Church & Peace
News & Views
At the heart of the Church’s calling...
This Church and Peace newsletter is finally making its appearance after a lengthy delay. The topics covered in its articles have been pushed to the back burner, so to speak, by the events and aftermath of September 11th. Yet, it seems important to us to not yield to the temptation to simply put out of mind those conflict zones not occupying the media spotlight at the moment. Work for peace remains as equally pressing in areas where the guns are now silent but where the “calm” is more than some-what fragile and wounds are far from being healed.
Thus, we have chosen to focus in this issue of the newsletter on the subject matter of the Church and Peace gatherings in April in the Netherlands. Intended as a contribution to the Decade to Overcome Violence of the World Council of Churches, these meetings concentrated on a particular challenge: “Overcoming violence in the context of inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflicts”. The promise found in Isaiah 58:12 - “you shall be called repairer of the breach”-, leitmotif for the meetings, constitutes an invi-tation to take seriously the people of God’s calling to work for that which is life-giving and for the healing of the nations’ wounds, and to reconstruct people’s homes and lives. At the center of discussion was the urgency of a Christian peace witness expressed through the nonviolence of the Gospels in conflict areas such as the Balkans, Northern Ireland and Rwanda. (Those who wish to have more detailed information about these meetings are invited to refer to numbers 7 and 8 in our Church and Peace pamphlet series “Theology and Peace”.)
Further, this issue of the newsletter contains news about a reconciliation project initiated by the Conference of European Churches in Southeastern Europe; an open letter from two Macedonian Pentecostal theologians to the synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church; and a report from a recent trip to Yugoslavia and Croatia. News from the Church and Peace annual general meeting and an intro-duction of the Communität Christusbruderschaft which become a Church and Peace member in April round out this overview of developments in our network since spring.
“You shall be called repairer of the breach, restorer of the streets to dwell in.” Work for peace and reconciliation is not an elective option for the Church of Jesus Christ; it is at the heart of its calling.
Marie-Noëlle von der Recke
Repairer of the Breach
Church and Peace International Conference
A scripture passage is not always as fitting for a confer-ence motto as was the case with Isaiah 58:12 for the Church and Peace international gathering on April 27-29 2001 in Elspeet, Netherlands:
“Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called restorer of the streets to dwell in and repairer of the breach”.
The conference focused on three global hot spots - the Balkans, Northern Ireland and Rwanda - as representative of many other conflicts where ethnic and religious elements also mix. 120 participants gathered at the lovely Mennonite conference center in Elspeet; approximately one fifth came from the aforementioned regions where C&P members are active on-location and as such parti-cipants had the opportunity to get firsthand information.
The biblical text from Isaiah refers to a Jerusalem in ruins and its reconstruction. Breaches yawned in the walls as well as between opposing ethnic groups. Relationships were, so to speak, a mine field. The same could be said of Belfast, Pristina or Usumbara. The prophet proclaims that all will be healed despite how the current situation appears.
The conference organizers had placed the meeting within the framework of the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence. The overall growth of the “anti-culture” of violence - a long list from the WCC reveals the many areas in which violence manifests itself (structurally with the State, legal system, families, against the environment...) - catalogued by Reinhard Voss (Pax Christi) in his presentation on Friday evening could be viewed as discouraging. However, positive reactions can be seen in the formation of networks of solidarity (Viva Janerio, peace alliances); religious and political pacifist groups want to join forces and work together. By turning the other cheek Jesus showed a third way besides flight or fight. Important points were emphasized in the discussion: the efforts of the peace churches to dialogue with the mainline churches; peace education in schools (mediation, constructive confrontation) as a new initiative in place of a tired “peace pedagogy”. The Decade will include ample examples of practical activities and is a hope-filled undertaking.
Input on Saturday morning was skillfully moderated by Janko Jekic, a journalist from the former Yugoslavia. Participants from the region reported, and competent questions from the floor continued the discussion. The case study was a village in eastern Croatia where, for the past two years, the Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights, has been successful in overcoming hate and transcending confessional boundaries through small, concrete actions. The conference participants were able to comprehend the details of peacebuilding, how the streets are restored step by step.
Different methods of repairing breaches were explored on Saturday afternoon in workshops and small groups. Topics were mediation in Europe; a proposal for a peace church contribution to the Decade; spiritual resources for peacemakers; churches in areas of conflict - breaking the bonds of power and patriotism; exploring the theme of dwelling in the streets through the construction of marionettes and playful interaction; campaigning against the use of depleted uranium weapons and the international trade in small arms; and designing a sacred space - re-membrance as an act of reconciliation.
The highlight of the conference was a dialogue forum with Aleksandar Birvis (Yugoslav Association for Religious Freedom), Joe Campbell (Mediation Network, Belfast) and Joséphine Ntihinyuzwa (Detmold Confession, Rwanda). The podium members and the audience struggled to find traces of feasible paths out of despair, for those outside the region and the people there.
The dialogue forum was structured around three ques-tions:
• To what extent are churches a part of the problem or the solution - or both?
