Lutheran Peace Fellowship

Peacemaking In Challenging Times
Plumbing the riches of Lutheran insight, experience, and tradition

"How does peace come about? Through a system of political treaties? Through the investment of international capital in different countries? Through the big banks, through money? Or through universal peaceful rearmament in order to guarantee peace? Through none of these, for the single reason that in all of them peace is confused with safety. There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war…"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his address at an ecumenical conference in Fano, Denmark, 1934, published in No Rusty Swords, 280-81.

How many of our churches have prayed for those disaffected people in the Middle East who are recruited, often at a young age, into violent movements because of the poverty and hopelessness they see around them? Not very many I would suppose. And how many churches have prayed for Osama bin Laden? Prayed that the holy Spirit would descend on him to use his money and leader-ship skill for good. And yet Jesus was so direct, so unambiguous, about praying for our enemies….

Like many people, I was amazed at the number of times the word "evil" appeared in Pres. Bush's addresses. It struck me as an important occasion to teach and preach core Lutheran doctrine, like simul justus et peccatur (simultaneously righteous and sinful) -- there is no human being, ourselves or bin Laden, who is either wholly good or entirely evil. To brand someone as evil is a first step to dehumanizing. And it also plays into our deep craving for work righteousness - if they are evil, I am good. Lutherans should cry out against this.

This is a teachable moment. An opportunity to teach about the "myth of redemptive violence" and the need to break the cycle of violence. To teach the insights and skills of nonviolence. To foster a climate that invites us all to open our minds and to think creatively.

LPF Peace Partner Rev. Dan Erlander, former campus pastor of Pacific Lutheran University and pastor of Trinity, Freeland, is a well-known writer and speaker.

As a former student at the US Air Force Academy, and a Lutheran pastor for a dozen years, I believe that peaceful actions have a better chance than violence and war for achieving our goals. Lutheran theology is at the heart of that belief…. Lutheran theology was born out of suffering and failure. It is a mistake, Luther found, to believe that God rewards, glorifies, or justifies us based on the performance level we reach in life, a delusion he terms the "theology of glory."

In my experience, most of us adopt and use this "theology of glory" for as long as we can make it work. We believe that things work out because of our good intentions, our good efforts. We believe this on a personal scale, and we believe that the world works this way. We believe, ultimately, that God works this way. We try hard. We separate out good and evil and try to get ourselves on the right side of the fence. I am guessing that behind many of current "God Bless America" slogans is a continuing hope that God will reward us for our goodness. Until it quits functioning, we keep believing in the reasonable-ness of this understanding of how the world works. For Luther when this worldview quit working, he fell into despair.

What replaced Luther's "theology of glory," after much suffering and searching, was the grace of God. It wasn't an academic discovery. It was a life changing revelation that literally saved his life. It freed him to regain joy. It freed him for love. It freed him to embrace compassion. In "the theology of the cross," God is not revealed to us in the glory of Jesus accomplishments, but rather in the suffering of Jesus. Luther named the irony that the One who does all things well, ends up crucified.

Theologically, our war efforts so far seem to me an exercise in a "theology of glory." That is, we've made this a battle between "Good" and "Evil." We've claimed our side as completely good and the opposition as completely evil. When we say "God Bless America" to this notion, we've adopted an understanding of God that rewards us based on our own notions of righteousness.

Understanding our failures might allow us to be more humble and realistic partners in creating a safer world. It might help us understand that our "war solution" threatens to continue a cycle of violence that we've been participants in for decades. Understanding the theology of the cross and Jesus own participation in life would lead us to keep the language of love, compassion and grace in any conversations about justice and accountability. To see Jesus in this manner, through the lens of Martin Luther, gives us a practical framework for rebuilding our world after September 11. An active peaceful solution seems to me the daring solution, and the most practical hope.

Rev. Lars Clausen is an ELCA Pastor from Michigan on sabbatical, training for a cross-country unicycle ride beginning in April 2002. The ride will support Native Alaskan Lutheran Ministry.

