PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

Peacemaker Teams: World Wide Vision by peaceprobe
October 2, 2006, 12:20 pm
Filed under: Christian Peacemaker Teams

In the final years of my work with CPT I received numerous communications from churches, other religious bodies and organizations around the world seeking help in the creation of Peacemaker Teams. At the time I was so focused on building CPT this matter did not receive the attention that it deserved although several regional CPT groups emerged as well as a Muslim Peacemaker Team in Iraq. When I left CPT two years ago I remembered these world wide expressions of interest with a heavy heart and a clear sense that the work was unfinished.

I know that those queries arose from a constellation of motivations. Some probably thought peacemaker teams might be a source of funding. Some were only interested in nonviolence training without a specific plan for follow up action. Some simply wanted more global connection and the strength of networking that comes from that. The integrating factor among these feelers was a growing grass roots sense that there may be resources, persons, skills, organizations or other frameworks somewhere that could help in the reduction of violence. 

In the formation of CPT we utilized three windows to achieve our goals — delegations, reservists, and full time corps. To support this we developed a month long training program, a skeleton administrative structure to support teams in the field, a fund raising structure, and a culture of peacemaking that included nonviolence, human rights work, spirituality for peacemaking, overcoming race or ethnic prejudice and team life. The team included young and old and gender balance.

Over the years we learned that coordinated teams of four to eight people can do very good work in restraining and pushing back violence, supporting victims, and getting the story out. The integration of a theology of nonviolence gave a sustaining orientation, and awakened the interest of Christians and persons of other religious faith and non faith. We learned over and over again that our spiritual commitment opened doors, that our willingness to engage in nonviolent direct action created credibility, and that our willingness to report what we had seen and heard and done empowered people who supported us. We also learned that the more diverse our teams were, the more we were able to listen wisely and be confident that we were connecting to real needs and their voices.. 

Enlarging on the Vision

The time between the call at Mennonite World Conference for Christian Peacemaker Teams and the actual placement of teams in the field was approximately 10 years, 1984 – 1994, although there were conferences, organizing activities and delegations along the way. When CPT began, it was not clear that there would be adequate financial support. Organizers were warned that religious people in general would not support active nonviolence. Only peace education was acceptable. By laying the groundwork boldly, truthfully and consistently over time the 20% of the people that we believed might support the building of peacemaker teams gradually grew. This relatively successful but still small endeavor has demonstrated its viability. Now it is worth testing, promoting, encouraging, and organizing in other situations world wide.

When CPT and other peacemaker team initiatives came into being, the world was then in what turned out to be the closing phase of many guerilla wars. In that context, people were reaching out for models, uncompromising courageous models for change, that did not incorporate armed struggle in the pursuit of justice. Pockets of classical guerilla warfare remained. However, the major share of the underground movement has now come under the label “terrorism” by the US administration and its allies. Perhaps more precise description is globalized guerilla movement. The language of terrorism has been used by status quo politicians to describe violent discontent for generations if not centuries. The forces of status quo have at their finger tips expanding instruments of violent force in the form of military might employed to protect, extend and consolidate economic power and resources. This militarism of the status quo, supplemented by a world wide explosion of police, vigilante, and even gang activity has created a dangerous climate. The face of enemy loving has the possibility of bringing surprise, a vision of wholeness and hope, but it only achieves this when it is creative, experimental, bold, as well as flexible, truthful, and rooted in people’s real and deepest needs.

CPT came into being because a variety of converging forces in the 1970s and 1980s.

1. A clear sense among nonviolent enemy loving oriented Christians of the need for practical on the ground witness to the power of nonviolent change and justice.

2. An emerging spirituality that stretched to combine hope in a world of incredible danger, violence and killing.

3. An increased awareness among many world wide Christians of the centrality of love, sacrifice, and death in the life of Jesus and the movement that grew from his ministry

4. An interfaith conversation reaching across matters of spiritual life, economic justice and nonviolence and the problem of war and violence. 

5. The awareness that enormous human, intellectual and economic resources are funneled into instruments of killing in all parts of the world.

Generally these descriptions still apply today. But to them may be added:

1. The emergence of religious fundamentalism with its uncritical linking of religious conviction to state and non state instruments and expressions of violence.

2. The western world’s linking of the rise of Muslim fundamentalism to a crusade like ideology to protect “civilization” (read Western civilization or America economy). 

3. The continuing quest by Christians and other leaders of faith communities to discover a deeper sense of the transcendent power and meaning of a life of love expressed in active nonviolence.

Voices of invitation to do violence reduction work are everywhere apparent. It is time to take the peacemaker teams type experience to those particular troubled spots and places where invitations have been on the books for years and to find ways to deepen the discussion and expand the peacemaking experiment.

This is what this initiative might look like.

1. We begin with awakening conversations with interested churches, organizations, orders and loosely affiliated movements with a view to simply sharing the experience.

2. This will lead to opportunities for speaking, seminars, workshops, trainings, and even organizing.

3. This will need to be minimum a ten year initiative in global networking that recognizes at the outset that some respond quickly and others think for the better part of a generation before anything visible becomes apparent. 

4. The primary operating mode will be volunteer, local ownership and control but it should be recognized at the outset that organizing, particularly in poor countries will require some outside financial support. 

5. A deliberate attempt will be made to build on, connect to, and perhaps in selected cases integrate with CPT. It would not be assumed that all initiatives would have a direct connection to CPT.

6. Attempts will be made to create regional, or country specific networking opportunities, conferences – occasions to hone the vision.

What will be needed to carry this through:

1. A reference group of people who share the vision, and a wider financial support for the global networking activities.

2. The development of Training modalities appropriate for local settings as requested.

This initiative will build on the work and experience of the peacemaker team movement for nonviolent intervention of the last 25 years. It recognizes that it will take many years to move the profile from being a thoughtful but small experiment to a wider global participation that invites people from across the denominational and religious spectrum. It consciously identifies the Christian roots for peacemaking work and continues to build on those threads as they have been expressed over the last 2000 years. 

It also recognizes that radical love abides at the deeper levels of most religions and will connect to that place of love and action. In fact the tendency toward co-operation and community resides at the core of every human being, though circumstances may have smothered its pure expression. It will keep a narrow focus on the problem of violence and the needed skills and spirit to become instruments to dissolve it. This initiative builds on the vision of healthy spiritual life and enemy loving. It expects the resources to appear, as we have experienced abundance as needed over the last 20 years in the context of renewed faith and hope.


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