How to be a ‘Just Peace Church' in times like these
Written by J. Bennett Guess
Some 500 mourners attended the memorial service at First Congregational UCC in Milford, Mass., for Herbert Homer, 48, who died aboard United Airlines Flight 175 when it crashed into the World Trade Center. Homer and his wife, Karen, had celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary last spring. With talk of retaliation and war, many UCC congregations struggle with what it means to be a Just Peace Church. Jay Malonson/Milford Daily News photo.
The horrific tragedies of September 11 and the subsequent U.S. bombings over Afghanistan have been cause for many in the United Church of Christ to consider deeply the role of the UCC as a "Just Peace Church"—especially in difficult times like these. Justice and Witness Ministries has called upon laypersons, pastors, professors and congregations across the church to help us all think through these complex and important issues.
In 1985, a General Synod pronouncement called upon the UCC to be a Just Peace Church. This action underscored the words of the Rev. Robert V. Moss, the second president of the UCC, who wrote in 1971, "We now need to put as much effort into defining a just peace as we have done in the past in defining a just war."
The General Synod defined "just peace" as the interrelation of friendship, justice and common security from violence. The pronouncement called the church to a vision of "shalom" rooted in peace with justice and placed the UCC General Synod in opposition to the institution of war.
Here are excerpts from some of the responses Justice and Witness Ministries has received:
No peace without justice, no justice without peace
Many churches have mixed records on supporting war or opposing war. The churches of New England, for example, generally supported the Revolutionary War as necessary to achieve freedom and end the colonial domination of the Colonies by England. They generally supported the Civil War as necessary to end slavery and maintain the unity of the country. But they also generally opposed the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War of 1845. Other churches in different parts of the country might have had different reasons for supporting or opposing specific wars. Does this mean that only a few churches should be considered peace churches? Or does it mean that the search for peace is complex, confusing, and the reality of peace is elusive? Does it mean that the search for peace and the search for justice and an end to oppression are hopelessly intertwined? ...
Many mainline Protestant churches, over the past couple of decades, have come to consider themselves Just Peace Churches. This is a conscious attempt to balance the passion for peace with the passion for justice, recognizing that there is no peace without justice and no justice without peace. The quest for peace and the quest for justice are intertwined. It is a false peace, the false peace identified by the prophets, that tolerates unjust domination and oppression, crying "Peace, peace," when there is no peace.
The Rev. Jay Lintner
Former head of the UCC's Office for Church in Society's Washington, D.C., office
More just policies needed toward the whole Arab world
Nothing characterizes Just Peace theology more than a clear recognition of the differences in the way we view the world when we are powerful and when we are powerless. While nothing justifies terrorism, terrorists receive support from people who are so oppressed and marginalized that it seems there is no other way to make their voices heard. The United States must look at itself and its policies to determine how more just policies can be developed toward the whole Arab world and how we can encourage other nations to do the same. This will not cure terrorism, but it will tend to change the climate that harbors them and gives them support. And it will certainly help to deter the desire to blame innocent Arab Americans and Muslims around the world who had nothing to do with these attacks.
The Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
President and Professor of Theology Chicago Theological Seminary
Vengeance does not produce justice
As Asian-American people who were once recipients of unjust treatment by this society, we must speak up when people are targeted in the same manner because of their race, ethnic origin or religion. To remain silent is to betray the very justice we have been struggling to uphold.
Let us not confuse those few who are driven by hatred with the innocent and decent folks who just happen to share the same race or ethnicity of those who hate and destroy. Let us not confuse those who worship the god of hate with those who worship the Just God, even if the name of their religions happens to be the same.
Most of all, let us not resort to violence in order to confront the criminal acts of violence inflicted upon this nation. Vengeance does not produce justice. The tremendous outpouring of generosity, comfort, and support throughout this nation and the world to reach out to the victims and their loved ones as well as the healthy anger toward those who perpetrated the criminal acts both testify to human dignity and decency. The leaders of this nation have begun to work together with the leaders of other nations to contain the evil acts of terrorists. This is a right step. Let us all work toward a world of peace by confronting the criminals with justice through the enhancement of democracy in the world and this nation.
The Rev. Fumitaka Matsuoka
Professor of Theology, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Calif.
Stakes are high, future seems uncertain
These are times that will test our deepest convictions and tempt us to solutions that seem more bold and obvious. But our ways are not God's ways; God's wisdom is not our own. We must listen for wisdom in voices that seem to us out of touch with the grim realities we face. The stakes seem suddenly high. Our future lies before us now in shadows of uncertainty. How can we find the wherewithal to trust God to lead us to a new place of safety, of justice and peace? I do not know. I only pray that we will, by the grace of God, find a way.
The Rev. Stephen J. Patterson
Professor of New Testament Eden Theological Seminary
The writers' full statements, along with the text of the UCC's Just Peace Church Pronouncement, can be found at the UCC website at www.ucc.org/justice/just.htm.
Reflections sought on the call to ‘just peace'
The UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries invites pastors and lay leaders, seminary professors, and local congregations to join it in reflecting upon the call of the United Church of Christ to be a Just Peace Church.
In light of the national tragedy of September 11, what does it mean for the UCC to be a Just Peace Church in the 21st century?
Justice and Witness is looking for serious reflections and reasoned responses that it might share with others across the church. Your words may be e-mailed to Justice and Witness Ministries at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailed to the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland OH 44115.
Justice and Witness Ministries is compiling an updated list of Just Peace congregations. If your congregation identifies as a Just Peace Church, or you are interested in learning more, contact Sandy Sorensen at UCC Justice and Witness Ministries/Washington, DC; 110 Maryland, Ave, NE Suite 207, Washington, DC 20002; 202-543-1517; email@example.com.