In this series on the histories of peace movement organizations, we have been so far been examining those whose roots were in opposition to the First World War: The Fellowship of Reconciliation (1914 in UK, 1915 in U.S., FOR International in 1917, French and German branches in 1919), The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (1915 U.S., 1917 International), The American Friends’ Service Committee (1917). The War Resisters’ League, the oldest pacifist organization in the U.S. without a religious foundation, also grew out of the experience of World War I. (I have phrased this very carefully. It would be accurate to call the WRL a “secular” organization, but to many people this suggests a hostility to religion or religious persons that is not a part of the WRL. As we will see, the major founder of the WRL, Jesse Wallace Hughes, was a profoundly religious person and people of faith have always been involved and are still, including in the leadership. But neither any particular religion, nor religious faith in general, is a predicate for membership.)
Jessie Wallace Hughan (1875-1955) was one of the founders of the U. S. chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1915, but, from the beginning, she thought the name of the groups was too wimpy, and, though a devout Unitarian, she chafed against the leadership of the F.O.R. by ministers who focused on forgiveness. She wanted an organization that pushed forcefully for an end to war and militarism and which boldly confronted the causes of war (which she saw rooted in the injustices of capitalism). Hughan was an American educator, a socialist activist, radical pacifist and a perpetual Socialist Party candidate for various public offices in New York city and state. In 1915 she helped to found the Anti-Enlistment League to discourage enlistment in the armed services as part of efforts to keep the U.S. out of World War I.
Many U.S. pacifists were imprisoned for resistance to the war. After the U.S. entered WWI, the Bill of Rights was practically suspended. Any verbal or written opposition to the war was prosecuted as “subversion,” including of clergy who refused to promote the sale of war bonds to parishioners. Members of the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers) were sometimes given better treatment, but other conscientious objectors, especially Jews, African-Americans, socialists (especially after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia), union leaders, and anarchists were given very harsh sentences and many were also treated harshly by other prisoners without intervention by authorities.
Out of these experiences, Hughan and others founded the War Resisters League in 1923 as a pacifist organization for those who, for one reason or another, did not feel at home in faith-based peace organizations such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation (although the F.O.R. supported the formation of the WRL and many were members of both organizations–which traded leaders, too). At that time, the F.O.R. was an ecumenical Christian organization, not interfaith, and the Jewish Peace Fellowship did not exist until 1941. The U.S. was not so pluralistic religiously in those days that any felt the need for such later organizations as the Muslim Peace Fellowship (Ansar as-Salaam), or the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, but the WRL was a haven for secular and non-Christian pacifists, along with those who felt that the Christian peace groups of the day were not radical enough in their opposition to war.
The WRL’s basis for membership has remained the same since its founding in 1923, “The War Resisters’ League affirms that war is a crime against humanity. We, therefore, are determined not to support any kind of war, international or civil, and to strive nonviolently for the removal of all causes of war.” When Gandhi began his “experiments in truth” in South Africa and India, the WRL was even faster than the F.O.R. to take notice. Along with socialist economic philosophy, most members of the WRL strongly adhere to Gandhian nonviolence. For some, the philosophy and tactics of Gandhian nonviolence form a de facto substitute for a religious faith.
The WRL has been deeply involved in most of the anti-war movements of the 20th and 21st C., but it has also been involved deeply in most of the nonviolent domestic struggles for justice, including the Civil Rights movement, the feminist movement, labor struggles, the environmental movement, and struggles for fair trade against globalized top-down free trade. The WRL publishes a journal, WIN, an annual peace and justice calendar, and has become famous for its yearly tax pie charts that show the actual amount of the U.S. budget that goes to support past and present wars (the official budget hides part of the military budget under Veterans Affairs and Social Security) which is over50%. The WRL pie chart has been used by numerous peace groups to promote war tax resistance and protests against the bloated nature of the U.S. military budget. (Even using the official figures, the U.S. spends more on its military than the next 25 nations COMBINED!)
The WRL’s current projects include an anti-recruitment effort called Not Your Soldier (which I think is not as effective as the AFSC’s counter-recruitment efforts), and a major effort to target war-profiteers called the Bite the Bullet Network. The latter targets the military industrial complex which Bob Dylan rightly called the “masters of war.”
The WRL is a major component organization of United for Peace with Justice, the umbrella peace organization working to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The WRL is also a national chapter of the London-based War Resisters’ International which grew out of a Dutch organization in 1921. In 1931, the WRI and its chapters adopted the broken rifle as its symbol. (This has major significance for me. I have only ever held nominal membership in the WRL, unlike my greater involvement in the F.O.R., the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Witness for Peace, Every Church a Peace Church, and Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace with Justice. Mostly, I just subscribe to the WRL newsletter and buy the occasional calendar and T-shirt. But because I became a pacifist as a military conscientious objector, the broken rifle has always been a deeply-loved peace symbol for me,–a modern equivalent to beating swords into plowshares and a symbol of my deliberate break with my military past.)
Famous members of the War Resisters League, other than Jessie Wallace Hughan, include Dave Dellinger (1915-2004), Ralph DiGia (1915-2008), Grace Paley (1922-2007), Igal Roodenko (1917-1991), Barbara Deming (1917-1984), A. J. Muste (1885-1967) (after Muste’s retirement as head of the Fellowship of Reconciliation), and the architect of the 1963 March on Washington, Bayard Rustin (1912-1987). The WRL continues to be a major force for peace and justice.
Update: Although I deeply appreciate the work of the WRL, I have not been involved with them except, as I said, on the edges. The major reason for this is that I believe ultimately nonviolence depends on a spiritual commitment. As a Christian (i.e., one who believes Christianity is actually TRUE ), I think Christian faith provides the best spirituality for pacifism and nonviolence, but it is not the only one. Most, if not all, major religions have a nonviolent strand and resources for equipping believers to respond to injustice, oppression, and violence with nonviolent direct action and peacemaking rather than with reactive violence. Secular commitment to nonviolence must rely either on a strictly moral commitment without any spiritual underpinnings or a pragmatic belief that nonviolence usually ‘works.’ But it doesn’t always work and such a pragmatic or rational view is not enough to keep one nonviolent in the face of oppressive violence: If you see your family murdered before your eyes, for instance, can a purely rational or secular commitment to nonviolence hold?
So, while I agree with the WRL that war is a crime against humanity and am grateful for their work, I distrust their lack of a spiritual foundation. It is significant to me that the current leadership of the WRL includes Frida Berrigan, daughter of the radical Catholic pacifists Elizabeth McAlister and the late Philip Berrigan, and Fr. G. Siman Harak (a friend of mine), who is a Jesuit priest.
In between my posts on a biblical case for Christian pacifism, I am going to write some brief historical sketches of the major grassroots, contemporary peace organizations–with special concentration on religious, especially Christian, organizations and especially those in North America (because I know them best). The “modern” peace movement began in Europe and North America in the 19th C. In North America, a major root was the largely Christian movement to abolish slavery with its stronghold in the Northern United States, but also with Canadian participants, especially after the Fugitive Slave Act meant that runaway slaves were not safe until the reached Canada. Although 19th C. North America had a Christian peace witness from Mennonites, Dunkers (now called the Church of the Brethren) and some smaller sects such as the Universalists, and the Shakers, the major Christian peace witness to the larger, ecumenical church at this time was by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) who made up a disproportionate amount of the leadership of the Abolitionist movement.
