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The decade for nonviolence: 2001-2010.

"It is a miracle," my friend said as we talked between sessions of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA gathering. "Lutherans have actually gone on record as embracing the Decade of Nonviolence." She was referring to the assembly action in August when members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted by a margin of 908-25 to support the Nobel Peace Laureates Appeal. This unprecedented initiative urges people everywhere to commit the first ten years of the new millennium to nonviolence. Also passed by the United Nations General Assembly, the appeal calls for a decade-long effort "at every level of society" to teach "the real, practical meaning and benefits of nonviolence and ... to build a new culture of nonviolence."

There are good reasons this vote caught my friend by surprise. We in the ELCA see ourselves firmly planted in the "just war' tradition rather than as advocates for nonviolence. We have not looked with favor on men who have refused to serve in the military for reasons of faith. The few Lutherans who did refuse to serve in World War II were denounced as cowards and traitors by some church leaders. It was not until the Vietnam War that Lutherans in the United States became conscientious objectors in significant numbers. Historically, we Lutherans have prided ourselves in our capacity to see and name the evil in the world and to be ready to restrain it. If armed force has been "necessary" and the cause has been "just," then men have gone to war while women have supported them. Pacifism, in our view, has belonged to the historic peace churches and perhaps to an extremely small minority in every age and place who, for religious and moral convictions, could not be persuaded to kill other human beings on behalf of the ruling authorities. In this respect, we are not very different from most other member churches of the Lutheran World Federation.

Reconsidering War and Peace

Events of the last twenty years have forced us to rethink our self-understanding. At the close of the bloodiest century the world has known, American Lutherans are beginning to acknowledge that peace is not simply the absence of war. Nor is peace the consequence of democracy, a kind of golden age of prosperity and enlightenment that functions as a reward for our "superior" form of government. If democratic nations were truly peaceful, they wouldn't be dependent on the arms industry for their security. A nation doesn't have to be firing guns to be a major player in the militarization of the world.

In recent years, Americans--like people everywhere--have come to see that a country torn by racial tensions, street violence and hate crimes is not a country at peace; citizens don't need enemies beyond their borders to live in battle zones. Nor can a nation whose women suffer chronic abuse in their homes be said to be living "in peace." We now know that far too many children in these homes are receiving compulsory basic training in privatized violence for us to be smug about our domestic security.

The term "peace" as used in opposition to "war" has become too static and too limited a concept to be useful. "Peace" so defined depends largely on political leaders, generals, diplomats, journalists and foot soldiers for its establishment and maintenance. If this popular understanding of peace eliminates the contributions of most civilians in times of "peace," it is even more detrimental in times of war. If Christians fail to be clear about the peace that God intends for all of Creation, our churches could easily become instruments of nationalistic and sectarian violence. If we neglect to give thanks for the mercy God offers all people, our churches could provide emotional and spiritual support solely for us--our side, our troops, our cause. In such times, ordinary civilians are not seen as essential partners in the efforts to bring and build peace, but as resources for maintaining morale and achieving victory.

What Peace Requires

Gradually citizens everywhere are coming to a global consensus. We are discovering that building a culture of peace in nonviolent ways is a monumental endeavor. This undertaking requires a change in consciousness, a relinquishing of old and often comfortable behaviors, a profound commitment to justice, a steadfast refusal to engage in enemy-making, and an openness to ongoing transformation. Within the Christian community, these requirements take on added meaning and challenge the way we do theology and are the church. To embrace nonviolence as a way of life is a personal, corporate and cultural undertaking. It begins at birth and ends with our last breath. It cannot be achieved by one segment of humanity no matter how committed and visionary that segment might be. And that is why the full participation of women everywhere is essential to the attainment of peace by nonviolent means. None of the above will come about if women who pursue peace are not at the tables and if people of faith are not clear about their witness and service.

The Ecumenical Decade: The Churches in Solidarity with Women Creates a New Foundation

The women's decade broadened and deepened our understanding of the nature of peace. Between 1988 and 1998, women in every region of the world began to tell their stories, engage in analysis, make critical linkages, and forge a new sense of what the church in the 21st century might become. Certainly being safe in our homes, churches, communities and countries was one of the major themes of this decade and remains a priority in the next ten years. Whether we have protested the endemic militarization of nations everywhere or the structural adjustment policies that threaten sound and just economic, racial and gender relationships, we have fought for our convictions nonviolently. Over thirty years ago, justice-seeking women declared that the "personal is political" and altered the framework of politics. Since then, women of faith have been part of this continuous redefining of core political terms: power, justice, war, peace, and more recently, nonviolence.

Waging Peace Through Peaceful Means: The Meaning and Power of Nonviolence

For many, nonviolence is a way of life that is grounded in deeply held religious and/or moral convictions; for others it is a strategy, a method of confronting conflict or oppression in a way that seeks to honor life. For this reason there is no single definition of nonviolence that applies to all who embrace it. There is agreement that nonviolence is not passive submission or silent non-resistance, but rather a kind of persistent, disciplined, assertive and often courageous good will. It is active confrontation with evil that respects the personhood of the enemy and therefore seeks both to end the oppression or threat of violence and to reconcile the adversary.

Elements of nonviolence can be found among the convictions of people of faith throughout the world. Christians have much to learn in this regard from other religious traditions. For Christians, nonviolence is rooted in our understanding of a God who is peace, who gives us peace and calls us to be about making peace with justice. Nonviolence is a specific way of living out Jesus' teachings and bearing witness to the promise of God.

Building a Culture of Peace for the Children of the World: Five Preliminary Tasks in 2000, the Year of Education on the Decade of Nonviolence

Task 1. Refine and deepen our understanding of "nonviolence". Incorporate it into daily life.

Task 2. Root ourselves in biblical texts that call for just peacemaking, for truth-filled nonviolence. (Biblical texts can be put in a box or in a subsequent issue.)

Task 3. Teach our children the nonviolent ways of Jesus; provide models of courage for our youth.

Task 4. Collect stories of nonviolent resistance and grassroots peacebuilding that we can share and build upon in the future. (Send them to the editor of this journal. Make a collection for all of our member churches. Offer them at the next LWF Assembly.)

Task 5. Read and share the U. N. Resolution on the Decade for Nonviolence. Invite our churches to support it and to be part of a global effort. (See box on the following page)
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Author:Martensen, Jean
Publication:Women Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2000
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