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Lutheran Peace Fellowship

The Promise and Challenge of the Nobel Peace Appeal
"Blessed are the peacemakers..." Matthew 5:9


dove of peace

Nelson Mandela... Mother Teresa... Desmond Tutu... Mairead Corrigan Maguire... Elie Wiesel... Aung San Suu Kyi... The prestige, integrity, and courage of these and other Nobel Peace Laureates and the United Nations vote to endorse the Nobel Peace Appeal virtually guarantee significant public and media attention in the coming year. The opportunity this presents suggests several distinct kinds of responses for Lutherans and LPF:

1. The Nobel Appeal encourages us to communicate the full depth and insight of the Gospel message of peace: Congregation leaders might do well to take the long view and consider multi-week programs, such as the excellent ten-part discussion and activity program, From Violence to Wholeness, and multi-session book groups to help folks explore Christian nonviolence in some depth. Brief forums and videos can help build interest for in-depth activities.  
In recent years, many of the best books on peace-making have come from Christian authors like Walter Wink, Angie O'Gorman, Donald Shriver, Mary Ellen Jegen, and John Howard Yoder, joining classics by Bainton, Bonhoeffer, Day, King... (see Recommended Resources below)

2. The Nobel Appeal encourages us to make use of the most creative resources and activities available: We have seen a very positive response in congregations across the U.S. for several programs: Families Against Violence Advocacy Network, Center for Media Literacy, Alternatives to Violence, Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, National Council of Churches, and LPF's own Path of Hope (see Recommended Resources, over).

3. The Nobel Appeal challenges us to expand our cooperative efforts: Lutheran congregations and Lutheran Peace Fellowship have often worked with other churches and the Religious Peace Fellowships of other faiths. The

sheer scale of the possibilities of the Nobel Peace Appeal encourages us to find ways to collaborate with others to more effectively organize nonviolence workshops, help local schools make the most of the Decade, urge churches, schools, and local governments to endorse the Appeal, and share resources and support with one another.

For example, Glen Gersmehl, LPF's coordinator has worked in more than 100 schools since the late 1980s. He emphasizes that "while many conflict resolution and peer mediation programs have proved useful and deserve continued support, most have run up against the limits of what they can achieve. Nonviolence offers an important new dimension or expansion whose possibilities merit wide-scale exploration and testing in our schools."

4. The Nobel Appeal has tremendous potential for helping us make crucial international connections: For example, year after year the ELCA Global Mission Events offer an experience rich with worship, community-building, biblical insight and activities on peace with justice. Global Mission staff and workers in the field are a valuable resource of stories and examples to help Lutherans grasp the possibilities for nonviolence in today's conflicts.

The Lutheran World Federation, World Council of Churches, and National Council of Churches understand the Nobel Decade's great potential, have made it a priority, and have developed programs and useful resources.

Background: On August 21, 1999, the ELCA Church-wide Assembly voted by a wide margin to endorse the Nobel Peace Laureates Appeal "For the Children of the World" noting that all too many young people today grow up in "a culture of violence." The Appeal calls for the first decade of the new millennium to give special emphasis to teaching "the practical meaning and benefits of non-violence" and to help build "a new culture of nonviolence."

The Lutheran vote is the culmination of two years of organizing by Lutheran Peace Fellowship. In the spring of 1998 and 1999, 30 ELCA synods, representing 4895 congregations, passed an LPF resolution endorsing the Appeal. The resolution calls on congregations to "make it a priority to teach, practice and model nonviolence both for their own members and in service to their communities." ELCA churchwide units serving women, global mission, church in society, and higher education and schools have endorsed the Appeal and are developing programs.

A year ago, the UN General Assembly voted to endorse the Nobel Peace Appeal and to designate the years 2001-2010 as "The International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence." The Year 2000 was designated the "Year for the Culture of Peace" and will be used to launch the decade. These designation are expected to encourage extraordinary public and media attention.

Lutherans have become a key constituency in support of the Appeal; other groups are learning from and building on our efforts. LPF's coordinator was one of 24 leaders invited to India last year as a delegate to the first international meeting to begin Decade planning for citizen groups, churches, and other nongovernmental organizations.

The Nobel Decade also has the potential to improve the effectiveness of our most important advocacy efforts. For example, the Nobel Decade would foster in the U.S. a more positive climate for engaging world issues, greatly increasing the impact of efforts to end world hunger by the ELCA World Hunger Program, LPF, Bread for the World, and the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs.

