The Rev. Dr.
Michael Kinnamon, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
clergyman and a long-time educator and ecumenical leader, is the
ninth General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of
Christ in the USA.
The NCC is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches. These 35 communions have 45 million faithful members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.
Peace is the message of the church
Heeding God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace
January 13, 2009
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And greetings from the 35 member communions of the National Council of Churches. With violence the order of the day in such places as Gaza, Afghanistan, Congo, Somalia, Darfur, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, it is imperative that the followers of Christ proclaim a different vision of life in human community – which is why I am so grateful to Thomas and the other organizers of this historic conference. May God grant that our time together be a visible and vital witness to God’s gift of Shalom.
In this brief welcome, I want to emphasize one point: the ecumenical movement, of which the National Council of Churches is an instrument, is most essentially a movement of peace. Part of the point is sociological: Christian divisions (which ecumenism seeks to overcome) often exacerbate political conflicts and hinder effective peacemaking. War is too massive an evil to be responded to denominationally.
The real point, however, is more theological. God’s gift of reconciliation is for the world; but the church is entrusted with this message of reconciliation – and the church delivers the message not just by what it says or, even, by what it does, but by what it is, by the way we live with one another. The church’s calling is to be a demonstration project of God’s gift of peace; and the fact that Christians are so obviously fragmented and co-opted by the powers of the world is what drives the ecumenical movement.
Ecumenical Conferences have declared all of this unambiguously for the past one hundred years, perhaps never more so that at the first Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1948. “War,” said the delegates, “is contrary to the will of God.” This has been repeated at various ecumenical conferences and I am going to repeat it here: War is contrary to the will of God. It is true that many Christians still see war as a last resort. But there is now broad agreement that war is “inherently evil” (WCC) – which means that Christians should never identify human violence with God’s purposes. Contrary to political leaders and Hollywood movies, it is never redemptive.
You see why it is so important to remember this at the beginning of our conference. Radical peacemaking is usually associated with one segment of the Christian community: the Historic Peace Churches. “Another peace protest? It must be the Quakers and Mennonites and Brethren.” What I am stressing, however, is that radical, costly, insistent peacemaking is not simply your witness. Peace is the message of the church ecumenical!
This is not to be taken for granted. In the history of the church, those who emphasized peacemaking have often feared that unity would weaken the prophetic edge of their proclamation, while those who have emphasized unity have often feared that peacemaking would prove divisive. That’s why the historic peace churches have, at times, been sectarian, while churches more inclined to collaboration have generally left matters of war and peace to the individual conscience.
But the modern ecumenical movement has rejected this dichotomy – and I hope we will as well. We are Christians: recipients of the gift of unity, called to be ambassadors of reconciliation by the way we live with one another. May it be so, even here, even now.
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