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

Americans Approve of Diplomacy with Enemies

Jesus commanded his followers to talk with their enemies.  The Torah commands that one help an enemy’s ox stuck in a ditch.  And such political realists as FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, Nixon, Reagan, etc. all talked to enemies of the nation.  Now, the latest Gallup poll shows that most Americans (including 79% of Democrats, 70% of Independents and even 48% of Republicans) favor U.S. presidents engaging national enemies in direct diplomacy.

I wonder how McCain’s “talk is appeasment, especially when done by Democrats, but lobbying for enemies is okay if done by Republicans” line will spin this latest evidence that he is completely out of touch with the American people?

June 3, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Americans Approve of Diplomacy with Enemies

Presidential Dictatorship?

 The news has been full of McCain’s lobbyist-campaign workers and their ties to dictatorships, including Iran. (Talking with Iran is “appeasement” if you are Sen. Obama, but in McCain’s world, lobbying for Iran with the U.S. Congress is apparently just fine!) But, today, we find that a brand new McCain aide, Michael Goldfarb, believes the Constitution gives the U.S. President “near dictatorial powers” in foreign policy.

Haven’t we just had 8 years of this terrible, misguided, illegal thinking?  There are movements in the American Bar Association to strip such Bush people as Alberto Gonzalez of their licenses to practice law for just such views–turned into policy by the Bushies.  This is a VERY GOOD REASON to support a presidential candidate who believes in the Constitution, and has taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago. 

Bill Moyers recently warned that democracy in the U.S. has been a history of narrow escapes and that our luck may be running out.  All those who don’t want a presidential dictator should, AT THE VERY LEAST, demand that McCain fire Goldfarb and repudiate his views–and then decide carefully whether to trust McCain’s word.

June 3, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Presidential Dictatorship?


I promised some while back to provide more details on the FOURTH (4TH) GLOBAL BAPTIST PEACE CONFERENCE, to be held 16-21 February 2009 in Rome, Italy.  Previous Global Baptist Peace Conferences were held in Sweden (1988), Nicaragua (1992), and Australia (2000).

The conference website, where one can see the full schedule and register, etc., is here. [UPDATE: Since I first published this advertisement for the 2009 Global Baptist Peace Conference, I have been flooded with emails and comments from people around the world who want to attend and think I can help them. Please, use the link to the conference website and address all inquiries about registration, application for scholarships, etc. to them.  I have no ability to help you and your emails, etc. are only clogging my inbox and keeping you from getting the assistance you really need to get to the conference. I hope this is now clear. I have no connection with the planners of the conference and can’t even afford to go myself. I am just advertising it as a public service.]

Current Sponsors of the Conference (in alphabetical order) are:

The Alliance of Baptists, which is the small denomination of progressive, peace & justice oriented, Baptists to which I and my congregation belong.

The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the grassroots, membership-based organization of Baptist peacemakers throughout Canada, the U.S.A., Puerto Rico, Mexico and with contacts in Cuba. 

The Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, which is the major Baptist denomination in Republic of Georgia (of the former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States)–not related to the U.S. state known as Georgia. 

(The Dept. of) International Ministries, American Baptist Churches, USA.  This is the global mission agency of the American Baptists, formerly the “Northern Baptist Convention,” and, before the Southern Baptist Convention broke away to defend slavery in 1845, the major denomination of most Baptists in the U.S. organized as a Trienniel Convention. 

Unione Cristiana Evangelica Battista D’Italia or the Union of Baptist Evangelical Christians of Italy, our host denomination. I should add that outside North America (and, to a lesser extent, the UK and Australia), “evangelical” roughly means “Protestant,” so neither the Georgian Baptists nor the Italian Baptists are using their denominational names to contrast “evangelical Christians” with “liberal Christians” or some such thing. That is mostly a North American phenomenon.

The conference will consist of six days including intensive training in conflict transformation, nonviolent prophetic action, and other relevant topics, inspiring speakers, workshops, and worship. There also will be optional opportunities to tour Rome and the surrounding area on Friday culminating in a magnificent time of worship in the Waldensian church. (Waldensians were/are Pre-Reformation Protestants who began in the Middle Ages. They have much in common with Baptists and with Anabaptists such as Mennonites. In Catholic-dominated Italy, Waldensians and Baptists use the same seminary.)

Plenary Speakers and Preachers include:

 Dr. Anna May Say Pa, of Burma/Myanmar. One of the most important Baptist voices in Asia, Dr. Say Pa was Principal of the Myanmar Institute of Theology until her retirement in 2006. She also was Professor of Old Testament and Feminist Theology at the same institution. Currently, she is on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. She is a longtime friend and confident of the imprisoned Aun San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma/Myanmar’s movement for democracy and human rights and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Dr. Say Pa has herself been an advocate for peace and human rights throughout her career–in the difficult circumstances of living and working in a military dictatorship.

