Those wanting a simple and straightforward statement about why peacemaking is necessary in the Modern world need look no further than the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize lecture in which Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the prize-wining International Committee to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, made an observation that is both scary and true:
The story of nuclear weapons will have an ending, and it is up to us what that ending will be.
Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?
One of these things will happen.
The only rational course of action is to cease living under the conditions where our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away.
It is a succinct and compelling argument in favor of the abolition of modern weapons and of the practice of modern warfare, especially for those who live in the United Sates during the Trump era. Peacemaking always has been both urgent and necessary, but, for the time being anyway, ours is a nation whose Commander in Chief is as likely as any other head of State (and more likely than most) to pitch the kind of impulsive tantrum that would prove fatal to the world. This makes peacemaking more important now than it ever has been.
For the last year and a half, a group of folks from Montclair Presbyterian Church has been meeting to explore the possibility of MPC declaring itself to be a “Peace Church”, thereby committing itself in a formal way to the ongoing work moving our society beyond its addiction to military violence, and of bearing witness to the peaceable Kingdom of God. The session currently is considering a “Peace Church Declaration” which is the fruit of our process. If the session approves the document, it will be passed along to the whole congregation for adoption, something I hope will happen in the new year.
There are many wonderful and wonderfully-effective secular organizations who do good work in the cause for Peace, but churches have a unique voice and draw from the deep wells of spiritual traditions. By employing its singular articulation of ancient wisdom the Church is able to remind both its members and the broader community that peacemaking is soul-work and as such it is an important expression of our spirituality.
In its work of peacemaking the church is both Prophetic and sacramental. The Prophetic work of the church happens when we speak God’s word to the world. Usually this involves the articulation of challenging and unpopular ideas. Often prophetic witness involves actions not generally appreciated by those in power.
By declaring itself a Peace Church, Montclair Presbyterian Church would be issuing a challenge to the American Empire, which like all empires, sustains itself through military violence. By declaring itself a peace church, MPC would be choosing to pledge its allegiance not to a flag, but to Jesus who, while challenging another great empire, showed us that peace is stronger than violence and that love will abide long after hatred has faded away. This is prophetic work.
At the same time, peacemaking is sacramental work because fulfills the vows the Church makes at baptism, when the gathered community promises to train each baptized person—child or adult—in the faith and to nurture each child of God in the love and grace of God.
By declaring itself to be a peace church MPC would be giving faithful expression to its baptismal promises by teaching peace and by providing the younger members of the church family with a greater possibility of avoiding a draft by declaring themselves to be conscientious objectors. For those members of the MPC serving in the military, MPC’s peace declaration would uphold our baptismal covenant by seeking a world where no military personnel are forced to harm or kill another human being.
Besides violating the basic Christian admonition not to kill, and besides inflicting violence upon civilians in contradiction of every known standard of human decency, military service also does violence to those who, under immoral orders perpetrate violence. It is a fact that military personnel suffer greatly when forced to harm those whom politicians have designated as enemies. This suffering is not trivial: high rates of suicide among the veterans of recent American wars attest to the fact that the United States military is good at providing body armor and armor for military vehicles, but when it comes to shielding or healing souls damaged by the work of killing, the military fails miserably. The MPC peace declaration, by calling for an end to war, would seek to address this failure. By helping our younger members to avoid military service, and by protecting those already in uniform from the damaged caused by the inflicting of violence, MPC would be fulfilling its sacramental responsibilities.
It is comforting to know that those working for peace at MPC are not alone among church folk dedicated to the work of making peace. In fact the above mentioned, Nobel Prize winning, International Committee to Abolish Nuclear Weapons is an organization that—like the Presbyterian Church (USA)—is affiliated with the World Council of Churches. When we declare ourselves to be a Peace Church we are joining our voice to faithful voices around the globe, working to build a world in which no child of God must fear or commit violence. May that day come quickly.
May the Peace of the Prince of Peace be yours this Advent and always.