United Church of Canada Seminar Presentation

Tasneem Jamal Defence & Human Security

Moderator Mardi Tindal

I have been asked to summarize the approach of The United Church of Canada to ‘just peacemaking’—in 10 minutes. We must not take ourselves too seriously!

Our United Church approach is one of soul, community, and creation. We seek to be in right relationship with God and one another, to be ecumenical in the broadest sense of the word, and to make the wellbeing of the whole world our central concern, because we understand this to be God’s central concern. I will speak to these three aspects of our approach.

Our most often recited words of faith in the United Church begin with the declaration that “We are not alone. We live in God’s world.”

e are not alone because God is with us, in intimate, soul-full relationship. We are not alone because we are called to be the church, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, in community. We live in God’s world. We are called to live with respect in creation. God’s world is our concern.

For The United Church of Canada, community is foundational. Collaborating with others is in the very DNA of who and how we are called to be. We were formed from a collaborative effort to be united for the sake of a mission more important than the institutions out of which we were born. Our church crest bears the words from Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, “That all may be one” (John 17:21). A proposal coming to our next General Council will ask us to consider adding the Aboriginal prayer “All my relations” in Mohawk, alongside this passage from John, which appears in Latin. Our integrity as a community is found in efforts to be united and uniting toward just peacemaking.

It seems significant that today we are meeting during World Interfaith Harmony Week. The United Church issued a statement this week, of affirmation and support for the values and objectives of this United Nations initiative.

The first reporter to contact me about our news release was caught by these sentences: “The remedy for the problem of religious tension, mistrust and hatred can only come from the world’s religions themselves. Religions must be part of the solution not part of the problem.”

He wondered aloud if people turn away from church because they see religion contributing to the problem of injustice and violence rather than contributing to what we call just peace. He also wondered if involving ourselves more in ecumenical and interfaith work might inspire people to give church another chance. If they saw us working toward just peace with those of other faiths, might they see being part of the church as part of ‘the solution’ and not ‘the problem’? This takes us to the heart of our own integrity on the matter of just peace.

This reporter may be correct that committing ourselves to just peacemaking with an interfaith approach, may see more people joining us. If that happens, though, it will be because they see integrity between our words and actions.

For decades we as the United Church have stated our conviction that the world is at the centre of God’s concern. In our 1997 document entitled, Mending the World, we say that “naming the search for justice for God’s creatures and healing for God’s creation is the church’s first priority, and joining with other persons of good will in the search for justice, wholeness and love” commits us to make “common cause with all people of good will, whether they be people of faith or not, for the creation of a world that is just, participatory and sustainable.”

In June 2011, for example, we worked with others of the global church, through the World Council of Churches’ International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, to define Just Peace in this way:

Just Peace may be comprehended as “a collective and dynamic yet grounded process of freeing human beings from fear and want, of overcoming enmity, discrimination and oppression, and of establishing conditions for just relationships that privilege the experience of the most vulnerable and respect the integrity of creation.”

The phrase “establishing conditions for just relationships” speaks to our United Church approach to just peacemaking.
In our Song of Faith, we refer to just relationship as right relationship:

        In and with God,
        we can direct our lives toward right relationship
        with each other and with God.

We have learned—and have much yet to learn as a Canadian church – about right relationship with each other and with God. We look first to scripture.

At the age of 24, I served on a United Church Task Group on the Environment, an appointed body charged to bring recommendations to our General Council in 1977. I can still remember how centrally important Jesus’ words were to our work, particularly as recorded by Matthew in chapter 22:37-40.

When Jesus was asked which commandment is the greatest, he said:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus was quoting scripture himself here. Deuteronomy goes on to say that when you follow these commandments God will give rain for your land in its season.

In our Task Group report, we said it this way:
In order to love each other,
we have to love the garden.
In order to love garden,
we have to love each another.

Scripture from the past along with past and current church statements speak to the truth of the intimate linkage between soul, community, and creation. When one of these isn’t healthy, neither are the other two. When we commit to the healing of any one of these—soul, community, and creation—the healing of the other two becomes possible. When we commit ourselves to just peacemaking we commit ourselves to the work of all three.

Again, in our Song of Faith we sing:
        In and with God,
        we can direct our lives toward right relationship
        with each other and with God.

