Levellers

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

A Brief History of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Like the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) began out of the horrors of the First World War.  It also grew from the first wave of international feminism.  As women in Europe and North America were struggling for the vote (suffrage) and equal rights with men, they also were leading the way to more just and compassionate societies.  Many of the women involved in the struggle for women’s rights had also been part of the movement to abolish slavery and some were still struggling for equal rights for minorities. Many were working to end child labor and for better housing and working conditions for the poor.  They also worked for international peace. In fact, it was widely believed at the time that women would more likely vote for peace and against war–this was an argument many feminists themselves used–that femalWhioe suffrage would transform the world because women were more naturally just and compassionate and peaceful than men.  (This belief in female moral superiority was also used by men to argue AGAINST female suffrage.)

While subsequent history has proven that women are just as fallen and sinful as men are, it is true that the early feminists were also campaigners in many moral and social causes, and none more so than the budding peace movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  Thus, the eruption of the First World War in 1914 was seen as a horror and a huge mess by many of these leaders.  True, some women rallied round the flags of their various nations–reverting to nationalist militarism–and others, like Alice Paul, used the contradictions of a supposed “war for democracy” when women did not have the vote to put pressure for passage of women’s suffrage.  But for many of the leaders of this first wave feminism, stopping the war became the most essential cause of their lives.

The war began in August 1914.  In April, 1915, some 1300 women from Europe and North America, both from countries at war with each other and from neutral countries, gathered for a Congress of Women at the Hague in the Netherlands. They were responding to the call of Dr. Aletta Jacobs, M.D., a Dutch suffragist and feminist, who urged that women concerned for peace come to the Hague.  The purpose of the Congress of Women was to protest the killing then raging throughout Europe–which would soon spread to Europe’s colonies in Asia and Africa and would draw in the United States as well.  The Congress issued some 20 resolutions:  some short-term such as calls for cease fire and resolution by binding arbitration from neutral parties, and others with more longterm goals–to lay the foundations to prevent future wars and produce a world culture of peace.  They called on all neutral nations to refuse to join sides in the war, to pressure the belligerant nations to cease fire and to pledge to help solve their differences through binding arbitration.  They called for a league of neutral nations (an idea that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson would later use in his argument for a League of Nations–in fact, most of Wilson’s 14 point peace plan came originally from the Congress of Women’s 20 resolutions!).

At the end of the Congress, the women elected small teams of delegates to take the messages of the conferences to the belligerant and neutral states of Europe and to the President of the U.S.A.  These delegations managed to visit 14 countries (during wartime!) between May and June 1915.  They also decided to form themselves into a permanent organization with an international headquarters and national branches. This beginning of WILPF was first called the International Women’s Committee. They elected Jane Addams (1860-1935) of the U.S.A. as the first president of the Congress and as the delegate to Pres. Wilson. Addams was already famous throughout North America and Europe as a pioneer in what today would be called social work and community organizing.  (See Hull House.)  Addams had been raised a Quaker, though her father had served in the U.S. Calvary and was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  The adult Addams left her Friends meeting, tried for a time to be a Unitarian (because of their greater acceptance of male/female equality), but eventually became a baptized member of the Presbyterian Church.  She had been elected to the Chicago City Council on a reform ticket.  Upon returning to the U.S. from the Hague, she not only presented the views of the Congress to President Wilson (who, as I said, “borrowed” heavily from them when he formed his own peace plan), but formed the Women’s Peace Party to try to keep the U.S. out of the war.

When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, the rights of pacifists and conscientious objectors were greatly trampled. Speaking out against the war was prosecuted as treason, as was counseling draft resistance or even refusal to promote the buying of war bonds! Freedom of the press and speech were greatly curtailed–even ignored–during the war fever.  Addams, who continued to protest the U.S. involvement in the War, did not end up in jail as so many, but she had her passport revoked and lost much of her prestige, attacked in the press.  She was kept a virtual house prisoner for some time.  Addams’ younger associate, Emily Greene  Balch (1867-1961) lost her post as Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College due to her refusal to support the war or sign a loyalty oath.   Other International Women’s Committee women in other countries faced similar or worse hardships, some even being thrown into prison for the duration of the war.

When the war ended in 1919, the International Women’s Committee attempted to be true to its promise to hold a parallel Congress to the official peace meetings of the belligerant nations.  Because the French government would not allow German delegates to meet in France, the IWC’s Congress met not at Versailles as they’d planned, but in Zurich, Switzerland.  A small number of women “ran shuttle” from the Zurich meeting to the governmental deliberations at Versailles–though they do not seem to have made much of an impact.  The Treaty of Versailles was so brutal in its treatment of Germany and other defeated nations that historians widely credit it with sowing the seeds of the rise of Naziism and the Second World War.  The Women’s Congress denounced the terms of the Treaty of Versailles as revenge of the victors and correctly predicted that it would lead to another global war.  They decided to make the International Women’s Committee permanent, called it the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and stated its purpose as “to bring together women of different political views, and philosophical and religious backgrounds, to study and make known the causes of war and to work for a permanent peace.” That remains the purpose of WILPF to this day.

