Remarks delivered by Rev. Chuck Currie, incoming Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and University Chaplain at Pacific University, before the 2014 annual symposium of the Peace and Conflict Studies Consortium, on April 26, 2014
This coming fall I’ll assume the duties of Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and University Chaplain here at Pacific University. As an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a community activist, I have long standing interests in peacemaking and how we build just communities that sustain peace.
In the mid-1980s, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ voted for our denomination to become a “Just Peace” church. This was seen as an alternative to the Christian model of “Just War” which sanctioned war under some conditions. Just Peace, on the other hand, tried to envision a world without war – a world where just systems of commerce and diplomacy would negate the need for war.
Theologically, Just Peace is predicated on the belief that…
A Just Peace is grounded in God's activity in creation. Creation shows the desire of God to sustain the world and not destroy. The creation anticipates what is to come: the history-long relationship between God and humanity and the coming vision of shalom.
Just Peace is grounded in covenant relationship. God creates and calls us into covenant, God's gift of friendship: "I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore" (Ezekiel 37:26). When God's abiding presence is embraced, human well-being results, or Shalom, which can be translated Just Peace.
The concept of a Just Peace was originally developed within the context of the Cold War and largely within the confines of Christian bodies, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. With the end of the Cold War the Just Peace movement largely went dormant. In the last decade, however, new life within the movement has emerged and this time the movement has been reborn as an interfaith enterprise.
Ten organizing principles were developed to advance Just Peace, and have now been expanded to include Christian, Islamic and Jewish perspectives in Interfaith Just Peacemaking, with The Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite as editor:
1. Support nonviolent direct action.
2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat.
3. Use cooperative conflict resolution.
4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness.
5. Advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty.
6. Foster just and sustainable economic development.
7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system.
8. Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights.
9. Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.
10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.
These principles, which Glen Stassen also first helped to develop, have the potential to help create a more just and peaceful world.
While many Christians are pacifists, with great justification, other Christians have found room within these principles to advocate a responsibility to protect in the event of genocide or other crimes against humanity. I myself advocated limited military intervention in Libya to stop Col. Muammar Gaddafi and his forces from carrying out their clear intent to inflict massive civilian casualties in a vain and hopeless attempt to maintain their grip on power.
My default position is always non-violence. My own belief is that even with the best of intentions that use of violence always falls somewhere in the category of sin.
As much as I am concerned about the larger world, I am also concerned about what happens here at home. From gun violence to domestic violence we live in a society that cries out for peacemakers.
The biggest obstacles to peace in our time include not just power hungry leaders intent on conquest but world citizens paralyzed into inaction when faced with the magnitude that is climate change and a sizeable part of the population that has abandoned reason and logic for absolutes that end dialogue and crumble the common good.
Is there hope in the midst of such difficulties?
As usual, I turn to William Sloane Coffin, the one-time chaplain of Yale University and later the long-time minister of New York City’s Riverside Church. Rev. Coffin told NPR:
"Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart's full of hope, you can be persistent when you can't be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I'm not optimistic, I'm always very hopeful."
Thank you for your time today.
Footnote: Moments following this presentation I learned of the death today of Glen Stassen. I give thanks to God for his life and offer my prayers for his family.