Thursday, December 17, 2009

Season of Peace

The Lambeth Conference, a decennial gathering of the bishops of the Anglican Communion, declared in 1930 that "war as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ." That statement has been reaffirmed at succeeding conferences and added to with renunciations of nuclear weaponry and arms escalation, and in support of Christian conscientious objection. The bishops also have repeatedly condemned specific regional and national conflicts, and urged Christians to work as peacemakers in their local context. (A complete history of resolution of the Lambeth Conference through the years can be found here.) These teachings have been affirmed regularly by the Communion's other consultative bodies – the Primates' Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council – and have found focus in the work of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network, and inter-provincial network devoted to the Church's role as peacemaker.

Most Episcopalians will sing the hymn, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," at least once this season. As you do, consider the current well-being of people in the land in which Christ was born. Earlier this year, Christians and others who support a peaceful two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians found hope in the words of President Obama, during his first week in office, recommitting U.S. energies to working for peace in the Holy Land. Nearly a year later, that hope seems dimmer as U.S. energies focus elsewhere in the world and new obstacles to peace mount between Israelis and Palestinians. To learn where things stand, and what you can do to advocate for a recommitment of U.S. energies to peace in the Holy Land, visit our friends at Churches for Middle East Peace and become a member.

Of particular sadness during Advent and Christmas is the continued presence of the 30-foot-high concrete wall erected around Bethlehem, the city of the Savior's birth. Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem will celebrate Christmas in 2009, as they have every year this decade, confined behind the Wall. The Episcopal Church's General Convention earlier this year, through Resolution A037, urged all Episcopalians to pray, especially during Advent and Christmastide, for the Wall to come down. The Convention recommended the following prayer:

Almighty God, Creator of the wonderful complex diversity of humanity; you have fashioned us in your image and commanded us to love one another. Reach down your divine hand so that the wall shall come down in Bethlehem, the birthplace of your Son, the Prince of Peace, and may crumbling walls herald the fall of all barriers that divide us. Bind us together so that love gives rise to an abundance of tenderness among all people; and may our hearts, like Mary's, magnify the Lord, and may your love shower down throughout the world so that all divisions are scattered and washed away. We ask this all with expectant hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This holiday season is also an appropriate time for Christians to recommit to advocacy for peace in the Sudan. After decades of civil war between the people of the predominantly African and Christian southern portion of the country, and the government in the predominantly Arab and Muslin north, the parties in 2005 signed a peace agreement designed to bring about long-term, peaceful coexistence. Since that time, however, the northern government has sponsored new widespread ethnic violence in the western region of Darfur and has sponsored further violence against the southern people by the so-called Lord's Resistance Army, a regional terrorist militia originally based in Uganda. Prospects for peace also have been complicated by continuing disputes over borders, census and electoral matters, and fair sharing of revenues between north and south. The year 2010 is schedule to bring the first round of national elections envisioned by the 2005 peace agreement. This will serve as lead-up to a referendum in 2011 in which southerners will vote on whether to secede from the north. The fairness of these votes – and the willingness of northern and southern leaders to resolve other outstanding differences in the coming year -- will go a long way toward determining whether the future holds peace or renewed violence for the long-suffering people of the Sudan. In short, 2010 is a very important year for peace.

The 2005 peace agreement came about, in no small part, as a consequence of American and international leadership. That same sense of commitment and resolve is needed again at the present time to ensure the peace agreement does not collapse. What can you do? To read a report on the current status of the peace process in Sudan, visit our friends at Pax Christi International. To get involved with other Episcopalians working on this vital issue, join the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.

Advent and Christmas provide occasion for Episcopalians to learn about, and get involved with, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. Founded on Armistice Day, November 11, 1939, EPF is a national organization connecting all who seek a deliberate response to injustice and violence and want to pray, study and take action for justice and peace in our communities, the church, and the world. EPF offers a wealth of resources on advocacy, action, and prayer for congregations and other faith communities. At the present moment, EPF is working to encourage advocacy from Episcopalians concerned for peace in Afghanistan in light of the recently announced escalation in American military forces there.

The Episcopal Church, in accordance with the resolution of the 1948 Lambeth Conference referenced above – as well as multiple resolutions of our own General Convention – is committed to the elimination of the threat of nuclear weapons from the world. Some of our most recent work is through a multi-faith coalition committed called Faithful Security, which is committed to raising the voice of America's faith communities toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Faithful Security offers a superb organizing kit for local communities on its website, and helped create an issue of the Yale Divinity School Journal Reflections earlier this year focused on "Faith and the Future of Nuclear Weapons." The issue features contributions from influential theologians like Miroslav Volf, and noted American leaders like former Secretary of State George Shultz.

Finally, because peace is related immutably to the ability of human beings to love in freedom from want and need, please take a moment this season to consider a contribution to Episcopal Relief & Development. Episcopal Relief & Development is is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church, guided by the Episcopal Church's principles of compassion, dignity and generosity as it works to heal a hurting world. Episcopal Relief & Development works in partnership with the worldwide Church to create opportunities to serve communities in some of the most remote areas of the world, as well as in urban environments where extreme poverty persists.

[From EPPN]

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