One of our most compelling experiences of directing our lives toward right relationship—relationship of just peacemaking—is represented by our work with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The United Church of Canada is committed to seeking right relationships with Aboriginal Peoples. For over three decades—beginning with Project North and continuing through the work of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition and KAIROS—the United Church has advocated for Aboriginal rights, including First Nations self-government.

Justice and Right Relationship are focused on how we, as a church, are working to address the painful legacy of Indian Residential Schools, a legacy in which the United Church was directly involved. In both 1986 and 1998, we formally apologised to Aboriginal people for our role in imposing western European culture and more specifically for our involvement in the Indian Residential School system. We continue to work to fulfill the words of these apologies.

The United Church is a signatory to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement of which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a part. United Church congregations have committed themselves to participate in the Truth and Reconciliation process and are doing many things through worship, workshops, reaching out to Aboriginal neighbours, and community events. Many members are bearing witness to truth-telling at regional and national events. They are also organizing local and regional events relating to the Commission, as one particular opportunity for Living into Right Relations as Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. There are many stories I could tell about this participation in God’s healing, for others and for ourselves.

I hold an eagle feather given to me by a member of the TRC Survivors’ Committee during the most recent national gathering held in Halifax. It is a gift beyond description alongside other gifts received by Aboriginal church and community leaders. I carry this feather to gatherings where we are listening with humility and speaking with courage “to direct our lives toward right relationship with each other and with God.”

Our 41st General Council, to be held in August of this year, will gather with words of scripture found in our Basis of Union, words which continue to be foundational to our church’s identity and work, from Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” Or, as Eugene Peterson says, “Do what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.”

We long to walk humbly with God for the healing of soul, to be compassionate for the healing of community, and to do what is fair and just to our neighbour for the healing of creation. And we long to not take ourselves too seriously—but to take God seriously!
In addition to these spoken words, following are related words of faith and action about just peacemaking, in the experience of The United Church of Canada.

Policy Statements and Commitments
The policy base for United Church commitment to just peace includes:

Seeking peace: A long history of education and advocacy around disarmament and peacemaking, most comprehensively stated in the 1994 report Beyond Military Force: Seeking Peace after the Cold War . The report reflects:
Today, we still derive our understanding of security from a vision of peace informed by the biblical idea of shalom—the ancient recognition that peace is not simply the absence of war, but a sustainable state of well-being and of harmony among people and with nature. That vision of peace is also grounded in Jesus’ way of non-violence and the Gospels’ testimony that true human community is rooted in voluntary and generous care of each for the other.

A holistic approach to security for people and nature asserts the indivisibility of development, environment, human rights, democracy, and peace. Within the Christian tradition, we understand that “peace, justice, and the integrity of creation” are all essential elements of a sustainable society. Security is also mutual. It can not be wrested from adversaries; instead it is advanced when we seek the security of our adversary.

The foundation and inspiration of our work in peace-building is the reconciling and renewing life, death and resurrection of Christ and Christ’s moral teaching. The witness of Christ demonstrates that all people draw life from a single source and are members of one global community. Christ’s teaching demands that evil in human society be overcome with good and that justice and peace be built by means of love and non-violent action.

The adopted policy calls upon the Government of Canada to move toward rejection of war as an instrument of policy and adoption of a policy of non-aggression, peacekeeping and peacebuilding and asks General Council to reaffirm the church’s traditional support of war prevention through peacebuilding and reconciliation; withhold theological and ethical legitimacy from the use of war as an instrument of policy; and affirm the principle of building the peace community through the work of individuals, grassroots organisations, civil institutions, and national and international political leadership.

Responsibility to Protect: In 2008, after a lengthy process of consultation with partners and United Church members, General Council Executive received the report The United Church of Canada’s Peace Policy and endorsed the United Nations Responsibility to Protect framework and criteria within a framework of consultation with affected partners and reliable independent sources, which provides verifiable evidence that the vulnerable communities affected are specifically requesting international military intervention authorized by the United Nations to halt the suffering, determination on a case-by-case basis, and conformity with international law.

Palestine and Israel: An issue that has generated particular attention to peacemaking and the meaning of just peace is the occupation of Palestine and search for justice and peace in the Middle East. The United Church has a long history of study, dialogue, and action with partners to support a just peace in Israel/Palestine. This is a response to the call of the gospel of Jesus to lift up in worship, prayer, and public witness our solidarity with the suffering and oppressed.

