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

Baptist Peacemakers on Middle East

This statement was drafted July 14, 2006, by a caucus of BPFNA members meeting at the annual Summer Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, meeting for its annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia, this week calls upon the parties involved in the current escalation of tensions in the Middle East to step back from the brink of outright warfare, and to engage in negotiations to bring the situation to a peaceful resolution. We also call upon the leadership of the United States to assist in the negotiating process by refraining from placing blame on one party over another.

We are especially concerned because the weapons being used by Israel in its attacks upon Lebanon are supplied by the U.S. Such usage of U.S. tax dollars to finance military operations against a civilian population is a specific violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and the Geneva Conventions. It has been reported that Israel has employed Lockheed Martin F-161 Fighting Falcons, as well as Boeing F-151s firing U.S.-manufactured AMRAAM, Sidewinder, and Sparrow missiles. Thus far, more than 57 Lebanese have died in these attacks, all of them civilians, a figure that includes at least 15 children.

At the same time, we specifically condemn the taking of hostages, whether civilian or military, by any governmental or non-governmental entity. We recognize that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has launched its current military operations in Lebanon as retaliation for the capture of two IDF soldiers and the killing of eight others, as well as the wounding of two. However, this event has been claimed by Hezbollah as being of their doing, and it is never acceptable to punish an entire population for the actions of a few. Such collective punishment is a violation of international law, and it only perpetuates a cycle of violence. Blaming the government of Lebanon for the actions of Hezbollah is counter-productive, as well.

Although we condemn the actions of Hezbollah, the principle of proportionality has been violated by Israel in its attacks upon Lebanon, which constitute the heaviest bombing of that country in 24 years, since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The targeting of a civilian population is not in keeping with the values of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, and must not be accepted. It is not defensive behavior, but is an offense against the high principles of all of these religions.
At the same time, July 12 also marked the highest single-day death toll in Israel’s current incursion into the Gaza Strip, resulting in the death of 23 people. That figure includes the deaths of at least 18 people in one home, including a mother and five of her children. We are very troubled about this action, since the entire population of Gaza has been suffering from the ongoing attacks by Israel, which have destroyed homes, bridges, businesses, and the entire electric supply for more than a million people.

In Lebanon, more than 20 bridges have been targeted, the television station has come under attack, and an air and sea blockade is under way. All three runways of the international airport have been destroyed, with the result that those wishing to escape the fighting by travel to Cyprus or elsewhere are prevented from doing so, while Lebanon’s economy is also suffering because this is the height of tourist season and tourists are now also being diverted due to the closures.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah has responded with additional rocket volleys into northern Israel, killing additional civilians. Hezbollah has called for negotiations and prisoner exchanges, although Israel’s response has been a refusal to negotiate.

Believing that peace is the highest value in all three monotheistic faiths, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America expresses its condolences to all of the families involved, and urges the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and the government of Lebanon, as well as any and all parties of non-governmental status, to exercise restraint, to step back from the brink, and to begin to negotiate wholeheartedly for an end to all regional hostilities.
We reiterate that statements implying that one or another party is correct in its aggressive action against another are not helpful. No nation or group that takes out its anger on innocent civilians should ever be praised. We call on the U.S., and the United Nations, to use their good offices to intervene and prevent the escalation of this conflict into full-scale war.

Baptist Peace Fellowship of North AmericaMembers Caucus at Summer ConferenceAtlanta, Georgia USAJuly 14, 2006

July 15, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, Israel, peacemaking, progressive faith | Comments Off on Baptist Peacemakers on Middle East

We’re in Good Hands: Young Leaders of BPFNA

Some peace and justice organizations are greying and recruitment of younger members is a real issue. This is also true for many progressive congregations. I am very pleased that this is NOT the case with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (http://www.bpfna.org/ ). I have told many, many people that my highlight from last year’s peace camp (McMinnville, OR, first week of August 2005) was the night that many youth and young adults signed personal testimonies of conscientious objection, saying that they would not join the military and, if a draft comes, would register as conscientious objectors. They invited us older COs to stand with them and sign their individual cards as witnesses. It was wonderful.

