Individual Comments on the Peacemaking CSAI

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The Congregational Study Action Issue (CSAI) for 2006 - 2010 is "Peacemaking."

Issue: Should the Unitarian Universalist Association reject the use of any and all kinds of violence and war to resolve disputes between peoples and nations and adopt a principle of seeking just peace through nonviolent means?

You are invited to enter your or your congregation's brief thoughts and comments on the above question below. Please limit your comments length and limit your comments to your thoughts and feelings without regard to other comments on this page. Thanks.

Frank Carpenter, St. John's Unitarian Universalist Church, Cincinnati, OH

Historically, Unitarian and Universalist positions on peacemaking have been responses to their contexts: Channing and Worchester to the War of 1812; Thoreau and Ballou to the Mexican War; Julia Ward Howe to the Franco-Prussian War. Taft and Holmes had different responses to WWI. The Vietnam War was divisive for our congregations. Our concern with peacemaking today has arisen in significant measure from the illegal American war and occupation in Iraq. While peace has continuously been part of our discourse, there has been no set U/U response to war.

Given this traditional style, I ask, what is our context today? I understand the alleged ‘war on terror’ to be a distraction to our actual situation. Rather, traditional triggers of conflict are exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Besides global warming, another factor in our context is American hegemony: the US is the most powerful military in the world. And we live in a time when the dominant theories of social transformation are celebrations of violence. From Trotskyite permanent revolution to the Chicago School violence is the condition of progress.

As in the past we would delude ourselves thinking war is an issue which will go away. There shall be no war to end all wars; no violence to end violence. As our UU style is one of response, a style honoring our diversity, our primary commitment is to establish a sustained, enduring peacemaking discourse within our congregations and our association of congregations. At times our discourse has been one of evasion. I think that at its best Henry Nelson Weiman described it as ‘creative interchange:’ the open dialogue in which individuals are transformed and meaning laid bare in establishing right relations.

Mac Goekler, UU Church of Kent, OH

We Unitarian Universalist have at times swayed in the political winds of the time, but when it comes to building a culture of peace -- we must be thorough. For us to be peacemakers we have to perform an exacting analysis of not only our history, our ethos, but also our spiritual being. This will require more that a four year study action process. This work will have to be ongoing and a simple statement of conscience will not be enough. We are capable of doing this good work. Starting with a seventh principle -- we have shown the world that we indeed do have an environmental culture. Starting with the women's movement thirty years ago -- we now have more female ministers than male. We will not likely arrive at a solid common culture of peace concept, but we will be certainly better for the effort. We have often tossed about the term "faith in action" and building our own peace culture is factually acting out our faith. What should this culture of peace encompass? Many want to start with inner peace, while others feel that international peace should be our objective. This culture has to include all aspects. Our Mennonite and Quaker sisters and brothers have built their own cultures of peace and these cultures guide them in all their affairs. A culture does not have to be either a doctrine or precise. Is it possible to envision a culture of peace that all Unitarian Universalists can unite behind? It is possible with some effort, much discussion, and possibly some division. We can do this. We need to do this. We are off to a great start.

Adrian Gunn, United First Parish Church (Unitarian) in Quincy, MA

(Non-commissioned officer in the Massachusetts Army National Guard)
"Issue: Should the Unitarian Universalist Association reject the use of any and all kinds of violence and war to resolve disputes between peoples and nations and adopt a principle of seeking just peace through nonviolent means?"
My View: No. The problem with this is is it is an attempt to provide a "simple" universal response to the all problems of human conflict. In my opinion there are cases where the use of violence is necessary or justified. For example, I believe that every person has an inherent, natural right to self defense. States also posses the same, fundamental right of self defense, most recently enumerated in Article 51 of the UN Charter:

"Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security"

If the UUA decided to "reject the use of any and all kinds of violence and war to resolve disputes between peoples and nations" where would that leave the right of self defense? Would the UUA argue that a person does not have the right to use deadly force if that person (or another persons) life was in clear and immediate danger? Would the UUA state the law enforcement officials would no longer be justified to ever use deadly force to defend human life? Would the UUA argue that no state or international body would be justified in the use of force to stop genocide, or protect itself from violent aggression?

I am a proponent of Just War Theory. The use of force to resolve human conflict should always be viewed as a last resort, but the reality is that sometimes it is necessary. Just War Theory, while not perfect (what human institution is?), provides a fairly clear, objective set of criteria that help us decide when the use of force is acceptable (jus ad belleum), provides limitations on how force is subsequently utilized (jus in bello), and ultimately how the transition from war to peace should be made (jus post bellum).

"Should we, the Unitarian Universalist Association and member congregations, adopt a specific and detailed "just war" policy to guide our witness, advocacy, and social justice efforts?"
Yes. "Just War Theory is not a settled doctrine." There are many different versions and interpretations of JWT, so for it to be a useful guide for UUs, the UUA should develop its own specific just war criteria that are in keeping with UU principles.