 Dr. Gustavo Parajon (whom I’ve met–shameless namedropper that I am), is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Managua, Nicaragua. A medical doctor, he founded a network of rural health clinics throughout Nicaragua.  He also founded CEPAD, the ecumenical relief and development agency in Nicaragua.  He was a key mediator in ending Nicaragua’s civil war and part of the reconciliation process after the end of the war. (I remember his pleading with Baptists in the U.S. to stop the Reagan policies of support for the Contra terrorists, but, at least SOUTHERN Baptists, of which I was then a part, chose to believe the Reagan government’s lies rather than the testimony of a brother in Christ. It was disgusting.) The American Baptist Churches, USA has honored Dr. Parajon with a Dahlberg Peace Award and the Baptist World Alliance has honored him with a Human Rights Award.

Anna Maffei of Italy is a convert to Baptist Christianity from Catholicism. She has held several posts in the Baptist Union of Italy and in the European Baptist Federation. A peace activist, she has worked through Baptist and ecumenical circles against apartheid in South Africa, human trafficking, against the enlargement of naval bases in Italy, for peace in the former Yugoslavia, and worked to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. She has been a mediator in Palestine-Israel.

Rev. Ken Sehested, is currently co-pastor of Circle of Mercy (together with his wife, Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested, and Rev. Joyce Hollyday), a congregation in Asheville, NC that is linked to both the Alliance of Baptists and the United Church of Christ. He was the founding Executive Director of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America for 18 years.  A primary organizer of the first 3 global Baptist peace conferences, Sehested is an author, a poet, and a recipient of the Dahlberg Peace Award.  In 2003, Ken was one of the last U.S. American civilians in Iraq before the invasion as part of an ecumenical team of nonviolent activists who voluntarily became “human shields,” standing with the Iraqi civilians in Baghdad against the “shock and awe” of U.S. bombs.  By word and deed in countless ways, Sehested has been a consistent voice for Jesus’ way of nonviolence, simplicity, justice, and peacemaking.

Storytellers for the conference include:

Dr. Joao Matwawana of Angola and Canada.

 C. H. Chiromo of Zimbabwe

Norman Kemper of the United Kingdom (who was one of the members of the Christian Peacemaker Team that went to Iraq and was captured by insurgents), a longtime pacifist, member of the British Baptist Peace Fellowship and the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the U.K. branch of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Dr. Martin Accad of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon, who, trapped in the U.S. during a speaking tour in 2006 when Israel and Hezbollah went to war (with average Lebanese caught in the Middle) wrote challenging articles in Christianity Today and elsewhere that took issue with the typical U.S. “Christian” support for the war–or the assumption that all of the wrongdoing was on the part of Hezbollah.  Dr. Accad and Lebanese Baptists have been a major force for peace throughout Lebanon and the Middle East.

Rev. Karen Thomas Smith, regularly a guest-preacher at my congregation, is a chaplain for Christians at a university in Morocco built for Christian-Muslim-Jewish dialogue and reconciliation.  She is also a minister to local Protestant churches in Morocco and the Protestant representative to the Morocco Council of Churches.  Along with her family, Rev. Smith engages in face-to-face Christian peacemaking in a Muslim-majority country.

Archbishop Malkhaz Songashvili (yes, Baptists in Russia and some of the former Soviet Republics have bishops!) is the titular head of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia.  A major voice in Eastern Europe and Central Asia for nonviolence and human rights, Archbishop Songashili played a major part in the nonviolent Rose Revolution which brought democracy to Georgia.  He is currently working on strengthening that young and fragile democracy, interfaith peacebuilding, and working for nonviolent responses to the persecution of Baptists and other Protestants by radical extremists in the Orthodox Church of Georgia.

Training Seminars:

Restorative Justice (as opposed to retributive justice) led by Marinetta Cannito of Italy.

Nonviolent Struggle led by Daniel Hunter (U.S.A., a young man who grew up in the BPFNA and is now a leading nonviolent activist, community organizer, and teacher) and Achum Longchari, a nonviolent activist in Nagaland, India. (The Naga people, which are over 90% Christian, unlike the rest of India, were promised independence when India broke from the U.K. They have never gotten that promise and there has been repeated civil war.)

Biblically-based Conflict Resolution, led by Rev. Dan Buttry, peace author and longtime American Baptist minister and missionary.  Currently, Global Consultant for Peace and Justice, International Ministries, American Baptist Churches, USA.

