Gospel nonviolence in action: Conclusion

Corrymeela Sunset. Image by Nick, Creative Commons licence CC BY

Corrymeela Sunset. Image by Nick, Creative Commons licence CC BY

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Christian nonviolence is rooted in a commitment to following Jesus, whether that ‘works’ or not. For some Christians that leads to quietism in which their task is to be faithful whilst awaiting the gift of the coming Kingdom. Such a stance may involve refusal to obey unjust state demands, such as conscription.

Nonetheless, a reflection on ways in which love and nonviolence can be expressed in action will assist pacifists in countering any assertion that to be a pacifist is to be passive in the face of injustice. The renunciation of war and violent methods of settling conflicts can open the way to creatively discover other approaches to conflict resolution which in many ways will deepen people’s spirituality and enable them to walk more closely with God.

Gospel nonviolence in action: Gender and conflict

Muriel Lester, early member of FoR

Muriel Lester, early member of FoR

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Gender is a major element in war. The majority of violent conflicts in the world today are civil conflicts. Rather than members of the armed forces being most at risk, it is civilians and non-combatants who bear the brunt of the suffering.  And amongst civilians it is women, children and the elderly who suffer disproportionately.

Violence is often gendered. In the first, broadly nonviolent, intifada in Palestine that began in 1987, actions were shared, but when violence became the norm it was predominantly males who were involved and the female role was that of supportive nurturers. War is predominantly a male construct.

And in civil society it is usually women (and children) who are the recipients of domestic violence.

Yet women have often take the lead in calling for an end to violence, from Lysistrata in Aristophanes’ play (where women refuse men conjugal rights until the Peloponnesian war is ended) to the Peace People in Northern Ireland. Artificial barriers between family and state, personal and political, domestic and international are broken down.

The International Fellowship of Reconciliation, through its Women Peacemakers Programme (WPP), brought together women from different sides of conflict – from Cyprus, from the Caucasus, from Israel/Palestine among others. And through their training of trainers programme the WPP trained many women in nonviolence with the only challenge to them being to go and find other women in their own countries to train.

Gospel nonviolence in action: Religion as divider and uniter

Image by CC BY Christian Senger, Creative Commons licence CC BY

Image by CC BY Christian Senger, Creative Commons licence CC BY

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Religion is often seen as a divisive factor. Certainly, where religion is strongly bound up with tribal identity (as in Northern Ireland, Greece, increasingly in Russia, in the conflicts in the break up of former Yugoslavia and in the Middle East) it is difficult to disentangle the different threads. Yet all work which shows what in each faith tradition makes for nonviolence (or, indeed, places limits on the use of violence) helps to erode religious support for violence. Christian teachings on nonviolence and peace help to undermine Christian support for armed conflict; work in Islam that shows how weapons of mass destruction are incompatible with Koranic teaching or how restricted is the Koranic approval is for violence in the context of Jihad helps to reclaim faith-based nonviolence.

Rise in churches selling white poppies as resources published for Remembrance services

To buy a White Poppies for Churches pack, go to at whitepoppy.org.uk. The pack is published jointly by the PPU and FoR and retails at £60. It contains 100 white poppies, a display box, a poster, leaflets about white poppies and copies of materials for a peace-focused remembrance service, including prayers, sermon ideas, quotes and suggested Bible readings and hymns.

PRESS RELEASE: The organisation that produces white poppies has reported a rise in the number of churches enquiring about making white poppies available for the first time.

The Peace Pledge Union – which includes both religious and non-religious members – drew attention to the increase as they jointly launched a White Poppies for Churches pack with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Christian pacifist charity.

Many churches are providing both white and red poppies so that members of their congregations can make their own choice. The launch of the White Poppies for Churches pack follows the successful introduction of a White Poppies for Schools pack last year.

As well as white poppies and display materials, the new pack for churches includes prayers and suggested readings and hymns for Remembrance services that focus on remembering all victims of war and working for peace.

The increase in orders from churches reflects a wider increase in white poppy orders generally. Four weeks before Remembrance Sunday, the number of white poppy orders was twice as high as at the same time last year.

White poppies represent remembrance for all victims of war of all nationalities, a commitment to peace and a rejection of attempts to glamorise or sanitise war.

In contrast, the British Legion, who produce red poppies, argue that remembrance should be concerned only with British and allied armed forces personnel.

There has also been hostility and misunderstanding in some quarters. The rector of St Oswald’s, an Anglican church in Malpas, Cheshire, has refused to allow some older members of his congregation to hang a remembrance banner in the church because it features white poppies.

Oliver Robertson of the Fellowship of Reconciliation said:

“Christianity is a religion of peace and equality. Jesus told his followers to put away the sword and broke many of society’s taboos in his efforts to show that everyone has value in the eyes of God. A Remembrance service that limits who should be mourned is not, we believe, being faithful to that message, which is why we wanted to provide an alternative for those churches that feel the same way.”