"Should we, the Unitarian Universalist Association and member congregations, reject violence in any form?"
No. The use of violence, while always tragic, is sometimes necessary to prevent greater injustice or "evil". For example, no amount of non-violent activity would have deterred Adolph Hitler from carrying out his plans of aggressive war and genocide. If it were not for the UN defense of South Korea, there would not be a vibrant , free and democratic state on the Korean Peninsula. Without the NATO intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, Serbian ultra-nationalists would have been free to continue their policies of ethnic cleansing and genocide without interference (and in fact, a previous "toothless" non-violent intervention of UN Peacekeepers failed to prevent a massacre of civilians in Srebrenica). The lack of any kind of international military intervention in Rwanda allowed one of the worst acts of genocide in modern history to go unchecked.

"How should we, the Unitarian Universalist Association and member congregations, identify the form of humanitarian intervention we will support in a particular situation?"
By developing a UUA Just War policy with specific criteria for the use of military force in war and humanitarian intervention.

John B. Hooper

The conflicts that rage between individuals and groups, within our society, and among cultures and nations are nothing less than the conflicts that reside within ourselves writ large in the world. Each of us lives and breathes today because our ancestor humans and their ancestor species survived the challenging vicissitudes of an impersonal and demanding universe. Research has shown that within our brain-bodies we humans have evolved capacities for both violence and cooperation as adaptations. These adaptations are partly responsible for the special place we enjoy in the interdependent web of all existence. That we are both warriors and pacifists is not something we have chosen, it is something that is built in to our very nature.

However these capacities for violence and cooperation are not the major reasons that our kind has been so successful on earth. Our evolved brains and sensory networks have acquired such complexity and recursive dynamics that we have been given the gift of consciousness. We know what we are doing and we are able to understand the results. Cognitive scientists tell us that our emotions, feelings, and intellect are inextricably intertwined. They have also demonstrated that we possess the ability to actual “feel” what another person may be experiencing, in both positive and negative situations, simply by observing their behavior. I believe that the challenge for the Peacemakers does not lie in our overcoming the inherent propensity for violence that resides mainly in the older regions of our brains. (Indeed, if we kill the warrior within ourselves who will cry out for justice?) Rather we must build on the uniquely human combination of intellect and empathy, which we as a species are only beginning to fully understand. We must do it with humility and care because we are entering new territory. But we must also do it with fierce determination because it may be the only way we (and our brothers and sisters throughout the world) may hope to become more fully human. Indeed, it may be the only way we may hope to survive.

So, how should we Peacemakers behave?

  • We must seek to transcend the false dichotomy of just war vs. pacifism by apply our capacities for empathy, intellect, and justice-making to each individual conflict or potential conflict situation that we encounter
  • We must institute religious practices for creating peace within our selves
  • We must encourage formal programs aimed at increasing and maintaining compassionate communication in our all our interactions
  • We must make sure that our religious education programs are infused with exciting and effective approaches for encouraging peacemaking
  • We must love and support the returning warriors, who have been traumatically affected by the realities of war
  • We must support those institutions that are working diligently to build peace in the world
  • We as Unitarian Universalists must become ardent catalysts for peacemaking by partnering with other religious denominations in their peace efforts
  • We must focus on prevention as the most effective approach to avoiding violence - particularly addressing the eradication of structural violence wherever we encounter it

Most of all, we must recognize that we are on a profoundly religious quest. We have a key role in determining whether the expression of “ultimate reality” in the world will be love or holy war.

LoraKim Joiner, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville

I would like to see us not just adopt, but make as a highest priority, a principle of committing our shared religious lives to building peace at all levels (intrapersonal, interpersonal, congregational, communities, societal, national, environmental and web of life). Though we are not a creedal church, we are covenantal, and a covenant cannot bring about liberation and transformation in lives and society without the fire of commitment. Therefore I see the Peacemaking Study Action Item not as a Statement of Conscience but as a Covenant of Commitment. We ask ourselves throughout our congregational lives what is ours to do, in this moment, during this breath, to build peace. We ask this so that we might respond not just in matters of violence and war, but in the very fabric of how we live our daily lives.

Glenn E. King, Ministerial Intern, Leominster, MA

As a covenantal non-creedal faith, UUism challenges us by calling us to reject any imposition of doctrine. "Rejection of all kinds of war" and even the affirmation of a "just war theory" are creedal formulations which neither our faith nor I would force on another.
That said, it is my sense that "building a culture of peace" is precisely what our covenantal faith is all about. We are about "right relationship". Building a culture of peace in our congregations will, one hopes, build that culture into the local community and, in time, the world.
I am not happy with the phrase "seeking just peace through nonviolent means." It seems like a situational statement to me, meant to address a current conflict. Building a culture of peace implies to me engaging in daily intentional peacemaking activities regardless of the presence of conflict.

