Representatives of the world’s Historic Peace Churches gathered in Solo, Indonesia in December 2007, to ask what “Peace in Our Land” means practically - through the interrelated topics of injustice, religious pluralism, and poverty.
These churches - which see peace and nonviolence as central to the Christian Gospel, rather than an “optional extra” - include the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonites and Brethren in Christ, and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
This was the third in a series of international conferences of the peace churches, invited by the Decade to Overcome Violence program of the World Council of Churches. Previous gatherings had been held in Beinenberg, Switzerland, in 2001; and in Kenya in 2004. Each gathering has been funded and planned by the peace churches themselves.
The gathering included participants from Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Representatives came from a wide array of backgrounds in professions and industry in addition to church work.
The Brethren were represented regionally by 17 persons from the Church of the Brethren in India, which has roots in the mission efforts of the US church to India beginning in 1895. Five representatives of the Church of the Brethren in the US also attended including Stanley Noffsinger, general secretary of the General Board, and Donald Miller, emeritus faculty at Bethany Theological Seminary who served on the planning committee for the conference. Darryl Sankey served on the planning committee representing the Church of the Brethren in India.
Presenters told stories of the poverty and injustices of their specific contexts, and how the church was responding. Christians are small minorities in many countries in Asia, so in every case religious diversity was a factor. Poverty also undermines peace in these societies. The Church of the Brethren group observed that a government role can be relevant in peace building, sometimes as an instrument of fairness and inclusion and at other times fostering injustice and conflict.
Some of the stories of struggle also gave cause for hope. Loving and courageous actions by churches in very difficult settings were a challenge and witness. It was reported by some that Christianity in the East often is seen as a foreign religion, and is associated with the worst aspects of the West. This perception creates a credibility challenge for Asian churches.
In addition to speakers, plenary sessions, and small group discussions, the conference integrated visits to Indonesian churches, and also included cultural events and short trips that helped to ground discussion in the local reality.
Differences within the region had surfaced by the end of the week. The activist approach of the Australian and New Zealand participants, who felt free to speak out and confront their governments, contrasted with the real risk of such expression in some nations. As a result, a slower, relationship-building approach to peacebuilding is used by most Asian churches within their communities and nation.
Sankey reflected on the event at its conclusion: “As the Church of the Brethren in India, we have learned what the Historic Peace Churches actually mean. For the last several years, we have felt left out of this process, of relating to other churches. This (was an) opportunity to participate in an international conference where we, as a peace church, have realized the importance of being a peace church. This has been a very great learning experience, not only for me, but for everyone who has been part of this delegation . I think this could be a revival for our church.”
For the text of a “Message from the Third International Historic Peace Churches Consultation,” go to www.brethren.org/genbd/newsline. A photo journal is available at www.brethren.org/pjournal/2007/AsiaPeaceConference%26IndiaVisit.
The Church of the Brethren is a Christian denomination committed to continuing the work of Jesus peacefully and simply, and to living out its faith in community.
The denomination is based in the Anabaptist and Pietist faith traditions and is one of the three Historic Peace Churches. It celebrates its 300th anniversary in 2008. It counts almost 130,000 members across the United States and Puerto Rico, and has missions and sister churches in Nigeria, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and India.
With kind acknowledgements to Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford