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Peacemaking: What Are Congregations Thinking and Doing?
Peacemaking: What Are Congregations Thinking and Doing?
General Assembly, International Engagement & Building Peace

General Assembly 2008 Event 3006

Presenters: Commission on Social Witness: Judy Morgan, Dr. John Hooper, Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull

"Peacemaking is a profound issue that touches us from the inside out, and the outside in," said the Rev. Jan Carlsson-Bull, chair of the Commission on Social Witness of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). The Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) adopted at the 2006 General Assembly asked if the UUA should "reject the use of any and all kinds of violence and war...and adopt a principle of seeking just peace through nonviolent means?"

Congregations have been studying this question since then, and the Commission on Social Witness sponsored a workshop at this year's General Assembly to report on some of the progress made by congregations who have studied peacemaking. Carlsson-Bull said that in her seven years serving on the Commission of Social Witness, the Peacemaking study/action issue "has received more intensive and deep engagement on the part of our congregations than any other study/action issue." The complete text of the Peacemaking CSAI is available online.

Dr. John Hooper, a member of the Peacemaking Core Team overseeing the CSAI, reviewed the timetable for the Peacemaking CSAI. This issue was adopted as a CSAI at the 2006 General Assembly, and the deadline for initial comments was March 1, 2007. After receiving the feedback of the initial comments from congregations, additional workshops on peacemaking were offered at the 2007 General Assembly. Additional comments from congregations, and suggestions for topics to be included in a proposed Statement of Conscience had to be received by March 1, 2008.

The Commission on Social Witness is receiving further feedback from congregations on the Peacemaking CSAI at this year's General Assembly. Based on all the comments and feedback, the Commission will release a Draft Statement of Conscience no later than November 15, 2008. Hooper said that the Commission is asking congregations to review this draft. The deadline for a congregational poll on advancing the revised draft, and the deadline for comments on this draft, will be February 1, 2009. At that point, the Commission will do a final revision of the Statement of Conscience, so that it can be submitted to the 2009 General Assembly. At the 2009 General Assembly, delegates will vote on whether or not to adopt the final revision of the Statement of Conscience.

"We have approximately 250 congregations participating in peacemaking," said Alex Winnett, program associate for peacemaking in the UUA's Washington Office for Advocacy. Winnett said he felt sure that many other congregations were also engaging in peacemaking, but had not yet notified the Peacemaking Core Team. He invited all congregations to report their peacemaking activities online at the Peacemaking website. "We're asking for congregations to stand up and be recognized."

Winnett then said, "We're going to open the floor up to you," so that individual congregations could report in on what they have been doing with the Peacemaking CSAI.

Judy Bonner of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palm Beaches (150 members) reported that her congregation has started a discussion group on peacemaking issues, but that only about five people attend regularly. However, when the congregation held a six-week discussion series on the book The Great Turning: Empire to Earth Community by David Korten, fourteen people attended.

"I want to state a level of confusion," said Ron Burton of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Muncie, Indiana. He said that his congregation is not clear exactly what peacemaking is.

Alex Winnett responded, saying, "I'm of the opinion that social justice and peacemaking are the same thing." Winnett said that race violence, sexual violence, and other social justice issues are all peacemaking issues. "Inequality is violence," he said. Hooper added, "Structural violence precedes actual violence."

Ray Watts of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville, Maryland, told how his congregation is asking county commissioners to declare their county a "peace county." If the county commissioners do so, their municipality would join dozens of other United States municipalities who have gone on record as opposing the war in Iraq.

Bob Zeeb of First Unitarian Church in West Newton, Massachusetts, gave several examples of peacemaking activities from his congregation. A lecture by author David Korten drew 150 people, including many from outside the congregation. The congregation will be sponsoring a concert by "Emma's Revolution," a musical ensemble who perform peace-related songs. They are in the process of developing a "peace garden" on the church grounds. A nonviolence study group draws a number of people from outside the congregation. Finally, the congregation is planning a series of "living room meetings" between November 15, 2008, and January 2009, to allow for small group discussions of the draft Statement of Conscience on peacemaking, leading up to a congregational vote on whether to approve the draft or to offer additional comments.

Susan Lankford of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, California, asked for advice. "I don't know how to reach my whole congregation," she said. "We're in competition with ourselves for our attention." Lankford believes that the people who would ordinarily pay attention to the Peacemaking CSAI "are the usual suspects, and I already know what they think." The problem is to reach beyond the "usual suspects" to the rest of the congregation.

Hooper suggested one possible solution to Lankford's problem. Discussions of peacemaking could be integrated into activities that are already taking place in the church. For example, peacemaking could be a topic for small group ministry discussions, or peacemaking books could be added to the reading lists of existing book discussion groups. A participant added another suggestion, asking the minister to preach one or more sermons on the topic of peacemaking. But, said Hooper, "We're very aware of this, and it's a real problem." The Peacemaking Core Team will continue to reach out to congregations in a variety of ways, to help address this problem.

Reported by Dan Harper; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.