The age-old trespass of the mainline churches came to light once again: their liaison with the State. Because of their complicity with the State, the mainline churches are immobilized if the State moves from keeping order to destruction in order to protect its own interests. “The road to hell is paved with good inten-tions” ...a phrase which of course can change nothing about the past but is a word of caution for the present. Suggested steps the churches can take include articulating the needs of the other side; not considering violence as indispensable; not allowing oneself the satisfaction of revenge; viewing conflict as difficult circumstances rather than an illness; adopting the concepts of “remember and change” rather than “forgive and forget” - all pious suggestions but all issuing from a deep faith conviction.
• How large is the scope of action of the chur-ches?
The “Detmold Confession” was given as an example of meaningful and effective action by churches. This movement of forgiveness and healing was initiated in December 1996 when members of Rwanda’s churches publicly confessed with deep regret their complicity in the genocide which had taken place and their partner churches in Europe ac-knowledged their failures. Once again there was an appeal for internationalism of the Church which is particularly lacking in the case of inner-church conflict. Finally the question was raised as to who the catalysts are in the churches. The answer was clearly every individual church member. In concrete terms this means talk to your bishop, hold sit-ins in front of your church offices, get personally involved...
• In what way can we offer support to churches in the region?
Practical kinds of support were suggested: offering mediation training; providing financial assistance for students; arranging profes-sor exchanges (at the post-secondary level); offering exhausted peace workers a place for rest and retreat; visiting the region, but in a spirit of learning and sharing rather than as a mere tourist. And as a spiritual exercise, refraining from moral judgements and critique...
Aside from the suggestions of practical ways to help, it was apparent that when those at a Church and Peace meeting speak about conflict there is a totally different dimension than when generals or diplomats do so. Again and again in the midst of discussion about practical actions, those affected by the conflict requested that others pray for them and the situation. This might seem strange or even crazy to some but, together with objectivity, prayer accomplishes its real aim: prayer places our actions - no matter how modest - in a larger context. And this gives us the courage to bear the paradox of peace-making: that peacemaking does depend on our actions, but ultimately does not depend on us.
Two worship times rounded out the conference: a Quaker meeting with its usual silence that often says more than words can, and the closing worship service with a sermon by Janna Postma (Dutch Mennonite) on the prophetic voice in Isaiah’s time and the prophetic task of the Church today to call others to transformation and to speak of healing.
A new phase in Church and Peace’s journey
Seminar with peacemakers from the Balkans
Marie-Noëlle von der Recke
Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists - one Orthodox. A priest, several pastors, social workers, NGO workers. All come from the southeastern part of Europe that over the past ten years has been affected by successive waves of war: Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo/a, Serbia, Macedonia. All have been involved for many years in reconstruction and reconciliation work in their respective countries. Thanks to them, in April Church and Peace experienced a special moment in its history...
For years now members of the Church and Peace network have been their partners in this conflict zone. The services that these members and their partners provide range from humanitarian aid and mediation to refugee assistance, job creation, reconstruction. Over the years working relationships and friendships have been nurtured which transcend borders, disregarding the boundaries drawn by public opinion or governments.
It seemed logical after more than ten years to reinforce these contacts through a gathering providing the opportunity to meet, to take time out, to bring each other up to date and to envision together work for peace in the future. Such a meeting took place in Elspeet in the Netherlands on 24-29 April. It was a meeting in two stages: an invitational seminar of three days’ length followed by an international conference bringing together members and friends in the network from across Europe.
The seminar was not without its moments of tension and conflict... An analysis by pastor and writer Aleksandar Birvis from Belgrade of the causes of the Balkan conflicts resulted in critical debate which revealed the complexity of past events and the work necessary to surmount myths and heal wounds. The critique of the official church’s attitude was difficult for the Orthodox priest present to accept; his account of the suffering of his church and the Serbian people re-opened the wounds of the Kosovar Albanian pastor present. The question of the difficult relationship between protestant and mainline churches was also addressed: are evangelical churches factors of unity or division? How can they affirm their right to exist in an environment that is mistrustful of pluralism?
The insights from Presbyterian mediator Joe Campbell’s contribution acted as a breath of fresh air for the participants. Campbell, with his 30 years of experience in Northern Ireland, another arena of inter-religious conflict, spoke about the steps that had been taken in his region, the conditions necessary for reconciliation work and the churches’ contribution to the peace process. Not all of what he presented could be transposed directly to the situation in the Balkans but his contribution made the participants aware of essential truths and the fruits of years of experience which give hope and encouragement for other situations: human beings are not static; change is possible...
As Campbell commented, peacebuilding resembles the construction of a house: different things are happening at the same time, and different people are needed for different tasks. In order to ensure the success of the peace process, all sectors of society must participate - economy, politics, the churches. Campbell brought a challenging message to the churches: “Do not just articulate your own needs; articulate the needs of the other side as well! Dare to take risks, get involved! Don’t be resigned to routine and apathy! Don’t view peace work as just another activity but rather as being integral to the message of the Gospel!” and finally: “Peace work is actions and words... but also silence - taking time to pray is essential for every peace worker.”
