Peace is Christianity’s big secret, church told

By staff writers
22 Aug 2012

That God is a God of just-peace not violence is the revelation of Christ and the real truth of Christianity, two leading church figures have said.

The comments came as part of a conversation entitled ‘The Spirituality and Practice of Peace in a World of War’, held at St John’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh on 22 August 2012.

The participants were Fr John Dear, a Catholic priest and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and the Rev Kathy Galloway, head of Christian Aid Scotland and a former leader of the Iona Community. It was chaired by Brian Larkin, coordinator of the Peace and Justice Centre at St John's.

Ms Galloway, citing Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama, described the non-violence of Jesus as a community practice and as “the see-hear-touch Gospel”.

There is a connection between invisibility and violence, Koyama pointed out at the 1998 World Council of Churches Assembly in Harare, which also decided on the 2001-11 Decade to Overcome Violence taken up by churches and civic groups across the globe.

What, Koyama asked, in statement Galloway described as “bread for the journey” in her life, is the point of love if it remains invisible, inactive or intangible?

Yet weapons are all too tangible – and they depend for their power on the forced invisibility of victims of violence and injustice. This process has to be challenged.

“The spiritual journey is to cultivate inner peace”, added Fr John Dear, “enabling us to make peace then with all people, with all creation and with the God of peace.”

Yet we human beings live in a world of war-addiction and by an unrecognised spirituality of war, he said.

Ms Galloway added that we also live fearfully, anxious to accumulate and defend our patterns of accumulation.

Depressingly, President Obama has spent more money on nuclear weapons than President George W. Bush, Fr Dear said, noting that he had just come from Los Alamos, the home of the bomb, “where business is booming”.

“The whole point of being a Christian is to live the Sermon on the Mount, to work for justice and to make peace,” Fr Dear declared.

He spoke of non-violent action against militarism inspired by the Berrigan brothers, linking it to the spiritual practice of repentance, and calling forth a social movement of “sack-cloth and ashes”

The heart of nonviolence he said, is to see all on the planet as your sister and brother, rather than as strangers. It is pursuing the truth that we are all already one in God and resisting “the culture of killing, killing as policy”.

Gandhi, a Hindu, described Jesus as the greatest advocate of non-violence in history, said Fr Dear. But Christians are the main ones on the planet who often do not recognise this, so that thousands of them are now building and maintaining nuclear weapons at Los Alamos.

Jesus final instruction to his followers was “put down your sword”, he reminded the audience – the moment when his disciples suddenly understood what he stood for and who he was. His way was not compatible with killing.

Affirming communal joys in our lives is one of the basic things that helps us to break the patterns of violence that hold us, Kathy Galloway responded.

She joked that she also has a theory of Scottish religion based on the weather. “The rain falls on the just and unjust,” says the Gospel. In Palestine, she realised, rain is a real blessing. In Scotland, in the Winter, rain is received as a curse. Correspondingly, perhaps, “we tend to see the God who is angry and curses, rather than the God of Jesus’ non-violence.”

Fr Dear said that worshipping the right God, the God of peace, is the point and the scandal of Christianity which many Christians miss. It is true hope for the world, he said.

Nonviolence is “something to be lived”, not theorised or agued about, Fr Dear suggested. It is an alternative logic, and ultimately the only way to address the world’s wrongs without perpetuating them.

The conversation concluded with observations about the relationship between economic idolatry (the worship of wealth), the idolatry of war and violence, and the Occupy movement as a sign of awareness and resistance.

The Festival of Spirituality and Peace, now in its twelfth year in Edinburgh, features 400 cultural and discussion events across 21 venues. Its theme this year is ‘Cooperation for Change’.

* Peace and Justice Centre, Edinburgh: http://www.peaceandjustice.org.uk/

* Fr John Dear: http://www.johndear.org/

* Iona Community: http://www.iona.org.uk/

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