Driving through Columbia County a few months ago, I passed by the war veterans memorial in Ghent and thought how every town, no matter how small or remote, seems to have one. It left me wondering where the public memorials to the peacemakers are in our communities. Then it dawned on me as a Christian -- those are supposed to be the churches.
Ask people where the peace monuments are in their community are and my guess is that you'd get a lot of head scratching. So disconnected from the Gospel mandate of peace and justice is mainstream Christianity that people don't automatically connect the two.
It is little wonder then that the major national peace conference in Albany next weekend, July 23-25, with 400-plus people expected, has only one workshop on spirituality. It will be led by the internationally known peace activist Kathy Kelly, a founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. (Well, if you're going to have just one workshop on spirituality's connection to peace at a conference devoted to peace, it is wise to pick a superstar.)
With exception of Kelly's group and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, none of the local organizations or local affiliates of national faith-based peace groups are listed as co-sponsors. Not even the Quakers. My guess is that the organizers didn't think to invite them.
Before those of us of faith are tempted to pull the specks out of the conference organizers eyes, we need to pull the logs out of our own. As faith communities we do a poor job of living out, let alone preaching, the Gospel's call to peace making and justice, so bought off, mesmerized and bamboozled are we by the military-industrial complex. Asleep at the wheel? Half the time we're not even in the car.
This national peace conference, in our own backyard no less, is our opportunity for repentance, restitution, reconciliation and redemption simply by showing up. The term redemption originated from redeeming someone from slavery. It is the first step in healing and change to able to name what we're slaves to, both as individuals and as a culture. This conference bids us to claim our legacy as peacemakers.
The conference will bring together peace and social justice activists from across the country to develop and vote on a national action plan. People will have the opportunity to voice their opinion on where the anti-war movement is today and where it should go. Just about all of the workshops have a basis in Scripture. Strategies to end wars and occupations ("Blessed are the peacemakers." Matthew 5:9, and "But I say to you, love your enemies." Matthew 5:44) will be the major focus of discussion as will treatment of political prisoners ("I was in prison and you came to me." Matthew 25: 36).
There is an impressive slate of speakers, three of whom are not to be missed: Retired Col. Anne Wright who resigned in protest of the Bush administration policies; Michael McPhearson of Veterans for Peace and United for Peace and Justice; and David Swanson of War is a Crime. Listen to anyone of these three and I promise you'll come away with inspiration and hope.
You can sign up for one day of the conference or the entire event The secular and faith-based peace movements need each other in order to succeed. No major social reform in the last century has been successful without the participation of the faith community. The faith community needs to be present next weekend in Albany. Come prepared to speak up and sign up. This is our community peace monument.
Linda LeTendre is an active Christian witness for peace. Her Waging Peace blog is at https://www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/letendre.
Bring the Troops Home Now
What: United Antiwar Conference
When: Friday evening through Sunday, July 23-25
Where: Crowne Plaza, Albany
Contact: Call UNAC at 227-6947 or go to http://www.nationalpeaceconference.org
Cost: $80, $40 for students and low-income people. $25 for single-day registration; $10 for the Friday night public meeting.