Thou dost protest too much! When Jesus talked about peace, he never mentioned picket signs or sit-ins. In fact, protests only further entrench and divide people, argues one former protester. Instead, he suggests some tried-and-true spiritual disciplines for peacemaking.
Earlier this year thousands of Catholics took to the streets to protest the war in Iraq through 1960s-style marches, picket signs, and civil disobedience. However well-intentioned, that's not effective peacemaking. It only hardens the existing "prowar" or "antiwar" stances of ob servers. You can see that reaction on the TV news, hear it around the water cooler, and read it in letters to the editor. This bitter divisiveness is contrary to the loving message of the gospel. When Jesus said he would bring division (Luke 12:51), he surely was describing a sad reality, not his desire.
Although many baby boomers undoubtedly have romantic memories of protesting the war in Vietnam, the fact is that almost a decade of such demonstrations did not bring peace--in America or in Vietnam. Richard Nixon, politically weakened by Watergate, ultimately negotiated ah end to the war simply because it went on too long and took too many American lives.
War fatigue had set in, even for those who favored the war.
Demonstrations make demonstrators feel good--at least, that was my personal experience in taking part in dozens of prolife protests--but I don't believe they have ever changed anyone's mind or heart. Test your own experience: Have you ever known anyone persuaded by a protest march? And persuade is what we must do.
Yes, sit-ins, marches, and civil disobedience did effectively advance the causes of women's suffrage and civil rights for African Americans in this country as well as Gandhi's struggle for Indian independence. But in each of those cases disenfranchised persons broke unjust laws to draw attention to their oppression. They voted with their feet because they had no other way.
The situation in 21st-century America is much different. In this imperfect democracy, we do all get a vote. And politicians who depend on those votes for their jobs do ultimately respond to the will of the people. But they read public opinion polls, not protest signs. That's why abortion remains legal with relatively few restrictions in all 50 states despite 30 years of protests big and small across the country. No amount of protests, arrests, or Oscar-night speeches is going to cause the majority of Congress to oppose a war that the American people support.
Effective Christian peacemaking must begin with changing hearts, starting with our own. And that isn't as easy as marching with a sign. In fact, it is humanly impossible.
"We cannot achieve peace of any kind by ourselves, simply because we are too weak," Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk pointed out in his World Peace Day homily for 2003. "So where does that leave us? Where are we to turn for the peace that we know we need? We turn to the Lord. We turn to the Lord and ask the Lord to help us become what we were intended to be. If peace does not come from the Lord, it will not come at ale God promises us peace, and only God can fulfill the promise."
The self-help approach to achieving peace of mind is well-known and worthwhile: Balance work and play. Keep a healthy perspective about what is important in life (the famous "don't sweat the small stuff"). Laugh a lot and love a lot. Think positively. Forgive. Eat healthfully and exercise regularly. And to all of that good advice I would add a plea to periodically opt out of the overstimulation that our multimedia culture constantly thrusts upon us. How can you be at peace on a steady diet of action movies, violent video games, disaster news on cable and Internet--and the cell phone jangling urgently every few minutes?
But self-help is just a start. We also need God's help--through spiritual discipline--to find God's peace. The pope recognized this when he called for Ash Wednesday 2003 to be a day of prayer and fasting for peace, especially in the Middle East. Jesus says these disciplines are the only way to expel some demons (Mark 9:29). Perhaps that includes the demons within us that disrupt our personal peace. You might especially ask God for virtues that bring with them the gift of peace--patience, forgiveness, acceptance, poverty, and humility.
But being peaceful doesn't mean being passive. It means centering yourself to be a more effective witness for peace in your family, your circle of friends, your workplace, your parish, and in the broader community through such vehicles as letters to the editor and to political leaders, Internet chat rooms, and talk radio.
In this witness, rather than protesting, you should:
Speak the truth in love, as Ephesians 4:15 urges. That means both having the facts straight and not demonizing those with whom you disagree. In writing and speaking avoid bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice (Eph. 4:31), and remember that a kind mouth multiplies friends (Sir. 6:5). Don't indulge in name-calling (Matt. 5:22).
Granted, Jesus and the prophets (ancient and modern) sometimes spoke harshly, but bitter words are more likely to stiffen opposition than to persuade. Challenge firmly, but without mean-spirited or sarcastic rhetoric. If you final that difficult, set help by praying the famous Peace Prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi.
Be a prophet in the parish. Write articles for parish publications, solidly grounded in the peace and justice teachings of the church and the recent statements of Pope John Paul II. (Martin Luther King Jr. drew on the teachings of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas in his "Letter From Birmingham City Jail," not just on his own opinion.) Ask the parish worship commission to write petitions for peace to be read at all liturgies. Encourage your priests and deacons to talk about peace in their homilies.
Support members of the armed services. They need it. So do their friends and family. Ask that prayers for their safety and the safety of police officers and firefighters at home be included in petitions, along with prayers for our nation's enemies (Matt. 5:44).
Engage others where they are. You may feel that when Jesus says to offer no resistance to evildoers (Matt. 5:39), he is demanding pacifism. But most Americans aren't there yet, and you aren't going to get very far if you try to drag them there. Instead, work within the 1,600-year-old Catholic tradition of the just-war theory, which has never legitimized preemptive war.
Stick to the issues at hand. The imperfections of the U.S., while worth discussing for their own sake, are not relevant to the question of whether it is moral to wage a preemptive war. Save that critique for separate consideration.
Be constructive. You are against the war, but what are you for, other than peace? ("Everyone is for peace," your opponents will say at some point.) If you don't offer a peaceful alternative for confronting evil in our world you will be dismissed as a naive dreamer at best. Study the issues seriously so you can speak with authority.
