TOWARDS A THEOLOGY OF NONVIOLENCE
Insights from the Conference held in July 2017 in Perth , sponsored by APF, and led by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (Scotland) and Pax Christi.
The Jesuit religious order bases its spirituality on the meditative exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola. The focus is on the Jesus of the Gospels; it is a Christ-centred spirituality which can bring deep insights into the peace-making of God.
John Dear is a self-confident American Jesuit, peace activist and prolific author. He stresses the importance of the nonviolent Jesus. The table-turning Jesus, for example, does not act in rage but in calm, pre-planned, nonviolent direct action. (After all, he had visited the temple the previous day, to prepare.) “The cross is nonviolent resistance to systemic violence”, says Dear, speaking with credibility and commitment. His is a lived theology, and his own nonviolent direct action in the US, and its consequences – often imprisonment – have led him to deeper reflection and understanding. His insights are born of experience. Of the war on terror he declares that “Los Alamos is the biggest terrorist camp in the world. WE are the terrorists”. He cites Dorothy Day: “Your discipleship is in proportion to the trouble you are in with your government”. The church is the place to go out from to disarm the world. Dear is a big man, and with a punching action, a hefty right jab, he repeats, “Disarm the world”!
Dear is inspiring and challenging, though not always persuasive. His personal vocation, as a single religious, may be to seek repeated arrest, but that is not the calling of every peacemaker. I have great empathy with his stress on the Gospels, for therein really does lie a profound theology of nonviolence, but I longed for some Pauline acknowledgement of diverse gifts of the Spirit, that there are multiple, complementary vocations in the peace-making Body of Christ. Not all paths are the same; we each have our unique part to play.
The other keynote speaker, Lucas Johnson of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, told stories of those diverse vocations, revealing extraordinary communities of nonviolence around the world. Watch the talks online at http://www.for.org.uk/resources/.
Conferences are about meeting people and sharing news. I was heartened to learn from Pax Christi of the Catholic Initiative of Nonviolence (nonviolencejustpeace.net) and its fruit in a 2017 World Peace Day statement on nonviolence from the Vatican. Pope Francis is giving real leadership in Christian thinking on nonviolence. Might there be an encyclical on nonviolence in 2019? Might it even spell the end of the “just war” theory? Can we in the Anglican Communion reflect the way the Spirit is blowing as we approach a 2020 Lambeth Conference?
The Perth conference also provided a practical opportunity for Scottish Episcopal Church peacemakers to come together.
We will hold a follow-up Anglican-led day conference, to consider further the theology of nonviolence:
Saturday 3 March 2018, 10.30am – 4pm
Threshold Centre,St John the Baptist, Princes Street, Perth, PH2 8LJ
Details later, but please put this in your diaries now. Let us explore together what a nonviolent faith looks like and means for us today.