Monday, May 08, 2006

Baptist Peace Testimony

Today I received a letter from the American Baptist Churches USA to my letter regarding the need to speak out as peace churches. (See previous responses and letters)

It was like getting hit in the head. I've got Baptists all wrong. I am humbled. Here where I would have least expected it is a peace church. So much for stereotypes.

The letter was brief, but enclosed were three documents. The first two were the American Baptist Resolution the Abolition of War, and the American Baptist Policy Statement on Peace. These one-paragraph statements echo our own Peace Testimony.

We record our conviction that war as a method of settling international disputes is barbarous, wasteful, and manifestly contrary to every Christian ideal and teaching...

Therefore, the Christian community is compelled by its understanding of the gospel to seek peaceful solutions to international crises for the sake of abundant life...We will persistently seek alternatives to war as a means of settling international disputes.

The third document was a three-page document entitled the American Baptist Policy Statement on Violence (which can be accessed here), a powerful and deeply moving discussion of violence. Violence in their definition is not limited to war: in fact, war is merely the effect of a history and culture of violence.

Modern U. S. society was born through violent ways, through the subjugation and exploitation of many of its peoples. The multiple horrors of the destruction of native peoples, the enslavement of African peoples, and the exploitation of immigrants are major strands of a web of economic, cultural, political, and societal commitments that have inevitably led to violence.

The culture of violence is manifested both in the pervasiveness of overt acts of physical force and in the more subtle dynamics by which harm is persistently done to people. This culture of violence is reflected in such ways as: the glorified role of violence in historic frontier communities; violence in the family; violence of sexual abuse, incest and rape; violence in the workplace; violence in the schools; violence in the streets; violence in the criminal justice system; violence in the use of guns, knives, and other weapons of assault; violence in the military; violence in war; violence in the marketing of weapons; violence of industries that profit by harming others; violence in the media; violence in music; violence of hate crimes; violence of the systematic destruction of the earth; and the existence of nuclear weapons, wherein we have seized the divine prerogative to determine the destiny of humanity.

Wow. That about covers it.

The paper goes on to discuss how Christians become "numbed by [violence's] frequency and enculturation in our lives." It presents a list of biblical reasons why Christians cannot support violence and must work to dismantle violence as a "witness that affirms the well-being of the creation, peacemaking, and life."

Then the paper lists the prophetic calls of American Baptists:

1. To be peacemakers, builders of God's shalom;

2. To work for the prevention of violence, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and just reconciliation;

3. To advocate for a more responsible media;

4. To challenge ideologies, structures, politics and policies that lead to violence.

The paper ends with a list of tasks:

1. To call on our churches to preach the life-transforming power of Christ, applying this message concretely to our tendency toward violence;

2. To educate ourselves on the constructive use of conflict;

3. To educate ourselves about the violence in the media and culture and to advocate for corrective measures as part of our responsibility as disciples of Christ;

4. To facilitate the development of conflict-resolution teams, violence prevention strategies and nonviolent means of political and social change;

5. To promote the inclusion of victims in the process of creating solutions to issues of violence;

6. To identify and utilize effective models of healing for those who have been victimized by violence;

7. To advocate for further regulations on the manufacturing and use of life-threatening products;

8. To join with other organizations to act locally and nationally to curtail violence.

9. To avoid investments in companies that are involved in the manufacture and/or distribution of life-threatening products.

I've read Jimmy Carter's books and listened to Bruce Cockburn's songs all my life, and I always wondered why they seemed so, well, cool despite being Baptist. But I see their compassion and devotion to Jesusian principles in these statements.

I'll never tell a Baptist joke again.


At 2:07 PM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

You are probably already aware of this, but the name Baptist is a pretty large umbrella. The American Baptist Convention or American Baptist Churches (ABCUSA) is, according to Wikipedia, the 5th largest Baptist denomination in the U.S. and has about 1.4 million members. By contrast, the Southern Baptist Convention has about 15 million members, and it is probably more typical of what you have been considering Baptist, although I'm not suggesting that you go back to telling Baptist jokes. Also, Wikipedia pointed out that MLK Jr. was from ABCUSA.
With love,

At 6:27 PM, Blogger david said...

I didn't know Bruce Cockburn was a Baptist? I always figured him as a Unitarian -- he did those promotional spots for the UCC -- back when they figured that newsreels of Lotta Hitschmanova from the 50s weren't selling them much.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger david said...

sorry -- USC not UCC: Unitarian Service Committee.

At 8:32 AM, Blogger Nan said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...

It seems the Baptists have fractured as much as the Quakers! I tried to look up the Baptist churches in Canada, and it drew up a number of different affiliations, although some seemed to overlap. What is it about purists that they can't seem to stick together?

My roommate at university was Baptist, and she was fond of telling me how Bruce Cockburn was Baptist and used to go to their church on occasion. I didn't think to question her on it.

At 12:51 AM, Blogger Steven P. Barrett said...

War is indeed a very crude business and lots of people are hurt and killed and lots of property gets trashed. (Hmmm - hurricanes have a nasty habit of doing the same thing.)

How inconvenient.

Yet somehow nobody else had a better idea than war when it came to achieving our independence; preserving the Union and destroying slavery; stopping the Kaiser in WWI; putting an end to Hitler, Nazism and the Final Solution; rolling back the Japanese Empire after Pearl Harbor (what...negotiate with Japan after that?); rolling back North Korea and booting Saddam out of Kuwait.

It's nice to dream up lovely abstract ideas, put them on paper or a screen for the world to see and (with Lennon's "Imagine" for background tunes) dream of a world that never was and never will be.

At 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I am a baptist from a Southern Baptist Coalition church and I have to tell you that your letter to the American Baptist Convention is really not representative of the people in the SBC. We peace lovers are definitely in the minority in that group. I find it so sad that the core message of Jesus is so often overlooked by our representatives. Anyway, keep the faith and pray for peace.
Cory Cardwell


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