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

Peace Blogger Interview #9: Daniel Schweissing, pt.II

danheadshot.jpgMLW-W: Switching gears, do you have (a) military experience? (b) experience in nonviolent struggle? (c) experience in conflict resolution/transformation practices?  Describe your experiences with any or all of these. 

Daniel: No military experience, much to the chagrin of the recruiters who used to come to my high school.  🙂  My friends from the cross-country and track team and I used to run every day after school, rain or shine, whether practice was officially scheduled or not.  The recruiters would often be loading their materials into their car at the end of the school day when they’d see us come running through the parking lot as we began our daily workout.  We never talked to them, but you could just see the looks of envy as they watched us go by.  It was as if there was an invisible sign over their heads that said, “We want YOU to join the army.”  But we never did!

     As a college student, I was involved in some of the anti-war efforts on our campus during the First Gulf War in 1991.  Earlier in my studies, my history professor Tom Eckenrode had recruited me to represent our school as a delegate to the Model League of Arab States (MLAS), which is sponsored by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations in Washington, D.C.  During the three years that I participated in this program, my classmates and I became thoroughly acquainted with the history and politics of the Middle East, dialogued with numerous leaders from Arab countries, and acquired hands on practice with the diplomatic tools of conflict-resolution.  So when the Gulf War began, several of us who had been involved in the MLAS were well-positioned to take leadership in the campus anti-war effort.

    Shortly after graduating from college, I went overseas as a volunteer missionary and that was pretty much the end of my active involvement in peacemaking until very recently.  During our recent home assignment in the States, I was able to participate in some anti-war demonstrations in Denver, the first time that I had done anything of that nature in nearly fifteen years. 

     About a year ago, my wife and I recently completed instructor training for Christian PREP, which is a conflict resolution program for married couples.  Recently, we have begun offering some workshops based on this material at Emmaus Baptist Church and, so far, have had a good response.  In the future, we hope to share this material with other congregations affiliated with our national partner here in the Bahamas.  After reading Dan Buttry’s book Peace Ministry a few years ago, I realized that peacemaking needs to be practiced at home and in our churches as well as in society-at-large and this seems to be a good starting point for peacemaking in our current ministry context.

 MLW-W:  Do you consider yourself a pacifist? If so, say something about how you see nonviolence (or nonresistance) and its connections to the gospel.  Were you raised a Christian pacifist or did you convert to this view and, if the latter, tell us something of how that came about? 

Daniel: Assuming that there is a continuum of viewpoints between Just War Theory and pacifism, then I definitely lean more towards pacifism.  Though, I rarely use that term to describe myself. 

        My grandfather immigrated from Germany to the U.S. with his family when he was ten years-old.  During World War II, he joined the U.S. Army and went back to Germany as a military chaplain, though no family member since him has followed in his footsteps.  When I was growing up, we were all very proud of him and his military service.  Yet at the same time, as I grew older and became better acquainted with U.S. history—both through formal study and hearing stories from teachers and relatives—I became fascinated by two major aspects of the 1960s counter-culture:  (1) the organized resistance to the Vietnam War and (2) the Civil Rights Movement spearheaded by Martin Luther King, Jr.  This eventually led me to do some in-depth research on Thoreau, Ghandi, and MLK for an essay on civil disobedience in one of my high school English classes.  By the time I graduated from high school, I was probably an adherent to JWT  (though, I had no idea that’s what it was called until I went to seminary) but, at the same time, was very sympathetic to nonviolent struggle as a viable means to bring about change in the world.  Since then, my views have basically continued to develop along those lines through college and well into adulthood.

      Following 9/11 and the subsequent military escalation in the U.S., I began to revisit these issues.  Eventually, I came to the realization that JWT, while it sounds great on paper, is actually nearly impossible to adhere to in practice.  During my lifetime, there had been no just wars (at least none fought by the U.S.) and it didn’t seem as if any wars in the foreseeable future would fit that criteria either.  About the same time, I became acquainted with Glen H. Stassen’s work in just peacemaking theory.  For me, that was a crucial turning point as it allowed me to set aside the debate on JWT versus pacifism and focus my attention, instead, on the practical aspects of moving forward on peacemaking.  So am I a pacifist?  Probably so, though I am normally more inclined to refer to myself as simply “a peacemaker.”