Because of the Quaker peace witness, many non-Quaker abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison (a white newspaper editor raised as a New England Baptist) and Frederick Douglass (a former slave, editor of The North Star, and lay-preacher for the African Methodist Episcopal Church) and Sojourner Truth (former slave and traveling preacher) were pacifists who hoped that slavery could be abolished without war–though some later, reluctantly endorsed the Civil War after Lincoln added the abolition of slavery to his war aims. The evangelical preachers of the Second Great Awakening, including Charles Finney, Timothy Dwight Weld, Jonathan Blanchard, Alexander Campbell (one of the founders of the Stone-Campbell movement that today is divided into the Churches of Christ, (Independent) Christian Churches, and the Disciples of Christ) and others were also pacifists and crusaders against slavery, child labor, and for the rights of women.
Opposition to Pres. James Polk’s War on Mexico (1845-1848), which was a thinly disguised ploy to gain territory and to break the Missouri Compromise and spread slave states all the way to the West Coast, was found across the religious and political spectrum–not until the Vietnam War would an American War have such widespread opposition from the American people themselves. That opposition produced the first U.S. peace societies, the beginnings of a widespread anti-war movement–one that grew again following the U.S. Civil War and which united political conservatives and liberals at the end of the 19th C. in opposition to the Spanish-American War (in which the U.S. took over the Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico) and the Philippine-American War (in which the U.S. gained colonies in the Philippines, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Samoa).
In Europe, similar movements were growing in response to numerous 19th C. wars, including the British war in Burma, the revolutions against the Spanish throughout Latin America, the Crimean War, the Savoy Revolt in India, the Boer War in South Africa, the British War in Afghanistan. The beginnings of discontent with these long series of wars probably began with the 18th C. Napoleanic conquests. In addition to Christian influences, the European peace movement drew from the growing body of international law in the 19th C. (with more institutions for international arbitration and law), and from two rival economic philosophies–the global free trade movement (wars disrupt business) and the various labor and socialist movements–both Marxist and non-Marxist versions (labor was likely to see most wars as exploitations of the poor by international capital).
Alfred Nobel, capitalist with a guilty conscience after inventing dynamite and making his fortune on munitions, was convinced at the turn of the century by his secretary Bertha Suttner (an author and activist in the peace movement) to make one of his Nobel Prizes in his will dedicated to peacemakers, bringing new prestige to the movement.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (F.O.R.) was birthed with the First World War. In the aftermath of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Serbia, and the quick choosing of sides by the European alliances, peace activists, especially Christian peace activists realized that a pan-European (and beyond that to Europe’s colonies around the world) could erupt. In August of 1914 an international group of church leaders, clergy and laity, gathered in Switzerland to make a last ditch attempt to stop the war. The conference had barely begun when word came that the fighting had begun–they were too late. Conference attendants raced to rail stations to return to their home countries before the borders would be closed. At a railway station in Germany, two of the conferees, a British Quaker named Henry Hodgkins (who taught philosophy at Queens College, Cambridge University) and a Lutheran minister named Friedrich Sigmund-Schulz (who was, astonishingly, chaplain to the Kaiser!) clasped hands and pledged that because they were Christian brothers they, personally, could never be at war and they would seek to work for peace between their nations, regardless of the policies of their respective governments!
Back in the U. K., Hodgkins quickly acted on his promise. He convened an ecumenical Christian conference at Queens College from which about 20 individuals declared that they could not conceive of God as a nationalist and that they would not agree to a moratorium on the Sermon on the Mount for the length of the war. From this meeting the British chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation was born.
Travel during wartime is uncertain, but a year later Hodgkins came to New York City and convened a meeting of interested pacifists at Union Theological Seminary in NYC that included some of the most influential theologians and ministers and laypeople of the day including Reinhold Niebuhr (who would, in the ’30s, break with the F.O.R. and forever after be a severely harsh critic of Christian pacifism), Ernest Lefevre (who followed Niebuhr’s break and then went further and became a neoconservative!), John Haynes Holmes (prominent Unitarian minister), Jesse Wallace Hughes (prominent labor leader who would later found the more secular War Resisters’ League), and others.
In Germany, Rev. Sigmund-Schultz’s opposition to war and the Kaiser’s war aims quickly led to loss of his position as the Kaiser’s personal chaplain. He was soon imprisoned until 1917. Upon release from prison, Rev. Sigmund-Schultz founded the German chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Internationaler Versöhnungsbund, which is a thriving branch of the F.O.R. today. After Hitler’s rise to power in the ’30s, Sigmund-Schultz was an early outspoken critic and died in a concentration camp.
In 1919, after the war ended, the F.O.R. created an International branch (IFOR), headquartered first in Switzerland and today in Alkmaar, the Netherlands. There are today 85 national branches of IFOR, on every continent on the globe. The International Fellowship of Reconciliation and some of its national member branches (including the U.S. branch) have broadened from being ecumenical Christian organizations to interfaith pacifist organizations (but still religiously based). Other branches, such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation in England (F.o.R. E.) are still specifically Christian, perhaps in reaction to the strong secularization of that nation.
The F.O.R. and its various branches have been involved in nonviolent struggles for justice and peace throughout the twentieth century until today. They were early supporters of Gandhi’s work in South Africa and then India and helped to plant FOR branches among the Gandhians while learning Gandhian nonviolence theory and adding it to their religiously based pacifism. Six (6) prominent members of the IFOR have won the Nobel Peace Prize (Jane Addams, USA, 1931; Emily Green Balch, USA, 1946; Chief Albert Luthuli, South Africa, 1960; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., USA, 1964; Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Northern Ireland, 1976; Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentina, 1980) and literally hundreds of others have been nominated for it and hundreds of its members have won other peace and human rights prizes. IFOR has nongovernmental status at the United Nations as it works to create a culture of nonviolence, peace, and justice.
In the U.S. branch of IFOR, as well as in the British branch and, perhaps others, many members also belong to religious peace fellowships specific to their faith or denomination, some more organically connected to the F.O.R. than others (e.g., the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Muslim Peace Fellowship, the Lutheran Peace Fellowship, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Disciples Peace Fellowship, the Catholic Peace Fellowship, etc.) There are also regional branches of the U.S. F.O.R.–I have served on the board of the Louisville Chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation which meets monthly on the campus of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
The U.S. branch of the F.O.R. has often spun-off other organizations during its various campaigns. For instance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) began when F.O.R. board member Roger Baldwin sought to protect civil liberties guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution that were being trampled during World War I–especially the rights of conscientious objectors to war. Likewise, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) was founded by staff members of the F.O.R. during the 1940s, especially James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, and George Houser–beginning with students at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The F.O.R. was involved in the Civil Rights movment, the movement against nuclear weapons, to stop the Vietnam War (and every war thereafter), work to end the death penalty and work for prison reform, to end apartheid in South Africa, to free Burma from military rule, to end U.S. support of dictatorships, to work for women’s rights, labor rights, and, since the 1990s, the rights and equality of LGBT persons. F.O.R. workshops on nonviolence in the Philippines laid the groundwork for the nonviolent people power revolution in the ’80s–and similar stories can be repeated around the world.