Richard Kopp May 23, 2008

I would like to see the Statement of Conscience be a shorter statement of principles rather than a longer list of programmatic goals. To move forward with UU peacemaking, perhaps “action goals” can be provided in an addendum, perhaps during the following year.

The Statement of Conscience should take as its central article of faith “engaged nonviolence.” Engaged nonviolence (like Paul Rasor’s “prophetic nonviolence”) is based on our reverence for all life. Our deeply held belief in the worth and dignity of every human being requires us to avoid killing in war. We should condemn war as immoral.

I have given up on just war theory. Its principles are used as a rationalization for war, or as a true and obvious justification for the use of lethal force as a last resort in self-defense. Just war theory is inadequate foundation for building peace. The conditional pacifism of engaged nonviolence has no quarrel with a genuine need for self-defense. So much more is needed for peace.

The opposite of pacifism is not “just war”; the opposite is militarism. We need to denounce this misplaced reliance on military force to resolve conflict. We need to speak against continuing and expanding weapons development and arms trade that feed warfare and consume too much national wealth. We need particularly to warn against the spread of nuclear weapons.

The Statement of Conscience should express a passion for peace. We should lift up those who dedicate their lives to all sorts of service in peace building. We need to honor those who refuse to kill another in wartime out of conscience. Peace education should grow in our congregations and camps.

The Statement should speak to creating for ourselves and with others a culture of peace. We should be part of an intercultural and interfaith “Dialogue of Civilizations” so that we may better understand our place among the many peoples at this time in history. We should be guided by a “Golden Rule of Nations” (following the words of Erik Erikson): “We should seek to stimulate and support in another nation or people what will strengthen them in their historical development, as our nation also is strengthened in its own development- all toward a common future in peace, justice and fulfillment.”

The Statement of Conscience should envision changes in personal religious consciousness and in future sociocultural development, moving toward a peaceful world society. These are transformational changes. UU ministers and others should help us grow in a spiritual practice of peace and peacemaking. UU’s should raise up support for the institution and the work of the United Nations as the global parliament of nations and framework for governance and peaceful resolution of conflicts without resort to war.

The Statement should call upon UU’s to create a “Peacemaking Office” within the UUA to nurture the process of peace in all areas of Unitarian Universalism. Such an office, staffed with both volunteers and UUA personnel, would work closely with the Untied Nations Office and the Service Committee and others, and in cooperation with other faith organizations.

Judy Morgan, Wildflower UU Church of South Austin, Texas

I believe that we understand enough now about how to build a culture of peace, that we can reject violence except in extreme situations. The way to build a culture of peace (from what I read on strategic peacebuilding) is through education, healthy economies in which basic needs are universally met, dissemination of communication and conflict resolution skills, effective democratic process, etc.

These are all extremely challenging but we do know how to do them if the resources are made available. For example, there is general agreement that the UN Millennium Development Goals, including reducing extreme poverty by 50% and providing universal primary education by 2015, are achievable, if the international community provides the resources. This would go a long way toward building a more peaceful global culture.

The obstacles to a global culture of peace are not really lack of knowledge about how to do it -- though there is much still that needs to be learned – but really inertia and the political power of those who benefit from a culture of violence. The inertia comes from the sense of helplessness and hopelessness among the many who are pained by the violence in the world but feel there is nothing they can do. The political influence of those who benefit from military expenditures and arms sales (i.e., the ‘military-industrial complex’) on one hand, and on cheap labor and resources in countries with high levels of poverty, on the other hand, has heavily impacted U.S. foreign policy.

To build a political movement for a culture of peace will take a clear vision of the long-term goals and clear strategies for how to achieve them. As the global population grows, and telecommunications increases our ability to share ideas and build grassroots networks, it seems just a matter of time before this global movement happens (unless we end up opting for military approaches that cause global devastation).

It seems that UUs are in the perfect place to articulate a vision and strategies that could advance such a political and cultural movement. We are naturally interfaith, and our forthright inclusion of reason and science as part of our faith makes it possible to speak to both the spiritual and practical aspects of creating such a comprehensive vision.

So, I feel that if the CSAI process can at least lay the beginning groundwork for this development, that would be a huge contribution toward a global culture of peace. Hopefully, the further along we get, the more we will draw people into the process of exploration, consensus-building, and activism, as they feel there really is hope of ‘change’ (the hope for which is currently drawing so many into Barack Obama’s campaign!).

