Looking for WAR at the Peace Conference

Folks, I don’t get it.

I’m here in Philadelphia, at a conference entitled “Heeding God’s Call” . It started on Tuesday Jan. 13, 2009 and will extend into Saturday the 17th.

It’s supposed to be about strengthening the peace witness of churches and other faith groups, but especially that of the so-called “Historic peace Churches,” namely Quakers, Mennonites & Brethren. These three groups, especially the first, made up the large majority of the 270 or so persons I counted present in the opening session.

Several features of the event deserve comment. Here I’ll start with one, the workshops, that left me thoroughly befuddled.

The workshops are supposed to last for not less than three hours, which is a sizeable chunk of our time. So one presumes they are meant to be substantive. There are 22 of them, and the complete list is available here .

Attenders were sent several emails urging us to sign up for workshops in advance. But making a selection was not easy for me. That’s because there was very little on the list that seems pertinent to my work in this area, or on many related issues I’m interested in but not actively pursuing.

Here’s what I mean. In the 22 workshop descriptions, the word “war” or “wars” occurs in only two; and in one of those , #5A, it is in the title, “How Can I Preach Peace without Starting a War (in my congregation?).”

Which frankly sounds like it’s more about helping nervous pastors keep their jobs, and rather tenuously related to actual “war.”

Only workshop #6A, and not in the title but in its very terse description, invited attenders to “Explore the Connection between wars abroad with ‘wars’ at home.”

This great scarcity of the term was curious to me. In what is billed as a major conference on peace, of 22 workshops, none includes “war” (as in large organized violent conflict) in its title, and only one refers to that subject, and then only in part.

To quote my 20-something daughter, “What’s Up With That?”

Similarly, only one workshop, #2B, mentions the military, viz, “How Can We Talk to the Military?”

That’s a good question. But again, is that all that need be raised here about the key segment of the population that makes war happen? This spareness felt puzzling and inadequate. Making peace and dealing with war seem to me closely, indeed intimately related.

Ditto for the military, its supporting machinery, and its deep roots in our culture. Perhaps that’s a wildly skewed notion, but it reflects considerable experience, and I am bold to say I think it very reasonable. But evidently not for the planners.

Curiosity thus piqued, I did more searching, and discovered that numerous other terms and topics, which likewise seemed to me strongly connected with peacemaking in our actual world, were completely missing, from the 22-item workshop roster –AWOL in army jargon.

Among them:

Torture ; Terror/terrorism;

Militarism; Soldiers


Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Georgia, Chechnya, Darfur, Congo, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine; etc.

Besides single terms, there were a number of crucial phrases that one looked for in vain. Such as:

Christian Zionism;

Military Industrial Complex;

nuclear weapons;

pervasive military recruiting among young persons (and the not so young);

war-supporting christianity;

the infiltration of the US military by extreme versions of crusading fundamentalism;

ministry to servicemembers and families scarred by PTSD or military-related violence, including domestic violence;

Strengths & weaknesses in religious peace witness today; how to build on the former and overcome the latter.

In this listing, which could be longer, I have consciously leaned toward topics which have clear religious dimensions; this is a church conference after all, and I for one believe that religion, especially in America, has a great deal to with war and peace.

Hmmmm. I’ll ask around as way opens in the next day or so, and see if I can gain any new insight into this conundrum. And I’ll speak of some other puzzling aspects of this event in upcoming posts.

But what’s going on here? And what’s NOT going on?

One thought on “Looking for WAR at the Peace Conference”

  1. Must we have a war to talk about peace?

    I realize that there are wars right now that need our witness, but I am not disheartened to hear about peace workshops in which the word “war” is absent.

    Peace is a topic in its own right and can be discerned, nutured and lived without connecting it to war.

    This is not to say that working against the cause of war or against a particular war isn’t necessary and helpful. But I sometimes wonder if we in the historical peace churches rely too much on the existence of war in order to get our discussions of peace going.


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