The F.O.R.’s role in various nonviolent campaigns and peace efforts has not usually been widely noted. For instance, the role in the Civil Rights movment is mentioned in most history books, but seldom in any public celebrations of the achievements of that struggle. But the FOR and its members have never been about getting “credit,” but about experimenting with the power of love and nonviolence and forgiveness as a force for personal and social change.
I have been a member since 1983. Only recently returned from the U.S. army as a conscientious objector, I went twice to Nicaragua with the movement Witness for Peace, which aimed to stop the civil war and the Reagan-backed terrorists known as the Contras. On my second trip unarmed into this war zone, most of the delegation happened to be members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, of which I had never heard. Upon my return to the states, I joined up and have counted my membership to be one of my deepest commitments.
The F.O.R. is not perfect and has made mistakes. A major mistake, in my view, happened just after its birth. As Paul Alexander shows in his Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God, the early Pentecostals, especially the AoG, were pacifist and strongly opposed WWI. (They did not officially abandon pacifism until 1967.) But there was little contact with Pentecostals or other conservative Christian groups by the members of the F.O.R. at that time, who were mostly liberal, mainline Christians who looked askance at conservative groups. That view has changed, but a major opportunity that would have strengthened both groups was lost.
Nevertheless, some of the strongest activists and theologians for peace have come from the ranks of the Fellowship of Reconciliation–and do so still.
Here is a partial list of famous members of IFOR or one of its branches:
- Rev. Paul Jones, Episcopal bishop removed from his diocese in Utah because of his pacifism and opposition to WWI.
- Norman Thomas, Presbyterian minister turned union organizer and leader of the Socialist Party, USA. Ran for U.S. president on a Socialist and pacifist platform 5 times.
- John Haynes Holmes, Unitarian minister.
- Jane Addams.
- Alfred Hassler, American Baptist leader.
- Bayard Rustin, African-American Quaker, labor and civil rights leader–not as well known as others because he was gay in a time when that was literally illegal in most of the U.S.
- James Farmer, Jr., African-American Methodist minister and founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
- Glenn Smiley, Methodist pastor and advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr.
- A. J. Muste, Congregationalist minister turned Quaker who led the F.O.R. through the middle of the 20th C.
- Lillian Smith, Southern novelist.
- G. H. C. MacGregor, Scottish New Testament scholar.
- Andre Trocme, French Reformed pastor-theologian who led the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to hide 5,000 Jews from the Nazis, thus saving them from the Holocaust.
- Dorothy Day, co-founder and motivating spirit of the Catholic Worker movement.
- Clarence Jordan, radical white Baptist New Testament scholar who founded the interracial farming community known as Koinonia in South Georgia in 1942.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
- John M. Swomley, Jr., Methodist theologian and ethicist.
- Thomas Merton, Trappist monk.
- Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., Catholic priest, poet, biblical scholar, and radical anti-war activist.
- Martin Niemöller, German Lutheran pastor who was held as Hitler’s personal prisoner during WWII.
- Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher.
- Maurice Friedman, Jewish philosopher, Buber scholar, and one of the founders of the Jewish Peace Fellowship.
- Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentine sculpter, writer, and nonviolent activist who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize.
- Hildegard Goss-Mayer, German peace activist whose workshops on nonviolence in the Philippines sowed the seeds for its 1986 nonviolent revolution.
- Elise Boulding, Quaker sociologist.
- Howard Thurman, African-American mystical theologian.
- Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Catholic laywoman and co-founder of the Irish peace movement and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
- Cesar Chavez, Mexican-American labor and civil rights leader; co-founder of the United Farmworkers of America.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist priest, leader of the Buddhist nonviolent protest against the Vietnama war; nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Joseph Lowry, African American Methodist pastor and civil rights leader.
- John Dear, S.J., Catholic priest, pastor, author, and nonviolent activist.
- Rabia Terri Harris, founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship.
- Walter Wink, United Methodist New Testament scholar.
- John Howard Yoder, Mennonite theologian.
- Vincent Harding, African American Mennonite historian.
- Edwin Dahlberg, former president of the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, USA) and the National Council of Churches, USA.
- Walter Rauschenbusch, theologian of the Social Gospel (for the last year of his life).
- Glen H. Stassen, Baptist ethicist.
- George Edwards, Presbyterian New Testament scholar.
- Jim Forest, founder of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.
- Barbra Deming, Quaker, feminist.
- Albert Einstein, ‘Nuff said.
- Rabbi Leo Beerman, rabbi of Temple Leo Baeck, Los Angeles.
- Sami Awad, founder of Holy Land Trust and the Palestinian News Network
- Rev. Rick Ufford-Chaise, Presbyterian minister, founder of BorderLinks, past-presiding officer of the Presbyterian Church, USA.
- Rev. Glen Gersmehl, Executive Director of the Lutheran Peace Fellowship
- Rev. Susan Mark Landis, Executive Director of the Mennonite Peace and Justice Support Network
- Rev. Mel White, co-founder of Soulforce–using Gandhian and Kingian nonviolence to combat the spiritual oppression of LGBT folk in the church and society.
- Charles Raven, Anglican theologian
- H. H. Farmer, British NT scholar
- Jean Lassere, French Reformed pastor and theologian and friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
- Danilo Dolci, the “Sicilian Gandhi” who faced Sicili’s Mafia with Gospel nonviolence.
- Ibrahim Rainey, Imam and co-founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship
- Joan Chittister, OSB, a Benedictine prioress.
- Gene Sharp, Quaker and historian who has done more to analyze the “nuts and bolts” of nonviolence than anyone.
Far too many more to count.
As a service, I thought I would list all the U.S. colleges and universities that have programs with names like “peace studies,” “peace and global studies,” “peacebuilding and conflict resolution studies,” etc. I found there were enough that I decided just to list the church-related ones and do the others in a separate post. Typically, such programs are multi-disciplinary involving faculty from several departments including international studies, history, philosophy, religious studies, international law, economic development, and/or political science or sociology. The earliest such programs in the U.S. were in institutions related to the “historic peace churches” (Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Friends/Quakers), but it has spread beyond them. Almost all of them include considerable emphasis on language studies and on study-abroad, especially in conflict areas.
American University in Washington, D.C. Private research university related to the United Methodist Church and not to be confused with “American Universities” around the world which are usually sponsored by the U.S. State Department. 4400 Massachussetts Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20016. Highly selective and quite expensive. Offers an M.A. in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution that is highly regarded.
Arcadia University was until 2001 known by the somewhat ridiculous name of Beaver College, which is even sillier when you understand that this co-ed institution began life in 1853 as Beaver Female Seminary. (You can’t make stuff like that up.) 450 South Easton Road, Glenside, PA 19038. Originally founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church, Arcadia today is related to the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), but has an independent board and an ecumenical spirit. Arcadia’s mission is to prepare students specifically for a shrinking, global society. It has a College of Global Studies and students are encouraged to do part of their studies abroad. Offers an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. One can also earn a joint M.A./M.P.H. (Master of Public Health) or a Certificate in International Studies presented with another undergraduate or graduate degree.
Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, 3003 Bentham Avenue, Elkhart, IN 46517. AMBS offers an M.A. in Peace Studies. They also offer this M.A. as a joint degree with a Master of Social Work degree. AMBS’ Master of Divinity degree has a peace and conflict studies concentration available.
Bethany Theological Seminary 615 National Road West, Richmond, IN 47374. This is the official seminary of the Church of the Brethren, one of the Historic Peace Churches. Peace and Justice emphases are found throughout the curriculum, but one can also get a Peace and Justice concentration for either the Master of Divinity or Master of Theology degrees.
Bethel College in North Newton, KS is affiliated with the Mennonite Church, USA. It is a private, 4-year co-ed liberal arts college of about 500 students. Tuition is currently just under $16,000 per year which is below that of most private colleges and about 89% of students receive some form of financial aid. Bethel houses the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution which both acts internally to administer the school’s Peace and Conflict Resolution program and externally sponsors projects in international peacebuilding. Offers a minor in Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies or a Certificate in Conflict Management to be added to any other degree program.
Bryn Mawr College. 101 North Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010. Founded by Quakers and originally a women’s college, Bryn Mawr is still informed by Quaker values. It offers a B.A. in Peace and Conflict studies in a joint curriculum with Haverford College and Swarthmore College. Bryn Mawr’s strong International Studies program is related to this.
Chapman University, One University Drive, Orange, CA 92866. Founded (as Hesperian College) by and affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Chapman deliberately timed things to begin within one hour of Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration in order to honor his vision of equal education for all people. It is today a large, comprehensive university with seven consituent colleges or schools. Offers a B.A. in Peace Studies at Wilkerson College of Arts and Humanities that includes a Model United Nations option. Courses in Peace, Conflict and Human Rights are also integrated into the M.A. in International Studies. Other features include the Albert Schweitzer Institute and the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Studies.
College of St. Benedict-St. John’s University 37 S. College Avenue, St. Joseph, MN 56374 is, as its name suggests, affiliated with the Catholic Church. The College of St. Benedict (for women) and St. John’s University (for men) are partnered liberal arts colleges located respectively in St. Joseph and Collegeville, MN–about 3 miles apart. Students attend classes together at both institutions. They jointly offer a B.A. in Peace Studies.
Creighton University 2500 California Plaza, Omaha, NE. It is a comprehensive Catholic university founded in 1878 by the Society of Jesus and still a Jesuit-run institution. It’s College of Arts and Sciences has a multi-disciplinary program in Justice and Peace Studies (the order is very Jesuitical!) which offers a Justice and Society major leading to a B.A. or a minor in Justice and Peace Studies. There is also a $1,000 Justice and Peace Studies Scholarship offered in honor of former Congressman Walter H. Capps.
DePauw University 313 South Locust Street, Greencastle, IN 46135. Despite its name, Depauw is primarily an undergraduate liberal arts college, but it has a School of Music that offers graduate degrees. Founded in 1837 by the Methodist Church as Indiana Asbury College, DePauw remains affiliated with the United Methodist Church today. Offers a B.A. in Conflict Studies.
Earlham College 801 National Rd. West, Richmond, IN 47374, is a 4 year liberal arts college related closely to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). It’s educational philosophy is shaped by both the liberal arts tradition (rather than a technical or research university) and by the perspectives of Friends’ beliefs–viz., that there is “that of God in everyone,” that all are equal and must be treated with equal dignity, the commitment to search for Truth, to live simply, and to work for peace with all. Earlham offers an interdisciplinary B.A. in Peace and Global Studies (PAGS), modified from its original Peace and Conflict Studies program. All in the program must take courses in economics, history, philosophy, politics, and sociology/anthropology. Within the major, students choose one of the following focuses: Conflict Transformation, Religion and Pacifism, Social Theory and Social Movements, International War and Peace, African-American Civil Rights, Women and Social Change, Environmental Studies, or a Student-Designed focus. Earlham’s PAGS program is affiliated with both the Indianapolis Peace Institute and the Plowshares Project, which is a collaborative effort between the peace studies programs of Indiana’s 3 Historic Peace Church-related colleges: Earlham (Friends), Goshen (Mennonite), and Manchester (Church of the Brethren).
Earlham School of Religion 226 College Avenue, Richmond, IN 47374. Since Unprogrammed Friends do not have pastors, this is one of the few Quaker seminaries and the oldest one. It offers both an M.Div. and an M.Min. with a Peace and Justice concentration.
Eastern Mennonite University 1200 Park Rd., Harrisonburg, VA 22602 is a Mennonite Church, USA related university containing an undergraduate liberal arts college and a theological seminary and graduate school. The undergraduate program offers a B.A. in Peacebuilding and Development and a minor concentration in Peacebuilding. Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding runs a Graduate Program in Conflict Transformation leading either to a 15 hr. Certificate in Conflict Transformation or an M.A. in Conflict Transformation.
Eastern Mennonite Theological Seminary, 1200 Park Rd., Harrisonburg, VA 22602. The seminary offers a Certificate in Theology for Peacebuilding which can be added to either the Master of Divinity or Master of Arts in Religion degrees. One can also earn and dual M.Div./M.A. in Conflict Transformation. (You have to wonder why more Christian seminaries, of whatever denomination, do not offer concentrations and degrees in peacebuilding and conflict transformation–for healthier congregations if nothing else!)
Fresno Pacific University 1717 South Chestnut Avenue, Fresno, CA 93702. Founded in 1944 by Mennonite Brethren (a Pietist offshoot of the Mennonite Church), Fresno Pacific is the only accredited church-related university in California’s Central Valley. The undergraduate college offers a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies. The graduate school offers an M.A. in Peacebuilding and Conflict Studies as well as Certificates in Church Conflict and Peacemaking, Mediation, Restorative Justice, School Conflict Resolution and Peacemaking, Workplace Conflict Management and Peacemaking, and a Personalized Certificate in Peacemaking and Conflict Studies.
Goshen College 1700 S. Main Street, Goshen, IN 46526. Is a liberal arts college closely affiliated with the Mennonite Church, USA. It offers a B.A. in Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies and a minor in Peace and Justice studies. International education and service learning is emphasized throughout the curriculum for both faculty and students. (Most faculty spend their sabbaticals in service rather than just in writing.) Goshen is a participating member of the Plowshares Collaborative.
Guilford College,5800 W. Friendly Avenue, Greensboro, NC. 27410. Founded and closely related to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) first as a boarding school, then, beginning in the 1880s, as a 4 year liberal arts college. Quaker values still inform the school, including its educational philosophy. Offers both a B.A. and a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies. Related programs include a B.A. in International Studies and one in Justice and Policy Studies.
Gustavus Adolphus College 800 W. College Avenue, St. Peter, MN 56082. Founded in 1862 as a Lutheran boarding school, it is now a four year liberal arts college closely affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. Offers a Peace Studies minor.
Hamline University 1536 Hewittt Avenue, St. Paul, MN. Closely associated with the United Methodist Church. The undergraduate college offers a B.A. in Social Justice. The Law School has a Center for Dispure Resolution which offers several conflict resolution certificates.