"This is a war between good and evil" as our President put it. But I think that the war is being waged within this nation and even within our very souls. The spirit of good - as illustrated in the incredible love of those rescue workers who gave their lives on September 11 - is at war with the spirit of evil. The spirit of hate hit the World Trade Towers on September 11, but the spirit of love responded. Now this spirit of evil and hate wants us to sink to the level of the terrorists and retaliate in kind and worse. The challenge before each of us is not to sink to this level but stay at the level of love shown by those rescuers and to challenge our nation's decision-makers to bring the terrorists to justice without sinking to their level.

From a sermon by Jim McGinnis, Director, Institute for Peace and Justice, St. Louis, MO,

At a stimulating weekend advocacy workshop offered by the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, Rev. George Johnson helped me think from a new perspective with this observation: When the Pharaoh ordered all the male Hebrew babies to be killed, it was because he felt threatened by the growing size of the Hebrews in Egypt. In other words, the whole reason was "national security."

Pat Zerega is a DCS staff person at the SW Pennsylvania synod

During my years in Tanzania, East Africa I often wondered how people could live with so little hope for a better life. The majority felt so powerless that they simply accepted their condition.. Some hated the fortunate few, but did nothing. Some hated the few, and terrorized them. Some tried to improve their condition, including many people of deep religious faith (usually Christian).

Since Sept. 11, people in America awake, many for the first time, to a life lived under fear, insecurity, and powerlessness…. Fortunately, I have discovered, with others in my church community, how deep are the resources in my faith. My faith reminds me that we do not need to feel powerless, nor feel hate, nor call for a massive violent response. My faith reminds me that God suffers at the hunger of every poor person, at the deaths on Sept. 11, at violence anywhere. And God has given us opportunities to respond, from praying for strength to love our enemies, to advocating for aid or debt relief of poor nations, from supporting full justice for Palestinian people, to working to end the dreadful boycott of Iraq, and seeking to improve the relationship among those of different faiths….

As people following the way of Jesus we will learn from the tragedy of Sept. 11, and take this opportunity to reject the culture of violence, and to work to create a culture of active nonviolence in our own land, and throughout the world.

Jerry Pedersen, Sacramento, CA, is completing his second term as co-chair of the Lutheran Peace Fellowship board.

…It seems to me that we are too ready to embrace a new American civil religion, one that calls upon God to bless our action - whatever it may be. In the spirit of manifest destiny, we claim we are in the right to seek retribution and take whatever action necessary to win victory and protect our own interests. We claim that God is on our side; but instead, we need to ask "are we on God's side?"

Rick Rouse, Director of Church Relations, Pacific Lutheran Univ.

Anger, vengeance and retaliation are perfectly understandable. They are the stuff of human history from the very beginning as we know well from our reading of the Bible. But we Christians must also witness to the danger of despising one another - whatever the provocation. Luther says that such adversaries will pull each other down, like two men who struggle with each other in a dangerous swamp. We are seeking a way out of this swamp of hatred and retribution…. In Jesus Christ we are learning that mercy grace, peace, and loving kindness are the deepest reality, God's final verdict…. This message is our joy, our hope, and the basis for our mission.

"We're In This Together," a Reformation sermon on Romans 3 for Japan Lutheran Theological College and Seminary by President Timothy Lull, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley

Where in Washington and in our national agony and debate is the recognition voiced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that "there is a very real danger of our drifting into an attitude of contempt for humanity.… The following thoughts," he says, "may keep us from such a temptation. [Contempt]…means that we at once fall into the worst blunders of our opponents. The one who despises another will never be able to make anything of the other. Nothing that we despise in the other is entirely absent from ourselves…We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. The only profitable relationship to others…is one of love, and that means the will to hold fellowship with them. God did not despise humanity, but became human for our sake."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his gift essay to fellow resisters, "After Ten Years," Letters and Papers from Prison, pp 9-10. Shared by Dr. Larry Rasmussen, Union Theological Seminary, NYC.