That spirit pervaded this conference. So many “Next Generation” folk are already leaders in peace and justice work and others are learning. There’s Frances Kelly, who has literally been coming to peace camp since she was a baby and is now an undergraduate at Yale (hard for me to believe since she still looks like a skinny 14 year old to me!). Frances has been leading peace camp worship with liturgical dance since I can remember. 2 years ago, at Townsend, MD peace camp, she fell down one of the ultra-steep hills on that campus and broke her leg–but she still went, crutches and all, to the peace protest in front of Congress, calling for an end to the Iraq War and confronting members of Congress passing by!

Rachel (Rae) and Daniel Hunter, siblings, have also been coming since childhood and are now early 20-somethings. They come from a mixed marriage (Carol Hunter, their mom, is a Euro-American who teaches history at Earlham College and Bob Hunter, father, an African-American who works for InterVarsity, teaches courses in the religion dept. on race at Earlham and is a Diversity and Justice Specialist) and a rich history of involvement in both church life and movement work. Rae has taught high school theatre and middle school science, is an author and poet and currently serves on the BPFNA board as its pastor. Daniel has written a book on nonviolence training and community organizing and leads training in nonviolence around the world–working on hard on experiential learning as a key to empowering marginalized groups.

Then there’s Daniel Collins, a member of the youth at Glendale Baptist Church, Nashville, NC who read Scripture at one of our services. He has already been involved in many justice actions domestically and globally and later this year (14-19 September) will travel with other Glendale youth to the University of Denver for Peacejam 2006: http://www.peacejam.org/ At this event, which will gather more living Nobel Peace Prize winners than ever before in U.S. history, Daniel and other youth will get to learn and be challenged from the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Oscar Arias Sanchez (recently elected again as president of Costa Rica), Bishop Carlos Belo of East Timor and his co-winner Jose Ramos-Hortos (just elected president of East Timor) and many others. What a treat for Daniel and his friends to be mentored by such peacemakers!

Then there’s Lucas Johnson, a young African American who joined BPFNA last year and whom I met at last year’s peace camp. He is currently serving as an Americorps VISTA volunteer in Macon, GA working with Habitat for Humanity. Macon, GA has the highest concentration of churches of any geographic area in the Southeast (over 300 for a medium size town), but only 30 are partners with Habitat or seem concerned about homelessness or substandard housing. Lucas is working to change that. He is a member of BPFNA partner congregation Oakhurst BC in Atlanta and has just been elected to the BPFNA board.

Another young person, slightly older, working on homelessness is Rev. Laura Ayala, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista de Caguas (FBC Caguas), Puerto Rico. One of the few women pastors in Puerto Rico, she is also the Exec. Dir. of Coalicion Criolla de Ciudado Continuo a Personas sin Hogar (Caguas Coalition for the Homeless).

Other young people at peace camp impressed me, including Jessica Wilbanks, who simply cannot be more than 21 at the oldest. She’s not a BPFNA member (I think she’s Presbyterian), but came as a representative of Faithful Security: The National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Danger. This organization was formed by the late William Sloan Coffin in 2005 as an interfaith organization working to harness the moral power of faith communities against the resurgent danger of nuclear weapons, which most people had assumed had retreated after the Cold War. Jessica is the coordinator for Faithful Security. She comes from an evangelical background, but is eager to work with as many different faith communities as possible, knowing that the nuclear danger cannot be addressed with strictly legal and treaty language, but must have the spiritual and moral resources of the faith communities in order to defeat this threat.

The list of impressive young Baptist peacemakers goes on: Johnny Almond, Minister of Music @ FBC Mt. Gilead, NC and Communications Director @ BPFNA; Lydia, Jerene, and Naomi Broadway of Durham, NC; Dee Dee Dikitanan of Oakland, CA; Justin Gall of Oberlin, OH; Trey Lincoln of Mount Gilead, NC and so many others– far too many to mention, let this middle aged activist-theologian know that faith-based peace and justice activism, and the BPFNA in particular, is in good hands. Considering the news this week, that’s very good to know!