Haverford College. 370 Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, PA 19041. Founded in 1833 by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Haverford is a most selective liberal arts college. Though not formally related to any Friends Meeting today, Haverford’s educational philosophy and atmosphere is still deeply shaped by Quaker values and numerous Friends are still found among its faculty and students. Haverford hosts a Center for Peace and Global Citizenship whose programs include a B.A. In the next year or so, Haverford will be reorienting to offer a B.A. in Peace, Justice, and Human Rights. It cooperates with the Peace and Conflict Studies programs at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore, but the Haverford program concentrates more strongly on the human rights tradition.
Juanita College 1700 Moore Street, Huntingdon, PA 16652. Founded in 1872 by the Church of the Brethren on the Juanita River. Instead of Majors and Minors, Juanita College emphasizes a core curriculum of liberal arts with additional “programs of emphasis.” It’s Department of Peace and Conflict Studies offers 3 such “POEs”: B.A. in Communication and Conflict Resolution, one in Peace and Conflict Studies and one in Peace and Conflict Studies with a secondary emphasis.
Manchester College 604 College Avenue, North Manchester, IN 46962. Affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, Manchester is a small, selective, Christian liberal arts college. Established in 1948, the Peace Studies Institute and Program in Conflict Resolution at Manchester actually began the field of peace studies which has now spread even beyond Christian circles. Manchester offers a B.A. in Peace Studies with concentrations in either interpersonal/intergroup conflict studies, international and global studies, or an individualized concentration. There is also a Peace Studies minor. Manchester’s Peace Studies Institute and Program in Conflict Resolution is part of the Plowshares Collaborative that coordinates the peace studies programs of all three Historic Peace Church-related colleges in Indiana: Earlham, Goshen, and Manchester. The Institute publishes Nonviolent Social Change previously called the Bulletin of the Peace Studies Institute.
Manhattan College Manhattan College Pkwy., Bronx, NY 10471. Manhattan College is a Roman Catholic liberal arts college in the Lasallian tradition founded in 1853 in Riverdale, the Bronx, New York (despite its name, the school is no longer on the island of Manhattan). Offers a B.A. in Peace Studies that is multidisciplinary and deals with arms races and war, economic, political and social justice, conflict creation, management, and resolution, nonviolent philosophies and strategies of resistance, and world community and world government. The first course in peace studies was offered at Manhattan College in 1958 and it has had a complete B.A. program since 1971. The program offers several prestigious fellowships, internships, and scholarships, semesters in Washington, D.C. or the New York legislature in Albany. There is a Model United Nations option and plenty of placement counseling beyond graduation.
Messiah College One College Avenue, Grantham, PA. 17027. This is a small liberal arts college founded by and closely related to the Brethren in Christ Church, a Pietist offshoot of the Mennonites. Through its Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Wesleyan, and Pietist Studies, Messiah offers a Minor in Peace Studies. (I would have guessed that Messiah offered more than a Peace Studies minor. Surely, they should be upgrading this program.)
Swarthmore College 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081. Swarthmore is a most selective, private, liberal arts college founded by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Today the school is non-sectarian, but Quaker values still inform its educational philosophy. The Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Swarthmore offers a B.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies. As well, students in any major can add a minor in Peace Studies. The program at Swarthmore is multidisciplinary and participates jointly with the Peace and Conflict Studies programs at Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College, the Tri-College Consortium. Swarthmore’s library boasts one of the largest collections of primary documents related to peace and justice movements in the world. It is part of the Greater Philadelphia Higher Education Peace and Social Justice Consortium. Swarthmore also hosts the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility.
University of Notre Dame 54801 Juniper Road, Notre Dame, IN 46556. The University of Notre Dame du Lac (or just Notre Dame) is a private, Roman Catholic national research university in Notre Dame, IN, near the town of South Bend and 90 mi. East of Chicago, IL. Admission is highly competitive. Over 70% of incoming students graduated in the top 5% of their high school class. Once an all male school, women, first admitted in 1972, now comprise 47% of the undergraduate student population. Once nearly all white, minority enrollment has more than tripled in the last 20 years. Notre Dame houses the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Through the Kroc Institute, students may earned a B.A., M.A., or even Ph.D. in Peace Studies–in a multidisciplinary setting working with several departments in Notre Dame. This is one of the very few places offering a Ph.D. in Peace Studies.
University of San Diego 5998 Alcala Park, San Diego, CA 92110. The University of San Diego (USD) is a private, comprehensive Roman Catholic university in the City of San Diego. It offers over 60 degrees (Baccalaureates, Masters’, and Doctorates) in six separate schools. One of those schools is the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies.The Kroc School at USD contains an Institute for Peace and Justice, a Conference Venue, and a Trans-Border Institute. The Kroc School offers a minor in Peace Studies for undergraduates and an M.A. in Peace and Justice Studies for graduate students. Each year one or two distinguished peace scholars (who are usually also activists) are brought to USD as Joan B. Kroc Peace Scholars.
University of St. Louis, One Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO. SLU is a medium sized Catholic university in the Jesuit tradition. Now offers a Certificate in Peace and Justice Studies.
University of St. Thomas 2115 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105. The University of St. Thomas is a comprehensive university founded in 1885 by Archbishop John Ireland. It’s an archdiocesan university. They have a B.A. and a minor in Justice and Peace Studies. One of my peacemaker heroes, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer teaches there.
Villanova University 800 E. Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, PA 19085. Villanova is a medium sized Catholic university in the Augustinian tradition. Has a Center for Peace & Justice Education. Offers either a minor or concentration in Peace and Justice Education. The Center publishes the Journal for Peace and Justice Education.
Walsh University 2020 E. Maple St., North Canton, OH 44720. A Catholic university founded by the Brothers of Christian Instruction. The Department of Social Sciences offers a Peace Studies minor.
That’s all the specifically Christian colleges or universities in the U.S. with Peace Studies programs that I have found. If I have missed some, please alert me and I’ll add to this list.
Believe it or not these programs are quite controversial. During the Bush years, many conservative magazines and websites ran articles and advertisements against these programs, saying that they had declared war on America! Let’s face it: Peacemaking is subversive of the status quo–regardless of which party controls the government or who lives in the White House (or any other nation’s seat of government). When peacemakers come on the scene: Jesus or Buddha or Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi or Thich Nhat Hanh or Badshah Khan or Dorothy Day–they are always seen as troublemakers and disturbers of the peace, rather than as peacemakers.
Coming soon: A series in which I profile major philosophers whose work has impacted struggles for peace and justice. Pacifists and those whose work has contributed to the development of nonviolence theory will be given special attention. As a Christian, I naturally focus most on Christian philosophers, but other persons of faith and non-religious thinkers will not be ignored or ruled out.
10 December is International Human Rights Day. It is also the day when the world’s most famous peacemaking award, The Nobel Peace Prize, is awarded in Oslo, Norway. According to the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will, most of the prizes bearing his name are awarded by various institutions in Sweden (in Stockholm–also on 10 December), but the Peace Prize is awarded by a committee of Norwegian citizens chosen by the Storting, or Norwegian Parliament. This year the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Martti Ahtisaari, past President of the Republic of Finland, former UN Ambassador and a global mediator for his decades of efforts in ending conflicts in Namibia, the Balkans, Iraq and elsewhere. Ahtisaari’s curriculum vita is found here. The homepage of his current organization, the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), whose mission is to build sustainable security for the whole planet, is here.
