What is a Peace Church?

What does it mean to be a peace church in 2008? As a member of the Religious Society of Friends, I still often find myself challenged by Friends and others to try to define what this really means. What would constitute an attainable, meaningful, yet challenging standard for a church or any religious community to be a viable and vibrant peace church? I have concluded I would emphasize three primary criteria for defining a peace church that are consistent with core religious values and that lead us to the practice of peace in our personal and social lives.

The first is that a peace church cherishes the nonviolent teachings and examples of Jesus and others who lived exemplary lives of compassion and nonviolence. It holds up the practice of peace as one of our highest personal virtues as it teaches and practices spiritual nonviolence. A peace church also teaches the importance of supporting each other in lifestyles that emphasize empathy, kindness, and respect for ourselves, our family members, colleagues, neighbors, and the wider world—even our detractors and enemies. Spiritual nonviolence would include encouraging compassion in our personal prayers and communal worship and asking forgiveness when we have harmed others. One of the original Quaker greetings was to ask, "Has thee been faithful?" A peace church version might ask, "Have we as individuals and as a community been faithful to our Peace Testimony in the daily practice of kindness and active nonviolence?"

Second, a peace church teaches and practices well-established conflict management skills. Disagreements are handled with care and empathy in "good Gospel order" because people take responsibility to deal as directly as possible with those who have offended them. Nonviolent language and mediation skills are used to get beyond the inevitable conflicts and harm done to one another. It is understood that some level of conflict is both normal and healthy, but conflict is not allowed to affect the commitment to seek the greater good or sow divisions in our personal and civic lives.

And finally, a peace church actively pursues social justice in the local community and in the wider world. It attends to acts of mercy and humanitarian support for those who are victims of poverty, discrimination, deadly conflict, and other forms of oppression, but it also seeks to address, repair, and reconcile systemic injustice. By becoming attentive and aware of injustice, and by accompanying and allying with those who are oppressed, the peace church is motivated to serve and advocate through a discipline of active nonviolence. The peace church most particularly opposes violence and war, but even more importantly it is vigilant to identify and address the sources of violence in the home, the school, the marketplace, and the political arena. A peace church advocates and lob-bies against dependence on military might and instead supports efforts at diplomacy and disarmament. It seeks ways to sustain our planet environmentally and socially and to create distributive justice by seeking to meet the basic needs of all as a way of preventing suffering, violence and war. The peace church supports cooperative approaches to establishing world law and addressing humanitarian needs through agencies such as the United Nations.

I believe that a profound commitment to being a peace church under these guidelines will have the effect of deepening, nurturing, and invigorating our personal and corporate spirituality and our social witness. It will enrich and empower our self-understanding and leadership as ministers of peace and reconciliation. And it will support our service and leadership in the community and beyond through our faithful, sustained, and sacrificial dedication to building and nurturing the Beloved Community, the Commonwealth of God.

And while we may individually and collectively feel inadequate and unprepared to undertake the challenges of being a peace church, I believe it is essential that we try to do so. We live in a historical moment when the world is desperate for spiritual leadership in peacemaking that dedicated peace churches can provide.

Tom Ewell

Tom Ewell is a member of Portland (Maine) Meeting who has now retired to Washington State where he attends Whidbey Island Worship Group. He served for 20 years as executive director of Maine Council of Churches. He is a member of the Field Committee of Friends Committee on National Legislation, where he has a particular interest in encouraging outreach from FCNL to the wider ecumenical community.