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Workshop challenges New Covenant Baptists to seek peace | Print |

By Bob Allen
Baptist Center for Ethics

Photo: Rod Reilly

ATLANTA-Humans are caught "in an inextricable network of mutuality" that requires nations to overcome differences to work together for peace, Baptist ethicist Paul Dekar said Thursday at a special-interest session on peacemaking at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta.

"There is no great technique that is going to bring peace," said Dekar, evangelism and missions professor at Memphis Theological Seminary. "We bring peace when we begin living peaceably with our neighbors."

"We are interdependent," Dekar said. "We are not Americans or U.S. Americans or Canadians. We are part of a humanity which stands in a period of the greatest risk to human survival ever. We have to recognize we are all in this together and begin to live as though we cannot live without one another."

Joining Dekar in the peacemaking discussion was Glen Stassen, Lewis B. Smedes professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. Stassen, who previously taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, offered a new paradigm for resolving issues of war and peace.

Stassen said there are two traditional types of Christian ethics regarding war. Pacifists refuse to support any war, while other Christians says wars can be waged if in accord with "just war" criteria

"Many Christians are now saying those two ethics—pacifism and just war theory—are not enough," Stassen said. "It's not enough to wait until the government is ready to start a war and then decide whether it is just or not."

Stassen proposed a third paradigm called "just peacemaking"—10 principles based on what he calls "transforming initiatives" from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

"We Baptists are a Jesus-following people," Stassen said, citing examples from sermons preached in plenary sessions of this week's New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta.

The peacemaking workshop was one of 62 special interest sessions on 16 topics ranging from immigration to sexual exploitation, interfaith dialogue, racism and HIV/AIDS during a three-day celebration of the largest, most diverse gathering of Baptists in North America in history with participation from more than 30 Baptist denominations and groups.

Stassen said the new ethic is spreading rapidly. His 1992 book, Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace, is soon coming out in a third edition. He edited a companion book written by 23 scholars, Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War, in 1998.

"These are practices that work," Stassen said. "They are not principles or ideas. They are actual practices that are working."

Stassen said the first just peacemaking initiative—non-violent direct action—was validated in remarks during Wednesday night's opening session recalling Martin Luther King's dream that "one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood."

"Don't tell me nonviolent direct action is some kind of otherworldly ideal," Stassen said, describing this week's gathering of black and white Baptist from across North America. "It works. Here we are together at the table of brotherhood."

Other just-peacemaking practices emphasize initiatives aimed at increasing trust, working for peace before there is a crisis, acknowledging one's own responsibility for conflict and injustice, pursing justice and international networks to reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.

The final practice is to join grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations, like the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America or the largest grassroots peace organization, www.peaceaction.org.

"To make your witness clear on just peacemaking, you need to know just peacemaking principles and you need to be in a group," Stassen said. "If you join a group, then you have information."

Dekar, who based his concepts on writings of Martin Luther King, suggested four principles for pursuing action.

  • Study the issue. "Listening to one another, coming to love one another, coming even to love our enemy, is a great challenge," Dekar said, "but if we don't begin to love our enemy, to listen to our enemy, to dialogue with our enemy, we aren't going to address the large issues."
  • Begin to dialogue with those who differ. "Our enemies are the ones that we need to listen to, to dialogue with and to begin to build a different world together," he said.
  • Develop a spirituality that will lead to action. "Healthy peacemakers are people who practice spiritual discipline."
  • Engage in non-violent direct action.

"Despite considerable evidence to the contrary," Dekar said, "I do believe if we take these four simple steps-of dialogue and listening and praying and acting-then we can be peacemakers.

 
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