Congratulations, Mr. Ahtisaari! Blogging in celebration of your award and hearing your challenge to us all (especially on the importance of achieving a just peace in the Middle East) was much more fun than concentrating on bad economic news or the debacle of the corruption scandal of the governor of Illinois! 🙂
I will use use this third installment to focus on MY congregation: Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty in Louisville, KY. (We don’t have a website, so that link will connect you to our church blog, Life at Jeff Street, run by Dan Trabue, who convinced me to start this blog.)
This is an historic congregation that has ALWAYS attracted odd characters and has always worked with and for the poor. In 1881, Steve Holcombe, a former riverboat gambler (who had murdered two people) who had been converted to Christ, founded this congregation as the Holcombe Mission. In 1886, the mission’s name was changed to the Union Gospel Mission, a joint project of the Long Run Baptist Association of Louisville, KY and a Protestant Mission Board (roughly equivalent to today’s Kentucky Council of Churches). Our congregation remained such a joint mission (though effectively led by Baptists) until 1944 when the Protestant Board gave up its interest completely to Long Run Baptist Association. From 1944 until the early ’60s, the mission was known as the Central Baptist Mission. Then, our congregation became the Jefferson Street Baptist Chapel meeting in the Jefferson Street Baptist Center. We then underwent our current change, but that is a longer story (see below).
In all this time, we were located in East Downtown Louisville, an area once known as the “Haymarket District,” one of the poorest areas of the city and once one of the worst slums in the nation. From the time of our founding by Steve Holcomb until today, we have been a small church (usually numbering about 100 members) ministering with the poor. We have also always had “odd characters,” as one might expect from a church started by a converted riverboat gambler.
In the 1940s, the Union Gospel Mission’s story intersected that of some of those who later left huge marks on the more progressive (even radical) strand of Baptist life in the South: The mission was supervised by Long Run Mission Director Clarence Jordan, then a Ph.D. student in New Testament, who went on to found Koinonia Farm (now Koinonia Partners), an interracial Christian community in South Georgia that testified to gospel nonviolence, interracial brotherhood and sisterhood, and community of goods. Jordan also became the author of the “Cotton Patch” paraphrases of New Testament books–attempting to make clear to white Southerners the radical demands of the gospel by “translating” the NT into modern, “Southern” speech forms.
In the 1930s and ’40s, Henlee H. Barnette, later a Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was the pastor of Union Gospel Mission. He began our long partnership with our sister church, Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville. During Barnette’s pastorate, the deacons had to ask members to leave guns at the door! (Ministering with and to the poor is not always easy!) Among those whom Barnette recruited to preach guest revivals were Carlyle Marney, (trained as a church historian, during the ’50s-’70s, Marney became one of the few liberal pastor-theologians of the Baptist South to have a large national and international influence–even receiving an honorary Th.D. from the University of Glasgow, the first American pastor to do so since Harry Emerson Fosdick!) and Frank Stagg (later to become an influential professor of New Testament).
The congregation has always been controversial. It was integrated during segregation (although this was whispered both to avoid funding loss as a Southern Baptist mission and because integrated churches were against Kentucky state law!), though the number of African-American members were small. The roles for women and laity were always greater than the societal norms of the day. It’s very membership and “social location” challenged middle class “respectable” Christianity. But that controversy grew when then-pastor Mike Elliott resigned in 1988 and the congregation (then-known as Jefferson Street Baptist Chapel) called the Assistant Pastor, Reverend Cindy J. Weber, a graduate of the Carver School of Church Social Work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as the pastor.
The Long Run Baptist Association went nuts and tried to force the congregation to fire Rev. Weber and hire a man by threatening to cut off funds and kick them/us (I joined the church just after the Association made its final ruling) out of the building. We incorporated as a church, purchased an abandoned machine shop on the corner of Shelby and Liberty (still in the same neighborhood) and changed our name to Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty. (I have repeatedly lost votes to get us a shorter, more usable, name. I wanted originally to name us Holcombe Memorial Baptist Church, but would have supported a dozen other suggestions, including Liberation Anabaptist Fellowship, but lost every time.) We refurbished the inside of the machine shop and took on a new chapter in our church life. We had the first, but not the last, woman pastor among Baptists in Kentucky.
In 1992, we broke all ties with the Southern Baptist Convention because of its increasing fundamentalism. We affiliated with the small, progressive, Alliance of Baptists. We considered ties with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, but its hostility to gays and lesbians prevented us. For the same reason, since the “issue of homosexuality” was dividing the American Baptist Churches, USA, we considered but did not join them.
We have long been a partner congregation of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. Some of our members have served as BPFNA board members. Our pastor has been the preacher at a BPFNA summer conference and our members have taken various other roles within the BPFNA. Many of our current and former members have been involved in other faith-based peace organizations such as The Fellowship of Reconciliation, Witness for Peace, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and Every Church a Peace Church. In 2002, seeing the invasion of Iraq looming on the horizon (although I and other members worked to try to prevent this, it was with little hope that we could actually stop the juggernaut of war), the congregation as a whole declared itself a “peace church.”
Since the late 1980s, leaders and members of the congregation had been wrestling with homophobia and heterosexism. In the ’90s, Rev. Weber told the church that she was joining “Religious Leaders for Fairness” to try to change local civil rights laws to stop discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons (a campaign that has met with partial success). We began attracting more “out” gay and lesbian members. (When asked if my church has gay members, I reply, “So does yours, but I know who at least some of mine are!”) After intense biblical and theological discussions, we began performing gay “weddings” (regardless of state and federal law) and ordaining gay and lesbian deacons. In 2004, as politicians were increasingly stirring up hatred of GLBT persons for political gain, Jeff Street declared itself a “Welcoming and Affirming Congregation” and joined the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.
In the ’90s, we formed a non-profit organization, Choices, Inc., and built first 1 and now 2 transitional houses for homeless or abused women and their families, Norma’s House, and Mary Jane Toney House. Our pastor’s husband, a Presbyterian minister named Robert Owen, became the lead organizer for a faith-based community organization in the tradition of Saul Alinsky, CLOUT, Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together–and Jeff Street became a founding congregation.
God is not through with us, yet. We travel on a road together in discipleship–seeking nonconformity to the dominant culture and seeking ways to transform that culture. If you are ever in Louisville, drop by 800 East Liberty and meet us.
N.B.: Several books have been written about our little church and/or parts of our history. Maude M. Abner, The Story of the Union Gospel Mission, 1886-1944 (Louisville, KY: Mayes Printing Co, 1944), available in reprint from Antiquarian Booksellers.
Gross Alexander, Steve P. Holcombe, the Converted Gambler (Louisville, KY: Courier-Journal Printing Co, 1888). You can download this for free here. The description mistakenly calls Holcombe a Methodist. He was converted by a Methodist preacher, but became a Baptist.
There is a chapter on Henlee Barnette’s years as pastor in Henlee H. Barnette, A Pilgrimage of Faith: My Story (Mercer University Press, 2004).
Our former pastor, Mike Elliott, has told stories of Jeff Street in his Salty Saints books.
Michael Elliott, The Society of Salty Saints (Meyer Stone Books, 1987).