Western Europeans were also present at this modest gathering, accompanying the guests from the Balkans through listening and leading prayer times, joyful to confirm the determination of the Southeast European participants to not give up the struggle. The Western participants were sensitive to the fact that their own governments shifted the emphasis of the problems in the Balkans region without resolving them and multiplied the number of victims - succeeding in just barely establishing an extremely fragile absence of warfare.
It would be premature to try and evaluate the seminar, but all of the participants returned home rich in new friendships, new partners, lists of possible contacts. The Serbian participants offered their logistical experience in assisting refugees to the Macedonian participants when the wave of violence began to spread further south. The Orthodox priest from Belgrade knows that he can find support for projects in his own church from the Baptist participants and their partners throughout the world. Professor Birvis was able to stock up on peace theology resources for the theological institute in Novi Sad. The Kosovar Albanian participant, who did not flee Kosovo/a even at the height of the war because she felt God calling her through the words of the prophet Isaiah “you shall be called repairer of the breach” (the theme of the meetings in Elspeet!) to remain in the region, spoke words of forgiveness to the Serbian people...
For Church and Peace, which simply initiated this meeting in a neutral location, offering, according to the participants themselves, a very necessary space for dialogue, this meeting was a new phase in the network’s journey. The reality of inter-religious and inter-ethnic war has challenged Christians without a pacifist tradition to work for peace and reconciliation. It is a joy to now count them as friends within the network of churches and communities active in peace church work.
--Number 7 of the “Theology and Peace” pamphlet series contains a detailed report of this seminar as well as the presentations by keynote speakers Aleksandar Birvis and Joe Campbell. The pamphlet is available for 2,55¤/ £1,60 from the Church and Peace International Office (Continental Europe & outside Europe) or Ursula Windsor, 4 Brunswick Square, Gloucester GL1 1UG, Tel: 0452 549669, Email: [email protected] (Britain & Ireland).
“Awakeners” in our communities
Church and Peace Annual General Meeting
from a report by Christa Voigt
With this report Christa Voigt says farewell after 13 years as Church and Peace contact person for the German Quakers. Church and Peace thanks Christa warmly for her longtime involvement and hopes that our paths will cross again soon!
The Church and Peace (C&P) Annual General Meeting this year was held in conjunction with a seminar for peacemakers from the Balkans region and C&P members sharing their experiences in work for peace and reconciliation and an international conference with the title “you shall be called repairer of the breach...”. Thus the Annual General Meeting (AGM) was not simply a business gathering but rather focused particularly on making new contacts and renewing old ones. The seminar and conference were intended as a contribution to the World Council of Churches’ Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV).
AGM reports from the Administrative Committee and the International Office underlined the significant changes that took place last year following the resignation of Christian Hohmann as general secretary and office director. In her report Marie-Noëlle von der Recke remarked that “the Decade to Overcome Violence is a unique opportunity to present our vision to Christians of all denominations and respond to requests in areas in which we have experience and skills”. She pointed to the encouraging elements in the theological portion of the German Catholic bishops’ document “Just Peace” and in the statements of Protestant bishop Margot Käßmann in her book on the DOV, elements which are very similar to our convictions.
Three individual and two corporate membership applications were ratified. This is an encouraging increase in the network. New members are:
• The Communität Christusbruderschaft Selbitz was founded in 1948. The community is Protestant and lives according to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Members of a Third Order are spread throughout Germany. The sisters of Selbitz feel confronted by violence in society and hope to find fellowship in the Church and Peace network with communities and groups which are seeking to overcome violence through active nonviolence.
• Friends House Moscow was founded in 1996. The staff of Friends House Moscow, Sergei Nikitin and Galina Orlova, maintain a Quaker presence, offer hospitality and uphold Quaker testimonies in practical ways, eg. by providing assistance to refugees from the Caucasus and supporting conscientious objectors. Volunteers are organized to work with handicapped children. Financial assistance is provided for a variety of projects, eg. preparing young people in children’s homes for independent adult life. The Alternatives to Violence Project is also one of the main priorities.
• Roel Meihuizen is a member of the Dutch Mennonite Peace Group. He is engaged in relief work in the Balkans, especially in Bosnia, and participated in the Balkans Seminar preceding the AGM and conference.
• Bruno and Heidi Sägesser-Rich are already well known within the Church and Peace network, having often attended gatherings as representatives of the Swiss Mennonite Peace Committee (SMFK). They are no longer SMFK members but are still active in working for peace and wish to contribute to the work of Church and Peace as far as their energies allow. Bruno was elected to the C&P Administrative Committee at this AGM.
• Moises Mayordomo is a Spanish Mennonite theologian living in Bern, Switzerland. In his work as assistant professor at the University of Bern he deals with peace issues from the perspective of the New Testament. His catechismal work in the Bern Mennonite Church focuses on peace education.