Symon Hill of the Peace Pledge Union said:

“The way we remember the past affects the way we approach the present. We will never move on from war if we insist on remembering only those of our own nationality and only those who belonged to armed forces. Compassion cannot stop at national borders. With 90% of victims of war being civilians, I am pleased that more churches are recognising the need to remember all victims of war to commit themselves to working for peace.”

Gospel nonviolence in action: Case study from Israel/Palestine

Zougbhi Zougbhi, Director of Wi'am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem. Image FoR

Zougbhi Zougbhi, Director of Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem. Image FoR

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

The presence of observers can help to reduce the level of violence, especially if the international background of the accompaniers makes it more likely that the local state will find it difficult to cover up. Bodies such as the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) or Christian Peacemaker Teams send volunteers to live and work alongside communities and campaigners at risk of violence or intimidation.

EAPPI was created in 2002 by the World Council of Churches, following a letter and appeal from local church leaders in Israel and Palestine to create an international presence in the country. Between 25-30 Ecumenical Accompaniers serve at any given time, spending three months accompanying, offering protective presence, and bearing witness. There are now almost 1800 hundred former Ecumenical Accompaniers, many of whom keep involved and interested in working towards a just peace in Palestine and Israel.

This last point is important for the winning of specific issue campaigns. There is a profound value in speaking truth to power and to wider society. People can change and nonviolence through always respecting the humanity and that of the divine within each person makes it much easier for reconciliation to take place.

Gospel nonviolence in action: Case studies from former Yugoslavia

Wall of remembrance in Tuzla. Image by Marco Fieber, Creative Commons licence  CC BY-NC-ND

Wall of remembrance in Tuzla. Image by Marco Fieber, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Another area that tried not to be involved in civil violence is the town of Tuzla in former Yugoslavia. At a time when ethnic cleansing – the forcible separation of ethnic groups – was normal practice elsewhere in Bosnia, in the city of Tuzla residents and local government succeeded in preserving much of their community’s multicultural character. Tuzla was initially spared involvement but then suffered regular bombardment by Serbian forces. The worst incident was in 1995 when a grenade hit the central square, killing 71 people and injuring many more.

The Forum of Tuzla Citizens was founded in 1993 by a group that wanted to oppose ‘nationalistic forces’. Despite threats many joined the Forum. The Forum was a major supporter of Mayor Selim Beslagic in his efforts to maintain a multicultural society. Interestingly, the role of older women was important – grandmothers were the best counter to groups of youths trying to terrorise other ethnicities from their homes. (I found the same in the riots on Tyneside in 1991 – facing youngsters with petrol bombs with the threat that their grannies would be informed was a powerful deterrent.) The faith communities were also heavily involved. Tuzla did not choose for one religion or ethnicity and there are still mosques and Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Often the consequence of civil strife involving different communities is that society becomes more polarised in terms of where people live and it becomes more difficult to establish personal relations with someone from the different community – thus storing up problems for the future. In Northern Ireland, housing is now less mixed and even in Tuzla the proportion of Serbians declined from 14% to 9%.

Gospel nonviolence in action: Case study from Columbia

The Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado. Image by FORUSA, Creative Commons licence CC BY

The Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado. Image by FORUSA, Creative Commons licence CC BY

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

What kind of action stands a chance of succeeding both in the short term and building towards a permanent peace in the long term? Initiatives taken by people in Columbia show one way forward. Uraba is in north west Colombia. By 1996 violence between the military and paramilitary on the one hand and the guerrillas on the other had forced over 17,000 residents to flee to the towns. Both sides had demanded information and food, medicine and accommodation from the inhabitants and enforced these demands with torture and violence. Whole villages fled, seeking refuge elsewhere, while cattle farmers, supporters of and supported by the paramilitaries, were poised to take over the land this vacated. On 27 March 1997 a number of people from San Jose de Apartado, supported by the Catholic diocese of Apartado, joined 29 surrounding villages in a declaration of peace and neutrality. Conscientiously objecting to the war and demanding their rights as civilians not to be involved in a conflict, the community denounced the use of arms within their territories and committed to a variety of principles in the process (including cooperative communal work, prohibition of alcohol, the non-use of illicit drugs, the no-entry of armed actors, non-use of weapons and the refusal to provide information to armed actors).

Each of the peace settlements made a commitment to active neutrality and this was reinforced by daily community meetings and trainings in how to respond to various possible scenarios. Crucial was the presence of international observers (initially through Pax Christi and Peace Brigades International and since 2001 strongly support by the Fellowship of Reconciliation) and developmental assistance from Oxfam.

