Led by Justice and Witness Ministries board and staff representatives, 10 UCC members were among more than 150 participants in late July at an ecumenical peace conference titled "Peace Among the Peoples: An Ecumenical Peace Conference on Overcoming the Spirit, Logic and Practice of Violence."
The conference – hosted July 28-31 by the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., drew participants from the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Free Church faith traditions were represented at the event, which served as a pre-gathering for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation. That conference will be held in Kingston, Jamaica, May 17-25, 2011.
"Hopefully, this will be a shot in the arm for those of us working on that issue," says Michael Neuroth, UCC policy advocate on international issues in JWM.
Peace Among the Peoples has been part of a decade-long initiative of the World Council of Churches to help people overcome the spirit, logic and practice of violence. The Kingston conference is planned as a "harvest festival" to celebrate the achievements of the Decade to Overcome Violence, which began in 2001.
"What does it mean to be a Just Peace church in the age of terrorism?" says Neuroth, noting the original pronouncement was made in 1985. "What has changed? It's caught on with some churches, but not with others."
The WCC is composing an Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace, to be delivered at the conference. The declaration is expected to call for greater global commitment to and coordination of global peace with justice activity.
"We wanted to bring people together (in Elkhart) to have a conversation before the Jamaica conference. And we talked about the synergy, within the North American context, needed to promote peacemaking and cooperation around peacemaking," says Neuroth, adding that creation of a North American peace center and a global peace network were discussed.
Speakers at the July event included widely regarded theologians such as Duke University's Stanley Hauerwas, who boldly proclaimed, "the church does not have an alternative to war, but rather the church is the alternative to war." Author Brian McLaren warned against trying to gain peace "through domination, revolution, purification, victimization, isolation and accumulation." Paul Alexander, co-founder of Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace, led a group of evangelical Christians to discuss faith in peacemaking based on their visit with Christians and others in Israel and Palestine.
Other issues raised at the conference included just peace, just policing, military chaplaincy, nuclear weapons, responsibility to protect and selective conscientious objection.
The issue of war and peace has permeated WCC deliberations since its formation in 1948. The question then was considered primarily in terms of international conflicts between sovereign states. WCC members affirmed that "war is contrary to the will of God" and "peace requires attack on the causes of conflict between the powers." But they could not reach consensus on a question posed by World War II: Can war now be an act of justice?
In evaluating work accomplished and challenges ahead, Neuroth sounds a note of optimism. "There is a growing cooperation between historical peace churches and mainline churches, and even evangelicals, as far as peacemaking goes."
For more information on the Elkhart conference, visit <peace2010.net>. Details on the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation are located at <overcomingviolence.org>.