Michael Elliott, Community of the Abandoned: Stories of Salty Saints (Meyer Stone Books, 1989).
Michael Elliott, Partners in Grace: Friends of the Salty Saints (Pilgrim Press, 1992).
Finally, several members of our current congregation edited and self-published, Bread for the Journey: Stories and Whatnot from Jeff Street (Lulu.com, 2008 ) which covers the 20 years to date of Rev. Cindy Weber’s pastorate.
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.
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.
For week 3 of Advent, I have chosen that radical Baptist peacemaker, Muriel Lester as my witness to the Word Made Flesh. Because I said as well as I can before, I am reprinting an article I wrote on Ms. Lester in 2003 below:
Muriel Lester (1883 – 1968): Ambassador of Reconciliation
A Random Chapter in the History of Nonviolence
by Michael L. Westmoreland-White
Monday, 21 April 2003 Muriel Lester, once one of the world’s most famous Christian pacifists, is today little known. This deserves correction since Lester has been positively compared to both Dorothy Day and Jane Addams in her work for the poor and for peace. As far as I can determine, she never participated in a campaign of active nonviolence personally, but she was a key link in the convergence of several movements: the mystical Christian pacifism of Tolstoy, the pragmatic peacebuilding of the early 20th C. labor and feminist movements, the “liberal” pacifism of mainstream non-sectarian Protestantism between the 2 World Wars, and Gandhian satyagraha or active nonviolent direct action. Since Lester, like Day, was a witness to Christian pacifism through the very difficult days of World War II, her story deserves recovery for us, today.
Born in Essex, England in December 1883, Muriel Lester grew up in relative wealth and security. In fact, the sheltered nature of her early life makes her journey into solidarity with the poor and radical Christian peacemaking all the more remarkable. Her father and paternal grandfather were successful in the shipbuilding business, the source of the family money. Her father was also a Justice of the Peace. The latter was somewhat unusual since the Lesters were Baptists and it was still rare, in those days, for “Nonconformists” (people who belonged to one of the Protestant denominations other than the Church of England) to hold a governmental office. The Lester family was prominent in English Baptist life, Henry Lester, Jr. (Muriel’s father) was for years president of the Essex Baptist Union. (Before the 1970s, it was not unusual anywhere in the world for laypeople, especially laymen, to hold major leadership positions in Baptist denominations. Outside the U.S., this is still more common than inside where the “cult of pastoral leadership” — sometimes amounting to pastoral dictatorship! — has marginalized the previous Baptist tradition of strong lay-leadership. As part of their historic views of “liberty of conscience” and the “priesthood of believers,” previous generations of Baptists saw pastors and ordained ministers as “firsts among equals” in the life of the congregation the authority of theologians, ministers, and denominational officials came from their ability to persuade and teach laypeople who reserved the right to interpret Scripture for themselves and to challenge direction and teaching that was less than persuasive to them. Messy as this approach is, I prefer it to hierarchical systems and, speaking as a Baptist, would like to see its revival in our circles in the U.S.)
Along with her brother, Kingsley, and her sister, Doris, Muriel grew strong roots in the spirituality of English Baptist life. Her father taught them to think for themselves, being himself a strong iconoclast against “the old legalisms” of 19th C. Baptist tradition. Muriel was baptized in 1898, at 15, a typical “age of decision” for faith among those who grow up in Baptist circles. She and Doris reorganized and updated the children’s Sunday School programs. Many Baptist leaders in England, including her father, opposed the Anglo-Boer War as a war of imperialist aggression (although pure pacifists were fairly rare among English Baptists by this time). Muriel heard these arguments, but they didn’t take quick root since she was at a militaristic phase of her life, then. Later, discovering the writings of the Russian novelist, Count Leo Tolstoy, Muriel had a “second conversion” to Christian pacifism.
Muriel’s childhood provided a good education and ample opportunities to travel. She contemplated enrolling at Cambridge University, only recently open to “Nonconformists” and it still being fairly rare for English women to seek university degrees. With her fine mind and disciplined lifestyle, Lester would probably have done well in university life and could have become an accomplished scholar in a chosen area of interest. Yet, by this time, her heart had been captured by the call to work for social justice, especially for the poor. She declined to seek university education. Instead, along with her sister, Doris, and with money from the estate of her brother, Kingsley, who died young, she founded Kingsley Hall in the poverty-stricken Bow district of East London in 1914. Kingsley Hall was part settlement house, part “tee-totaling public house” (similar to the later coffee house movement in the U.S), and part non-denominational church with Muriel the de-facto pastor and director. What had brought this upper-Middle Class young woman to such a pass?
Two experiences were crucial in this transformation out of her sheltered life and into radical solidarity with and champion of the poor. The first was a train-ride during her early teen years that took her slowly through the London slums on her way home. Lester observed the sight and smell of poverty close-up for the first time. She asked aloud whether people lived “down there” and received this patronizing and dismissive answer from another passenger, “Oh yes, plenty of people live down there, but you needn’t worry about them, they don’t mind it, they’re not like you, they don’t mind any of these smells. Besides, if they did, they only have themselves to blame. They get drunk. That’s why they’re poor.” Muriel, a lifelong teetotaler, knew that alcoholism could contribute to poverty, but she also knew wealthy people who drank, so she wasn’t ready to accept this answer at face value. Then, in 1902, she visited with her father a “factory girls’ club” in Bow that was having a party. Whatever she saw and experienced there began a profound change in her. Muriel began to go to Bow regularly as a volunteer social worker. In 1912, she and her sister, Doris, rented rooms in a Victorian working class cottage for a base, and then, as they spent more time there, as a residence. This began an experiential education in social radicalism that was to culminate in the production of Kingsley Hall.
While Muriel and Doris were becoming familiar with life in Bow and its problems, Muriel was becoming more skeptical about mainline churches. The churches were not managing to change society in radical ways. She wanted to see the revolutionary dimensions of Christianity make an impact personally in the structures of society. During this time, Lester deepened her study of Tolstoy’s teachings about pacifism and taught these to her Sunday School students. Together, they came to the conclusion that they had to do “Jesus Christ the honour of taking him seriously, of thinking out His teaching in terms of daily life, and then acting on it even if ordered by police, prelates, and princes to do the opposite.”
It was with this radical faith that Muriel and Doris began to ask the residents of Bow to dream with them of a place where they could begin to work on their own problems, not abandoning political or union struggles, but not waiting for such successes before working to improve their lives together. With money from Kingsley’s estate, the sisters purchased an abandoned church building, Zion Chapel, previously used by a Strict and Particular Baptist congregation on Botolph Road in Bow. (Particular Baptists were more Calvinistic than General Baptists. After the two main groups in England merged in the mid-19th Century to become the Baptist Union of Great Britain, those very Calvinistic Baptists that refused to join with the Arminian or General Baptists became known as “Strict and Particular” Baptists.) They worked to transform this former church into a “teetotal pub,” and settlement house — Kingsley Hall. For 18 years, this community center was the base of Muriel Lester’s work among the poor and working classes. It was, in many ways, as radical a center as any socialist could imagine, but it was never a secular enterprise: Muriel, Doris, and many of the residents practiced silent, listening prayer similar to Quaker practices. Once a week, they gathered for Bible study, especially the teachings of Jesus, asking if and how His teachings answered the questions and problems of the poor. The center of their focus was the Sermon on the Mount.