 MLW-W:  As you know, fellow Baptist, in our tradition, missionaries have often been involved in oppressive, imperialist projects.  But other missionaries (or sometimes even the same ones) have often become the most radical workers for peace and justice out of their encounter with God in new contexts among people very different from themselves.  Has the ambiguity, the blessing and curse, of this missionary tradition impacted your faith and work? 

   Daniel: Well let’s just say that when some twenty-second century historian evaluates the legacy of my ministry, I hope that something positive will be said regarding my efforts for peace and justice.  That being said, I think that regardless of how culturally-sensitive we try to be and how peace and justice oriented we become, the reality is that we all have blind spots and—in spite of our best efforts—American missionaries continue to do and say stupid things that reflect the fact that we are citizens of the Empire.  In that regard, I have no doubt that an honest historian will be compelled to point out numerous ways in which my ministry might reflect such negative influence. In regards to how the legacy of imperialism impacts my work, I should point out that late twentieth and early twenty-first century missiology is significantly different than its nineteenth century counterpart.  (Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that there still aren’t a lot of mission agencies out there operating under a nineteenth century paradigm; but that’s another story.)  However, this type of strategy generally works better in the textbooks than it does in real life.  One of the biggest problems that I believe many missionaries face today is that we are trying to operate under a culturally-sensitive, non-imperialistic missiological strategy yet we typically find ourselves working with national churches and leaders that have been influenced by the legacy of one or two-hundred years of imperialistic, colonial-style missions.  This creates a situation that often puts us at odds with national leaders who are expecting handouts and services while we seek to empower national churches to utilize local resources, train their own members, and carry out their own ministries. 

MLW-W:  What led you to join Christian Peace Bloggers?  Since joining have you blogged any posts on peacemaking?  Have they gotten any feedback from readers? 

Daniel: As a missionary who has spent most of my adult life living outside of the United States, I have noticed that that the peace and justice movement in the U.S. often tends to be a largely white, middle-class, and sometimes paternalistic and ethnocentric movement.  I don’t mean that in a judgmental way as I recognize that we all have our blind spots when it comes to ignorance and prejudice and, even after years of living overseas, I still struggle with my own.  But with that in mind, one of my objectives in blogging is to serve as a “cultural broker” between my own culture and the cultures where I live and work, helping to shed a little bit of light on what goes on in other countries and cultures outside of the U.S.  If I succeed in doing that, then hopefully those efforts will help all of us to be a bit more sensitive to the cultural realities of other countries as we go about the task of peacemaking. 

    Much of my blogging, so far, has focused on justice issues that are unique to the Caribbean.  Following the release of the movie Amazing Grace for example, I did a post on the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade in the Bahamas and the Caribbean, noting that this has been largely overlooked by those who are using the Wilberforce legacy to raise awareness about things such as human trafficking, child labor, and prostitution in mostly non-British Caribbean countries.  While those efforts are certainly commendable (and I hope that the movie was successful in generating support for them), I think something is wrong when we totally ignore the plight of the descendents of those whom the abolition of the slave trade was originally intended to benefit.  In any case, I think these types of issues are crucial to understand if we wish to pursue peacemaking in the Caribbean.

          The Mexican-American theologian Virgilio Elizondo says that, “Actions speak louder than words, and prophetic actions speak louder than prophetic words.”  With that in mind, I am using my blog to chronicle the efforts of the Bahamas Human Rights Network as we seek to address local Haitian rights issues.  I’m currently in the process of blogging on incarnational ministry which I believe is a prerequisite to successful ministry in a variety of areas, including peacemaking.  And of course, as my wife and I continue to offer Christian PREP training, I hope to document those efforts as well.

 MLW-W:  Do you read any of the other blogs in the blog-ring? Which ones do you like and why?  Have you alerted any readers to your blog about these blogs (or specific posts on them) which you like? 

Daniel: Apart from Levellers and Earth as it is in Heaven, both of which I read regularly, I haven’t had a lot of time to check out the other blogs.  I’m discovering that one of the disadvantages to owning and maintaining a blog is that it takes away from the time I might otherwise have to read what others are saying.  Right now, I’m making it a point to read each interview that appears in this space and then check out the blog after I’ve had a chance to become acquainted with the blogger.  Hopefully, by the time the series is over I’ll have identified a handful of blogs that I feel inspired to read on a regular basis.  While all of the blogger profiles and blogs to date have been quite interesting, I’d have to say that I found Parables and God in a Shrinking Universe to be the most compelling.