Nonviolence did not immediately solve everything. The bishop of the diocese was assassinated in 2002. The support of the Catholic church has been crucial and many have found that a commitment to active neutrality has deepened their own spirituality and insights into their faith. Even so more than 200 members of the villages have been killed since the initial declaration of active neutrality.

The fighting did not completely stop. But the armed factions left the peace villages relatively untouched.

Now there is a formal peace process between the government and FARC, the main guerrilla organisation in Colombia. But the villages are threatened by the armed gangs of drug runners moving in when the guerrillas move out.

Nonetheless after more than 20 years, their commitment to renouncing arms within their communities and working for a sustainable peace has not been overcome.

Gospel nonviolence in action: Funding for peace and war

Image by Dominic Alves, Creative Commons licence CC BY

Image by Dominic Alves, Creative Commons licence CC BY

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

All Christians have a strong preferential option for nonviolent methods of conflict resolution. Public authorities at national level put resources into enabling this through diplomacy and support of international bodies such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations. In particular, UNESCO sponsored a decade for promoting a culture of peace and nonviolence from 2000-2010. Christian social teaching places a responsibility on public authorities to promote the common good.

However much more is spent on military preparations – even in countries across the European Union, resources for nonviolent peacemaking and peacekeeping are less than 1% of the military budget. There is an old saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. This gives a large bias towards looking to military intervention. It would be fair to say that the UK’s military involvement in Iraq was illegal and an unqualified disaster for the Iraqi people and the peace of the Middle East. It would also be fair to say that the UK’s military involvement in Afghanistan was partially illegal, unsuccessful in terms of significantly changing the situation and brought about many casualties, civilian and otherwise. In fact, one would have to go back as far as the Falklands to find a ‘successful’ military action – the 1999 intervention in Sierra Leone could just as easily have been nonviolent. And the UK decision to renew Trident is a clear repudiation of any good faith in implementing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and could lock the UK into being a nuclear weapons state for the next 30 years, as well as adding massively to the sums spent by the country on preparing for war not peace.

Gospel nonviolence in action: Examples from around the world

As a child, Rabbie played in the alleyways by his home on Benson Street, one of Monrovia's main thoroughfares and the site of fierce fighting during the civil war. Photo by Cameron Zohoori, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

Alleyway near Benson Street, one of Monrovia’s main thoroughfares and the site of fierce fighting during the Liberian civil war. Photo by Cameron Zohoori, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Organised withdrawal of labour can be a very powerful nonviolent action. Indeed, there was even a successful strike at the Vorkuta coalmines in 1953 – part of the Stalinist gulag – and in spite of bloody reprisals working conditions were improved.

In Northern Ireland, a general strike led by the Ulster Workers Council in May 1974 caused the overthrow of the Sunningdale Agreement (which enshrined cross-community power sharing in Northern Ireland). The strike was predominantly nonviolent but in some areas was enforced violently by protestant paramilitaries.

Over the past thirty years we have seen the collapse of authoritarian communism in Eastern Europe without violence and the ending of apartheid in South Africa without a bloodbath. Liberia ended its civil war in 2003 helped by blockades organised by a coalition of Christian and Muslim women.

Gospel nonviolence in action: Case study from the UK (Northern Ireland)

Looking down from Corrymeela. Image by Michael Kooiman, Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA

Looking down from Corrymeela. Image by Michael Kooiman, Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Civil strife is more likely to break out in places where it has taken place in the past and where the work of reconciliation has not been carried through. A recent sad example is that of South Sudan.

It takes time to build up sufficient fear of the other to resort to violence; even where as in Ireland there had been a bloody conflict and significant ethnic cleansing within living memory. It took Hitler five years to get the German people to turn a blind eye to the persecution of Jews. Often the best time to intervene is before violent conflict starts and to build up the knowledge and training, the personal contacts, a culture and solidarity that can counteract violence. In the late sixties the civil rights challenge to Unionist hegemony in Northern Ireland was strong – but violence was not the only option. In 1965 Ray Davey, who had witnessed the bombing of Dresden at first hand when he was a prisoner of war, and a group mainly from Queens University took over a semi-derelict Christian Fellowship holiday home on the north coast, named Corrymeela.

Over time a residential and a dispersed community developed who slowly renovated the buildings; they later put on major trainings in nonviolence and acted as a permanent centre for mediation and reconciliation work, paving the way for a ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement. I was working with the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Derry/Londonderry and we regularly took groups of youngsters (half and half catholic and protestant) on summer weeks holidays. True, when they got back to Derry/Londonderry they would not see each other until the next visit to Corrymeela – but it was encouraging years afterwards to find that people on the council after the Good Friday Agreement still remembered playing football with each other – and it has added to the glue that makes future violence much less likely.