Larry Shafer, First Parish in Wayland, MA (Sponsoring Congregation)

Acknowledging our “invitation to the table through our radical tolerance”

The Islamic connection of “war” with “lesser jihad” is symptomatic and also insightful for understanding what Paul Rasor seems to have proposed in his UU World article. In describing his notion of “prophetic nonviolence”, he notes UU’s have some work to do in “catching up” with the prophetic edges of Christian witness since the Second Vatican Conference. We have succeeded certainly in distinguishing ourselves in the arena of traditional ideals of individualism, but have only begun to see the emerging influences of both religiously ecumenical and emerging scientifically based trends in understanding the intrinsically multifaceted character of religious (and anti-religious) thought. Though that viewpoint (still) maintains the lines of complex and intrinsically “syncretic” cultural understandings of the “category violations” the Renaissance associated with pursuing a secular tradition originally based on Western classicism, it blurs the potential emerging syntheses of notions of self and world developing since at least the 1960’s in bringing our cultural evolution (seen as still evolving) to embrace potential unities of apprehension in our dominant (at least tripartite and maybe intrinsically multifaceted) cultural modalities.

Not just in the inherited Christian world but increasingly in Islamic and even more traditionally Eastern traditions, this seems (to some anyway) the crux of our current shared “multicultural” situation, whether anxiously codependent or radically unifying for our culturally based notions of identity-based difference and similarity. The solution as usual is more dialogue, as if that could ever not be the case for Unitarian Universalists, in restating and re-empowering the basis of our praxis of dialogue, moving toward the reconciliation of self and other that drives our anxious and error-prone (but always “sincere”) participation in perhaps a more radical fusion of religion, psychology and political concerns than any other particular religion we can find: by finding ourselves we find (ultimately) the other that is within and without that is the eternal in all our forming traditions. Let it be so and let us continue, as easy to say and as impossible to achieve as that may be: for in having each other we insist on having all through our prophetic selfhood. That was where we left this issue in the reformation, and where we still strive to be the source of a new revelation in human possibility. May it always be so.

Alex Winnett, Program Associate for Peacemaking, UUA Washington Office for Advocacy

After nine months of working specifically on peace in the UUA, I have had quite a few realizations about what, exactly, makes UU peacemaking special. UU peacemaking has its challenges and its strong points. Mostly due to a lack of inherently pacifist theology and the West’s lack of proper language of conflict resolution, Unitarian Universalists have a difficult relationship with peace, violence, and justice. However, if we were to claim a “Theology of Conflict” and learn how to embrace the growing points that come with conflict, we can move beyond the violence of our world into fostering a Beloved Community. Unlike traditional peace churches—for instance the Quakers, Mennonites, and Bretheren—Unitarian Universalists do not have a peace centered creed. More specifically, UU’s do not have a Christ-centered peace testimony. Quakers and Anabaptists believe in the model of Christ, the pacifist. UU’s covenant—they promise—to work for peace, but pacifism is arguably not an explicit requirement to be a UU. We promise to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people. We promise to follow our paths to individual truth through a responsible search with others. We promise to respect the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are all a part. And we covenant to work for a “world of peace and justice for all”, but what does our UU theology say about peace? How does our belief in the nature and condition of the universe guide our path toward a culture of peace and justice? I propose we need, what I call, a Theology of Conflict. UU’s believe that humans have free will and self-determination. These are divine gifts that allow us to use reason and logic to discern our relationships with the divine and each other. Unfortunately, free will and self-determination does not come without a price. These gifts can put us into conflict when our needs, desires and expectations differ from that of ourselves or others. Great powers also come with great responsibility; to honestly and truthfully discern our paths in relationship to the good of ourselves and the community. I strongly believe the best way for UU’s to build a culture of peace is to not run from conflict, but embrace it as a gift. Conflict is an opportunity for all humans to increase their humanity and their connection with the divine. We can accomplish this by working with our conflicting parties, rather than against them. If the other has inherent worth and dignity, is part of our global community, and is entwined in the interdependent web of all existence; their personhood is our personhood. Their growth is dependent on ours. Their feelings of hurt, injustice, and need for retribution are ours in return. We work for this relationship with an openness to listen, a willingness to grow, and a thirst for accountability. This can take many forms—conflict mediation trainings, non-violent communication groups, affinity groups, and civil society organizations. Unitarian Universalists believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. This means more than simply not demonizing the other. Instead, it means working for justice. It is about trusting other people to be careful with your own vulnerability. It is about caring for their vulnerability. It is not just believing in their worth in dignity, but trusting in it as well. As we work for peace, we must not just protest injustice but love the fragility of the world. To be open and listen to all points of view in order for all to be changed by the process is the root of peacemaking. After, as the Universalists believe, we are saved by community—therefore, we must allow community to save us. This is the basis of the Beloved Community; a world where our mutual vulnerabilities and fragility can save us all. As Alan Paton said in Cry, the Beloved Country, “…there is only one thing that has power completely, and that is love; because when a man [sic] loves he [sic] seeks no power, and therefore he [sic] has power.”