Blessed are the Peacemakers
With the current kidnapping of four Christian Peacemakers, two of which are Canadians, in Iraq I am reminded of the tension I have felt toward Christianity. It is the one which divides Christians into those who practice the religion about Jesus and those who witness to the religion of Jesus. The former I consider the religion of Paul and the latter is the religion of the four gospel and what Jesus taught.
Most of the Christian churches practice a variety of Christianity about Jesus. Their focus is on theological issues. From the Catholic church to the Protestant fundamentalists, they have developed complex theologies and developed creedal tests for membership. At a young age, I rejected, and had trouble understanding, such issues as: the trinity, heaven and hell as a place, physical resurrection, virgin birth, etc. These are the stuff of the religion about Christianity. It never successfully embraced me with my doubts and I early rejected it.
The most distinctive churches of the religion of Jesus are the Peace Churches. Historical Peace Churches The most well know of these are the traditional ones with a long history of pacifism and direct action: Brethren, Quakers, Shakers and Mennonites. There are others less well known such as the Hutterites, Doukabours and Bruderhof Communities. Bruderhof Communities - Contact the Bruderhof They all have their roots in what is known as the left wing of the Reformation or Anababtists. The only exception is the Bruderhof Communities which is a 20 century reconstruction of Reformation era anababtism. The left wing reformers tried to live lives according the their understanding of Jesus' message in the four gospels. These peace churches are the survivors of many religious and social experiments of that era that would put 20 century hippy communes to shame.
Which ever type of Christian church' to which one is drawn, there is a great demand on your commitment. The former's demand is to have Faith in the fundamental notions while the latter demands a commitment to living a life exemplar in deeds rather than creeds. Being more than a nominal Christian but a very serious demand on one. For all my atheistic doubts, I have always taken religion as very serious. Serious enough to reject the faith of my family.
I am a Unitarian (whether we are Christians or not others seem to judge, for us it is irrelevant) I knew the seriousness of being a Christian and could never make that kind of commitment. My spiritual home was among the Unitarian Universalist. I knew it and felt it right away. It was a church that embraced me, with my doubts, and encouraged me in my personal religious quest. With no creedal test for membership and a proud tradition of social action it was a group with which I was comfortable. We are better described as "seekers rather than believers". And we like to think we should be judged by our "deeds rather than creeds".
My church with it's origins in Calvinism and its long tradition in direct social action has aspects of both types of Christianity. To my embarassment we are not at all radical in our life style. We are in fact, a very middle class group: well educated and well heeled. As one who struggled to make one of our local churches more inclusive socially, I realized we seem to hold little interest to the poor and black. With all churches we sadly participate in making Sunday morning the most segregated time of the week.
I have long been drawn to the Peace Churches. If I was looking for another church I probably would become a Quaker. Their witness to peace and social justice has always impressed me. No matter what cause I was drawn to support, they were there and often leading. They were always, quiet, simple, modest and deeply commited in their faith. When I was in college in the
Mennonite region of Ontario, I was always impressed with the modest piety of the Mennonite students who quietly said a prayer over their meal in the midst of the very secular hubbub of a liberal arts college.
On the issue of peace the majority of Christian churches have relied upon the doctrine of just war and loyalty to the secular state to draw back from the pacifist demands of Jesus. When the government calls, even for immoral and illegal aggressive war, most Christians answer the call and are willing to kill "their" enemies as a right in a just war. For those in the Peace Churches pacifism is absolute. They have seldom deviated. They are often not passive in the sense of doing nothing but rather actively passive at resisting aggression at great personal risk.
I have long made a commitment to pacifism, which is probably all I share with the Peace Churches. I also have been interested in intentional communities, socialism, simple living and sobriety which might also find acceptance with left wing reformers. My complicated intellectual understanding of religion, personal individualism and a middle class upbring have held me back from any radical life style change or to the demanding commitment of the Christian Peacemakers.
When I lived in the United State I was very active in the peace movement an a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist antiwar group. I remember being asked by the US consultate when I was getting resident alien status to live in the US, if I belonged to any subversive organizations. "What's on the list?",I asked. There was an actual list but the officer did not know what groups were on it. I just said "No". I am sure the FOR was probably on it as were a couple of other organization I belonged to. I am sure security these days is more rigorous.
I am very impressed with the Christian Peacemakers Christian Peacemaker Teams: committed to reducing violence by "Getting in the and their witness to there faith and commitment to direct action to peace action in many places of danger. There is even a project here in Northern Ontario at the Grassy Narrows Reserve. They have worked in Iraq for three years among Iraqis and along with Muslim Peacemakers with nothing more than their faith to protect them in this dangerous war zone. They put us all to shame. Now four of their members are in grave danger. One can only pray that their faith will sustain them and their good works will make it easier to negotiate their release. They shared the same risks as all Iraqis where massive military and police presence could not bring peace and security.
In this season of the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, there is much to think about.
Say a quiet prayer for the kidnapped Peacemakers in Iraq.