Would Jesus do nonviolent direct action? At what point can nonviolent action become violent? How do Christians move from protest to peacemaking? Participants at the Church and Peace regional conference in Britain and Ireland on the weekend of July 16-18, 2004, wrestled with these and other questions issuing from the topic of "Community, Nonviolent Direct Action, and the Gospel". Venue for the gathering, organised jointly with corporate member the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship (APF), was Launde Abbey Diocesan Centre in Leicestershire, England.
The conference brought together people from different religious backgrounds, finding strength in both commonality - as pacifists, or those who endeavor to make peace peacefully - and diversity - represented were a variety of church traditions and forms of community.
The gathering began on Friday with introductions and then delved into the topic under the heading "three persepctives for the weekend". Gerald Drewett of Hertford and Hitchin Monthly Meeting defined nonviolent direct action (NVDA) and set out lucidly its relationship to the Gospel. Next Tony Kempster of APF discussed in debate-style the many faces of Jesus and threw out the question of whether the Gospel does indeed give a clear mandate for protest actions if Jesus was concerned primarily with the mission to prepare his followers for the imminent coming of the Kingdom. He also examined the "slippery slope" of mass marches and damage to property. Vic Thiessen of the London Mennonite Centre (LMC) spoke about community and NVDA, emphasising the crucial importance of support from community when planning and carrying out NVDA.
The discussion and debate from this session was rekindled later in the conference, particularly around the issue of NVDA and damage to property. The main conclusion to emerge was that extreme care must be taken when contemplating NVDA if this verges in any way on violence (physical or psychological), bearing in mind that the boundaries can become very blurred.
Lael and Helga Page from the Bruderhof Communities in the UK spoke of the historical development of the communities and their position on demonstrations and campaigns. They emphasised the importance of the prayer and discussion that takes place within their community when deciding whether or not to be involved in a particular campaign. The policy of utmost caution and the need for full consensus among the members of a particular community was absolute.
Chris Cole of the Fellowship for Reconciliation, England, spoke of his personal experience of NVDA including his protest at British Aerospace's Stevenage factory and his time spent in prison as a result. He outlined how he prepared his individual act of civil disobedience within the context of support of a community and attempts to enagage the opposing party in dialogue.
During the talkshops in plenary on Sunday morning Emma Cohen shared about the work of SPEAK, a network of students and young adults who pray and campaign on social issues. Recent actions have spoken out against the arms trade and urged debt relief for less developed countries.
During a second talkshop Deanna Douglas from the London Mennonite Centre discussed ways of moving beyond protest to advocating peace. She gave a comprehensive overview of the various non-military approaches to security and listed a variety of tools than can be employed to bring about security including civilian protection by trained units of civilian volunteers; control of arms and weapon control; the use of trained inspectors; back channel diplomacy by NGOs to create dialogue between warring parties; mediation training; support for civilian opposition to government; and a free press.
During the conference many participants took the floor to speak about their own organisations and peace witness. The weekend concluded with a moving ecumenical worship service on Sunday with a sermon on the 2nd chapter of Daniel by Church and Peace General Secretary Marie-NoŽlle von der Recke in which she urged participants to follow Daniel's example in searching out the hidden realities beneath the surface of today's world.