Levellers

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

A Guide to Grassroots Peace & Justice Groups

Suppose one of your New Year’s resolutions is to become more active in peacemaking–the kind that includes work for justice, equality, and human rights as the positive basis for any long and durable peace. (I have never considered hiding injustice or cheap reconciliations to be true peacemaking, but “healing wounds lightly.” See Jer. 6:14.)  Congratulations! Both the world and your own neighborhoods are in great need of more peacemakers.  So, where do you sign up? It is important that you join a peace group whose methods and approach fit your basic convictions–and which can use your particular skills (or stretch you to find new ones).  Here is a guide to some of the most well-known peace and justice groups–especially in the U.S. (I include international groups with chapters in other nations, when known, but peace and justice groups that are less well known outside their own nation are not included here. However, my readers from around the globe are invited to send organizational names, descriptions and websites here and I’ll include them in a separate post.)

I. Faith-Based Grassroots Peace Groups.  Many people are motivated to work for peace by their religious convictions. Most, if not all, of the world religions have strands or dimensions which support such work–some more than others–even if their followers do not reflect this, fully.  My own peacemaking work grew directly out of my second conversion in 1983 to a deeper Christian faith–realizing that Jesus wants his followers to embody his own nonviolence. I became a conscientious objector and left the U.S. army–and several months later found myself on the first of two trips to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace–as an unarmed presence in a war zone trying to stop a planned invasion by my own country. 

A. Christian Peace Groups.  Many evangelical and conservative Christians may become convinced that following Jesus means working for peace with justice–but hesitate to join ecumenical or interfaith or secular peace groups which have an alien feel to them.  They may have been raised to visualize a “peace activist” as a dope-smoking hippy, a radical anarchist wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt, or an Ivy-League educated member of a secular elite who look down on conservative Christians.  Images and stereotypes (not all of which are completely false) such as these hinder such Christians from acting on their desires to full disciples of the nonviolent Jesus.  I suspect that similar stereotypes exist for other persons of faith.  So, it may be best to see if one’s denomination or theological tradition has a peace fellowship with local chapters which one can join.  Here are some of the ones known to me with brief descriptions. 