Taking Action

Three ways of reaching out

Create a space for people to explore their hopes for the world and to consider what means will help us realize them. A space for people to talk and be listened to can be set up on the street or in the parish hall after church. A small 'peace gift' can help open the door, e.g. peace cranes, inspiring peace quotes on bookmarks, peace cookies…

Encourage the production of a piece of public art. Use sidewalk chalk, canvas and paint, or other appropriate material to allow people's hopes and dreams to be expressed as a community.

Share the stories. A good way to grasp the meaning of peacemaking today is through the lives and activities and choices of peace and justice heroes like Gandhi, King, Bonhoeffer, Rosa Parks, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, and Aung San Suu Kyi. Constructing a "Path of Hope" of inspiring events and people is a great youth group or class project (a "how to" kit is available from LPF). The whole church or school can learn from the finished display.

by Kate Reuer, LPF's new youth trainer, from "A Call to Local Action," 2 pages of ideas being posted on LPF's web site

Fasts are being organized by religious and peace groups in a number of cities as a spiritual discipline; a way to show solidarity with Muslims; and to build support for humanitarian aid (see page 11). Here's one of a number of cards being shared with passersby to help counteract stereotypes about Muslims and Islam:,

 Fight Fear with Facts

Before reading their holy book, the Koran, each Muslim is expected to pray this special prayer: "May God protect all believers, Christians, Jews, and Muslims." Bis MiLaahi Hahmaani Rahiim

In the Muslim culture, the customary greeting is:
"Peace be with you." Salaam Alaykum

Let's respond in kind with the traditional answer:
"Peace also be with you." Alaykum Salaam

from the San Diego Coalition for Peace & Justice

The Challenge of Community

What We Can Do, Together…

I have been thinking a lot about the difficulties we have in communicating with, and being understood by those who do not share our perspective. More than ever, now, we must find new and dynamic ways of sharing our conviction for peace with both our brothers and sisters in faith and our fellow citizens. And as peacemakers, we can communicate through our own living, that pursuing peace is a way of life, a transformation toward mindful action, a way to embody Christ's mercy and peace.

Livkarin Sulerud, St. Olaf College, LPF youth board member

Here's a card that shares a few insights on a simple skill about which many people say they could use some help: relating effectively to folks with whom you disagree.

 How to Be a Bridge
When You Meet A Wall

Breathe: Take a breath. Find your center.
Listen: Genuinely and actively listen.
Keep It Light: Use humor and surprise.
Question: Ask questions that seek the
other person's truth and for their humanity.
Truth: Base your position on truth.
Tone of Voice, Body Language: Imagine
the tone and voice of someone by whom
you feel respected. Imitate that.

This was originally designed as one of several learning activities for a community college event after Sept. 11. The back of the card offers basic information about LPF, our phone, and a few good web sites for more information.

Here's a brief response to one of the most often-asked questions that is brief enough to share with friends and co-workers, or in educational forums:

So, What's the Alternative to Military Action?

There is an alternative, widely understood throughout the world as well as in communities in the US, but it is rarely presented with any kind of clarity or detail. That alternative goes by names like satyagraha, firmeza permanente, "truth force," or active nonviolence. Before that last word moves you to stop reading, consider this: in just the past twenty years, over a third of the world's population has experienced nonviolent revolutions that succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations in every case but China.

They succeeded against some of the most ruthless regimes of the 20th Century: Marcos in the Philippines, Ceausescu in Romania, apartheid in South Africa. Most were completely nonviolent on the part of the participants. If you stretch the time frame back 50 years to include the liberation of India, the anti-Nazi resistance in Denmark and Norway, and the U.S. civil rights movement, the number of people affected rises to two-third's of the world's population. "All this in the teeth of the assertion, endlessly repeated, that non-violence doesn't work in the 'real' world," as Walter Wink puts it in his path-breaking book, Engaging the Powers or The Powers that Be..

It's hard to pursue productive responses to terrorism if our only starting principle is vengeance and our only concept of power is military or "power over." Our public discussion is greatly enriched by seeing past the stereotypes of nonviolence to its strength and sophistication. For example, nonviolence is not passivity, but a wholly different way of struggling against injustice and violence. It takes as much discipline and planning as military options. It offers a markedly different way of approaching conflict, a whole different grasp of the nature of power (e.g. "power with"), and a much broader menu of tools and tactics than those available to military force.