 MLW-W:  Outside of blogging, do you participate in any other peace-related activities or organizations? If so, tell us about them. 

Daniel: I try to regularly attend the Summer Conference of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, which was first recommended to me by my colleague Dan Buttry.  I have found this to be an invaluable venue for networking and support.  My first year, for example, Mike Broadway encouraged me to check out John Perkins’ writings on Christian Community Development, which is now a central focus of my teaching and ministry strategy here in Nassau.  More recently, my wife and I were invited by a local Bahamian pastor to get involved in the newly-founded Bahamas Human Rights Network, which beginning to do some cutting edge work on Haitian rights issues.

 MLW-W:  I have followed closely your involvement in the newly-founded Bahamas Human Rights Network (BHRN).  Has there been much church participation? I ask because I have heard you complain that much “pie-in-the-sky” type theology has been exported to the Caribbean from North America, especially via TV evangelists, and I wondered if that led churches to shy away from something like strong human rights work.

Daniel: A local pastor who helped to found BHRN has basically said that most churches in the Bahamas are silent when it comes to human rights issues or, if they have something to say, they’re usually on the wrong side.  With few exceptions, the majority of our members seem to be non-religious.  This is unfortunate because the Baptist churches in this country have a very rich legacy of black radicalism that paralleled and interacted with the U.S. Civil Rights Movement back in the 1960s and helped to usher in Black Majority Rule (1967) and Bahamian Independence (1973).  Recovery of this tradition would go a long way, I think, towards countering the negative impact of U.S.-style prosperity theology.

 MLW-W:  Does your local congregation take peace issues seriously? Give us some example, if “yes.” If “no,” what could you do to raise awareness about this in your local congregation? 

Daniel: We are currently involved in Emmaus Baptist Church, a Haitian immigrant congregation here in Nassau.  Our pastor and fellow church members do not really have the leisure to think about peacemaking and what that entails.  They are just struggling to feed their families, find jobs, avoid getting picked up by immigration, and send something back to Haiti—all in the midst of a severe racial discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiments.  One way that my wife and I hope to address peace and justice issues in this context is (1) by offering Christian PREP workshops—which I just explained earlier, (2) by encouraging involvement in the Bahamas Human Rights Network, and (3) via my wife’s current efforts to provide educational and economic development opportunities to Haitian women and youth.

 MLW-W:  What about your denomination or your church’s wider connections to the Church Universal?  Are peace issues a part of those non-local/denominational connections? 

Daniel: The American Baptist Churches and International Ministries cooperate in a variety of ecumenical and interdenominational efforts, both at home and abroad, in addition to maintaining longstanding partnerships with Baptist churches around the world.  As a missionary, I am especially proud of our Go Global Strategic Plan, a holistic approach to ministry that integrates the best traditions of our Evangelical and Baptist heritage with cutting edge missiology.  Within the framework of that strategy, IM and its missionaries are carrying out a number of strategic peace and justice initiatives around the world.

 MLW-W: You have already answered this somewhat, but to what extent have you travelled outside your home nation? How well do you stay informed with global events? 

Daniel: I have traveled and/or lived in New Zealand, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Quebec.  I don’t really keep up with global events as well as I would like.  Obviously, I keep up with the major headline news, internationally and in the Bahamas, but I don’t always have time to dig deeper or go out of my way to follow the many important things that don’t often make the front pages.  Another source of news is what I hear—informally or through missionary newsletters and IM press releases—regarding news and developments that impact our national partners around the world, which are often things that rarely get much, if any, attention in the mainstream media.

 MLW-W: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? 

Daniel: Yes, for those readers who are interested in being more intentional about looking at the world from a non-U.S. perspective, I would encourage them to check out Global Perspectives, which was started by me and Mayra Giovanetti—a missionary colleague serving in Chile.  Basically, it is a blog that will be co-authored by us and four other American Baptist missionaries that seeks to share our unique cross-cultural perspective on theology, mission, and world events with a broader audience than those who would normally read our monthly newsletters.

 MLW-W: Daniel, thanks for an informative and challenging interview.

July 4, 2007 - Posted by | blog-ring, peacemaking

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