  • Adventist Peace FellowshipLike many Christian denominations, Seventh-Day Adventists, began as a pacifist tradition–an emphasis that was later lost.  This group is attempting to reclaim that heritage. It also notes that the theology of Dispensationalism, of which Adventists are a part, originally led to anti-militarism and, at least an inclination toward pacifism. But Dispensationalism has been captured by Christian Zionism and hyper-militarism and Adventists have not escaped this overthrow.  So, the APF is a resistance and recovery movement–seeking to change the theology and preaching of local churches toward a more authentic form of the gospel (and a more authentic version of the original Adventist spirit) as well as to create and support frontline peacemakers and nonviolent activists.  See also, Adventist Women for Peace.   I had thought that there was a U.K. sister organization, but I can no longer find this on the web.
  • American Friends Service Committee.  This is a Quaker-based organization that includes people of various faiths committed to social justice, human rights, peacemaking, and humanitarian service.  The AFSC is guided by the Quaker (Religious Society of Friends) belief in the equal worth of every person and in the faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.  Founded by Quakers in 1917 to support conscientious objectors and to aid civilian war victims, in 1947 the AFSC (along with its now-defunct British sister organization, the British Friends Service Council) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The British Friends Service Council has evolved into Quaker Peace and Social Witness (U.K.).There is also a Canadian Friends Service Committee.  Related global organizations include: Quaker Peace and Service Aotearoa, New Zealand; Quaker Peace Service Australia (email: quakersa@southcom.com.au ); Quaker Peace Centre, Capetown, South Africa.
  • Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America I have belonged to the BPFNA since 1986, only 2 years after it was founded, and I must say honestly that there have been times that the BPFNA was the only way the Holy Spirit was keeping me in the Baptist tradition!  A Baptist Pacifist Fellowship was founded during WWI and by 1940 it had become the Baptist Peace Fellowship–but it was active ONLY among Northern/American Baptists. In 1984, at a meeting in Deer Park Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, members of the Baptist Peace Fellowship (American Baptists) met with Southern Baptists who were involved in various peace efforts–and attempted to end the U.S. Civil War which had divided Baptists. The result was the BPFNA–at first the “North America” was more a dream than reality. However, we quickly began to involve Canadian Baptists, Seventh-Day Baptists, African-American Baptists related to the various Black/National Baptist groups, Baptists in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Cuba.  At one point, the board included people from 15 different Baptist denominations and 5 ethnic groups! The BPFNA has membership open to individuals and partner-congregations. It doesn’t speak for Baptists(!), but to them and gathers Baptist Christians and equips them with the resources for peacemaking.  There is also a British Baptist Peace Fellowship which began in WWII and is a part of the British Network of Christian Peace Organizations.
  • Catholic Peace Fellowship seeks to raise up a “mighty league of conscientious objectors” to war and violence, rooted in Catholic spirituality and the nonviolent testimony of the New Testament and the early Christian church.  It is rooted in personalist philosophy and the peacemaking and human rights emphases of Vatican II.
  • Christian Peacemaker Teams.  Rooted in the Historic Peace Churches (Mennonites, Quakers, the Church of the Brethren), CPT is an ecumenical Christian movement that seeks to answer the question, “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?” CPT works to make peace by “getting in the way” of those who would do violence–nonviolent interventions between warring or violent parties–often at great risk to participants. They also seek to sow seeds of justice and reconciliation for longterm peacemaking.  Current projects include 3rd party nonviolent intervention in Iraq (where members were kidnapped by insurgents and one was killed), Palestine, the Borderlands of the U.S. and Mexico, the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Columbia, and work for Aboriginal Justice in Canada.  CPT recruits short-term and longterm volunteers. Sponsoring organizations include the Church of the Brethren, the CoB’s On Earth Peace movement (see below), Friends United Meeting, Mennonite Church, Canada (and its Peace and Justice Ministries), Mennonite Church, USA (and its Peace and Justice Support Network), the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian order), Every Church a Peace Church, and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.  CPT invites other sponsors.
  • Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. is an ecumenical and ad hoc group of partner organizations dedicated to raising a strong Christian voice for peace in Iraq, including a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops and removal of all bases.
  • Church of God Peace Fellowship.  Related to the non-Pentecostal Church of God whose headquarters is in Anderson, IN, rather than the Pentecostal Church of God, headquartered in Cleveland, TN.  The Anderson, IN based Church of God is a revivalistic, evangelical denomination which grew up on the U.S. frontier emphasizing both holiness in living and the unity of God’s people (and, thus, it keeps no membership rolls). It forsook heirarchies and creeds and gave ultimate authority to Jesus Christ as depicted in the New Testament.  Those emphases on unity and holy living led many to become peacemakers (the first 3 editors of the original denominational newspaper were pacifists) and the CoG Peace Fellowship continues in that tradition.  Members are activists in both the denomination and the world and have been instrumental in setting up a peace studies program at Anderson University, the denominational liberal arts institution of higher education. (The attached Anderson Theological Seminary’s students may also cross-register in AU’s Peace Studies program.)
  • Churches for a Middle East PeaceThis is an ecumenical organization composed of denominations, individual Christians, and congregations/parishes, focused on a just peace for Israel-Palestine.
  • Disciples Peace FellowshipRelated to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) which is the mainline or liberal branch of the “Stone-Cambell” movement–a 19th C. revivalist movement for Christian unity. One of the main founders, Alexander Campbell, was a pacifist but the Disciples have been so individualistic in their faith that pacifism was never adopted by the movement as a whole. The DPF began in 1935, making it the oldest denominational peace fellowship in the U.S.   A related organization is the Disciples Justice Action Network.
  • Episcopal Peace Fellowship is the peace fellowship of the Episcopal Church in the United States.  When I have a current link, I will supply it.  The EPF is also the U.S. branch of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship which has branches all over the world.  The Anglican Pacifist Fellowship is a body of people within the Anglican Communion who reject war as a means of solving international disputes and who are committed to seeking justice through nonviolent means.
  • Evangelicals for Human Rights is a n inter-denominational grassroots organization of U.S. evangelical Christians opposed to torture, especially the support for torture by Christians in the Religious Right. It is part of the National Religious Campaign to Abolish Torture (see below). 
  • Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding is an affiliation of Christian churches, agencies, and individuals which seeks to provide encouragement to, advocacy for, and fellowship with Christians in the Middle East by sponsoring conferences, facilitating partnerships, and creating friendships in order to bridge the geographic and cultural divides.
  • Evangelicals for Social Action began with the “Chicago Declaration of Concern” in 1973. It is a grassroots organization of U.S. evangelical  Christians that works to combat hunger and poverty, care for the creation, end racism and sexism (but, not, unfortunately,  heterosexism–ESA retains traditional Christian homophobic views), abolish the death penalty, and work for peace.
