Opinion: An army of peacemakers

Time is ripe for a massive expansion of nonviolent efforts to end injustice

Feb 16, 2015 by and

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Why not quadruple the size of Christian Peacemaker Teams?

Actually, I’d like to see CPT increase a hundredfold. And there are reasons to think the time is right. Over the last several decades, there have been numerous stunning victories by nonviolent campaigns for justice. Increasingly too, major church groups have called for expanded emphasis on nonviolent action. And the ethical teaching of both just war and pacifist Christians demands it.

Knowledge of the way Gandhi’s nonviolent movement led to independence for India and Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent civil rights movement changed the United States helped inspire more recent nonviolent revolutions.

When a million-plus nonviolent people in the Philippines took over the streets in 1986, they ended the brutal dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

Refuting the oft-repeated claim that nonviolence cannot succeed with ruthless communist dictators, huge nonviolent campaigns in 1989 in Poland and East Germany ended communist rule there.

Though the more recent developments in Egypt have been disappointing, nonviolent campaigns in 2011 in both Tunisia and Egypt ended decades-long dictatorships.

Courageous women

Especially exciting was the daring nonviolent campaign of Christian and Muslim women in Liberia in 2003. Led by Ley­mah Gbowee (who has been influenced by her studies in peacemaking at Eastern Mennonite University and who won the Nobel Peace Prize), the Liberian women’s courageous nonviolent protest eventually forced the brutal dictator, President Charles Taylor, to leave.

Over the last couple of decades, nonviolent international accompaniment programs like CPT have slowly expanded their impact. Peace teams in the West Bank, Colombia and elsewhere have provided protection for hundreds of people threatened by oppression and death. CPT’s experience helped influence the development of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. Peace Brigades International and Nonviolent Peaceforce have also grown.

But the number of people in these international accompaniment programs is minuscule compared to the need. Palestine lawyer and Christian peace activist Jonathan Kaltah called, unsuccessfully, for 1,000 CPT teams all across the West Bank.

Unarmed soldiers

Major Christian groups have urged a major expansion of nonviolent action for peace and justice. In 2007, a Vatican and Mennonite World Conference joint statement called for “the education, training and deployment of Christians in the practice of active nonviolence.”

Especially daring and explicit was a study document (significantly influenced by Mennonite Church USA leader Andre Ginge­rich Stoner) for the 2010 General Assembly of the National Council of Churches. The document noted that the many stunning successes of nonviolent movements had increased the interest in “the possibilities of Jesus’ nonviolent way” but lamented that even these increased efforts were minuscule in comparison to the need.

“The moment has come,” they said, “for Christians to dramatically increase their commitment to active peacemaking, particularly to further developing the movement of unarmed Christian soldiers for peace, trained and disciplined to work creatively, sacrificially and courageously in high conflict situations.

“Can our churches imagine working together to field an army of 1,000 international, trained, disciplined Christian peacemakers who would be engaged in one or more situations of significant, long-term conflict? . . .

“Christians in the just war tradition who have always taught that war must be a last resort will be challenged to engage in serious large-scale testing of nonviolent peacemaking. Pacifist Christians who reject violence and claim there are alternatives to war will be challenged to be prepared to make similar sacrifices as soldiers as they engage in active and risky peacemaking.”

Time to think big

The time is ripe for a massive expansion of nonviolent efforts to end injustice. The kind of nonviolent international accompaniment that CPT, Peace Brigades International and others do is only one way to do that. But those organizations have proven its effectiveness. Let’s expand it a hundredfold!

Mennonite leaders could play a catalytic role. They could invite leaders from all the major Christian groups — Catholic, historic Protestant, evangelical/ Pentecostal and Orthodox — to come together in a several-year process to explore how to vastly expand nonviolent programs for peace and justice.

That might lead to something that has never before happened in Christian history — the investment of billions of dollars and the training of thousands of nonviolent peacemakers ready to move into unjust, violent situations to promote shalom.

If you’d like to be part of growing CPT, email outreach@cpt.org.

Ronald J. Sider’s address at the 1984 Mennonite World Conference assembly in Strasbourg, France, inspired the formation of Christian Peacemaker Teams. He has just published Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands But Most Christians Have Never Really Tried (Brazos Press, 2015). He is president emeritus of Evangelicals for Social Action and lives in Lansdale, Pa.


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  • Lisa Schirch

    There are a number of reasons why it would not be a good idea to send more Christians out into the world as an army of saviors. First, sending an army of peacemakers abroad would not address the fact that the US policies in the arms trade, exploitative economic systems, and hollywood glorification of violence are responsible for idolatry of violence. Second, such an army would seem to draw inspiration from the White Man’s Burden, an assumption that westerners know what is best for people abroad. The most powerful peace movements come from within. Our job as North Americans is to support them – local nonviolent leaders and movements- while challenging our own culture and government. The hard work for Americans is to shift our own culture. So send teams to Hollywood instead. Hold educational seminars to help Americans understand the military industrial complex. The work of peacebuilding is primarily at home, not abroad. Three, such as army of peacemakers must be fed and sheltered. This is no small feat in many places. The decent of thousands of peacemakers would in many situations be unwelcome simply for their consumption habits and their footprint.

  • Stephen Johnson

    Thanks Ron. The idea of sending my children (or myself) to areas of conflict to promote peace is scary but if we are truly committed to promoting peace we need to do more than talk.

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