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Ecumenical Peace Convocation

May 17-25, 2011 in Kingston, Jamaica


Mural on a wall of the University the West Indies, site of the convocation. WCC photo.

God of Life, Lead Us to Justice and Peace

The Tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 2012 will be “God of Life, Lead Us to Justice and Peace.” An emphasis on "just peace" also characterized an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) in Kingston, Jamaica, in May that was convened by the WCC at the conclusion of a ten year emphasis known as the "Decade to Overcome Violence." See the final report on the Decade and the record of its activities as found on its remaining web site.

The timeliness of the emphasis on overcoming violence was highlighted by the pope's message to those in St. Peter's Square on the Sunday when the IEPC was in session. Benedict XVI gave a short bidding for prayer to "recommit ourselves to eliminating violence in families, in society, and in the international community." WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit has articulated some of the understandings of "just peace," seeing it to be fundamentally different from the concept of "just war." The American scholar, Susan Brooks Thistelthwaite (pictured) of the United Church of Christ, has recounted the activities of the "just peace" movement over the last 25 years.

A convocation concludes the Decade to Overcome Violence

The Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) reached its formal conclusion in the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in which some 1,000 participants from over 100 countries participated. As the week drew to a close, WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit (pictured right) said he hoped the message of the convocation would "give us a vision toward the future in which we can believe." Most of all Tveit hoped the convocation participants would be able to pass on the sense of values that had united them. Writing after the convocation's conclusion, National Council of Churches ecumenical peace coordinator and advocacy officer Jordan Blevins (pictured left) challenged, "The resounding conclusion of the delegates is that there is work to do."

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will draw from this ecumenical event

The PC(USA) has been guided by "Peacemaking: The Believers' Calling" since it was adopted by a predecessor denomination in 1980. Now a Peace Discernment Steering Committee of five persons has been named to steer a four-year process established by the 219th General Assembly (2010) for setting new Presbyterian approaches to peacemaking as a response to the violence, terror, and war that challenge us today. As requested by the General Assembly, they will draw "experience and learnings" from ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, explicitly including the IEPC. Mark Davidson (pictured), a pastor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, chairs the PC(USA) committee.

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Convocation message highlights "just peace"

The Message prepared at the conclusion of the convocation affirmed that peacemaking is "an indispensable part of our common faith." It acknowledged that Christians are complicit in systems of violence and that they ask God's forgiveness. But it also acknowledged that "peace is a core value in all religions, and the promise of peace extends to all people regardless of their traditions and commitments." It declared that we seek common ground with all world religions through intensified interreligious dialogue. Finally, it said, "We as churches are in a position to teach nonviolence to the powerful, if only we dare. For we are followers of one who . . . taught us to love our enemies and was resurrected from the dead."

What happened in Kingston?

The peace convocation looked at the themes of peace in the community, peace with the earth, peace in the marketplace, and peace among the peoples.

Monday: Jamaican national leaders welcomed an international delegation. The governor general said crime and violence are at the top of the agendas of both their government and churches.

Wednesday: Opening. The convocation formally began. See and hear highlights of the opening worship. International human rights activist Paul Oestreicher (pictured) set the stage for humility in Christian discussion of peace when he spoke of the Crusades in Christian history; "under the sign of the cross Christian nations conquered other nations” and "massacred the children of Islam." Even now, he said, language "disguises the bloody, cruel reality" of war. German Lutheran Margot Kässeman said it is time that religion refuse to be used to pour "oil onto the fire of war and hatred." Participants also visited local Jamaican programs that promote peace and well-being.

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Thursday: Peace in the community. Participants heard stories from peace advocates. Martin Luther King III spoke about nonviolence. He told a press conference that the church must do a better job of actually living peace and promoting it. In a workshop, representatives of the Bolivian Aymara people (see picture) talked about their ancestral values used in maintaining peace. A book launching introduced When Pastors and Priests Prey, a book about sexual abuse of women by clergy.

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Friday: Peace with the earth. Renewing God's creation is no longer a luxury. The people of the tiny Polynesian nation of Tuvalu face a future as environmental refugees as the ocean threatens them, Tafue Lasama (pictured) told participants; yet the climate change causing the ocean's rising waters is caused mainly by the actions of industrial nations in the global North. Kondothra George of India spoke about the need to change our paradigm of progress and development. Conferees gathered in workshops describing particular local and cooperative initiatives. Participants also talked about how local people can find strength to resolve conflict. They heard that some theological interpretations are dangerous to victims of violence; for example, accentuating forgiveness and obedience is dangerous to children living in oppressive families.