In 1922, WILPF tried to get the League of Nations to convene a World Congress to renegotiate the Treaty of Versailles at a “Conference on a New Peace.”

In 1924, correctly seeing the development and global sale of arms as a major cause of war, WILPF worked to mobilize scientists to refuse to work on weapons of war or on projects funded by the military.

In 1927 WILPF first went to China and Indochina, moving beyond the European and North American scope of its concerns.

In 1931, first WILPF president Jane Addams, now in failing health, was belatedly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but she was too ill to travel to Oslo to receive it. (Addams would finally die in 1935.)

In 1932, WILPF delivered over a million signatures for complete global disarmament to a disarmament conference.

From 1940 to 1945, WILPF found ways to aid victims of fascism, Naziism, and Japanese imperialism.

In 1946, WILPF was at the founding of the United Nations and pushed for the concept of mutual security–urging that security be based on justice and freedom from want, rather than on military might and prestige.  WILPF gained official UN status as a non-governmental organization (NGO) at that founding meeting of the UN.

In 1946, Emily Greene Balch, first International Secretary of the WILPF, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  In 1958, WILPF sent missions to the Middle East. In 1961, WILPF convened the first of many meetings between American and Soviet women to break down the barriers of the Cold WAr.

From 1963 onward, WILPF was a major force urging an end to the Vietnam War, undertaking investigative missions to North and South Vietnam.  In 1971, they went to Chile, where the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) had just toppled the elected government of Salvador Allende and installed military dictator Pinochet, to investigate Pinochet’s human rights abuses.

From Northern Ireland to the Middle East to East Timor, WILPF has been a force for peace. With an International Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, WILPF has a UN Office in NYC, and national “Sections” on every continent except Antartica.  There are 36 national Sections in all.  WILPF works on peace, disarmament, racial justice, economic justice, environmental health, the democratization of the United Nations (especially the reform of the Security Council), defense of human rights.  It also pushes for greater roles for women in negotiating peace treaties since women and children are often disproportionally affected by war and conflict. And it recruits young women peacemakers for the next generations.

As WILPF approaches 100 years of work (2015), it’s vision is still that of its founding:

  • the equality of all people in a world free of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.
  • the guarantee of all to fundamental human rights including the right to sustainable economic development
  • an end to all forms of violence: rape, battering, exploitation, military intervention, and war.
  • the transfer of world resources from military to human needs, leading to economic justice within and between nations
  • world disarmament and the peaceful arbitration of conflicts through the United Nations.

The U.S. Section has a Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA) that focuses on peace education among children.

In addition to Nobel Prize winners, Addams and Balch, WILPF has had numerous amazing members and leaders including Coretta Scott King, Phyllis Bennis (whom I suggested as Under-Secretary of State for the Middle East, though no one took me seriously), Evelyn Peak, Dr. Elise Boulding, and many others.  I urge women who read this blog to check out WILPF and its national sections and men to pass this page on to the powerful peacemaking women in your life.

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November 10, 2009 Posted by | feminism, gender, human rights., nonviolence, peacemaking, violence, war, women, young people | 5 Comments

C. Melissa Snarr: A New Voice in baptist Theology

SnarrMelissaUnlike the last entry in this series, I do not know Dr. Snarr personally: We’ve missed each other at meetings of the Society of Christian Ethics and the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion.  We’ve never met, though we have mutual friends.  But my encounter with her work leads me to believe she will soon be a very important voice in baptist life and thought.

Dr. Snarr’s areas of scholarship and teaching include:  Christian political thought; Christian theological ethics; Feminist theological ethics; Contemporary Islamic political thought; Ethics pedagogy; Sociology of Morality; Social Movement Theory; and Sociology of Religion.  She is an activist-scholar in the contemporary U.S. Living Wage struggle and in struggles for gender justice and equal  justice for all sexual orientations.

A 1992 graduate (B.A., Religious Studies and Philosophy, magna cum laude) of Furman University (a historic, very selective, private university in Greenville,  SC, rooted in the non-creedal, Free Church/Baptist tradition), Snarr was a scholar-athlete who won numerous awards and honors.  She earned her Master of Divinity degree at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (magna cum laude) in 1995.  After spending time working in church-related social work and social movement struggles, Snarr finished her Ph.D. from Emory University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Graduate Program in Religion (Ethics and Society) in 2004.  After working for Emory’s Servant Leadership School and Emory’s Center for Ethics, Dr. Snarr became Assistant Professor of Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, TN. She also serves as core faculty in Vanderbilt’s Graduate Department of Religion and is affiliate faculty in the undergraduate School of Arts and Sciences where she teaches Women and Gender Studies and Community Research and Action.

Dr. Snarr is an active member of Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville–a progressive congregation affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship , and American Baptist Churches, USA and is a partner congregation with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and a member of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.  It’s a great congregation, co-pastored by Dr. Amy Mears and Rev. April Baker.