As is the case every year this agenda item was a “nail-biter” since a significant portion of C&P expenses are covered by donations not “dependable” income. It became evident that if C&P is to finance the important and extensive multilingual work done in the office, membership fees must be increased. However it is also important to not overwhelm the members, particularly the relatively poor communities which make a significant contribution through their clear witness for peace. Thus the AGM refrained from taking the step of increasing membership fees and instead decided to accept the risk the budget represents and to remain involved and watchful for funding possibilities. Ideas for ways to further decrease expenses are to be explored, for example delegating translations to members; planning more project work in order to apply for grants; inviting members to do volunteer work in the office; and continuing efforts to secure financing for a pastor from the Rhineland Protestant Church for administrative tasks and regional work. At the moment not only is there not a native German speaker on staff but there is also no one to maintain close contact with the local church district and the regional church.
Election of a new Nominations Committee
With the introduction of the new Nominations Committee it was pointed out that there was only one women among the five members, and concern was expressed that consequently there might not be enough women nominated for the Administrative Committee. Personally I cannot share this concern as the Nominations Committee did ask several women to consider membership in the Administrative Committee but all of them declined. A spontaneous women’s meeting was held to discuss why the women present did not feel capable of assuming certain responsibilities. Unfortunately there was not enough time for a longer meeting, though I feel the initiative was positive one as, for once, one specifically requested the opinion of the women present. Many women stated that they had the feeling one must have certain traditional “male” skills in order to be a member of the Administrative Committee.
Reports from the regions
Reports from each region followed elections and financial matters. The regional conference in the year 2002 in Britain and Ireland will be a joint conference on 14-16 June with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship on unarmed peace work. Some emphases of work last year in the Eastern Europe region were maintenance of the C&P website and publication of C&P materials and a Hungarian-language peace diary. An additional emphasis in 2001 was peace education. The next francophone regional conference (25-27 October 2002) will explore the topic of violence against creation. The German-language regional conference will be held on 18-20 October 2002 together with the annual conference of the Deutsches Mennonitisches Friedenskomitee (German Mennonite Peace Committee).
I would like to conclude with a comment from Bruno Bauchet’s report for the Administrative Committee: “As far as I know, we are the only European-wide ecumenical network. Let us maintain together this gift which we were given, the fruit of the work and perseverance of those who have gone before us. (...) I believe that we are the ‘awakeners’ of our communities, parishes, churches, groups. ...our convictions are sufficiently well-rooted for this gift of peace that God gave us to last and to allow us to hope and rejoice together about it!”
Nonviolence or The Power of Love
Journeying Together with the Communität Christusbruderschaft
Sr. Barbara Müller & Sr. Susanne Schmitt
Our decision to apply for membership with Church and Peace is the result of a journey which we would like to describe here. But first a brief introduction of our community:
Who are we?
The Communität Christusbruderschaft Selbitz is a Protestant order within the Lutheran Church and was founded in 1949 by Hanna Hümmer and Pastor Walter Hümmer. The community has its center in Selbitz near Hof in Upper Franconia.
The members are joined in binding, lifelong community in order to together be a witness for God. United in community through Christ, we want to follow his way of life as recorded in the Gospels. With vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the community is a part of the monastic tradition of the Christian Church.
116 women and 6 men belong to the community; a Third Order is comprised of men and women both single and married who in their regular jobs witness to their Christian faith.
The readiness and the strength for a life in community and in service to others grows out of an active relationship with God. Three daily prayer times, personal meditation on God’s word, worship services and communion, discussions about the Bible, spiritual exercises, counseling and confession are the sources which nourish our faith.
Since its foundation our community has its orientation in a threefold model of service: “Leiturgia” (prayer), “Diakonia” (daily love for one’s neighbor) and “Martyria” (witness). The first and fundamental act of service is prayer ranging from addressing God to concrete intercessory for persons and situations. The diaconal act of service - care of elderly and sick persons - is a further point of emphasis in our order. In addition some sisters also work with children and youth. Further elements of service to one’s neighbor in the comprehensive sense are hospitality and concrete involvement for love and reconciliation. At the core of all missionary and pastoral service is God’s invitation to living in trust. For this reason we offer through camps, seminars and retreats the opportunity to strengthen one’s faith. Artistic work is a another way in which we witness: images for meditation, adornment of chapels and public rooms and books, cards and songbooks from our own book and art publishing company.
A great number of sisters live in the main house, guest house, Walter-Hümmer-Haus (nursing home) and doctor’s house at the community center in Selbitz. Other community groups with hosting facilities are the Wülfinghausen Convent near Hannover, “Hof Birkensee” near Nürnberg and the Petersberg (community of brothers) near Halle on the Salle. Several sisters live in city communities, for example in Magdeburg, Bayreuth and Munich. In addition we are preparing to send several sisters to Zimbabwe; a group was active for thirteen years - until the year 2000 - in mission service in Botswana.
