Creating the Dream: A Quaker witness for Peace
A statement made by Helen Steven in Dumbarton Sheriff Court in defence of action taken at Faslane on the 4th April 1984.
“I do not wish to deny that on April 4th, the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, I was inside the Faslane Submarine Base, and that I was there as a deliberate act. However, I pled not guilty to the charges because had I done otherwise I would have been guilty of far greater crimes against my conscience and against humanity…
My charge is that I entered a protected area without authority or permission. My claim is that I had authority – the authority of my Christian conviction that a gospel of love cannot be defeated by the threatened annihilation of millions of innocent people. It can never be morally right to use these ghastly weapons at any time, whether first, or as unthinkable retaliation after we ourselves are doomed.
I acted with the authority of the nameless millions dying of starvation now because we choose to spend £11.5 billion on Trident whilst a child dies every 15 seconds.
I am charged under an Act giving control and disposal of land to the Queen, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons assembled in Parliament and eventually the Secretary of State. I believe the world to be God’s creation. The beautiful, delicate world in all its infinite wonder is threatened with extinction. That to me is blasphemy.
And so, out of love, I had to act. If I see that base at Faslane as morally wrong and against my deepest convictions – as wrong as the deliberate starvation of children – then by keeping silent I condone what goes on there.
On April 4th, I made a choice. I chose to create the dream of another way. My only crime is not working hard enough, or long enough, or soon enough towards the fulfilment of the dream. If my actions were a crime, then I am guilty.”
As published in Outside Holiness – The spirituality of Resistance | Fellowship of Reconciliation | ISBN 0 900368 88 8.
Peacemaking Q & A
We all want peace, but Christian pacifism and nonviolence – what’s that all about? On this page we answer some of those basic questions that you have always wanted to ask about Christian peacemaking. If you have any others why not contact us
Q Christian Pacifism is starry-eyed idealism. It’s hardly practical in todays highly insecure world is it?
A Anyone who takes the view that we can obtain a peaceful world by resorting to war or that the world will be made secure by the proliferation of vast amounts of weaponry via the “defence” industry, is rather more starry-eyed than the Christian pacifist.
Of course pacifist are idealists shouldn’t all Christians be? The reality is that as Christians we have to apply the Gospel teaching to our daily lives and to the world that we inhabit now, not at some mythical point in the future when it will be easier. Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you is not meant simply to be simply ignored is it?
Committing ourselves to nonviolence and to the understanding that all life is sacred offers us a real alternative in a world committed to using violence not as a last resort, but far too often as the first resort. If we are committed to being part of the family of God, to being sisters and brothers of all people throughout the world, how can we agree that it is right that some people be killed in order to achieve a supposedly greater good? It is worth remembering of course that it was considered starry-eyed idealism to work for the end of slavery, to call for an end to apartheid, for women rights, independece for East Timor.
Q There is lots of war and fighting in the Old Testament even at God’s behest! Why should we reject that now?
A There are images in the Old Testament that are violent and disturbing with their portrayal of a vengeful and violent God. Indeed whilst we hold tight to the promise that swords will be beaten into ploughshares, other passages speak of ploughshares being beaten into swords (Joel 4:10) and of the need to take an eye for an eye. However it is important, to remember that all Biblical quotes must be put into context. The passage from Joel for instance, is a passage of judgement on warmongering nations, whilst the eye for an eye saying is imposing limits on violence, not an exhortation to use violence as a solution. The Old Testament does portray God sometimes as being vengeful and war-like (as well as loving and forgiving). However there is no doubt that Jesus proclaimed a New Covenant and a new understanding and relationship with God.
Jesus is the Word of God made flesh and he is the one which we must follow. His life portrays a commitment to forgiveness, reconciliation and peacemaking. Jesus said very clearly that we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Q What about Hitler, Saddam and Osama Bin Laden?
A Individuals, whether in the school playground or on the world stage will always try to dominate and manipulate others for their own selfish ends. History shows that people such as the ones mentioned only become threats to world peace when they receive support (and arms!) from the major powers. To prevent people like these becoming threats to peace we need to non-cooperate with them and to build up everyones capacity to oppose warmongers and dictators nonviolently.
Q We need armed forces to keep the peace. Peace will only come through nations being strong.
A “If you want peace, prepare for war” wrote the Roman military commentator Flavius Vegetius Renatus, extolling the virtue of armed security. At around the same time and in stark contrast, Jesus and the early Christians urged people to love their enemies and urged nonviolent peacemaking (Matt 5 4-12). One philosophy hailed armed security above all, whilst the other suggested that real security comes from the practice of justice and love.
The reality is that if we want peace, we must prepare for peace. As Christians we have to commit ourselves to peace and nonviolence, not at some mythical future point, but right now in our lives. Whilst many would dismiss this as hopelessly naive and ˜unworldly”, we must remember that as Dorothee Soelle puts it, “to believe in God’s Spirit means above all to summon it.”
With acknowledgment to Philip Dransfield
Top Ten Ways to Work for Peace
Whilst to the secular world, praying for peace is seen as a waste of time, the reality is that it enables us to connect with the spirit of peace at a deep level, renewing and sustaining our efforts to build the kingdom.
2 Educate yourself
Its easy to feel helpless and hopeless in the face of war and conflict and to feel at the mercy of so-called ‘experts’. One way to counter this is to become better informed. FoR as well as many other peace and justice organisations provide a wealth of resources and brieifings to keep you informed.
3 Start or join a local peace group
Where two or three are joined together.. ! Working together in small groups in local towns, cities, universities etc. enables us to have a much bigger impact. It also keeps helps to sustain the work when the going gets tough! FoR would be very happy to put you in touch with a local group or even help you to start one!
There is no doubt that money talks. Make sure that any money you have is invested ethically. This includes the funds of any institution that you are connected with such as your local authority, local church, university etc.
5 Talk about it
The Good News of peace and nonviolence needs spreading. Often, however, a one-to-one conversation can have a much greater and longer lasting impact than a speech by a politician or semiar by and ‘expert’. When you get an opportunity talk about peace and nonviolence.
6 Support national campaigns
The UK’s peace campaigns need our active support and not just our money.
7 Organise a discussion in your church or youthgroup
Gandhi said “All of us have a part of the truth” and we certainly all have a part to play in building peace and justice in our world. But how can we do that? FoR has plenty of people who will be willing to come and kick start a discussion in your church/university/school etc.
Art can inspire and touch us on many levels. Communicating the message of peace is not restricted to words alone.
9 Organise a peace service
Get people together to reflect and pray for peace in your church.
10 Raise your voice
Speak out against war and war-making. Commit yourself to nonviolence and speak up for alternatives to war and nonviolent solutions to conflicts.