I believe that it is possible to use love, truth, and Christian tradition to convince Americans that preemptive war is morally wrong, and that politicians will follow the people. I don't believe it is possible to change the political climate through harsh rhetoric and 1960s-style demonstrations.
Q: The best single way for people of faith to work for peace is ...
By example. Live a life of peace and be a model of peace in our families and workplaces.
Through the ballot box. Vote, work for candidates who support the peace position. Don't be a part of a "silent" majority.
Understand the issues so one can then pray for peace and speak intelligently to others.
To pray for our leaders, those serving in the military, and our enemies.
Deacon Warner Washington
Pray sincerely for guidance as to how one's personal gifts and example can serve the cause of peace. Then do what you're led to do!
To act peacefully. Arguing and haranguing other people is useless. Act with so much care and justice that people inquire what inspires you to be that way.
I don't think there is one single best way to work for peace. Each person has to work for peace in his or her own way.
Q: The biggest problem I have with protesting is ...
It is all talk and no real action.
Western Springs, Ill.
Loud, rude, disrespectful behavior.
Sometimes I feel uncomfortable doing it.
Father Al Berner
Single-issue protest--for example, against abortion but not capital punishment.
Stevens Point, Wis.
The true cause and nature of the protest is easily lost in the hype and chaos.
People think you're a voice crying in the wilderness--some kind of radical.
It tends to polarize people and oversimplify issues.
It doesn't work.
Q; The time in my life when I feel I contributed most to peacemaking was ...
Writing letters urging forgiveness of Third World debt. Our effort had some success and, I believe, fostered peace in its own way.
Sister Rita Angerman
When I had the opportunity as a retail salesperson to wait on a person from the Middle East and treated them with the same respect and friendliness I would have any other customer.
Whenever engaged couples preparing for marriage allow their differences (discovered in the process) to flare up, I ask them to return to how precious they are to each other, and then speak their minds.
Dennis E. Slavin
Bordentown Township, N.J.
The first time I was a eucharistic minister, holding God in my hands.
Beckley, W. V.
Participation in a "support the troops" effort during the active campaign against Iraq--and becoming more knowledgeable about both sides of the war/peace issue.
When I was raising my children. Teaching and exposing them to injustices and letting them be involved with helping others.
San Jose, Calif.
Serving with the Rangers in World War II.
In Sunday Mass.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Q: What my faith teaches me about peacemaking is ...
Peacemaking can heal any wound.
The Spirit calls us each in a unique way--pay attention!
That I must strive for peace in my own life, with my family, friends, and neighbors, and ultimately with the world.
Joseph P. Marchese
Wilmington, N. C.
It's our duty to fight for peace--pun intended.
Act on what I believe but also respect the beliefs of others.
Change your own heart first, and the rest will follow.
St. Louis, Mo.
Peacemaking is preferable to peacekeeping in our fragile, conflict-ridden world.
Sister Ruth Mary Depies, S.S.N.D.
South Milwaukee, Wis.
Peace is not an absolute value. Even the church recognizes the need for just war in certain circumstances. Six million Jews died in World War II.... A preemptive war would have saved millions of lives. A preemptive war against Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Robert Taylor, Robert Mugabe, and Kim Jong Il would have saved millions more. The victims of the monsters are all dead in part due to the inappropriate application of pacifist principles.
East Longmeadow, Mass.
One needs a nonjudgmental attitude and a loving heart to be convincing--even then one must allow the other person the dignity of free choice without feeling resentment.
Fort Worth, Texas
Linking all the violence in our society (against the unborn, terminally ill, sexual minorities, women, the elderly, the poor) allows us to see how so much violence stems from systems bigger than the individuals in them. Corporate violence against the earth, against poor neighborhoods, against indigenous peoples comes from the capitalist attitude that equates freedom with my freedom to sell anybody anything I want at any price. Only when we challenge this ... can there be movement toward the Reign of God.
Father Brendan McNulty
If we would only treat one another the same way that we would like to be treated, perhaps there would be peace.
Sister Lucy Schleeth
Protests can be very effective in increasing support for a cause, especially when the issue is new and not yet receiving media coverage. But even in ongoing, well-covered debates, protests can renew and motivate the protesters. They remind us that we are not alone in the fight for justice. Even when we cannot change society, we have the power to band together to prevent society from changing us!
East Amherst, N.Y.
Join the conversation--online. In addition to a sample of subscribers, all are invited to respond to U.S. CATHOLIC'S monthly Sounding Board survey at www.uscatholic.org. This month, join U.S. CATHOLIC readers as they talk about why they--or why they don't--parish-shop.
AND THE SURVEY SAYS ...
1. About the actual political value of protesting, I believe it: 38% Has value but generally is not very effective in changing policy or people's minds. 35% Does have the potential to change policy or minds. 16% Often turns people off to your cause. 6% Is useless. 2% Not sure. 3% Other. 2. Traditional, take-it-to the street protesting is not an effective way to be a Christian peacemaker. agree 56% disagree 32% other 12% 3. Protests have value if only because they show that hundreds or thousands of people are committed to a certain viewpoint and thus bring that issue to the minds of many others. agree 78% disagree 13% other 9% 4. One good letter to the editor has the potential to change many more minds than any protest ever could. agree 48% disagree 33% other 19% 5. Protesting (either participating or observing) has changed my mind or made me think differently about an issue. agree 42% disagree 50% other 8% 6. Have you ever participated in a protest/demonstration? yes 42% no 50% Most common causes: Prolife issues, peace, labor issues These results are based on survey responses from 144 U.S. CATHOLIC readers and Web site visitors.
DAN ANDRIACCO, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Among his three children are a daughter who has marched for peace and a son serving as an Air Force staff sergeant in the Persian Gulf.
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|Date:||Oct 1, 2003|
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