Snarr’s doctoral work focused on differing Christian views of moral formation how that effects their political participation.  This has been recently published as Social Reforms and Political Selves:  Five Visions in Contemporary Christian Ethics.  London: T & T Clark/Continuum International, 2007.  Focusing on the differing views of social selves held by Christian social ethicists Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, Stanley Hauerwas, Beverly Harrison, and Emily Townes, she identifies strengths and risks in their views and considers their adequacy for producing social reforms.  She concludes the book by arguing for six core convictions about the social self that might form a Christian social ethic capable of responding to our current crises.

Snarr’s sec0nd book(forthcoming), like the majority of her social activism, focuses on the role(s) religion and gender play in the U.S. movement for a living wage.  I look forward to All You Who Labor:  Religion and Ethics in the U.S. Living Wage Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2010).  She is teaching courses on religion and war in an age of terror (comparing Christian and Islamic views) that I hope will issue in another book.

It’s easy to see that Melissa Snarr is a figure to watch in baptist life and thought.

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, feminism, progressive faith, theology | 3 Comments

Afghanistan’s Law Allowing Marital Rape

As you may have heard, the Afghanistan legislature passed a law last week that requires married women to have sex with her husband up to four times per week unless she is ill or unless sex would aggravate an illness!  At European and American objections, President Karzai promised to review the law (which the United Nations is calling a legalization of marital rape) has promised a thorough review of the law, but so far “doesn’t find anything objectional.”  The law is causing problems for the U.S. and NATO as we send both more civilians to help nation-build and more troops to hunt al Qaeda, protext civilians, and train Afghan military and police–an escalation I object to and predict will backfire. (By the way, anyone notice that the supposedly successful Iraqi “surge” is coming undone?)

When asked, Pres. Obama called the law “abhorrent” and I agree.  I think we should pressure Afghanistan to reverse this horrid law.  But before we in the West start to act superior and call this an illustration of how backward Afghanistan is or how patriarchal and sexist Islam is, etc., let’s use this nasty legislation as a time for a good hard look in the mirror.  In MANY Western countries “marital rape” is still unknown AS A LEGAL CONCEPT.  And before we act shocked at this Afghan law, let us remember in how many cultural contexts it would be assumed that wives give up all right to say no to their husband’s sexual advances.  How many of your own relatives, especially of a certain age, would speak of constant sexual availability as among a wife’s “marital duties?”

Here in Kentucky, we passed a law outlawing marital rape for the first time in the late 1990s.  Speaking with attorney friends, I can tell you that the law has proved unenforceable.  A wife appealing to it sometimes incurs domestic abuse–the opposite of the law’s intention.  And getting a KY jury to convict a husband of raping his wife has so far proven impossible.  It’s been tried 12 times since the law was signed. Zero convictions.  And many other U.S. states (including many which have far more liberal reputations than my adopted home here in KY) do not yet even acknowledge marital rape as a legal concept.  And conservative Christians are among those who most often respond to polls by denying that wives can morally refuse their husbands.

Sure, legalizing the inability of wives  to  say no, as the Afghan law does, is even more horrible.  But maybe we better start by acknowledging just how patriarchal and sexist our own religion and culture is, how far from sexual equality are the heterosexual  marriages in OUR cultures, before we act as if the Afghanis (or their Islamic heritage) is uniquely anti-woman.  Protest this law? Yes. Stand up for women everywhere and against the kind of cultural relativism that would sweep this under the rug? Definitely.  But not out of false  feelings of moral superiority–only with humility and a renewed determination to stand up for women, including married women, in our own lands and cultures and faiths, too.  Anything less is just hypocrisy.

UPDATE:  Good News:  Karzai has scrapped the law, for now.  Bad News:  The law’s failure will probably be a recruiting tool for the Taliban. Sigh.

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, Christianity, family, feminism, Islam, sexism | 11 Comments

“Corrective Rape”: Heterosexist Gay-Bashing & Misogyny Connected

[Trigger warning! And thanks to a reader for explaining the term. I have known several rape survivors, but I always find myself with more to learn. ] My late mother was a bit player in the Civil Rights movement.  She told me about once being part of a solidarity march by white women in Daytona Beach, FL.  As white men rode by in pick-up trucks hurling abuse and other things, she remembers one man screaming at them, “All you gals need is a little rape to teach you!”  I have heard many a similar story by other women.

Now, South Africa is trying to “cure” lesbians by “corrective rape.” The idea is apparently to “teach” lesbians the “true purpose” of a vagina.  Don’t think this attitude is only in South Africa.  Central to patriarchy is the need to keep women in their “place.”  Central to heterosexism is the idea of keeping men and women in “proper place.”  Gay men are subject  to violence to teach the shame of having “been treated like a woman.”  Lesbians are threatened with “corrective rape.” 

Heterosexual women who aren’t submissive to men are threatened, sometimes even by churches, with physicalabuse to teach them their “proper role” of submission to men.

If you aren’t angry right now, you aren’t paying attention.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | feminism, GLBT issues, human rights. | 6 Comments