The International Eccumenical Peace Convocation opened this afternoon in Kingston, Jamaica. About 1000 delegates from around the world have descended on the Caribbean island nation to discuss peace. The convocation opened up with an interdenominational 2 hour prayer service which called upon the world to choose peace.
“We in Jamaica are indeed blessed that Jamaica was chosen first for this conference,” Prime Minister Bruce Golding said to the delegates. “You come from different countries. Your ministry has taken you to more. Therefore you come with a wealth of observation and experiences that tell us we live in a world that has not yet found peace... Your deliberations must be an earnest quest for that peace. I am not naive enough to believe that you can find peace in any one conference or in any four or three days of deliberation but it is my fervent hope that those deliberations will point the way and help us to find the path.”
The opening plenary session was held in a large tent on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. Special music from local choirs performed and a theme song entitled “Glory To God, Peace On Earth,” by Jamaican song writer A. Grub Cooper was presented for the first time.(http://www.oikoumene.org/fileadmin/dov/files/iepc/resources/IEPC_theme_song.pdf).
The event caps off a ten year program of the World Council of Churches entitled “Decade to Overcome Violence.”
The Keynote Address was given by Dr. Paul Oestreicher, an Anglican priest who is also a Quaker. His family fled to New Zealand in 1939 to escape Nazi persecution. Today he is a chaplain at Sussex University and Canon Emeritus at Coventry Cathedral.
“This speech,” he told me, “is the summary of my life.”
Oestreicher's address is entitled, “A New World is Possible.” Indeed it is one of the most powerful presentations I have heard on the role Christians can play in averting the constant threat of war. I consider it a masterpiece that must be read by every thoughtful Christian.
“Gathered together in Kingston from all corners of the earth,” Oestreicher stated, “Jesus speaks to us now, to us, a small cross section of his sanctified people. Do we want to hear him? Our record suggests that we do not. Most of our theologians, pastors and assemblies, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant, have bowed down ever since the time of the Emperor Constantine in the third century, bowed down deeply to empire and nation, rather than to the single new humanity into which we are born. We have made a pact with Caesar, with power, the very pact that the early Christians called idolatry. Because the newly converted ruler declared it to be our duty, we have squared it with our conscience to kill the Emperor's enemies, and to do this with Jesus on our lips....
"When in 1945, a bomber set out, loaded with the world's first nuclear weapon, a single weapon which was about to kill one hundred thousand women and children and men in the city of Hiroshima, the aircraft's crew were sent on their way with Christian prayers. The war memorials in the cathedrals and cities of Christendom attest to the fact that we, like our brothers and sisters in Islam, regard those who have died in battle for the nation as having secured their place in heaven, and that now includes those in the coffins arriving from Afghanistan and draped in the 'sacred' Stars and Stripes.
"Unless we change, unless the Church moves to the margins and becomes the alternative society that unconditionally says no to war, no to the collective murder that every embattled nation or tribe, every warring alliance, every violent liberation movement, every fundamentalist cause, and now the War on Terror declares to be just, until we throw this justification of war, this 'just war' theology into the dustbin of history, unless we do that, we will have thrown away the one unique ethical contribution that the teaching of Jesus could make both to the survival of humanity and to the triumph of compassion.”
The International Ecumenical Peace Convocation continues to the evening of May 24.