  • Every Church a Peace Church is dedicated to the vision that all Christians and all churches should be dedicated to peace and nonviolence as a central part of what it means to follow Jesus in Christian discipleship.  For 4 years I was the Outreach Director of this network which works to create new peace churches and help war-justifying churches be transformed into peace churches.  When I left in 2006 (because ECAPC ran out of money for my job), I was deeply afraid that the organization and vision would die out.  The short-term history thereafter seemed to bear out my worst fears, but thanks to God, it appears to be recovering–with a new national director and new vision and sources of fundraising!  ECAPC’s new national director  is Rev. Dr. Matthew V. Johnson, Sr., who is also the pastor of the Church of the Good Shephard, Atlanta, GA. 
  • Friends’ Committee on National Legislation is a Quaker advocacy organization (a registered political lobby) in Washington, D.C.  FCNL strives to bring Quaker convictions concerning peace and justice to bear concerning matters of public policy.
  • Friends Peace Teams is a Spirit-led organization working around the world with communities in conflict to create programs of peacebuilding, healing, and reconciliationFriends Peace Teams ‘ programs build on extensive Quaker experience in combining practical and spiritual aspects of peacebuilding.
  • Holy Land Trust, established in 1998, is a Palestinian not-for-profit agency working for peace and justice in Palestine and based in the holy city of Bethlehem.  It’s programs include nonviolence training and direct action, the online-based Palestinian News Network, the Al-Kuhl TV and Radio programs, and the Travel and Encounter programs which promote “ethical tourism” in Palestine.  The Director, Sami Awad, is a Baptist and friend of mine. (The Awad family is famous throughout Palestine as Christian nonviolent leaders including pastors and theologians like Alex, and nonviolence trainers and activists like Sami and his older brother, Mubarak–who has repeatedly been nominated for the Nobel Prize.  The Israeli government exiled Mubarak Awad to the U.S. because he was so successful in promoting nonviolent resistance to the occupation–they preferred violent terrorists who fit their stereotypes and helped justify their occupation.  Today, Mubarak runs the Nonviolence International (see below).  NOTE: Holy Land Trust is not in any way related to the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development–a Texas based U.S. charity much in the news for alleged links to terrorist organizations.  The confusion between these two different groups with similar names has led to loss of financial support for HLT and to FBI investigation of many supporters–confusing them with supporters of HLF! (Stupid police state! It’s this kind of incompetence which leads not only to investigation and even arrest of the wrong people, but allows real terrorist groups to succeed in carrying out their plans! I pray the FBI and other similar groups gets more competent in 2009! Sheesh!)
  • Lutheran Peace Fellowship is a community of Lutherans throughout the U.S. and across the globe responding to the gospel call to be peacemakers and justice seekers.  LPF has an advocacy network and a youth advocacy network and has both individual and congregational memberships.  It hosts a presence at official Lutheran meetings and seeks to integrate peacemaking more thoroughly into the life of ordinary Lutheran Christians.  LPF hosts over 100 workshops and leadership training programs a year and produces numerous resources for local peacemaking.
  • Mennonite Church, USA Peace & Justice Support NetworkMennonites are pacifists, growing out of the pacifist wing of the 16th C. Anabaptist movement.  The Peace & Justice Support Network provides resourcess to help individual Mennonite congregations better live out gospel nonviolence and peacemaking.  A sister organization is Mennonite Church, Canada’s Peace & Justice Ministries.
  • Mennonite Central Committee is the primary relief, development, and peacemaking organ for several Mennonite and Brethren in Christ denominations.  The MCC also engages in peace and justice advocacy for better foreign policy through offices in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa, Canada and a liason office at the United Nations. 
  • Methodist Federation for Social Action was founded in 1907 as the Methodist Federation for Social Service.  It grew directly out of the Social Gospel and for 100 years has been an independent voice within the United Methodist Church organizing UMC clergy and laity to take action for peace, to eliminate poverty, and to advance and protect people’s rights around the world.  Since the collapse in the 1990s of the Methodist Peace Fellowship (a British Methodist Peace Fellowship is still going strong)–as it has been since 1933), the MFSA is the primary organizational voice for nonviolence within the United Methodist Church, but because it supports legal abortions for problem pregnancies as part of its support for women’s reproductive rights, pro-life United Methodists, even if they are pacifists, usually feel unable to join MFSA.
  • Methodists United for Peace with Justice.  MUPwJ was founded in 1987 in response to the United Methodist Bishops’ pastoral letter, In Defense of Creation which outlined a “nuclear pacifism” and called for a theology of just peacemaking.  MUPwJ is “pan-Methodist,” having members from all parts of the Wesleyan/Methodist family in North America:  the African Methodist Church (AME), African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion (AMEZ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), Free Methodist Church, United Methodist Church (UMC) and Wesleyan Church.  Taking no stand on abortion, MUPwJ has been a more attractive peace network for pro-life Methodists, but it is much less active in peacemaking than MFSA.
  • On Earth Peace is an agency of the pacifist Church of the Brethren, a denomination founded in the 18th C. as a fusion of Anabaptist and Pietist movements.  OEP has programs for children and youth, for peace education, action, etc.
  • Orthodox Peace Fellowship is the grassroots, membership peace organization of (Eastern) Orthodox Christians.  Orthodoxy has many deep peacemaking roots since, like  Roman Catholicism, it goes back to the pre-Constantinian days when the entire Christian church was pacifist.  However, Orthodoxy officially considers the emperor Constantine a saint (!) and its close attachment to authoritarian governments over the centuries has often led to a neglect of Orthodox peacemaking. On the other hand, Eastern churches never developed any “just war theory,” the sophistry by which Western churches (both Catholic and Protestant) have justified rivers of bloodshed in the name of the Prince of Peace!  The OPF marshals the resources of Orthodox faith and spirituality to work for peace, justice, and the care of creation.  Although Orthodoxy’s pro-life position on abortion appears to this outsider to be somewhat more nuanced than that of Roman Catholicism, the OPF is nevertheless a pro-life organization.  Indeed, OPF severed itself from the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) because of the diversity of views on abortion (from strongly pro-life to strongly pro-choice) found in IFOR.  The OPF has been especially active in areas of the world in which Orthodoxy is historically strong–and since many of these regions are also areas where Islam has  been historically strong, the OPF has been heavily involved in Muslim-Christian dialogue as a major part of its peacemaking work.
  • Pax Christi, USA strives to create a world that reflects the Peace of Christ by exploring, articulating, and witnessing to the call of Christian nonviolence. This work begins in personal life and extends to communities of reflection and action to transform structures of society. Pax Christi USA rejects war, preprations for war, and every form of violence and domination. It advocates primacy of conscience, economic and social justice, and respect for creation.Pax Christi USA commits itself to peace education and, with the help of its bishop members, promotes the gospel imperative of peacemaking as a priority in the Catholic Church in the United States. Through the efforts of all its members and in cooperation with other groups, Pax Christi USA works toward a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world. Pax Christi USA is a chapter of Pax Christi, International, the global Catholic peace movement.    
  •  Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is the grassroots peace organization of the Presbyterian Church, USA.  It works closely with the official Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, but PPP is able to go out on limbs and take risks beyond the consensus platform of the official program.
  • Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship The early Pentecostal movement was pacifist–which is hard for many to believe given how incredibly militaristic many of the most-high profile Pentecostals are today.  The PCPF attempts to recapture that early commitment to peace and nonviolence.  The PCPF works to embody Jesus-shaped, Spirit-empowered peacemaking.
  •  

