Committee considers peacemaking in the life of the church

PORTLAND, Ore. – On June 21, in the Peacemaking and International Issues committee, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) addressed 12-06, a report that includes a recommendation to adopt five new peacemaking affirmations that came out of a six-year discernment process to “take a fresh look at peacemaking in the church’s life.”

The 2010 General Assembly’s action combined overtures seeking to review and strengthen the church’s policy and program after almost a decade of war, and to examine particularly the nonviolent understanding of Jesus’ call to discipleship.

Following up on conversation from open hearings on June 20, the committee on June 21 heard from Mark Davidson, moderator of the ACSWP Discernment Team, and Ray Roberts, also an ACSWP member, who fielded questions about the differences between Just War theory, Christian peacemaking, and nonviolence measures.

Abbi Heimach
Abbi Heimach

Abbi Heimach, co-director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, advised approving 12-06 with the stronger language of Appendix C. “The churches and presbyteries who participated in the peace discernment process desired to discern the work of nonviolence as a faithful way of life in our violent world,” she said. “My reasoning for this revision is to faithfully affirm their work and add stronger nonviolence language, instead of language that also commends Just War theory. Modifying the language in this report will help us as a church to continue studying and reimagining how to respond to violence that doesn’t replicate the norm of violence in our world.”

Likewise, Rick Ufford-Chase, director of Stony Point Center and a former General Assembly moderator, affirmed the process of engaging all the documents and resources before the committee, but emphasized the need for language that ultimately helps the church to balance the pursuit of peace and supporting those in military service.

Sara Lisherness, the PC(USA)’s director of Compasssion, Peace and Justice, spoke to the question of Christian peacemaking and its role in these conversations. The committee spent time on various amendments to the original recommendation including taking out the Just War language and emphasizing conflict resolution and nonviolent methods. Yet, other commissioners expressed concern that the language of nonviolence makes it seems the church is inhospitable to those in military service.

Subsequently, Lawrence Greenslit, director of the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel, emphasized that the ethos of “peacemaking is central to the U.S. government,” and that the “purpose of the military is to be a instrument and tool of peace by protecting human rights.” A 27-year navy veteran and a chaplain for 20 years, Greenslit said he believes that “Just War and just peacemaking are similar,” and that military chaplains are “a voice of conscience, justice, and morality.”
After a number of hours, the committee voted to approve a substitute motion that uses language from the original motion as well as suggestions from Appendix C called an “Analysis of Presbytery Responses to the Five Affirmations for Peace Discernment” by Daniel Ott, an associate professor of religious studies and director of the Peace, Ethics and Social Justice Program at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois.

The new motion highlights the roots of peacemaking and attempts to connect it to nonviolent struggles. It includes language about drawing from the traditions of Just War, Christian pacifism, and just peacemaking.

Aric Clark
Aric Clark

Aric Clark, a teaching elder from Portland, Oregon shared a personal story. His father entered the military as a sniper, and eventually faced a moral crisis that nearly destroyed his family.

Clark advised against overture 12-06 “because by failing to commit to nonviolence it lets down our soldiers who most need this witness of nonviolence from the church…Our soldiers need now more than ever for the church to claim the way of Christ who implored us not to return hate for hate, violence for violence, darkness for darkness, evil for evil, but to instead respond to all of these things with love, peace, light, and mercy.”

However, Greenslit affirmed including language that goes beyond nonviolence to support the ministry of military chaplains, and ultimately those serving in the military.