Preach it! Gospel of peace heard more widely
Preaching Peace, a ministry based out of Lancaster, Pa., is taking significant steps to broaden its scope and impact.
Founded about a decade ago by Michael and Lorri Hardin, the organization launched an online school this month and this fall will host what is shaping up to be its biggest conference ever.
Michael Hardin found his way to Anabaptism after low points with alcohol and church politics at the evangelical church he pastored for six years. They moved to Lancaster in 2005 and began attending Akron Mennonite Church.
“None of this could have happened without the Mennonite church,” he said in a Feb. 23 telephone interview. “They were literally the soil for us after my stumbling in New York. Jesus put us in and watered us with that church.”
Writing about theology and networking with theologians at conferences and speaking tours led to publishing projects. With the help of tech experts, preachingpeace.org became an online collection of resources on radical discipleship and peacemaking.
The site reaches far beyond Mennonite circles with an approach to understanding Scripture that puts Christ at the center of interpretation.
“We’re bringing this peace message, shalom for the gospel,” he said. “. . . There’s a growing movement of all stripes where peace has now become this central, controlling element.”
While many contributors and users of the site are pastors from across the Christian spectrum, the Hardins intersect with other demographics as well — people who have walked away from traditional churches.
“As ‘nones and dones,’ they love Jesus, but there’s no church nearby where they feel comfortable loving the other,” Hardin said, “because all of your sectarian churches have holiness codes with demarcation lines.
“There are small fellowships popping up all over the United States — I visited them — and their whole shalom is the gospel of peace.”
In addition to books and Facebook posts centered on peace theology, Preaching Peace has presented Sunday school classes, seminars and small conferences numbering anywhere from 20 to 100 participants.
Friends who teach
The couple are hoping to broaden that by expanding their educational opportunities with the School for Peace Theology. The online school isn’t looking to be accredited, but its six-week courses will cover a broad variety of disciplines.
“I literally know hundreds from ‘the academy’ who are oriented in some way to peacemaking in their discipline,” Hardin said. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I just ask my friends to teach in a school and make a school?’ ”
Courses are $199 and include titles like “A Relational Theology of Peace,” “Resurrection Revolution: Creation, The Human and Society,” “Beginner’s Greek 1: Reading the New Testament” and “Reading the Bible with René Girard.” Presentations will be recorded or stream live.
Hardin anticipates there will be 25 courses available by March 19.
“My goal was 27 for the year,” he said. “I’ve upped that to 40.”
To give a sense of what kind of growth this is for Preaching Peace, the Hardins have been the only two employees since 2007. They plan on hiring at least five people by July.
With instructors selected from networking and friendships on the speaking conference circuit, it only made sense to also pursue a conference of their own.
“We’ve rented the Santa Fe (N.M.) Convention Center,” Hardin said. “1,700 seats, and I think we’ll sell it out.”
The conference, scheduled for Nov. 2-4, is titled “The Gospel of Peace and the Peace of the Gospel.”
“I put asks out to people, and I’ve taken all eight yesses that were behind this thing,” he said. “Stanley Hauerwas, Richard Rohr, Doug Campbell — I think he’s the bee’s knees. Mennonites should just love the guy.”
Other speakers include Diana Butler-Bass, Richard Beck, Danielle Shroyer, Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber and Hardin. Evenings will feature musical performances by The Many, Dar Williams and Gungor.
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