Development Assistance and Humanitarian Aid in Conflict, led by Daniela Rapisarda, Coordinator of the Norwegian Ecumenical Peace Platform of the Christian Council of Norway.

Building a Theology of Peace, led by Rev. Dr. Paul Fiddes, Principal of Regents’ Park College, Oxford University.  Dr. Fiddes is one of the most important Baptist theologians currently writing in English. Principal of one of the major Baptist seminaries in the UK and part of the Oxford Theology Faculty, Dr. Fiddes is also the author or co-author of 11 books.

Intercultural Conflict and Peacebuilding, led by Barry Higgins, an Australian Baptist currently living in Phenom Penh, Cambodia where he is the founding director of Peace Bridges.


Conference planners are raising scholarships (and you can donate to these scholarships online, especially if you cannot go to Italy in February yourself) to bring as many people from the poorer parts of the world (broadly, the “Global South” or what was once called the “Third World”) to the conference as possible.  Help bring people like the following to this important conference:

Wati and Alongla Aier founded the Oriental Theological Seminary, the primary theological institution among the Nagas in northeast India. Despite repeated death threats, Wati has played a major role as a Naga mediator seeking to bring peace to the wars between the Nagas and India and between the various Naga factions. Alongla has exercised her leadership in empowerment of marginalized women.

Tibebu Alemayehu founded a movement in North America of Ethiopians and Eritreans for reconciliation while their homelands were at war and helped the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia organize peace-building training.

Ayuba Mallam Ashafa is from Kaduna, the epicenter of bloody clashes between Christian and Muslim communities in Northern Nigeria. He is the founder and director of Justice and Peace Makers, a movement of Christians and Muslims seeking to build bridges and hammer out inter-communal and inter-religious reconciliation.

Raimundo Baretto, Baptist pastor in Salvador, Brazil, founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center which seeks to address justice and peace issues in the Brazilian context.

Jimmy Diggs, a pastor in Liberia, was a founder and coordinator for the Liberian Baptist Peace Fellowship. During the civil war in 2003 he worked on peace initiatives between the warring factions even though his own home had been severely damaged and he and his family were internally displaced.

Sharon Rose Joy-Ruiz Durmendes has been a leading activist for peace and human rights for many years in the Philippines. A member of the Peace Committee for the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, she has organized numerous peace-building tranings and wrote a peace curriculum for children and youth

Rusudan Gotsiridze,an ordained Baptist clergywoman from the Republic of Georgia, serves on the staff of the Central Baptist Church, also known as Cathedral Church. She is a staff member of the International Center for Conflict and Negotiation, with a particular focus on gender justice issues.

Mar Gay Gyi is a Karen Baptist leader from Burma (Myanmar). Formerly the General Secretary of the Myanmar Baptist Churches, he has been working on mediation efforts between the Burmese military government and the Karen National Union.

Nicholas Haddad, a recent seminary graduate, focuses his ministry of the conflicts between Christians and Muslims in his native Lebanon.

Maung Maung Htwe is a professor of Christian Social Ethics at the Pow Karen Baptist Theological Seminary in Yangon, Myanmar. His liberationist biblical vision inspires a variety of efforts to resistance his country’s oppressive dictatorship.

Solomon Kampbell, General Secretary of the Baptist Convention of Sierra Leone, sponsored conflict transformation training following the civil war in his country and plans to devote his career to facilitating peace-building programs in Africa.

Nino Khutsishvili is part of an interreligious community organization working under the International Center for Conflict and Negotiation in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Elmer Lavastida, from Santiago, Cuba, and was a participant in the 1988 conference in Sweden and along with his wife at the 1992 conference in Nicaragua. He has been a leading Cuban Baptist peacemaker for many years.

Ko Ko Lay is a professor of Systematic Theology at the Pow Karen Baptist Theological Seminary in Yangon, Myanmar. His liberationist biblical vision inspires a variety of efforts to resistance his country’s oppressive dictatorship

Feraz Legita directs the Development Ministries for the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, which includes peace-building programs. Organizer of peace trainings throughout the southern Philippines, she was a founding members of the Asian Baptist Peace Network.

Kari Longchar has become a key leader for peace and reconciliation among the Nagas in Northeast India. He is the staff person directing the Peace and Reconciliation Program for the Nagaland Baptist Church Council. He played a major role in the middle of a communal riot in Dimapur protecting people and saving lives.

Akum Longchari is a young Naga activist and journalist. He was with the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights until he became the founding co-publisher and editor of the Morung Times, a daily newspaper in Nagaland. He was a leader in shaping the “Journey of Conscience” nonviolent campaign for peace by Naga civil society groups.

