were prime examples of authoritarian religion while those attending the “Freedom and Faith” counter-event embodied a more prophetic, liberating faith.

Authoritarian religion is heirarchical. Power/authority (the two are equated) flows from the top of a pyramid or out from a tight bureaucracy–and doesn’t flow very far. It is very concerned with power and control.
Authoritarian religion sees Scripture as primarily a rulebook. Its ethics are very concerned with rules and with matters of purity and taboo, dividing the righteous few from the profane/polluted many. This leads sexual matters to dominate its ethics: women are relegated to inferior positions, sexuality is seen as a necessary evil, and those who differ from sharply-defined sexual norms are pariahs. Non-procreational sex is discouraged if not forbidden and artificial means of either aiding or preventing procreation are demonized. An idealized patriarchal family is defended as “the biblical norm,” despite abundant biblical evidence to many forms of family life.

By nature, this form of religion is exclusionary. Orthodoxy or right teaching is defined very narrowly and differences of opinion tolerated within a very small range. Uncertainty or ambiguity on any topic is unwelcome. Debates arise over narrow points that outsiders cannot tell apart because thinking is kept within narrow boxes.

The need for authority and control leads to love of a “strong man,” with the male gender very much intended. A strong father, a strong leader, a strong protector–a military savior figure to hold all hopes and dreams.

This is a religion dominated by fear: fear of heretics, of social change, of questions, of ambiguity, fear of outsiders, of secularism–fear, ultimately, of God. I know someone who belongs to this type of religion who is developing a line of clothing saying, “I Fear God” who cannot figure out why they won’t sell!

By contrast, prophetic faith is non-heirarchical. Power is widely shared and tends to be grassroots-initiated. The ideal here is for a discipleship of equals and for servant leadership. Leaders’ earn their authority by means of their wisdom, persuasiveness, talents, and the way their service empowers others. True leaders in prophetic forms of faith are not threatened by other initiatives, other voices, or constructive critiques of their own actions.

Prophetic faith may have a place for rules, but rules are not seen as the center of the life of faith. Ethical rules flow from broader principles which themselves are rooted in narrative convictions about the meaning of God, salvation, discipleship, etc. Scriptures are not seen primarily as rulebooks but as revealing God’s character and God’s purposes in the world–purposes of salvation and liberation in which we are invited by grace to participate. Prophetic faith redefines purity or holiness in terms of compassionate justice for the marginalized, vulnerable, or powerless. The focus is not on one’s own righteousness, but on the good of the neighbor, the enemy, the common good. Orthopraxy, right practice, plays a larger role than orthodoxy and both are defined in ways that allow for disagreements, uncertainties, explorations, and ambiguity. There is a strong sense of the major shape of the life of faith, but no felt need to have all the answers. Its major concerns are justice, compassion, peacemaking, care for creation, empowering others, the dignity of all, the common good. Sexual issues take a lesser role and then are not seen in terms of purity concerns but in terms of covenant faithfulness, nonviolence, mutual dignity, right-relatedness.

The dominant notes in prophetic faith are not control and fear, but joy. Joy–delight in God, in God’s creation, in others, in empowered service, in discipleship. This is an ethos than understands itself as different from the dominant culture, but is constantly inviting others in–breaking down barriers, not pushing others’ out.

We need far more of this prophetic faith, today. Unfortunately, those who have it, having often been victims of a bad model of evangelism from the authoritarians, are not bold enough in sharing it with others. Prophetic faith is to be lived–and proclaimed.

April 27, 2005 Posted by | progressive faith, Religious Social Criticism, theology | 1 Comment