July 15, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, peacemaking, young people | Comments Off on We’re in Good Hands: Young Leaders of BPFNA

Peacecamp podcasts available

Since I still have no real idea what an i-pod does or what a podcast is, this info. is useless to me. However, for those who are more technical and would like to receive free podcasts of the summer conference (peace camp) of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, contact Thom Butler thom@mercreate.com Thom also has price lists for many audiotaped sessions and a highlights video. He has worked hard to create these for us. Thom has been living in San Francisco for a year, but is one of the many displaced persons from New Orleans who lost just about everything. (Which reminds me to say something about the Churches Supporting Churches program to help rebuild New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast on the next update.)

July 15, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Peacecamp podcasts available

Home From Peace Camp

Well, we’re home! My experiment in long-distance blogging was a partial success. The biggest problem was finding time to update! My daughters both said that “Peace Camp rocks!” (and this, by them, is a good thing) and, in addition to making friends from around the world, they learned strategies to address bullying at school without violence, learned more about the differences between “free trade” and fair trade (and made Fair Trade brownies and are now looking for Fair Trade logos on chocolate!), better recycling habits, and more. They both got to participate in liturgical dance during Friday’s a.m. worship and can’t wait for next year.

Of course, Miriam, about to turn 7, has so adopted Rabbi Lynne Gottlieb (whose Hebrew name is Miriam) as her new hero, that she no longer wants to be a Medical Doctor, but a rabbi and is asking how we can get her Hebrew lessons! (This has Rabbi Gottlieb very amused, btw.) When my oldest, Molly (about to turn 11), taunted her sister that she couldn’t be a rabbi because she’s not Jewish, Miriam’s reply was, “Well, I believe in God and the 10 Commandments. Jesus was Jewish and I love Jesus, so why am I not Jewish?” I dodged the question (but it reinforced my Baptist convictions against infant baptism and child evangelism!), told her sister to leave her alone, and said that one could learn Hebrew for many reasons. I, a Christian theologian, have certainly been influenced by many Jewish scholars, including Martin Buber, R. Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi Michael Lerner (meeting him this peace camp was a real treat!), Rabbi Susannah Heschel, Marc Ellis, Rabbi Pinchas Lapide (whose work on the Jewish background to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is fantastic!), Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Centre, and Rabbi Gottlieb, too, I assured Miriam. I’m not really worried that my youngest daughter will convert to Judaism as she gets older (always a possibility, I suppose–one of the risks of believing in liberty of conscience and not confusing education with rote indoctrination), because much of her fascination is their sharing a name and R. Lynne’s taking time to work with young children. I do wonder if Miriam meets a feminist Muslim peacemaker named Maryam if she’ll want to learn Arabic and announce a desire to become a Muslim cleric! ūüôā

I began every day at peace camp at 7 a.m. as part of the contemplation circle who practiced breathing meditation for 30 minutes. We are led by John Malcomsen (3rd year now) from Seattle FBC, who went to a Quaker high school and then has spent time in a Buddhist monastery and considers himself a “Baptist Buddhist.” I could never say that about myself since it sounds too syncretistic, but Buddhist meditation techniques did help me reclaim Christian mysticism and contemplative prayer several years ago during a personal “dark night of the soul.” I feel free in Christ to practice breathing meditation or walking meditation because these practices do not come with any commitment to Buddhist metaphysics, Zen or otherwise. Others in our group had contemplative practices drawn from Christian monastic practices (Catholic or Orthodox) or Quaker “listening prayer” forms of silent meditation, etc. I am, by nature, very activist and very academic. Contemplative practices help me to approach peace and justice activism from a center that (hopefully) is moving toward inner peace–avoiding the trap of hating enemies and becoming that which we hate. Even though only about 10 people (out of over 300 at peace camp) joined us each day, I think it was very helpful to me in tackling the long days of peace camp.

Tomorrow, I will tell about our morning theology discussions with Dr. Peter Paris, recently retired from Princeton Seminary, an African-Canadian and naturalized U.S. citizen and a brilliant ethicist. I also want to talk about the young leaders in the youth and young adults and some more of the fascinating people I met.

I know some people (including D.R.) are waiting for me to get back to my posts on liberty of conscience and cover some questions to which I have yet to get, but please be patient. And, if you aren’t interested in these posts, tell others who might be about them–it’s pretty discouraging to blog about a wide range of faith-based justice and peace concerns and to have comments almost exclusively only when I wrote about the religious liberty dimensions of the abortion debate!!

July 15, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, peacemaking | Comments Off on Home From Peace Camp