Conference marks decade to overcome violence

 A circle of barbed wire depicting the crown of thorns ripped to shreds lengths of cloth draped over a cross during a graphic conclusion to a conference convened by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to mark the Decade to Overcome Violence. Praying for the Churches to 'get their teeth into the politics of peace', worshippers saw the torn cloth transformed to good use: a cloth to wipe a tear, a bandage and so on, a visible demonstration of the possibilities of shifting from violence to non-violence. 'Beyond Violence?' at The Hayes, Swanwick (29 September to 1 October) brought together more than 100 Christians from Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England. Among them, peace activists, survivors of violence, CTBI presidents and a few other church leaders. Some had witnessed violence -and steps towards reconciliation- in Ireland, South Africa and the Middle East. The gathering had four positive outcomes: Many people from issue-based organizations who feel isolated in their work for peace were affirmed in their work and were able to make connections between 'their' issue and the wider issue of violence. The valuable and moving stories shared at the conference will be published. A variety of these experiences will be included in CTBI's Lent studies in 2006 that will be shared by thousands. Many wanted to see action from the Churches, not just discussion. A conference report will be next month be fed into the twice-yearly meeting of Church representatives convened by CTBI. Active consideration will be given to a possible project exploring healing and reconciliation within and between the four WISE nations (that is, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England). The Decade, running from 2001 to 2010, is an initiative of the World Council of Churches. Churches round the world are looking to Churches in the US and UK to act prophetically to mark the decade, said the Revd Deenabandhu Manchala who co-ordinates work on the theological study and reflection on peace for the WCC. He highlighted the growing move towards an inter faith approach to peace. It was a conference grounded in experience. Leader of the Iona Community, the Revd Kathy Galloway asked "Why has the Christian Church so often ignored the teachings, life and example of Jesus on non-violence? Christians have been remarkably willing to embrace war and engage in conflict. They have been, and are, found on both sides of every conflict, and have often been prepared to kill, not only to defend their own side but to aggressively obliterate the other side. Far fewer have been mediators, negotiators or conflict resolvers. "The Church is often not comfortable letting people be different. In the past, it has killed people rather than let them be different. We can sometimes barely be in dialogue with our fellow Christians." She asked: "Why are we so concerned with orthodoxy, right belief, at the expense of orthopraxis, right relationships?" She offered to the Churches ten principles for non-violence adopted by the Iona Community. These included respect for the opponent as a fellow human being; care for everyone involved in a conflict; refusal to harm damage or degrade people/living things/the earth; if suffering is inevitable, the readiness to take it upon oneself rather than inflict it on others; not retaliating to violence with violence and belief that everyone is capable of change. The Revd Dr Johnston McMaster, lecturer at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Belfast said: 'We have begun the twenty first century with endemic violence. Violence is god and the universal religion of our time.' He defined the essence of violence as 'the destruction of human beings'. The conference did not dodge the hard questions: What would the Churcheshave to do to demonstrate a commitment to principles of non-violence? Can victims of violence be expected to forgive and forget? What about the connections between power, forgiveness and justice? Some spoke bluntly of the UK as one of the leading proponents of violence as a leading arms exporter. Worship invited delegates to name and unmask violence. Storytelling encouraged steps towards healing and reconciliation. Source: CTBI

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