As World War I broke out, Lester resisted the militaristic patriotism of most of England and solidified her nascent pacifism by joining the fledgling Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1914. She later recalled the launching of the F.O.R. in these words:
In December 1914, a hundred or so Christians of all sects met in Cambridge, drawn together by the immovable conviction that a nation cannot wage war to the glory of God. The doctrine of the Cross, self-giving, self-suffering, forgiveness, is the exact opposite of the doctrine of armies and navies. One must choose between the sword and the Cross. Thus the Fellowship of Reconciliation was formed, providing us with anchorage as well as with a chart for all adventuring. (From It Occurred to Me by Muriel Lester, pp. 61-62.)
Not all other English Christians agreed. Along with others in the F.O.R., Lester received condemnation from many churches for refusing to pray for British victory. Lester claimed that a “victor’s peace” would sow the seeds for future wars. Considering that most historians agree that many of the roots of the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany and of World War II grew out of the vengeful terms of the Treaty of Versailles which ended WWI (and sought to punish Germany and make it solely responsible for the war), Lester insight shows great wisdom. When the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) was founded four years later in 1919, Lester quickly joined it as well, shortly after its first meeting in Holland.
Meanwhile, in 1921, Lester was elected for a term on the city council of the Poplar borough of London. Bow constituted roughly a third of the borough and Muriel was elected on a Fabian socialist platform. In her city council post, Lester was able to address many of the political dimensions of the social ills of the inner city, but she did not stop engaging in direct aid and community organizing. In 1923, Muriel and Doris Lester co-founded a “Children’s House” in Bow as an alternative to the grim orphanages of the day. In 1927, she used an inheritance to construct a new Kingsley Hall and to expand to Dagenham, another poor district of East London.
The residents of Bow did not consider Muriel to be just another social worker or even a politician who was “on their side.” Despite her wealthy background, she was claimed as “one of them” and they adopted her as their “parson” since few of them found themselves at home in any church other than Kingsley Hall. Muriel described herself as needing to perform the “priestly functions” for the “little company of the believers of Christ.” She led Sunday worship, re-wrote hymns, led prayers, provided pastoral care, officiated at communion services (Holy Eucharist; most often called “the Lord’s Supper” in the Baptist circles that Lester knew best) and (adult) baptisms and marriage services, blessed babies, organized a nursery school, initiated a men’s adult school, and started other programs. Although her theology broadened from the conservative evangelicalism of her childhood, Lester never lost a sense of the need to bear witness to the gospel in personal as well as social terms. Throughout her life, she invited people to follow Christ and become part of this radical fellowship of believers. Although she never sought formal ordination from any established denomination for herself, Lester championed the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, eventually writing a book-long defense called Why Forbid Us? (Shanghai: Christian Literature Society, 1935). Lester eventually developed a following as a writer on Christian topics, including matters of personal and social ethics, prayer and spirituality, and autobiographical devotional books. Although never formally trained in academic theology, Muriel Lester should probably count as the first woman to be a writing theologian among Baptists and one of the earliest among most Believers’ Church bodies.
After WWI, Lester, along with much of the world, began hearing reports about Gandhi’s leadership in a nonviolent struggle for India’s independence from Great Britain. From childhood, Lester had been a strong anti-imperialist (as were many Nonconformists of that era). Now, Gandhi’s active nonviolent struggle connected Lester’s pacifism and anti-imperialism in a new way. In 1926, accompanied by her nephew, Daniel Hogg, Lester made the first of many trips to India, making many lifelong friends, but most notably Gandhi. She wrote about this first trip in her book, My Host the Hindu (London: Williams and Norgate, 1931). Lester returned to India in 1934, 1935, 1938, 1946, and 1949 when she helped to form the Indian chapter of the F.O.R. When Gandhi came to Britain in 1931 for the Round Table Conference on Indian independence, he stayed in Kingsley Hall for three months. (This was shown in one brief scene in the movie Gandhi with no mention of Muriel Lester nor explanation about what Kingsley Hall was or why Gandhi felt more at home there than in the rich ambassadorial suites prepared for him.)
In 1933, Muriel turned over the leadership of Kingsley Hall to her sister, Doris, and became the “traveling secretary” for IFOR, an “ambassador of reconciliation” as Richard Deats’ collection of her works calls her. In this capacity, she began new chapters of the F.O.R., strengthened others, and was a traveling “evangelist for nonviolence and pacifism.” She made nine (9) complete world trips in this capacity, in an era before jet travel made global travel easy. She conducted prayer schools and reached out to adherents of all religions — especially Hindus, Jews, and Muslims — without manifesting the normal prejudices of Protestants of her era. When IFOR broadened its membership basis from an explicitly Christian to an interfaith pacifist organization, Lester was in full agreement with the move.
As traveling secretary for IFOR, Lester still connected peacemaking with work for social justice. She investigated injustices in India under British rule, the effects of Japanese colonization on China and Korea. She would collect documentation concerning various issues and make that part of her speaking and writing. In 1934, during her second visit to India, she traveled around the country with Gandhi to speak out against untouchableness and the caste system. In 1938, after visiting China, she spent two weeks in imperial Japan courageously telling people the atrocities done to the Chinese people by their government and army.
As the Second World War broke out, Muriel Lester continued her world speaking tour. In August 1941, she was returning to Great Britain after having spoken and helped organize F.O.R. chapters all through Latin America. When her ocean liner docked in Trinidad (then British territory), the authorities seized her and detained her for ten weeks. While confined, she attempted to raise the spirits of other prisoners while dealing with her own depression and isolation. Public outcry helped secure her release, but upon setting foot in England, again, she was detained several more days and her passport was confiscated for the duration of the War. This did not deter her from traveling throughout the United Kingdom campaigning against the war. She resumed work at Kingsley Hall and organized food and medical aid for Europeans on both sides of the war, bypassing a blockade to do so. After WWII ended, Lester resumed her international campaigning. Her first trip was to Europe, where she warned that the atomic bomb and the beginnings of the Cold War were threatening the newly won peace. She visited areas devastated by the war and ministered to resistance leaders (nonviolent resistance movements and armed struggles) and to Germans taken as prisoners of war. She organized humanitarian relief efforts.
Lester was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Price but was never awarded it. She believed that women, who had been throughout history the victims of war, could play a special role in working for peace and abolishing war. Her Christian faith led her to live in the power of the resurrection, but it did not lead her to close herself off from the nonviolence of those from other faiths, like her friend, Gandhi. In our post-Cold War days with one remaining superpower rapidly becoming a de facto empire with just the trappings of democracy, with the spread of global terrorism and a merciless global capitalism, with renewed religious and ethnic hatreds and the deliberate weakening of international forces for cooperation and human rights, we face dark times. But the times we face are no darker than the two World Wars Muriel Lester endured and active nonviolence is far more well known now than in Lester’s day. We can take strength from the way she faced her challenges as we face ours.
Richard Deats’ essay on Muriel Lester, “No Moratorium on the Sermon on the Mount” can be found here.
War is as outmoded as cannibalism, chattel slavery, blood-feuds and dueling – an insult to God and man – a daily crucifixion of Christ. Muriel Lester