Saturday: Peace in the marketplace. Valentine Mokiwa, the president of the All-Africa Council of Churches (pictured), described the violence of the marketplace in Tanzania demonstrated by a posh mining compound and the living conditions just outside it, where people are dying. The churches cannot critique all this, participants heard, until they opt out of that marketplace themselves. It is challenging that the voices calling for change are not voices of power.

Sunday: Ecumenical prayer. Ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I addressed an ecumenical prayer service and celebration by video, telling participants that never before has it been possible for one group of people to eradicate as many people simultaneously nor for humanity to destroy so much of the planet environmentally. "[I]t is critical that we perceive the impact of our practices on other people . . . as well as on the environment." The vice president of the Baptist World Alliance, Burchell Taylor (pictured), told people that life is filled with boundaries that divide people, creating hosilities. Peacemakers must be willing to cross borders— legal, racial, national, ethnic, social, economic, cultural, gender, political and religious.

Monday: Peace among the peoples. As the convocation considered obstructions to peace at the international level, a Hiroshima survivor shared her story by video. Governments justify wars in the name of security, said American Lisa Schirch of Eastern Mennonite University (pictured) but the " language of the church is much more about justice and peace than about security." She was told in Iraq that security doesn't arrive by helicopter but grows from the ground up. Small groupings mulled over the idea that a Christian version of security could be created if churches would become involved in getting messages out from the ground about potential conflicts in ways that governments do not. Another speaker declared the importance of moving beyond issuing statements into the realm of action.

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A Mennonite voice also led a smaller Monday session: Thomas Finger (pictured) , an active participant in Faith and Order work in the United States, led a workshop on “Peace: the Lens for Re-visioning Christian Theology and Mission.” One of the strongest assumptions raised during discussion was that violence is central to the theological concept of sin. Finger concluded, however, “If the way that led to death is violent, the way that leads to life cannot be violent.”

Throughout the convocation, there were a number of workshops that were led by the Orthodox. Orthodox participants from various contexts where they constitute a minority contributed to the dialogue on peace, enriching and contesting it from their particularly different social and religious realities.

Tuesday: A message. In workshops, the essential link between peace and justice was pursued. Convocation participants worked to make the Message drafted by a team of seven their own. The Message concludes by saying, "We call on the ecumenical movement as a whole, and particularly those planning the WCC Assembly of 2013 in Busan, Korea, with the theme 'God of life, lead us to justice and peace,' to make Just Peace, in all its dimensions, a key priority." The Message committee was chaired by a South African Methodist bishop, Ivan Abrahams (pictured).

Immediately following Kingston, the WCC highlighted some of values of the IEPC during participation at the German Kirchentag and on a visit to Cuba.

“We are called to be one in our witness,” WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit told convocation attendees at the end of the conference. “We also see that the way to just peace has united us. This is a gift for all of us and we shall use it well. This week has brought many signs of your commitment. Sometimes we need to struggle. Sometimes we need to feel it isn't that easy.”

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How can we locally engage with the event?

Use social media to stay connected

The convocation planners arranged for creative use of social media (such as Twitter or Facebook) to share pictures, peace prayers, reflections, and hopes for a just peace in participants own languages. See an imaginative prayer service using Twitter to reflect on world peace.

Use resources for study in a congregation or at home

• See convocation documents: "An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace, "A Just Peace Companion," and a list of other resources. See also the Message prepared at the conclusion of the convocation.

• Telling the Truth About Ourselves and the World is a study guide to help individuals and congregations reflect and undertake joint action. It is available online in English and Spanish. Hard copies can be ordered; copies are free but postage may be charged.

• A large selection of other guides and books is available. While Presbyterians have a very large store of peacemaking resources, the WCC-produced volumes provide an opportunity to examine issues from the perspective of writers and group processes that are international rather than U.S.-based.

Bible studies used in the convocation followed its subthemes, a different author preparing each study; PC(USA) minister Theo Gill was one of the writers.

• Listen to and use the theme song by Jamaican performance artist Grub Cooper, available as sheet music and in an MP3 file. Listen to Olav Fykse Tveit speak about "just peace" and download his words in an MP3 file.

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