A Moment of Truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of the Palestinian suffering—the KAIROS Palestine Document—has been received and offered to the church for study and action, along with an ecumenical study guide. Implementation of Measures toward Peace in the Middle East, adopted by the 40th General Council in 2009, identified elements of a just peace in the Middle East and a call for further study and action toward ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. Ethical Investment for Peace in Palestine and Israel, adopted by the 39th General Council in 2006, was an invitation to United Church members, congregations, and other organizations to invest only in companies in Israel/Palestine that engage in peaceful pursuits, with a definition of what this means.

United Church commitment to just peace and ecumenical peace work: At its 38th General Council in 2003, The United Church of Canada passed a resolution from Ottawa Presbytery, calling the church to adopt peacebuilding and justice-making as necessary and indivisible imperatives that guide our thinking and actions as the Church, and to continue its support of KAIROS, Project Ploughshares, and other ecumenical and interfaith initiatives that lead to understanding and peace.

Partnership principles: In 2008, after an in-depth review of partnership in the context of empire, the General Council Executive approved “Statement and Affirmations on Global Partnership,” with 10 guiding principles. These included the affirmation that right relations are at the heart of God’s mission, that global partnerships are lived expressions of right relationships, and that God’s mission is meant to be undertaken in partnership. The principles also call for resistance to principalities and powers, humility and critical self-reflection, upholding both justice and charity, resource-sharing that reflects a commitment to shared power, and a commitment to ecological justice. Partnership involves the whole church, as well as relationships with people of other faiths and beliefs.

One Earth community: Life is a gift from God and elicits our respect, awe, and reverence. We are one Earth community, one human family, and we share one destiny. We cherish and respect the rich diversity of life and celebrate the beauty of the Earth. For us, as members of one family, love and caring are the basis of our relationships with one another and with nature. The Earth community is a sacred trust. We recognize God’s call to live in harmony with this total community, to draw on the Earth’s sustenance responsibly, and to care for it that all may benefit equitably now and in the future.

To live within such a holistic relationship requires our rediscovering the spiritual connection that unites us to the land and that nourishes our souls as well as our bodies. We need to listen to those communities that have remained close to the Earth, and recognize and incorporate the wisdom culled from the traditional links of women and Native peoples with nature. We have to realize that there are limits to ‘growth’ as industrialized societies have defined it. The Earth’s resources are being depleted and we must end the unsustainable over-consumption of industrialized societies. We must make institutions accountable to the people whose lives they touch. We must restructure economic institutions so that they serve the needs of the poor and function in harmony with ecological reality. Environmentally sound technology can assist in building a more sustainable future (http://www.united-church.ca/beliefs/policies/1992/o521).

Living faithfully in the midst of empire: The United Church is particularly concerned with ways in which the world’s interconnected political and economic systems (including trade agreements) work to benefit the few at the expense of the many. They impoverish the vast majority of humanity and the Earth itself. Often, these systems are kept in place by violence or by the threat of violence, including military force. We can understand this global web of economic, political, and economic systems as a modern form of empire (http://www.united-church.ca/economic/globalization). 

In response, people across the church have been invited into “Covenanting for Life,” “a process to renew, affirm, and live out the United Church’s historic commitment to making our faith manifest in the world” (http://www.united-church.ca/getinvolved/covenanting).

Covenanting for Life is a call to live faithfully in the midst of empire. It is a commitment to put faith into action regarding the many forms of empire that are obstacles to God’s purposes of justice, equality, and reconciliation between people and nations within creation…. By covenanting for life we are invited to trust in God’s grace and power to transform us and empower us to new life.
Here is an excerpt from the statement by this name:

A Covenant for Life in Creation

God’s covenant of grace provides abundant life
        in all of creation.
        The weaving of right relations sustains life
        and the wholeness of the one Earth community
        in all of its diversity.

God’s gift of life has been distorted and denied through time.
        Through human greed and our will to dominate,
        the planet’s resources have been wasted.
        Suffering, despair, and violence
        plague peoples, communities, and creatures
        throughout God’s world.

We name this complex human-made web of domination
        “empire.” The many forms of empire
        are the primary obstacles to God’s purposes
        of justice, equality, and reconciliation
        between peoples and nations
        and within creation.

We, the people of The United Church of Canada,
        in response to God’s covenant with us
        covenant to engage in the world.
        We covenant to listen to, learn from, and act with
        those who suffer,
        who hunger for bread, justice, and compassion
        and all of creation.
        We covenant to live faithfully in the midst of empire.

Spread the Word