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Testament of faith

David Mumford, Dunbar

ImageI was heartened to read Nick Megoran’s article on how far the Christian church can become a movement for nonviolence.

Nonviolence is rooted in the life and teaching of Jesus.

But after the emperor Constantine stopped the persecution of Christians in the fourth century and paved the way for Christianity to become the established religion of the Roman empire, Jesus’s teaching on violence became a problem.

However the witness to Gospel nonviolence is always present. Over the years, the Mennonites and the Religious Society of Friends have opposed war and violence and they have been joined by members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and by members of Pax Christi in the Catholic church and the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship in the worldwide Anglican communion.

Those who follow the way of nonviolence also find that it speaks to and deepens their own faith and commitment to following Jesus – for the way of nonviolence is congruent with the way of the cross.

It often takes an external stimulus for Christians to explore nonviolence and to see what is involved in taking nonviolent action for social justice and peace. Racism and civil rights moved many Christians in the USA to educate themselves and to practice nonviolence. Members of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in places as far apart as Colombia and the South Sudan are following the way of nonviolence in the face of civil strife and torture.

Globally, the Christian church is more committed to nonviolence in the global south rather than the richer north. And much of the running is currently being made by the Roman Catholic church inspired by pope Francis’s clear commitment to the way of peace.

Yes, there are many places where the Christian church is facilitating training in nonviolence and making strong theological links between such practice and Christian discipleship. Alas, the churches in the United Kingdom are less enthused. Some places have used Turning the Tide (the Quaker programme) and others the Pace e Bene material (From Violence to Wholeness) but coverage in the UK is sporadic rather than seen as an integral part of Christian discipleship.

If she were true to herself and her lord, the church should be a movement for love and nonviolence.

Topics: Religion

Testament of transformation

Clive Barrett, Leeds

ImageNick Megoran is to be commended for revealing the message of nonviolence at the core of Christianity. Indeed, as a Peace Museum exhibition currently touring cathedrals shows well, there are peace traditions at the heart not only of Christianity, but of Judaism and Islam too. Religious people can be allies for peace, but, as the image of Constantine showed, any peace philosophy mixed with power is liable to corruption.

Where Christian nonviolence goes beyond concepts of traditional pacifism is that it includes – but is more than – a critique of war, and it includes – but is more than – a practical and preferred means of conflict transformation.

It is, rather, a way of being which impacts on relationships with individuals, politics, and the planet.

It is as much a critique of those sometimes described as ‘putting the fist into pacifist’ as it is of religion.

The reclamation of Christian nonviolence could transform both the churches and the peace movement.

Topics: Religion

Testament of youth

Bill Hetherington, archivist, Peace Pledge Union, London

ImageMichael Randle (‘How PN helped give birth to the peace symbol’, PN 2616_2617) rightly attributes the origins of the direct action wing of the nuclear disarmament movement to a study group set up by the Peace Pledge Union in 1949.

It was originally called the ‘Nonviolence Commission’, becoming the most effective of seven ‘commissions’ within a Steps to Peace conference held by the PPU on 5 November 1949, under the chairpersonship of Vera Brittain.

She looked to ‘a new kind of movement, based on the co-operation of really concerned people, with something fundamental in common, working at the heart of it.’In its initial report, the Nonviolence Commission looked forward, among other things, to ‘a nonviolent economy for Britain, having regard to the rights and needs of all other peoples’, and ‘a nonviolent foreign policy for Britain, with some indication of suitable individual or small group demonstrations practicable in present conditions’.

From that tentative beginning, and with the particular inspiration of Hugh Brock, as Michael explained, evolved ‘Operation Gandhi’ and then the ‘Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War’, organiser of the first Aldermaston March, for which the celebrated ND logo (based upon semaphore letters N & D) was designed by Gerald Holtom, now known worldwide as the peace symbol.