Support Our Peacemakers
We publicly honor teens who decide to join the Army. Why don't we pay similar tributes to young people who choose a life of nonviolence?
I've seen a lot of different things happen on the ice between periods during my 30 years as a hockey fan. People play broom ball, or slide on snow discs around traffic cones, or get married under the raised hockey sticks of the home team. Once I saw a couple exchange wedding vows on a Zamboni—that's the ice resurfacing machine.
Last month, however, I saw a first. Fifteen very young men and women marched onto the ice of Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, N.M., wearing their new team t-shirts. It was between the first and second period of the New Mexico Scorpions and Amarillo Gorillas Central Hockey League match.
These teens—or kids just into their 20s—were followed onto the ice by a Junior ROTC color guard from a local high school. We were all asked to stand "for the presenting of the colors."
An Army captain then smartly walked up to the two lines of the youngest among us and asked them to "repeat after me." He proceeded to swear them in as the newest recruits in the United States Army. The sober-faced young people took the oath to follow the orders of the president of the United States and defend this country against its enemies.
The rink announcer didn't have to ask for the applause of the 3,000-plus fans to thank the members of our armed forces for keeping us safe and protecting us. The hoots and howls from the stands were the adulation these young defenders of freedom deserve as they marched off the ice to an uncertain future.
I can't imagine what a thrill it must be to stand there with hundreds of people cheering you for signing up for military service. It must be pretty heady to have a decision you've made be so affirmed by so many.
As these young men and women walked away, I wondered, when are we going to hold up young peacemakers for praise and adulation? When are we in the church going to publicly praise those who choose to live a life of nonviolent, active peacemaking? When are we going to liturgically celebrate those who truly feel called to live their baptismal covenant of striving for justice and peace?
Watching this liturgical ceremony between periods at a hockey game, I couldn't help but think of the words of Bishop Frank S. Spalding the night before he died in 1914. He was the third Episcopal bishop of Utah and an avowed socialist.
"Christianity demands highest service of every man," Spalding was quoted in local newspapers. "The life of a soldier in times of peace is useless. The standing army in action is a committee for war."
That standing "committee for war" makes it very easy to launch a preemptive war as President Bush did two years ago next month. While most religious leaders condemned the war as unjust and immoral, most Americans have supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Any major vocal opposition to the current war seemed to be silenced when troops were deployed. Those who had protested the war seemed to be wary of speaking out and, thus, not supporting our troops. The lives of our men and women in uniform seem to trump many in the vocal opposition to war. And any chance of painting oneself as part of a loyal opposition seems impossible in the current political climate of "for us or against us" demonization that pervades our country.
As the prophets of Israel and Judah, the church must speak up and speak out for peace. The peace training efforts of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and others must be held up as opportunities for all Christians to explore the meaning of the gospel in their own lives.
The church must reclaim its commitment to peace. It can do so by making such peace training a priority as much as some have made anti-racism training a requirement for lay and clergy leaders. It can also target the youngest of church members, exposing them to a theology of peace from early ages and into the teenage years.
"We must educate our children against war," said Bishop Spalding on his last night on earth. "We should wipe out all songs which mentions the soldier and not hold him up as the highest ideal of life."
Sunday School curricula or summer camp programs with themes of peace and nonviolence could go a long way to influencing those who could stand on the ice at a hockey game and hear the approval of thousands as they march off to war. Young people need options. They should be exposed to colleges and universities that offer studies or majors in peace and justice.
The church can use Sunday services, regional or national meetings to hold up our youngest peacemakers to experience the kind of affirmation and adulation they deserve. The church has always had trouble standing up to the culture, monarch, or government opposing its self-serving political agenda. It takes courage and strength and support. The church must support its youngest members in claiming their citizenship in the kingdom of God, living up to their baptismal promises and honoring them as peacemakers in the name of Christ.
The Rev. Daniel J. Webster is director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. A media veteran and peace activist in the church, he writes a regular online column for The Witness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission from the author and The Witness.
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