5. The Nobel Appeal encourages us to build on other Lutheran strengths: Few Lutherans would be surprised to learn that women's organizations have played a leading role thus far in this area. Women of the ELCA and the Women's Commission have led the way in workshops and resources like Families Living the Pledge of Nonviolence and For the Peace of the Whole World,two very creative and engaging programs for family and group discussion.

For Peace in God's World, the ELCA social statement, specifically calls for "education about nonviolence in our church and elsewhere." The ELCA has organized an inter-unit task force to help provide coordination among units and support for Nobel Decade activity and resources.

6. The Nobel Appeal encourages us to place particular emphasis on leadership training. Consider: 19 out of 20 journalists, teachers, or elected officials would report that a protest is "nonviolent" and mean nothing more than "nobody got hurt." Most would be unable to articulate nonviolence as a new perspective on conflict or to explain its very different understanding of power from other models.

Pastors and church leaders have a crucial role to play in communicating a central aspect of the Gospel vision of peace that is widely misunderstood in the pews, among the general public, and also by those who might help folks understand. A key task in preparing for the Nobel Decade is providing assistance to leaders in understanding or re-connecting with the full power of what nonviolence means.

LPF has been awarded an "Innovations" grant from Aid Association for Lutherans (AAL) to have helped us to develop of a new peace worship resource and a Lutheran supplement to the superb manual, From Violence to Wholeness. AAL funds also help support LPF to present leadership trainings in nonviolence across the U.S. in the coming year and to refine and distribute various resources.

Bishop Anderson's Initiatives to Prepare for a New Century calls on congregations to "turn inside-out in witness and service," and urges that "we redouble our efforts to aid children and youth at risk from racism, hunger, violence and poverty, at home and throughout the world."

Lutherans around the U.S. have expressed the need to improve their skills for handling conflicts in their families, workplaces and congregations, and for helping young people cope in our often violent world. LPF has found that whether the topic is conflict education for members of a church committee, or a youth group discussion on violence in East Timor or a Colorado school, participants find the perspective of Christian nonviolence to be deeply inspiring.

The United Nations and other secular organizations supporting the Nobel Decade are important but they can't help people understand the spiritual basis of nonviolence. This is our special contribution, to help ground the Decade in the teaching and example of Christ. Only we can do that.

As LPF's coordinator affirms, "My experience working in schools and congregations leads me to conclude that the Nobel Appeal offers the most hopeful opportunity in my lifetime to fundamentally alter the way we deal with violence and conflict." Now is the time to take advantage of this opening, build leadership, and develop plans.

Recommended Resources

From Violence to Wholeness: superb manual on the spirituality and practice of nonviolence ($18 including LPF supplement and resource packet on nonviolence; packet only, $3; LPF address below)

The Powers That Be (Doubleday, $12.95), new, concise version of Walter Wink's classic, Engaging the Powers (Augsburg Fortress, $22): both are rich in stories and insight; ideal for group study

Families Living the Pledge of Nonviolence: twenty useful family activities (free, 800-528-3522); For the Peace of the Whole World: five bible studies in just peacemaking (Augsburg Fortress, $4, #69-3924)

Family Pledge of Nonviolence (free), meditations ($5), family booklet ($5), Church Kit, etc. (Families Against Violence Advocacy Network, 4144 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108; 314-533-4445)

Center for Media Literacy: fine videos and discussions on media violence (1962 S. Shenandoah St., Los Angeles, CA 90034; 800-226-9494, www.medialit.org)

Alternatives to Violence: in-depth nonviolence workshops held across U.S. (315-457-1374; P.O. Box 300431, Houston, TX 77230)

Six Pillars of Peace: video, study guide ($8, National Council of Churches, 475 Riverside Dr., NY, NY 10115, 212-870-2424)

Center for the Prevention of Sexual & Domestic Violence: Sunday School curricula... (936 N. 34th St., Seattle, WA 98103; 206-634-1903).

Path of Hope kit: 100 brief, inspiring stories of peace and justice through history; steps for a youth group to create a Wall (LPF, free)

Susan Fitzell, Free the Children: conflict education for youth and children (New Society); Robert and Judy Zimmerman Herr, eds., Transforming Violence anthology (Herald);Angie O’Gorman, ed., The Universe Bends Toward Justice: reader on Christian nonviolence (New Society); Donald Shriver, An Ethic for Enemies: forgiveness in politics(Oxford); John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: nonviolence in Luke (Eerdmans)

See more at: Decade for Peace Resources, Nonviolence, Christian Peacemaking, Conflict Transformation


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