The tradition of nonviolence offers many insights relevant to a response to terrorism. Here are a few: In general, excessive force backfires. Work to discover the roots of conflict and to craft ways to interrupt, not feed, the "cycle of violence." Don't create enemies; in particular, don't make it any easier for terrorists to recruit or grow. Seek broad inter-national support (which Powell began to assemble but has been largely bypassed). Utilize and strengthen international institutions to give legitimacy to our response and to erode the sources of support for terrorists. Put more attention and resources into preventive than corrective measures. In short, work to stop criminal activity, not declare war.

Such insights have been carefully assembled into strategies that have shown success in the most challenging arenas of conflict today, from gang violence and domestic abuse to international violence. What has been lacking in most discussions of Sept. 11 is any portrayal of the coherence of this perspective on power and conflict that might help us craft responses that stands some chance of actually working.

From "Blinded by the Darkness" by Glen Gersmehl, director of Lutheran Peace Fellowship, member of the Planning Committee for the UN Decade for Peace in the US and Canada. His masters in conflict and international security is from Harvard University.

Many peace folk have felt alienated from others in their communities and congregations because of the widespread support for military action in Afghanistan and the flag-waving patriotism that has accompanied it. As we experience this alienation, we need to beware of the kind of self-righteousness that has sometimes been a sin of the peace movement. Another challenge for us it that there are so many issues and situations that cry out for our attention - Sept. 11 and the military campaign in Afghanistan just add to the list - that it is easy to be overwhelmed. Staying grounded in our worship and prayer life and connected to one another is more important than ever.
Rev. Carol Jensen, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Seattle, serves on the board of the Division for Church in Society and served on the original ELCA Peace Task Force

Here's a creative way that LPF Peace Partner Judith Stoutland extends a peace message. On Veterans Day each year, she arranges for a day sponsorship on the Northfield, Minn. public radio station. Her message: "With deepest gratitude and respect for all who protect our political freedoms - in military or nonmilitary ways - and to encourage us to resolve our personal and political differences in a nonviolent manner." She's done this for six years; and a Hiroshima Day sponsorship even longer. The message is repeated eight times on a morning program of music and news and during the evening broadcast.

Gandhi pursued some brilliant ideas. One of them is that everyone has a piece of the truth. No one has the whole truth. It's one reason why we need each other. And one of the reasons why we need people who differ with us. We don't need to have enemies and we're unlikely to make enemies if we are listening to each other. I can't remember a time in which I felt as clearly as now that I need to be listening to others. That I need help in sorting things out. That alone I can't get through this. That together we can figure out what is going on, how to understand it, what we need to do, and the best ways we can communicate what we're learning with those around us. It will take all of us together to act effectively.

Let us be honest, the public perception is that dissent thus far has been marginal. Add our own confusing mix of emotions, the steep learning curve, and the ambiguities of the situation, many of us have at times felt powerless or paralyzed. A tragedy for us, as citizens and as Christians, would be to accommodate ourselves to such powerlessness.

The first effective antidote to powerlessness is found in our worship, prayer and devotional life. I've been greatly helped by passages from Nouwen, Bonhoeffer, Soelle, and material on seminary, synod, and churchwide web sites.

Second, amidst the ambiguities there are grounds to act, in our theology, in the developing clarity of analysis of our situation, and in concrete advocacy needs. This newsletter shares examples of each of these key elements.

A final and crucial piece is taking time to listen to and support one another to shake off our powerlessness. This is difficult for many of us. Our socialization as Americans, males, Lutherans… makes it hard to make the connection with one another at a depth that is truly empowering.

I'll close with this: "Do not listen to voices which speak the language of hatred, revenge, and retaliation. Do not follow any leaders who trains you in the ways of inflicting death. Love life. Respect life in your-self and in others." (Pope John Paul II) Thanks for acting on what you believe!

See also: LPF Resources for Youth Leaders, Theology and Peace

LPF national coordinator Glen Gersmehl edits Peace Notes.

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