Pablo Moreno, president of the Baptist Theological Seminary in Cali, Colombia, has a passion for theological education directed toward a vision of peace and human rights.

Go Van Mung is a lecturer in Christian Ethics at the Myanmar Institute for Theology and a faculty member for the Peace Studies Center at MIT.

Ja Nan, a Kachin Baptist woman from Burma (Myanmar) who graduated with a Masters Degree in Conflict Transformation from Eastern Mennonite University, is the program director for the Shalom Foundation organized by her father Rev. Saboi Jum. Shalom is the only peace institute in Burma.

Felicien Nemeyimana is a Rwandan Baptist living in Nairobi, Kenya where he founded the Peace-Building, Healing and Reconciliation Programme. In the Rwanda workshop he brought together the Baptist unions who had been deeply divided to participate together in the training, which led to the formation of the African Baptist Peace Network.

Stephen Ouma Otieno has been active in community transformation areas in an areas of Nairobi, Kenya, hard hit by political, ethnic and criminal violence.

Asher Quimson is a young Filipino Baptist seminary student who has been an activist in Bread Not Bombs in the Philippines, where he has been a leader in direct action campaigns for peace.

Naw Kanyaw Paw is the programs facilitator for Hope International Development Agency in Yangon, Myanmar. She is on the Committee for the MIT Peace Studies Center. She has also been working on some of the mediation between the Karen insurgents and the Myanmar military government.

Nang Raw, a young Kachin Baptist woman from Burma (Myanmar) who coordinates the Yangon office for the Shalom Foundation, has conducted many workshops on conflict transformation.

Fyodor Raychynets is a young Ukrainian Baptist pastor who served a number of years as a missionary in Bosnia. He is a sharp theologian and ethicist, often working in academic contexts to teach peacemaking. In Bosnia he was heavily involved in inter-religious dialogue and relationship-building.

Victor Rembeth is the former General Secretary of the Indonesian Baptist Union. He currently is Associate Director for YTB Indonesia, the Indonesian ecumenical relief agency that relates to Church World Service. Victor was active in pro-democracy efforts and has been a leading figure in interfaith dialogues.

Mario Rivas, Bolivian Baptist liberation theologian and advocate for indigenous rights, was sent into exile for 12 years by Bolivian military dictators.

Luis Rivera-Pagan, a leading academic/activist from Puerto Rico, is author of A Violent Evangelism, a landmark look at the religious dimensions of the conquest of the Americas. 

Jerjes Ruiz is the Dean of the School of Theology at the Baptist Polytechnic University of Nicaragua and a leader among Nicaraguan Baptists’ historic role in working for a just settlement of the country’s long-standing political trauma.

Gina Shangkham coordinates the Naga Women’s Union, Manipur, and has been a long-standing voice for peace and an activist for women’s rights amid the highly volatile and violent area of northeast India, including leadership for the “Journey of Conscience” nonviolent campaign by civil society groups for justice and peace for the Naga people.

Tirtha Thapa is a leader in the Christian church in Nepal which has no denominations, but he works closely with Baptist missionaries. Director of a Christian health and development agency, he played a very risky intermediary role between the government of Nepal and Maoist rebels that helped bring about the peace agreement.

Wado is a young Karen refugee from Burma (Myanmar). He lives in the Mae La Refugee Camp at the Thai-Burma border. He is on the faculty of the Bible School at the camp run by BWA Human Rights Award recipient Rev. Simon. Wado has conducted various peace workshops among the Karen communities on both sides of the border.

Augustine Yeahger is the leader of the Liberian Native Baptist Convention, a convention made up of indigenous churches as a justice movement in the face of the dominance and prejudice of the Americo-Liberians, descendants of the freed slaves who established the state of Liberia and maintained power until 1980.

Maung Maung Yin is the founder and director of the Peace Studies Center at the Myanmar Institute of Theology just outside of Yangon, Myanmar. He has been a leader in bringing peace studies into the Baptist academic community in Myanmar and in providing ways to reach out to the larger church community through the Peace Studies Center.

Socratez Sofyan Yoman is the President of the Fellowship of Baptist Churches of West Papua, a region currently under Indonesian rule. He has been a voice for human rights in Papua, traveling internationally to share the story of the Papuan struggle and develop support for human rights and self-determination of the Papuan people.


I doubt I can go to Rome for this conference (much as I want to), so I will also try to contribute to the scholarship fund.  I hope you and your congregation will support the conference in prayer and with contributions. Also, try to send one person as a representative and have them bring back pictures and reports.  Here is a major way to be a concrete, Christian voice for peace and justice in the world.

June 3, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, human rights., peace | 15 Comments