The first in a series of reports by Ryan Bell.
For the past day and a half, representatives of the Religious Peace Fellowships have met together at Stony Point Conference Center in Stony Point, New York to collaborate together about our peacemaking work and to think strategically about the future. I have met remarkable peace activists from the Presbyterian, Episcopal, American Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Mennonite, and Brethren Churches as well as Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities...and one other Adventist, Spencer Chiimbwe, Founder and Coordinating Chairman of the New York Center for Conflict Dialogue (more on Spencer in a separate piece).
The morning began with our large group breaking into smaller groups to consider two primary questions. First, "How are we called by our faith to political action, resistance and engagement?" This question took shape in two specific ways as we refined it, namely, how does our faith call us to political engagement to address the powers, on the one hand, and the oppressed, on the other hand. Several people lifted up a potential false dichotomy in the questions themselves, reminding us that peace is found in shaping conflict situations in fresh ways that open up new possibilities. Rather than labeling people oppressors and the oppressed, surrendering to the dominant narrative, and pitting two groups against each other in a zero sum struggle, how might we engage all parties involved without downplaying actual injustice? This type of conversation is often held in the abstract, so examples of people's actual work, both domestically and internationally gave integrity to our conversations.
The other question was, "As citizens of these United States, what role does faith have in effecting change?" This question was further refined by asking questions relative to the (limited?) role faith plays in American identity politics and questions of "security" in our current discourse. The bulk of the afternoon was spent addressing the rise of Islamophobia in America and ways that our collective action might stem this rising tide of intolerance. We discussed specifically what might be done leading up to the 10th anniversary of September 11, less than six months from now.
It has been invigorating to speak with a group of people who share a common passion for peace in very practical and down-to-earth ways. Yet by the end of the day, as we sat over dinner pondering how we might shape the faith-based peace movement for a 50-year journey, we had to confess that we have few answers. We challenged each other to find ways to reach beyond those who are already sympathetic to our cause; to imaginatively engage those who might be predisposed to reject our vision of peace. This is hard work. It means that the leaders of peace fellowships and peace organizations have to think differently about the work we do, and thinking differently is always hard. Some groups have been doing remarkable work for decades. Others, like Adventist Peace Fellowship, are at the very beginning stages.
I end my day today reflecting on my personal commitment to a more peaceful world. Specifically, I find myself wondering what God would have the Adventist Peace Fellowship do to reengage the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the vital theological and practical issues of peace, justice and reconciliation in a world torn by war, terrorism and other forms of violence and oppression. What about you? What do you think the future of the Adventist Peace Fellowship should be?
Ryan Bell is senior pastor of the Hollywood, CA, Seventh-day Adventist Church