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

Action Suggestions for Local Churches and Local Peacemaker Groups

Longtime readers of this blog know that I used to be the Outreach Coordinator for Every Church a Peace Church.  ECAPC was and is dedicated to the simple, but radical, convictiont that the Church could turn the world toward peace if every church lived and taught as Jesus lived and taught.  Part of what I did for ECAPC was to help form local peacemaker groups in local churches.  If the church was a “just war tradition” church, the peacemaker group could be a seed of transformation.  If the church belonged to a peace church tradition, or was a self-declared peace church, the peacemaker group can keep it challenged to live up to its convictions.  It is also an outreach ministry, since many people who have been, for various reasons, skittish of attending traditional church services, will gladly come to peacemaker group meetings.

It is important that peacemaker groups always be studying something together and it is important that peacemaker groups always be doing something.  As an educator, I hold to an action/reflection model of learning and teaching. (Obviously,  this is easier in some fields of learning than in others. Topic for another time.) In 2005, I wrote a pamphlet for ECAPC giving suggested actions for local peacemaker groups and churches.  Below is an adaptation of that pamphlet, updated to fit the current context.  International readers will please excuse the U.S. perspective–I think most suggestions are adaptable.  Non-Christians may find many of the suggestions adaptable, too, though I speak out of my perspective as a Christian pacifist, one committed to gospel  nonviolence.

  • Host a “Discipleship and Citizenship” Forum Open to the Public.  Announce the day, time, and topic in local media.  Make it a regular time each month to meet and discuss the intersection of discipleship and citizenship.  Make it a place of honest dialogue, attentive listening, and careful speaking.  Choose themes of deep spiritual and political concern for your local context (time and place) , e.g., “God and country,” “church and state,” “violence in schools,” etc.  An ecumenical or interfaith setting is helpful–and if you rotate locations, you can involve more local churches.
  • Engage in Counter-Recruitment Activities.  Local peace groups can act in their local churches and communities to provide youth support for their God-given conscience against homicide; that is, for conscientious objection to organized homicide in the military.  In the U.S. there is currently no “draft,” no forced induction into the military, but economic injustice often creates a “poverty draft,” an effect that is increased in recessions. Plus, some politician is always trying to revive the draft and, since we are fighting two wars (one in drawdown, but one with no end in sight), such bills could always gain traction. 1) Youth under 18 years of age who will be required to REGISTER for the military when turning 18 should be given an opportunity to register their conscientious objection convictions with the church.  A wide range of materials relating to conscientious objection is available at The Center on Conscience and War among other places. Many denominations have resources, too, as do denominational peace fellowships.  2) In the U.S., children in public schools are subject to intense military propaganda from Jr. Reserve Officer Training Groups, military recruiters, etc.  Countering that propaganda is both necessary and difficult.  Again, many groups have programs and resources, but I have found the best resources for countering the militarization of youth  in public schools to come from the Youth and Militarism project of the American Friends Service Committee.  3)Children and youth should be taught about gospel nonviolence.  It is amazing how many churches have Sunday School programs which never mention the peacemaking and nonviolence themes of Scripture!!  The best resources to counter this come from the “historic peace churches.”  See the resources at the Mennonite Central Committee, the peace education resources from On Earth Peace, a program of the Church of the Brethren, and resources recommended by denominational peace fellowships. (A good list of denominational peace fellowships can be found on the website of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.)
  • Sponsor Nonviolent Action Travel Opportunities.  Sure, recessions cut into the amount of travel that even middle class families do for vacation.  But we can still work to put moral purpose into travel.  The Travel and Encounter program of Holy Land Trust gives you an alternative to the normal tourist trap approaches to visiting Israel-Palestine.  Consider sponsoring a small delegation from your congregation (including someone with a camera to report back), and try to include at least one young person.  Raise the money for someone who could not afford to go on her or his own.  If your particular focus is not on the Middle East, but Central America, try Witness for PeaceChristian Peacemaker Teams focuses on peacemaking by “getting in the way” of conflict through 3rd party nonviolent direct action.  Similar opportunities can be found through the Fellowship of Reconciliation and/or denominational peace fellowships. (For instance, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America sponsors “Friendship Tours” to nations which are current or historic adversaries of the U.S. or are portrayed only negatively in our media.  This began during the Cold War with trips to the U.S.S.R.) 
  • Conduct a Peace Vigil at a War Site.  Contrary to popular myth, peace vigils did not begin with opposition to the Vietnam War in the 1960s.  The pioneers of nonviolent vigils and other public symbolic actions were the prophets of ancient Israel.  Peace vigils at war sites continue this prophetic tradition.  Every November, thousands gather outside Ft. Benning, GA to try to close the School of the Americas (renamed WHINSEC) which has trained many Latin American military officers in “counter-insurgency” techniques. These have been used by dictators to form state sponsored terrorism against civilian populations.  You can be part of SOA Watch, an interfaith peace effort started by Fr.  Roy Bourgeous, a courageous Catholic priest.  There is also a longstanding vigil outside the U.S. Army War College entrance in Carlisle, PA. One sign regularly held at this vigil is “We Need a Peace College.” Out of this effort has grown the internet based “Carlisle Peace College.”
  • Show a Film Series.  Numerous free or cheap films exist that can serve as basis for discussion.  Some may find Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 somewhat too inflammatory (know your audience).  But Arlington West is a 56 minute documentary about the crosses on the beach in CA planted by members of Veterans for Peace that includes interviews with members, families, and passersby.  Bringing Down a Dictator, narrated by Martin Sheen, is the documentary about how Slobadon Milosevic, the brutal dictator of Serbia, who survived both  civil war and the Nato operations of the ’90s, was overthrown by the nonviolent Otpor movement in October 2000.  The choices are too numerous to mention.
  • Hold a Peace-Focused Weekly Bible Study.  A good resource for getting started is Walter Wink’s brief, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way.  I suggest many other resources here.
  • Support Nonviolent Direct Action.
  • Plan a Sunday School lesson or preach a sermon (or series) on peace.  Chuck Fager has a Friends/Quaker approach to Bible  study here.  Ted Grimsrud gives an Anabaptist-Mennonite approach in a 9-part online Bible study of peace here. I give help for Revelation here and here.  See also my article on Jeremiah as War Resister.

These actions are not meant to be exhaustive.  I hope they spur your groups to creativity.  Feel free to share ideas in the comments.

May 5, 2009 Posted by | church, education, peacemaking | 8 Comments