Experiences with violence and nonviolent action
The community in its entirety does not have a uniform experience with violence. Experiences are very different and are dependent on each person’s background, profession and current mission. Experiences range from psychological harassment at the workplace to the discrimination asylum seekers face to violence experienced by youth and children in their family and that which the youth and children do to others. Sisters who work as counselors, doctors or nurses are often confronted in a variety of ways with violence that others have suffered. A Turkish-Kurdish couple in church asylum lived in our main house from 1997 to 1999. During this time we had contact with the Bavarian church asylum network. Involvement here revolved around very practical things such as sharing experiences and mutual support with actions and civil disobedience. It was through this ex-perience that we got to know Mrs. Hildegard Goss-Mayr from the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. We invited her to a seminar in our community where she spoke about nonviolence action and civil disobedience.
Mrs. Goss-Mayr spoke of a fundamental assumption that the power of nonviolence is to be found in each person. Often people react to violence with silence and doing nothing, reactions, however, that simply support unjust situations. The attempt to overcome injustice through counter-violence gives rise to new violence and in the end prevents reconciliation from taking place. Active nonviolence is not an attempt to conquer the other person but rather the injustice. With nonviolence means and end are one. Mrs. Goss-Mayr demonstrated methods of nonviolent action and possibilities for dialogue.
It became clear to us the extent to which each person is called to take responsibility for embarking on this path of nonviolence. We spent time examining our own actions in conflict situations and attempting to work and learn together. Our community’s theme for the year 2001 - nonviolence, or the power of love - grew out of the experiences of our journey together and the increasing readiness to employ violence and the hostility to foreigners that we experience in our society.
Nonviolence, or the power of love
We explored this topic in depth at our annual community retreat in January 2001. Our guest speakers Ernst and Marie-Noëlle von der Recke introduced Church and Peace. Mrs. von der Recke gave us an overview of the term “reconciliation” in the Old and New Testaments. Mr. von der Recke presented an introduction to the topic of mediation and then illustrated this through practical exercises with all of us.
We have made the decision to apply for membership with Church and Peace. We believe that nonviolent action is also communal action and that we can strengthen each other as communities and churches.
As a community we are asked to follow a path of discipleship. This means choosing a life of nonviolence. In our rule this is anchored in the section “Discipleship of the cross”: “Jesus never denied the consequences of discipleship. He was beaten, tortured, killed, yet did not strike back. He invites his disciples to also choose a life of nonviolence and love for the enemy.”.
Each year we offer a day-long seminar for people from the surrounding area. This year we also choose nonviolence as the topic for this seminar. Further our prioress Sr. Anna Maria aus der Wiesche has prepared daily spiri-tual exercises as suggestions for further explorations of this topic. From Ash Wednesday until the Sunday following Easter we continued our journey as a community on the path of nonviolence.
The voice of God or an echo of the people?
Re: The letter from the Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church to the nation’s leaders
Kosta Milkov & Mirco Andreev
With the events and aftermath of Sept 11th occupying the media spotlight, the risk is great that other conflicts will be forgotten. For example the situation in Macedonia remains tense. Despite the extension of the military intervention’s mandate - now under the leadership of the Germany army - no solution is in sight.
Among the participants at the Balkan seminar organized by Church and Peace in April in Elspeet was Mirco Andreev, pastor of the Evangelical Pentecostal Church in the Macedonian capital Skopje. Mirco is co-author of the noteworthy declaration which follows here. This declaration takes a stand regarding the letter published at the end of June by the Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC). Among other things the document offers reassurance that killing in defense of one’s homeland does not break God’s commandments. The leadership of the Pentecostal Church encouraged its congregations and pastors to get involved to work against hatred, nationalism and killing and also to preach sermons with this message. The church views its witness as a contribution to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. All of this is not taking place at a safe distance but rather in churches located directly in the middle of the conflict area. According to Mirco often prayer is the only action possible.
The thoughts expressed by these two Pentecostal theologians are surprisingly relevant today, particularly with regards to the “theological” justification being given for violence and counter-violence since September 11th, 2001.
The open letter from the Synod of MOC to the State, expressing the expectations of "our people", provides us with an appropriate opportunity to seriously ask ourselves about the role of the Church in politics.
Before giving a critic of the letter itself, it would be beneficial to point out the fundamental view that Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, held concerning this question.
The Incarnation occurred in the time frame of when the territory of Israel, God's chosen people, was occupied by the Roman Empire. The Hebrews were completely dissatisfied with this situation, and for the majority of them, their only hope was the coming of the promised Messiah, God's Anointed One, whom they believed with His super-natural abilities and charisma would break the yoke of the Roman Empire.
Jesus had both the charisma and the supernatural abilities they were expecting in the Messiah. He had both qualities in abundance. His tragic death on the cross, the result of His deeds and teachings, shows us that all in all He failed to fulfill Israel's expectations. Instead He was judged as being extremely dangerous for the Israelites, and to get rid of Him, they accused Him of doing what He clearly refused to do -- lead a rebellion against Rome. This was what His people expected of Him.
