|Peace conference: Where is the church's voice?|
Peace advocates worship during the 2008 Lake Junaluska Peace Conference in
North Carolina. More than 400 people gathered to discuss the church's role
in a violent world. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.
"If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things
that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." Luke 19:41
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Feb. 6, 2008 | LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS)
Seasoned peacemakers, social justice advocates and seminary students
spent three days at a peace conference grappling with the question: "How
can The United Methodist Church find its voice in a world of violence?"
"Welcome to the conference of impossible things," says the Rev. Peter Storey.
The Rev. Peter Storey, a renowned peace advocate and the former
Methodist bishop of South Africa, set the tone for the three-day
gathering as he welcomed 400 participants to "the conference of
Storey began the opening session of the 2008 Lake Junaluska Peace
Conference by asking participants to think about what God they serve. If
your God is the God of Jesus, he said, any response to violence must be
examined through the cross.
"Why our silence? Why no clear, bold challenge? Why is the way that
leads to peace still apparently hidden from our sight when we hang
crosses all over the place?"
The event featured panel discussions, workshops and worship services
that focused on the peace of Jesus Christ. Other speakers included the
Rev. Richard Hays and Bishop Ken Carder, professors at Duke Divinity
School; Jan Love, dean of the Candler School of Theology; Jim Winkler,
top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society; and
Celeste Zappala, a Gold Star Mother who lost a son in the Iraq conflict.
A grassroots group of peace advocates headed by 95-year-old Rev. Wright
Spears started dreaming of an annual peace conference to examine why the
church is too often silent in a world of violence. The group is
planning for 10 more years of peace conferences and already has started
working on next year's schedule, Spears said.
"Peace must come in this world," Spears said. "The alternative is
unthinkable ... annihilation, death for all creation." Spears, former
president of Columbia College and a retired United Methodist pastor, sat
on the front row of every session of the conference.
The Rev. Wright Spears, 95, planted
the seed for the peace conference.
"We are all God's children; we ought to have no enemies in this world," he said.
Blessed are the peacemakers
Hays said followers of Jesus are called to put away their swords.
From Matthew to Revelation, he said, the New Testament is a consistent
witness against violence.
"In a world torn by violence, the distinctive vocation of Jesus
followers is to renounce violence and to seek where there is strife to
make peace," said Hays. "No other issue is more urgent for our time, but
on hardly any other issue has the church so massively failed to embody
the promise of the Gospel."
Using scriptures from Luke, Romans, Matthew, Hebrews, Revelation,
Ephesians and 2 Corinthians, Hays laid a biblical foundation for
peacemaking. "Peacemaking is not merely an option or political
preference; it is a matter that stands at the heart of the Gospel," he
In her address, Love asked participants, "What would it mean for us as
Christians to leave our guns literally and figuratively at the gate?
"Our willingness to wage war with and perpetrate violence against each
other is a shameful counter-witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," she
said. "It is a horrific betrayal of the Gospel of grace, peace and mercy
we claim as the body of Christ."
"We are concerned about the silence of the church on major issues
confronting the world," said Carder. "The church has a long history of
silence ... and of whispering when it should have shouted and sometimes
shouting when it should have whispered."
Bishop Ken Carder moderates a panel
with Jan Love, Jim Winkler and the
Rev. Peter Storey.
Moderating a panel discussion at the end of the conference, Carder asked
Storey, Love and Winkler to sum up the significant challenges facing
The United Methodist Church in the United States.
Storey suggested every United Methodist congregation take a two-year
sabbatical from "programs" and instead engage in Bible study, enter into
deep Christian conferencing, pray deeply and humbly, and share together
around four issues: the flag and altar, wealth and poverty, violence
and nonviolence, and inclusion and exclusion.
"The flag has to come out of the sanctuary––not because we aren't
patriotic but because that is God's house and that is Caesar's flag. ...
We are confusing the two very badly and wrapping our theology in red,
white and blue," said Storey.
Violence and nonviolence are profound issues for the United States––"one
of the most violent societies in the world," he said. "More people have
been killed in riots in this country than all the wars you have
Love said United Methodists need to remember to love God with "all our minds."
"I challenge my students at Candler not to have mindless church,
mindless liturgies, mindless meetings," she said. "Our church is not
doing a very good job of supporting the education of our pastors and
Jim Winkler shares a news article on the latest death toll in Iraq.
"One of our biggest challenges in the years ahead is to face up to the
fear and panic over membership loss," Winkler said. "We cannot let
ourselves get consumed by that. If we think the bottom line is more
bottoms in the pews, then we will miss the point. We need to understand
what is really going on in the world and get ourselves on God's side."
State Sen. Joe Sam Queen of North Carolina attended all three days of
the conference because "there is no question in my mind that peace and
justice are the most important issues of our time." Queen, a member of
First United Methodist Church, Waynesville, N.C., said he was excited
about the grassroots gathering of lay and clergy and young people from
"We need to find our voice. We have been stunned by 9/11," said Queen.
"Our churches, our communities and our politicians need to find our
voice because the future is not a war on terror; it is the reign of
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rev. Peter Storey: "The church failed this nation after 9/11."
The Rev. Richard Hays: "The church has failed to embody promise of the Gospel."
Jan Love: "Leave guns at the gate."
The Rev. Wright Spears: "There must come peace."
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