Last month I had the opportunity to represent Disciples Peace Fellowship at the World Council of Churches International Ecumenical Peace Convocation. From May 17 – 25 about 1,000 participants from over 100 nations came together at the University of West Indies near Kingston, Jamaica. Several other Disciples of Christ also attended, representing the church in differing capacities. These include Tamara Nichols Rodenberg, La Marco Cable, Robyn Fickes and Michael Miller We heard presentations, participated in workshops and engaged in Bible studies and worship. As stated in the final summary message which was affirmed by the delegates, “We understand peace and peacemaking as an indispensable part of our common faith. Peace is inextricably related to the love, justice and freedom that God has granted to all human beings through Christ and His work of the Holy Spirit as a gift and vocation.”
Concerns, hurts and hopes of Christians and churches from around the world were shared in wide-ranging deliberations. The participants agreed that “we are unified in our aspiration that war should be illegal.” However, the Convocation did not focus solely on war. Rather the presentations and activities that took place during this gathering concentrated on four areas: 1) Peace in the Community- so that all may live free from fear; 2) Peace with the Earth – so that life is sustained; 3) Peace in the Marketplace–so that all may live with dignity; and 4) Peace among the Peoples–so that all human life be protected.
The issues addressed were varied, representing a wide range of crucial problems faced by Christians and others throughout the world. The threats from climate change, the injustices faced by Palestinians and Israeli concerns for security, the plague of human trafficking, the need for interfaith cooperation and the challenges and human costs imposed by global capitalism were among the concerns that were given attention. These issues were explored, not merely in an abstract manner but in ways that were touchingly personal.
The worship services were unique and uplifting, as were the periods devoted to Bible study. Even meal times often provided enlightening experiences. I found myself around tables with Christians from India, Taiwan, Bolivia, Germany, Belgium, Trinidad, Italy, Madagascar, Zaire and many other nations. Sometimes the conversations were heartbreaking, at other times they were inspiring. I particularly moved and uplifted upon hearing a joyful man from Tanzania declare, “Don’t tell me I need a nation to give me freedom to exercise my religion. I’m free! I do what God wants me to do. And if I’m sent to prison, I’ll be free there, as well. And I will worship and teach and serve in prison!”
Too often we think of unity within far too limited confines. Hence, to preserve a local sense of harmony, we sometimes find ourselves tempted to remain silent about the insights offered and injustices suffered by brothers and sisters from other places around the globe, insights and injustices that some people prefer not to acknowledge. But geopolitical loyalties and local sensibilities must not triumph over the responsibility we have to the broader family of faith. We have a lot to learn from Christians around the world, particularly those dedicated to working in the peaceable ways of Jesus. We need to open our lives to them and remember that we
are one in Christ.
Craig M. Watts is minister of Royal Palm Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Coral Springs, Florida and Co-Moderator of Disciples Peace Fellowship. He is author of the book Disciple of Peace: Alexander Campbell on Pacifism, Violence and the State (Indianapolis: Doulos Christou Press, 2005).