Well, this is a long enough list for one post.  In the next post, I list interfaith peace groups and peace groups from non-Christian faith groups.  A final post or two will outline peace and justice groups without a faith basis: organized around specific issues or around professions (e.g., Educators for Social Responsibility) or around areas of the globe or approaches to peace and justice.  When finished, I will put these links in a separate page on this blog for easy reference. 

Get involved for justice and peace in 2009!

December 31, 2008 - Posted by | peacemaking

9 Comments

  1. Michael,

    I wouldn’t say that the Disciples are individualistic in their faith. But, no body can speak for Disciples. We can pass resolutions at General Assemblies, but ultimately these statements don’t speak for local churches, unless they choose to own them.

    But, that doesn’t mean that we are not open to being influenced. Campbell was a pacifist, but pacifism, like abolitionism, was not allowed to become a test of fellowship. Heck, even the Trinity wasn’t allowed to be a test of fellowship. Though, in time, the organ did become one!

    Comment by Bob Cornwall | January 1, 2009

  2. Michael,
    I’m sure that there’s a place in your great collection of resources for our http://LiberalsLikeChrist.Org site, but you are in a better position to know where than I.
    Our purpose is to promote the WHOLE liberal agenda at once rather than particular issues piecemeal.

    Comment by Rev. Ray Dubuque | January 1, 2009

  3. P.S. We’ve been at this for a dozen years and our 300+ pages were viewed about 680,000 times last year.

    Comment by Rev. Ray Dubuque | January 1, 2009

  4. I can help you out with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship site address:

    http://www.epfnational.org/

    Comment by dcrowe | January 2, 2009

  5. That’s the web address that’s no longer working, Derrick.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 2, 2009

  6. Bob, you describe what we Baptists call “liberty of conscience” or (terms I like less), “soul liberty,” or “soul competence.” Except the part about the
    Trinity, you describe the attitude of most Baptist bodies during most of our history–except that we split over abolitionism vs. slavery and over much else. But I would stil consider such an attitude “individualistic”–though not always an extreme version of such.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 2, 2009

  7. Michael,

    It looks like the link for “Methodists United for Peace and Justice” is going to a group called “Maryland United for Peace and Justice.”

    Comment by jmeunier | January 3, 2009

  8. […] first post lists Christian-based groups, including three Methodist […]

    Pingback by Looking for a way to work for peace? « John Meunier’s Blog | January 3, 2009

  9. Oops! I’ll try to correct that, quick!

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 3, 2009


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