We use this tool: the Inventory of Conscience – as one tool for assessing conscience about war and militarism as congregations and individuals deepen their commitment to nonviolence and resisting militarism in our world.
PPF is proud to connect and support churches who declare themselves Peace Churches.
After using the study materials below, some churches found their conversations about scripture, war and violence evoked in them a deeper sense conviction and awakening. While the church universal has adhered to the theology of Just War for more than a millennium, Peace Churches are those who began to question whether such a theology is consistent with the scripture and our ministry of reconciliation to which we are called. In 2018, the PC(USA) voted to recognize those churches that declare themselves Peace Churches.
Within the PC(USA), these currently include First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, CA, Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA, Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, NC and Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City.
Contact us if you want more information or support if your congregation wants to become a Peace Church.
A Peace Church is a church that…
PEACE CHURCH SERMONS
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR STATEMENTS
Because being a Peace Church…
Traditionally, the term Peace Church refers to churches like the Society of Friends (Quakers), Church of the Brethren and the Mennonites. These churches have committed themselves to Christian pacifism or nonresistance.
In 1936 and 1938, the General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in the United States of America affirmed and sent to the presbyteries a proposal to remove just war language from the Westminster Confession, then the only confessional standard for the church. On both occasions, a majority of presbyteries voted for the proposals, but the number did not reach the super majority required for constitutional change.
In 2010, on the 30th anniversary of Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling and the formation of the Peacemaking Program, the 219th General Assembly authorized the creation of a six-year discernment process to take a new and fresh look at peacemaking in the church’s life. The assembly’s action combined overtures seeking to review and strengthen the church’s policy thinking and program after almost a decade of war, and to examine particularly the nonviolent understanding of Jesus’ call to discipleship. A steering committee was appointed to devise opportunities for the broad membership of the church to explore not simply the effectiveness of the church’s peacemaking work and its threefold offering, but the basic nature and scope of the Gospel’s mandate for peacemaking.
The 220th General Assembly (2012) authorized study materials to be distributed (after testing in committee) and approved a two-stage process of face-to-face discussions in both congregations and councils, and then of presenting a set of concise affirmations to the presbyteries. This is the steering team’s report made through the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and in consultation with the Peacemaking Program.
After using these study materials, some churches found their conversations about scripture, war and violence evoked in them a deeper sense conviction and awakening. While the church universal has adhered to the theology of Just War for more than a millennium, these churches began to question whether such a theology is consistent with the scripture and our ministry of reconciliation to which we are called.
Further study and conversation led a few of these churches to declare themselves Peace Churches. And in 2018 the 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis voted to recognize those churches that declare themselves Peace Churches within the Presbyterian Church (USA).
These questions and responses have been prepared by representatives of Peace Churches participating in the PPF Peace Church Working Group.
1.What about national defense? If we are attacked militarily by another nation, does being a Peace Church mean that we wouldn’t defend ourselves?
Peace Churches affirm that the best way to avoid invasion is for a country to live in peace with its neighbors and to engage proactively in trade, diplomacy and cultural exchange.
Peace Churches recognize there is evil in the world and that new proactive structures and responses need to be researched, funded, developed and implemented. Peace Churches advocate for new approaches and new consensus around the world community coming together for the common good. Peace Churches recognize the problems arising from greed, pride and the fiction of self-reliance. Peace Churches recognize the enormous effort required to overcome the legacy of human self-inflicted carnage but also recognize that once we open the door to military action, we are also opening the door to uncontrolled death and destruction that is the result of that action.
2. How does being Peace Church affect our response to genocide or calls for aid from others who are being attacked?
Peace Churches acknowledge that military action has never prevented a genocide and that while military action has—on one or two occasions—helped to draw down genocides that already were ongoing, militaries historically have been far more likely to be used in the service of genocide than they are to be used in the prevention or alleviation of genocide. This is particularly true in the United States, military which perpatrated genocide against native people in North America, used nuclear weapons against Japanese civilians, directly and deliberately attacked non-combatants during the Viet Nam war, and employed torture in its wars against terror. Members of Peace Churches are witnesses, accompaniers and nonviolent disrupters of genocide. It is not an easy path, it is not neutral, it is a personal commitment to protect the vulnerable through non violent means.