What expectations does the MOC have? Well, they expect to be the voice of the people. But shouldn't they be the Voice of God? A voice, which will make our nation aware of the main message of the Gospel - deliverance from sin and from Satan's bondage? For how long will the MOC build its authority among the people on the basis of its role of preserving the national identity of the Macedonians? Instead of employing a language of ethnocentrism and mixing nationalism with religious beliefs with the definition Macedonian = Orthodox, the Church has the responsibility to challenge the people with a message of repentance, risking rejection as did Jesus. They rejected Jesus, because they did not want to accept His judgment of their sin.
The Synod of the MOC “appeals” to State leaders to keep “their oaths”. Those oaths being that the Republic of Macedonia will keep its current constitution and its current territorial integrity. What would Jesus say about that? Most likely, he would remind us of His Sermon on the Mount, where He said “...do not swear by anything”. It would be good to remember one verse from the Old Testament: “...cursed is the one who puts his trust in man”. Let's remind ourselves that the political leaders are just people also.
Moreover, the MOC, again in the role of the voice of the people is sending this message: “This is what our people are expecting!” This is nothing more than redundancy because the people have already said that. What is needed is the Voice of God, and not an echo of their own voice. But it seems clear that the most secure way to satisfy the masses, of course, is to find smooth sailing without “rocking the boat”.
What is so encouraging is that the MOC is “praying that peace rules”. Still it proves to be only an introduction to the argument (using fuel from the fact that members of the security forces have died in the conflict), “What else has to happen?” and “Who can show us how to keep and protect our country?”. The letter concludes with a warning “patience, and the most patient, have an end”. The question then becomes whose patience? The patience of the people or of the MOC? If we are talking about the people, like the patience of the Israeli nation who did not recognize the Messiah, well, we understand that their patience is all used up. But for the MOC, Jesus says to us, “70 times 7”.
It's no surprise that Prime Minister Georgievski has taken the letter from MOC to mean that he has a green light “to kill for righteous goals”. But the Prime Minister is a politician not a priest. It is normal for him to speak for the people, but when he does, he must not offer them God as a co-worker against the enemy.
It is clear what the New Testament says the Christian position is toward violence, and in general all conflicts seem naive, crazy, and suicidal. Not even a single person with a healthy mind can understand that kind of faith. But the New Testament unreservedly talks about “the weakness and foolishness of the cross” which is contrary to the “power and wisdom of the world” and is in reality God's saving wisdom. Because the true followers of Christ don't need the wisdom of the world. They need to fulfill their responsibility to contribute to society by doing good and by always striving for truth and justice. But they never can use violence, nor be on the side of violence, while giving themselves into God's hands.
It's time for Christian leaders in Macedonia to stop acting like some politicians, who listen to the wishes of the people to find something which suits them, and instead to lead with their statements and actions as the leaders of the Church.
It's time for Christian loyalty to be promised to God and to God only.
10 July 2001
Towards Peace and Reconciliation in South-East Europe
A project designed to encourage peace and reconciliation in South-East Europe was launched at the end of February. Heading up the initiative is Europe’s leading ecumenical church organisation, the Conference of European Churches (CEC). The project will be one element in a three-year programme launched by the World Council of Churches South-East Europe Ecumenical Partnership (SEEEP) to encourage and assist church communities, church-related agencies and non-governmental organisations to contribute to confidence-building, peace and the furtherance of the process of reconciliation in the affected countries.
The project’s Peace and Reconciliation “Hub” is to focus its work on furthering and improving inter-religious dialogue; establishing better coordination between local needs and international aid; providing expertise in establishing the legal framework for the work of religious communities in the region; and helping to correct misunderstandings and improve communication and cooperation in the region.
"It is not up to us in CEC to do everything to accomplish this task," said CEC General Secretary Keith Clements, but "we have to promote cooperation, liaise with, and support the churches, agencies, church-related groups and non-governmental organisations already engaged in this kind of work, and build on resources available in the region".
A consultation of church representatives from the Balkans region underlined the need for systematic theological and sociological research to be carried out in order to provide an informed grounding for peace initiatives.
"This is but a beginning of a long process” said Rüdiger Noll, CEC Coordinator for the project. “I believe that as we proceed there will be more openings for others to join. It is our commitment not to attempt to take over what is already being done, but to add to it", he concluded.
from CEC News Release 01/08, 15 March 2001; Church and Peace is an Associate Member of CEC.
Reconstruction, yes...but how?
Balkan trip impressions
Marie-Noëlle von der Recke
If one looks closely at Church and Peace’s history, one notices that this movement was born in a Europe in ruins. European and global Christianity’s failure in the face of Nazism formed the backdrop for the dialogue which was at the origins of the European and ecumenical network of churches and peace communities that is Church and Peace. The network emerged during the post-war reconstruction of Europe and has grown into a fragile but vibrant entity, stretching from Spain to Moscow!
Contacts with Christians from the Balkans during Church and Peace meetings in the spring in the Netherlands lead us to ask whether the Southeastern European region is not also in a situation similar to that in which our network was born. A certain number of people in the Balkans consider the churches to be obstacles to peace, and they have strong arguments to support their position. The fatal association in people’s minds between national identity and confession contributed and continues to contribute to rifts in a society already in crisis.
