ON THE ROAD TO GRAZ
(From Working Group 4 at the European Peace Church Consul-tation in Wetzlar, 14 to 16 March, 1997)
As members of the Historic Peace Churches as well as peace church-oriented congregations, communities and groups who have joined together in the Church and Peace European network, we released the following statement at the First European Ecumenical Assembly in Basel in 1989: "God, as he revealed himself to us through Jesus Christ, is a God of non violence...all Christians are called to live here and now as a reconciled and healing community." We referred to the authority and boldness with which Jesus guides his followers in the spirit and encourages them to seek dialogue with their estranged brothers and sisters in any conflict that arises. At this assembly we committed ourselves, against all resignation, to take responsibility and work with loving hearts in concrete ways for peace. We renewed this commitment at the Second European Peace Church Consultation in Wetzlar, March 14 to 16, 1997.
In the face of the increasing number of conflicts in Europe and the rest of the world, reconciliation was chosen as the theme of the Second European Ecumenical Assembly. The premise of the Assembly is that our belief in non-violent, reconciling, Christian peacemaking is centred in Jesus Christ. On the basis of this fundamental belief, we invite all participants at the Graz Assembly to live out a personal commitment to peacemaking. This commitment should include an acknowledgement of the fact that responsibility for reconciliation, justice and the integrity of creation is realised through concrete actions.
It should be clear to all that:
ú we are guilty when we remain passive observers in a conflict situation;
ú there are non-violent means of building trust and resolving conflict which are stronger than all military or terrorist weapons.
In the face of the growing readiness to employ violence and engage in full-fledged warfare, we call all churches, congregations and Christian groups to renewal and commitment to reconciliation through the following concrete actions:
1. To work actively for peace wherever conflict on an interpersonal, societal, political or religious level is developing or already exists and to personally enable the involvement of trained peace workers such as mediators.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God." (Math. 5:9)
2. To recognise conscientious objection as a faith conviction for all Christians and churches rather than merely as a matter of personal conscience, and to walk with those on the path of resistance even when this results in hostility and prejudice. (This also includes resistance to other forms of violence, for example, the refusal to pay military tax.)
Jesus' crucifixion is an expression of God's love for our enemies (John 11: 47-53); it is the reason for which Christians in the Roman army were executed.
3. To actively resist all that encourages or demands the use of violence or promotes inhumane ways of relating to others and to educate others from childhood on to resist such tactics.
"We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29)
4. To publicly support pertinent individual actions, for example the refusal of Christians to participate in military training, to take part in any kind of weapons production or to support economic and monetary policies which make a majority of the population dependent upon a rich minority.
ú Violent acts and a readiness to employ violence often have their origins in deep-rooted wounds from the past. Lasting reconciliation is not possible unless healing of these wounds occurs for each person involved in a conflict and the resolution process, and each is truly liberated from fear of the other.
ú Trusting relationships cannot develop unless those involved in a conflict and the resolution process realise that their past behaviour contributed to the conflict and acknowledge their guilt on a historical (societal) and personal level.
The 700 delegates and up to 10,000 participants expected from the Christian churches of European are to consider, in six different thematic areas, through working parties and plenary sessions, the topic "Reconciliation - Gift of God and Source of New Life". The Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Alexii II, and the Katholikos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Karekin I, will be the main speakers. The president of the South African Truth Commission and former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, has been invited to present a paper. It is expected that a number of resolutions will be adopted. The closure of the assembly will be a ceremonial service held in the town park.
In that which concerns the Graz Assembly, I write from the standpoint of an individual, but as an individual who has lived in community for twelve years.
Of course it is always necessary to have dialogue. And when direct dialogue is not possible, a third party should be asked to step in in order to allow each person, individually or together as a group, to let out all the negative feelings which have accumulated. But there are times when even this does not seem possible. The other person does not approach us. This has nothing to do with what he or she could do or say. We have nothing specific for which we can reproach him or her.
I think of a person with whom I was not able to have a peaceable relationship, even though there has never been a significant, specific conflict between the two of us. This person simply annoys me. I've told myself time and again that it is my own faults which annoy me, but this doesn't resolve the problem. There are profound feelings in one's heart which need time to heal.
In contrast, I think of another person with whom I had serious relational problems for about two years, for a number of specific, rational reasons. And when one is living in community with this other person, this kind of conflict is particularly painful.
At this point the intervention of a third party is insufficient; the only option is prayer. And here I first had to reconcile myself to God, whom I was doubting because of what I was experiencing, and the cross.
To trust even in the midst of suffering and conflict. To believe that Christ is present
I can testify to the fact that, at the end of these two years of struggle, peace returned between the two of us. There is even a sort of joyous complicity which makes one want to continue to trust in He who is "the source of new life".
God did not do everything, but I think it is necessary to reserve a central place for him when reconciliation is needed.
Is it even necessary to answer the question of whether or not reconciliation can occur without repentance? It seems so obvious to me that the answer is no. Without repentance, change is not possible. Repentance is the recognition of and true regret for my faults. I have to take responsibility for my part, a responsibility which
creates an attitude of humility before God and my brother or sister and which makes reconciliation possible.
The ideal is, of course, to be able to openly express this repentance, but this is not always possible. In any case, the other person can sense when there is no longer tension and resistance in the relationship - this could be called "unilateral disarmament". God can then intervene for there is no longer any resistance to his work of reconciliation.
The central place which the Historical Peace Churches give to Christ as Prince of Peace is essential, but it is not exclusive to these churches.
For the Catholic Church the Eucharist, which is the "source and culmination of the Christian life" (Vactican II), is a memorial of Christ's death and resurrection, a peace sacrament par excellence and a sign of and way to reconciliation.
Unfortunately many Catholics don't seem to truly believe that peace and reconciliation hold a central place in Jesus' teachings. Perhaps it must be the Peace Churches -- independent of their relationship with the Eucharist -- who remind us of Jesus' central message so that we Catholics can put the Eucharist into practice in our daily lives.
The first Christian Reconciliation Week will take place September 20-27, 1997, on the Channel Island of Guernsey. Christians of all denominations are warmly invited to this conference.
The Reconciliation Week will follow up on the Second Ecumenical Assembly in July in Graz. "Reconciliation - a gift from God and source of new life", the theme of the Graz Assembly, should encourage all church councils to give attention to the topic and to develop and support their own actions for reconciliation.
Protestant, Catholic and other Christian faith communities of various traditions live on Guersney. It is a particular joy for them, in conjunction with the Recon-ciliation Week, to welcome and get to know other Christians.
One of the primary foci for the organisers is furthering Christian fellowship and future partnership between congregations on Guersney and in other European countries. Certainly Chris-tians from all over can learn from each other and share valuable experiences.
In addition to many church celebrations such as worship services in churches of different denominations and a lecture in Les Cotils Christian Centre by Rev. Paul Oestreicher, the cathedral dean of Coventry Cathedral, an interesting and varied program is planned. This program includes numerous excursions to scenic and cultural sites on the island as well as an introduction to Christian family life on Guersney.
For information on accommodation and travel, please contact the Guernsey travel office in Germany, Ahornweg 3a, D-31864 Lauenau, Tel: +49 5043 98038, Fax: +49 5043 5464