3. Does being a member of a Peace Church require a person to be a pacifist?
Peace Churches are part of a Reformed Christian tradition and individual congregations who believe warfare to be contradictory to the Gospel of the Prince of Peace. In the Presbyterian context, a particular church may declare itself to be a peace church after a season of discernment by a vote of session or vote of the congregation. Such a vote and affirmation should in no way limit the freedom of individuals to disagree with the congregation’s decisions or to speak their minds on matters of war and peace because we believe that “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” (Westminster Confession 6.109)
4. How does a Peace Church relate or respond to calls to “defund the police”?
Peace churches are deeply concerned about the militarization of American law enforcement, and join in calls to defund the police. Peace Churches advocate for funding for the common good – health care, housing, education, clean water, clean streets, good jobs. Peace Church is an advocate for reconciliation, restorative justice and redemption. Peace Churches recognize that militarization and aggressive policing have not served God’s commandment to love our neighbor. We must reallocate funding if we are to achieve a just and self-supporting community of all God’s children.
5. How should we respond to those in other countries who are resisting oppressive military regimes? Should we say they are wrong for resorting to violence?
We affirm our belief in the power of nonviolence in any situation. We do not ignore oppression, but are called to provide solidarity and support for nonviolent resisters, and we accept our particular obligation to uncover and reject our own government’s complicity with injustice anywhere in the world. Because we believe that “God alone is Lord of the conscience” (Westminster Confession 6.109), we have a responsibility to respond to oppression by seeking our own effective nonviolent response.
6. What is the role of privilege in our consideration of nonviolence, pacifism, just war and militarism?
Is a commitment to nonviolence a luxury allowed only because of our privileged status in society and the world?
To suggest that a congregation’s commitment to pacifism should be moderated by the acknowledgement of privilege is to embrace a simplistic version of the just war theory, which most Peace Churches reject as outmoded and unhelpful. However, this disavowal of just war theory does not diminish the responsibility of all Christians to be aware of the ways issues of privilege impact the work and witness of all churches, including Peace Churches; Peace Churches, therefore, remain committed to bearing witness to the realm of the Prince of Peace in ways that move us beyond the comforts of privilege and that are informed by the voices and perspectives of those who, historically, have been silenced and marginalized.
Another way of viewing this question is to ask, are we, Protestant Christians in America, failing to see our own bias and privilege when we claim just war as noble and moral?
As citizens of this country we sit at the apex of world power and domination. No nation in the history of the world has manufactured, sold, and used more weaponry against the rest of the world than our own country. No other nation has dropped more bombs on the people of other countries. No other nation has used nuclear weapons on civilians. If we claim that we must maintain our military for the purpose of protecting civilians while simultaneously ignoring the death and devastation war causes to civilians, then our logic is bereft of a moral compass. If we are willing to accept civilian casualties for the “greater good,” then how many are we willing to accept? 20%, 40%, 60%? What is the acceptable level of innocent women, children and men losing their lives by our hand?
We should also remember that Christianity has a long and dark history of violence used against others from the Crusades to take back the Holy Land from Muslims, the Doctrine of Discovery that provided a patina of legitimacy to the stealing of land from indigenous peoples throughout the world, to genocide against native peoples under the guise of Christianizing them. Christianity has not only helped to enslave and impoverish others, we have not recognized their suffering and loss of life as equal to our own. Our ongoing struggle with white supremacy and militarized policing are the ripple effects of these original sins. We must repent of this, not with yet more militarism in the guise of protecting civilians, but seeking to say no to war and violence in the name of Christ who was himself a victim of war and violence.