At the same time the meetings in Elspeet and the contacts in the Balkans maintained by our members for more than ten years provide the opportunity to meet men and women whose aspirations are very similar to our own: believers who put their faith and talents to work for reconciliation and reconstruction in a disrupted society. They refuse to let themselves be pigeon-holed by the pervading sectarianism. By offering humanitarian assistance to any person in need or providing nonviolent conflict resolution training, they work to, as our conference motto phrased it, “restore the streets to dwell in”.
In order to strength the contacts with these new friends, a series of visits was planned for this autumn and next spring. The first of these trips took place in October when I had the privilege of traveling to Vojvodina and Croatia, accompanied by Sister Miriam, Salesian sister and peace service minister living in Wethen, Germany.
During the trip we were able to meet with:
• Branka and Zelimir Srnec, directors of the humanitarian organization Tabita in Novi Sad;
• Father Károly Harmath of the Novi Sad Franciscan parish;
• Aleksandar Birvis, professor at the Novi Sad Bible school, and his wife and students;
• Harold Otto, former Mennonite Central Committee volunteer currently working for the Lutheran World Federation with the Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization in Novi Sad;
• Manda Prising, director of “Open Club” in Sombor, and her husband;
• Vesna Liermann and her colleagues at the Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights in Osijek, founded in the early 1990s by Katharina Kruhonia;
• Michelle Kurtz, professor at the Evangelical Theological Faculty in Osijek and consultant with the Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights;
• Ana and Otto Raffai, nonviolent conflict resolution trainers in the Balkans region, residing in Zagreb;
• Boris Peterlin, director of Christian Information Service in Zagreb and regional coordinator of the “Towards Peace and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe” project initiated by the Conference of European Churches.
Without going into detail about each meeting I would like to share a few of the impressions and reflections gleaned during the week.
Overt and covert destruction
I was struck by the paradoxical situations I encountered in each location. Architectural damage in Novi Sad was limited to a few struc-tures: the bridge destroyed on 3 April 1999 continues to hang pathetically in the Danube (causing Novi Sad’s inhabitants to remark caustically, “Novi Sad, the city where the Danube flows over the bridges); the carbon-ized television station forms a ghost-like carcass. At the same time a series of brand new buildings catches the eye. A few well-off refugees invested in impressive houses which contrast sharply with the surrounding poverty and bleakness. Displaced persons from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo/a during the 1990s, struggling to reconstruct their lives bit by bit, were not the only new arrivals to the city; according to our hosts, a form of nouvelle capitalism emerged based sometimes on funds of uncertain origin.
In eastern Croatia, where a longer span of time has elapsed since the war, the destruction is much more visible. Mined areas on both sides of the road are marked off with white tape urging caution. The small town of Vukovar where nature has started to take over houses in ruins since 1991, offers a frightening spectacle. Thanks to funding from foreign donors, certain structures have been reconstructed in the pre-war architectural style, but they do not appear to help people forget the smashed-in buildings, grenade-scarred facades and gaping holes in the walls visible in many places. Inhabitants of the town are confronted constantly with this reality. And as one of our hosts commented, “you have to realize that their psyche resem-bles what you see here”.
The visitor remains perplexed - where there is money, reconstruction is taking place, and one cannot help but be glad about this. But what is one to think about the internal destruction? And the fact that children are growing up in the middle of the “fruits” of the violence of war? The task of reconstructing the population’s psyche seems a much more delicate matter than rebuilding houses...
The several hours spent in Zagreb revealed yet another facette of the reality in this region - a large city with bustling streets, determinedly Western European (the upcoming change to the Euro is widely advertised, and business is booming for McDonalds and other Western companies), gives the visitor the impression that the page has already been turned on the history of the 1990s. The streets are lively once again...but at the same time very congested...
Incomparable reconstruction workers
I was deeply impressed by the people I met on this journey and the work they are doing. In a context where it would have been normal to become mired in depression and resignation, men and women (especially women!) have rolled up their sleeves and gone to work. Their approaches are diverse, but the intention is clear: construction and reconstruction in every sense of the term - all kinds of material aid and education, teaching tolerance and peace, working for spiritual renewal... With these contacts between groups and individuals in Western Europe wishing to support such work and those pursuing the same aims within the region, one can easily foresee the constitution of a network between all who want to “raise up foundations” in their society.
I was alarmed by the fact that the projects we visited exist in a complete financial dependency on Western donors. If the primary sponsors (European Union, Soros Foundation etc.) decide to close up shop, long-term projects are suddenly without financial resources and this for programs whose results are unfortunately not always immediately measurable. The war generated an influx of solidarity but at the same time created a dependency which makes reconstruction work very fragile.
The construction site of the Church of tomorrow
I listened with great interest to what our hosts said concerning the climate in and cooperation with the churches. The thirst for renewal in church life and for dialogue between the churches is significant. But the war has left its traces. The largest gap appears to be that separating Orthodoxy from the other confessions. In Croatia the smaller denominations seem to be able to better find their place than in Serbia. Ana Raffai, concerned by the slowness of change in her church (Catholic Church), described it as being imprisoned in a sort of autism, preoccupied with its own “room” without worrying about the rest of the “house”. The Center in Osijek has found it necessary to focus one of its projects solely on the topic “Peacebuilding through Inter-religious Cooperation”, led by an ecumenical team. All the people we met emphasized what had been accomplished at the lay level and the slowness of change within the institutional church.
“Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called restorers of the streets to dwell in and repairer of the breach.” This promise accompanied us during the Elspeet meetings and throughout the rest of this year. This promise was particularly present during this trip. However a question does arise: “Reconstruction, yes...but how?”
When speaking about the causes of the Yugoslav divorce, one of our hosts said, “We built a house without interior walls or rooms; people weren’t allowed to express their diversity.” Through their work and involvement, those whom we met on this trip indicated that they have learned from this “construction defect” and that they are striving to build on a new foundation. The promise of the prophet Isaiah is particularly fitting for them.
If it is true that the Church and Peace network is a paradoxical fruit of the catastrophe of the Second World War, then it is very possible that the “repairers of the breach” from the Balkans are also paradoxical fruit of a tragic page of their region’s history. The two movements have points in common, and it is wonderful to see that they are in the process of becoming partners in dialogue!
• Prayer for Peace
The German Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) invite others - regardless of where they live - to join together each Sunday from 7-8pm in shared prayer to search for strength to overcome helplessness, to counteract violence and ideas of retaliation in a constructive way and to continue contributing towards eliminating the manifold causes of violence.
• New MIR romand director
The office of Fellowship of Reconciliation/Francophone Switzerland (MIR romand) has moved to the home of its new director Bertrand Slavic. New address is: MIR Romand, Route de la Comba 7, CH-1680 Romont, Tel/fax: +41 26 652 04 42, Email:
• The Church and Peace Britain & Ireland regional conference will be held on 14-16 June 2002 at Stone in Staffordshire in the Midlands. The conference is being organized together with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and will explore the topic “Unarmed Peace Work”. For more information or to register, contact Gerald Drewett, 20, The Drive, Hertford SG14 3DF, Email: [email protected]
• Conflict Management in Congregations
Lott, David B (Ed.) £14.50, 1566992435 Alban Institute (2001), 163pp
The Alban Institute has a reputation as a leader in addressing congregational conflict management issues through its research, consulting services, educational events and publications. This is the first in an anthology series, gathering 20 classic works into a single volume. Divided into three sections that explore the dynamics of conflict, conflict management techniques and dealing with conflict in specific contexts, this book serves as a comprehensive primer of particular use to church leaders.
• Fragmentation of the Church & Its Unity in Peacemaking
Rempel, John & Jeffrey Gros (Eds.) £16.99, 0802847455 Eerdmans (2001), 241pp
The gospel places peacemaking at the centre of Christian identity. Over the centuries, however, churches have divided over the role and place of the peacemaking imperative in their lives and teachings. This volume offers deep ecumenical discussions of the relationship of the church to its peacemaking mission from the standpoints of history and the contemporary context. Contributors representing ten major faith traditions address this crucial topic from the perspective of their own churches and explore paths that could lead to the reconciliation of existing differences.
• Meaning of Peace: Biblical Studies (2nd ed)
Yoder, Perry & Willard M Swartley (Eds.) £14.50, 0936273305 IMS (1999), 336pp
A volume of essays on the biblical concepts of shalom and eirene, all but one originally published in German. Includes an extensive bibliography, index of Scripture and ancient writings and introductory chapters which address both the essays themselves and the larger scholarly context for discussions of shalom and eirene. Of interest to biblical scholars, theologians, ethicists, and indeed to all Christians concerned to live in light of the biblical hope of peace.
• Peace: Understanding Biblical Themes
Brueggemann, Walter £19.25, 0827238282 Chalice Press (2001), 256pp
Previously published as Living Toward a Vision, Brueggemann lures us into reading the Bible more imaginatively and living in its light. Draws us deeply into his inspiring vision of Shalom. Scholarly, passionate and energizing.
• Politics of the Cross: The Theology & Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder
Carter, Craig £13.75, 158743010X Baker Books (2001), 256pp
The work of John Howard Yoder is particularly relevant for a church searching for its way in a post-Christendom world. This is a comprehensive survey of Yoder’s varied, and consistently brilliant, writing. Stanley Hauerwas comments “There are no doubt going to be many books in the future published on Yoder, but this will surely be one of the best.”
• Robe of God: Reconciliation, the Believers Church Essential
Augsburger, Myron £10.75, 0836191366 Herald Press (2001), 262pp
A committed Evangelical and Mennonite, Myron Augsburger has always called on all Christians to take Christian discipleship seriously, including the work of reconciliation made possible through Jesus Christ. As George R Brunk has said, this may well be “the crowning work of a master evangelist, theologian, pastor”.
To order any of the above resources, contact: Metanoia Book Service, 14 Shepherds Hill, London N6 5AQ, Tel: (+44) 020-8340 8775, Fax: (+44) 020-8341 6807, Email: [email protected]